24 Nov 2004 : Column 21

House of Lords

Wednesday, 24 November 2004.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Constitutional Reform Bill [HL]

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for modifying the office of Lord Chancellor, and to make provision relating to the functions of that office; to establish a Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, and to abolish the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords; to make provision about the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the judicial functions of the President of the Council; to make other provision about the judiciary, their appointment and discipline; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

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

International Organisations Bill [HL]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision about privileges, immunities and facilities in connection with certain international organisations. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

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

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

Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill [HL]

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to establish and make provision about the office of Public Services Ombudsman for Wales; to make provision about the functions of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales; to make provision about compensation; to abolish the Commission for Local Administration in Wales and the offices of Welsh Administration Ombudsman, Health Services Commissioner for Wales and Social Housing Ombudsman for Wales; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
24 Nov 2004 : Column 22

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

Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill [HL]

Lord Joffe: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to enable a competent adult who is suffering unbearably as a result of a terminal illness to receive medical assistance to die at his own considered and persistent request; and to make provision for a person suffering from a terminal illness to receive pain relief medication. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—(Lord Joffe.)

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

Parliamentary Commissioner (Amendment) Bill [HL]

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 so as to enable the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration to investigate complaints received directly from members of the public. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—(Lord Lester of Herne Hill.)

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

Committee of Selection

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

Moved, That in accordance with Standing Order 64 a Committee of Selection be appointed to select and propose to the House the names of the Lords to form each Select Committee of the House (except the Committee of Selection itself and any committee otherwise provided for by statute or by order of the House) or any other body not being a Select Committee referred to it by the Chairman of Committees, and the panel of Deputy Chairmen of Committees; and that the following Lords together with the Chairman of Committees be named of the committee—

B. Amos (Lord President), L. Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L. Cope of Berkeley, L. Grocott, L. McNally, B. Massey of Darwen, L. Roper, L. Strathclyde,
24 Nov 2004 : Column 23
V. Tenby, L. Williamson of Horton.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Business of the House: Standing Order 47

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

By way of explanation, the House decided on 22 March to carry over the Constitutional Reform Bill. The Motion I am moving now will give effect to that decision by allowing the Bill to move formally and without debate from First Reading, which has just taken place, to the point it had reached at the end of last Session. Report stage will begin on Tuesday, 7 December and amendments may be tabled from tomorrow.

Moved, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 22 March 2004, That, in the event of a Constitutional Reform Bill having been read a first time in the same form as that reported from the Committee of the Whole House in the last Session of Parliament, Standing Order 47 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to enable the Bill to be taken pro forma through all the stages which the Bill completed in the last Session of Parliament.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Constitutional Reform Bill [HL]

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 and that the Bill be committed and reported from a Select Committee and a Committee of the whole House, pro forma.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time and that the Bill be committed and reported from a Select Committee and a Committee of the Whole House, pro forma.—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


Baroness Amos: My Lords, I would like to advise the House that if Back-Bench speakers speak for about eight minutes, the House will meet its target rising time of 10 o'clock. This is, of course, advisory as there is no time limit on today's debate.
24 Nov 2004 : Column 24

Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

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

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

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, we are living through a period of profound change in the international security environment. The threats to international peace and security that have emerged since the end of the Cold War are more nebulous than they were, but we must not be lulled into believing that they are any less dangerous or any less immediate.

The events of the past few years have demonstrated all too clearly just how real these threats are. First, the scale of violence perpetrated by international terrorist groups across the world is without precedent: Nairobi, New York, Washington, Casablanca, Bali, Madrid, Beslan and Taba (Egypt)—a trail of terrorist atrocities that respects neither international borders nor the sanctity of human life. Secondly, but of equal concern, is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their associated technology and their means of delivery. Quite clearly, the ambition that terrorist groups have to acquire such material is a chilling scenario.

Thirdly come the challenges posed by weak and failing states. All too often, those are characterised by political mismanagement and corruption, economic collapse and religious and ethnic tension. The result is: poverty, hunger and disease; population migration; and the collapse of law and order. It is a vacuum which provides an ideal haven from which terrorist groups or organised criminals can operate.

The UK and our partners in the international community have a responsibility to confront the causes of poverty and instability in the world, not just their consequences. That means working with our partners in Europe, NATO and the United Nations to resolve conflict, build peace and lay the foundations for democracy. That is precisely what we are doing in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Against such a backdrop, this will be a significant debate. I look forward to the contributions from noble Lords, and I draw particular attention to our two maiden speakers, the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, an acknowledged expert in international development, and my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green, who also has a distinguished record in this field. We look forward to hearing what they have to say. As ever, noble Lords who speak will, I believe, reflect the well deserved reputation of this House for informed and expert discourse.
24 Nov 2004 : Column 25

Having attempted to set the scene, I should like to say a few words about the crucial role which our Armed Forces continue to play around the world. I shall return to defence policy in a little detail before I close, but I hope that the House will forgive me if I pay a warm tribute to the brave men and women in our armed services. I am sure that I do so on behalf of the whole House. They are currently supporting the Iraqi and Afghan peoples as they build a new and democratic future for themselves, having helped them to throw off the shackles of inhumane and oppressive regimes. They continue to help to safeguard peace and stability in the Balkans, as they have done for 10 years or more. They are indeed a force for good in the world.

In the three and a half years or so in which I have had the honour to serve as a Defence Minister, I have of course had the privilege of meeting a number of the young men and women of our Armed Forces. As anyone else who has met them will testify, their professionalism, dedication, vitality and—in no small measure—humour make them magnificent ambassadors for the United Kingdom and the values for which it stands. I know that the House will join me in paying tribute to our servicemen and women, and the contribution that they continue to make in helping to create a better world.

In Iraq, our focus is very much on helping and supporting the developing Iraqi security forces. We will continue to help them to operate on their own, and to develop the capacity to ensure that the security and stability of that country is protected. That is particularly important as we move towards the elections of 30 January next year. The year 2005 will be critical for the Iraqi people, and the elections represent a key step forward in the political process.

The United Kingdom welcomes the UN's role in helping Iraq as it prepares for the elections. The UN team in Baghdad is confident that preparations are on schedule, and the process of registering voters and political parties is already under way. Prime Minister Allawi is determined that the political and electoral process should be as inclusive as possible, and has made strenuous efforts to encourage both Sunni and Shia leaders to engage in the process.

The UK fully supports both the independent electoral commission and the UN through assistance with technical preparations and, of course, the vital question of the provision of security. Good progress is being made, but it is clear that more needs to be done. We have made a commitment to the Iraqi people, and will see that commitment through.

There is more to be done in Afghanistan too, but likewise much progress. The recent presidential elections were a significant achievement, and foundations are firmly in place for a country that is stable, democratic and free from the scourge of terrorism. The International Security Assistance Force, currently provided by NATO, and the provincial reconstruction teams have aided the Afghan Transitional Authority to extend progressively its influence across the country. They have been an outstanding success. The United Kingdom is working with NATO to make the expansion of the ISAF operation outside the Kabul region a reality.
24 Nov 2004 : Column 26

The opium industry, however, remains a considerable problem and must be addressed. It finances instability, distorts the Afghan economy and is a direct cause of misery in Afghanistan and, not least, here in our own country. The United Kingdom will play a leading role in building up the Afghan capacity for law and order.

The Middle East peace process is, of course, the most pressing political challenge facing the world today. We remain committed to a two-state solution—a secure Israel, side by side with a viable Palestine. That was reiterated by the Prime Minister during discussions with President Bush in Washington earlier this month. Of course the engagement of the United States is vital, but so is engagement by others, including the EU and Arab states. The Government will continue to work with the parties, the quartet and the international community to build up forward momentum in the peace process. Noble Lords may know that my noble friend Lady Symons talked about that matter in the United Nations last week. The Foreign Secretary is in the region as we speak.

Following Yasser Arafat's death, we stand ready to work with whoever is chosen by the Palestinian people as his successor, to achieve a lasting settlement in the region. We welcome Prime Minister Sharon's plan to withdraw all settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank, and the Knesset's vote last month in support of that plan. The dismantling of those settlements would be a welcome step forward, and in line with Israel's commitments under the road map.

The stability of the Middle East region more widely demands that action is taken now to bolster democratic practices, civil freedoms and good governance. If not, there is a risk that economic stagnation, population migration and fundamentalism could grow to overwhelm the region. As we have seen, the UK would be unlikely to be immune from its effects.

Key to change and development will be working in partnership with the region to address these challenges, and sustained support for reform. Reform processes in the region are happening; for example, in Jordan, Morocco and Egypt. The United Kingdom will use its G8 and EU presidencies next year to keep this issue on the international agenda, including through the G8/Broader Middle East and North Africa Forum for the Future process. Despite some initial scepticism in the region, there is now a real willingness to engage with the G8 initiative, and the inaugural meeting of the forum will take place in Morocco next month.

Perhaps I may turn briefly to Europe. The combined political, military and economic weight of the EU's 25 member states is giving Europe an increasingly powerful role on the world stage. The UK, France and Germany, as leading nations within the EU, have persuaded Iran to abide by its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to agree that any future nuclear development be exclusively for peaceful purposes. Trade and co-operation with the world's largest single market and EU support for Iran's accession to the World Trade Organisation were powerful incentives for that country.
24 Nov 2004 : Column 27

In May of this year 75 million citizens from 10 nations joined the European Union. The 25 countries of the Union now form the world's largest partnership of democratic states. We should be proud of that. The EU constitution, agreed in June and signed last month, reaffirms the EU as a partnership of sovereign nation states committed to working together to strengthen the security and prosperity of all its citizens. Next year will see the United Kingdom's presidency of the European Union—a real opportunity to reaffirm this country's place at the heart of the values that we Europeans share; the values of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights.

But, as 75 million people have embraced Europe's ideals by joining the European Union, others elsewhere in the world are caught up in violent conflict and are sliding further into poverty. Therefore, poverty reduction will be at the heart of our political agenda in 2005. In September the UN will hold a summit to review progress in reaching the Millennium Development Goals to halve poverty, hunger and infant mortality by 2015.

But Africa is not on track for even the 2005 goals, let alone the 2015 targets. That is why we are putting Africa at the top of our priorities for our chairmanship of the G8 and the EU next year. That is why the Prime Minister has asked the Commission for Africa to take a fresh look at what is holding back Africa's progress and to put forward a strategy for Africa's future development.

UK aid to Africa will reach £1 billion in 2005 and we are on track to reach the UN 0.7 per cent target for our total overseas development assistance in less than a decade. This country has led the fight for debt relief, writing off bilateral debt owed to the UK, and we have provided 70 billion dollars of debt relief for the world's poorest countries. We are now taking the lead on multilateral debt and have made clear that we will fund our share of multilateral debt relief. We are now pressing others to take up the challenge.

We have proposed an international finance facility to raise an extra 50 billion dollars a year for the developing world. The UK is also leading the fight against AIDS. Over the next three years the Government will make available an impressive £1.5 billion for prevention treatment, help for orphaned children and scientific research for vaccines. We are doubling our contribution to the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and malaria to over £150 million.

Climate change, too, will be at the top of our agenda. We will aim to reach agreement on the basic science of climate change and the need to accelerate the development of new technology to meet the threat it poses. We will work with the emerging economic powers to help meet their energy needs on a sustainable basis. As holders of the EU presidency, we will focus on economic reform and further liberalisation of trade within Europe. We will take forward the agreement reached between WTO members to begin reducing agricultural subsidies—a key goal of the Doha Development Agenda.
24 Nov 2004 : Column 28

At the UN Millennium Review Summit, we shall seek a stronger consensus on the relationship between threats and development and work to strengthen the power of the UN partners to deliver peace and security. In 2005 the UK will be in a unique position to shape the debate in the EU and the G8 and, as chair of both, at the United Nations on the international response to the challenges which threaten our security.

The Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development work closely together, now more than ever, to address the root causes of instability in our world. In particular, the Government's African and global conflict prevention pools make funding available to support measures for security sector reform and post-conflict recovery that help to tackle the underlying causes of instability in many of the world's potential flashpoints. Additionally, the Ministry of Defence undertakes defence diplomacy activities, which encourage the responsible development of military capabilities. Such commitments are crucial in supporting stability in many countries.

So far, I have concentrated on the Government's work in partnership with our allies to build peace and democracy and to tackle the causes of poverty and instability. But in responding to the changed security environment, the international community must also be prepared to act, where necessary. To ensure that we are best able to do so, the Ministry of Defence has embarked on a modernisation and rebalancing of its Armed Forces to ensure that they are structured for the most likely pattern of operations that they will be asked to undertake; and to ensure that they are optimised to meet the security challenges of this century, and not those of the century past. Not to do so would be an abnegation of our duty to the people of this country, to our allies and partners, and, most of all, to the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces, and of whom we ask so much.

If we were not to engage in that modernisation, it would serve only to weaken our nation's defences at a time when they most need to be strong. We proposed changes in the Future Capabilities White Paper, published in July. It has, of course, the support of the Service Chiefs, and was underpinned by extra resources in the Spending Review 2004. The defence budget will increase by £3.7 billion over the next three years—an average annual increase of 1.4 per cent in real terms. That will continue the longest sustained period of increased spending on defence for over 20 years—in sharp contrast to what happened previously.

There will be investment in two new aircraft carriers deploying the Joint Strike Fighter, new amphibious shipping, Type 45 destroyers and new submarines. These developments will make the Royal Navy a formidable fighting force for many years to come and provide a step change in our ability to launch and support military effect onto land, at a time and place of our choosing.

The Royal Air Force will have the capability to maintain air superiority and rapidly to deploy forces world-wide. It will be equipped with modern, highly
24 Nov 2004 : Column 29
capable multi-role fast jets, such as Typhoon, with a range of modern stand-off weapons, and increasingly will be able to exploit the advantages to be gained from networked capabilities.

But it is the rebalancing of the Army which has captured the greatest attention and the greatest concern. Perhaps I may spell out the position as best I can. It is intended to provide the Army with a better, balanced mix of capabilities, from tanks and artillery at one end, to enhanced medium and lightweight capabilities to increase the deployability of our land forces. These lighter forces are essential if we are to tackle insurgents holed up in difficult terrain.

But key will be the restructuring of the infantry. By reducing the number of infantry battalions permanently committed to Northern Ireland—a consequence of the great strides we have made towards what we hope will be a lasting peace in the Province—we are able to redistribute much of the manpower free-up across the Army. That will not only create more robust and resilient unit establishments within the infantry but also bolster the most heavily committed specialists, such as logisticians, engineers, signallers and intelligence. When combined with the phasing out of the traditional, but inefficient, practice of arms plotting, for which I believe we have much support, it will greatly increase the pool of Army resources available for expeditionary operations and increase the availability of "boots on the ground", as noble Lords often like to put it.

I am afraid that this has been a rather hurried view across the fields covered by the debate. I am sure that we shall hear mention of many of the topics that I have raised and many that I have not. I end by saying that the security environment that confronts us today is as difficult as it is diverse. To rise to the challenges that it presents not only to us but to the whole international community requires us to use all the resources available to us—diplomatic, political, military, economic, developmental and cultural.

We cannot afford simply to react to the 21st century strategic environment; we must act positively to deal with the consequences of conflict, regional instability and poverty. As my noble friend Lord Robertson so aptly put it when he was Defence Secretary, we must go to the crisis rather than wait for it to come to us. That is obviously a significant challenge—not only for this country but also for our international allies and partners—but it is one to which this Government are determined to rise.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page