Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, it is both a privilege and a pleasure to address noble Lords for the first time. I have some concern when I look around the House to see assembled so much erudition combined with a vast array of experience. An inner voice tells me that I should proceed with caution or, as they say in trade union circles where I come from: "Don't forget to engage the brain before opening your mouth!"

First, let me thank the staff who, in a charming way, spare no efforts to assist newcomers; it is much appreciated. I am especially indebted to one young woman who remarked, "There are two issues guaranteed to fill this House—hunting and homosexuality"! What prescience in one so young. I must confess that I was somewhat shocked when in the recent debate on civil partnership the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asked a probing question (no pun intended) of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, on the difference between a civil partnership and a civil marriage. Her reply was a somewhat graphic description of consummation. Perhaps we need a watershed hour in case there are children present.

I understand that it is usual to tell a bit about oneself. I was born in the East End of London in 1942, a child of second generation Jewish immigrants. My grandparents came from Holland on my father's side and Russia and Poland on my mother's side. They were early 19th century asylum seekers who were glad to find a safe haven. Like many war babies I was evacuated and on return to the East End one of my first childhood memories was the numerous adventure playgrounds created by the Luftwaffe during the blitz, more usually known as bomb sites!

I now live in Norwood Green, a small oasis on the edge of Southall in west London. I beg to differ with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who said that the Norwood Green in Bradford was better. I suppose that it is a matter of opinion. The area is
24 Nov 2004 : Column 63
bounded by the Grand Union canal, that marvellous legacy of the first industrial revolution, and fields which lead you to the glories of Osterley Park. Norwood Green was a village in Elizabethan times and it still retains a village atmosphere. The village green is near the pub and the church, St. Mary's, whose vicar and wife are up in the gallery. Father Leslie has an interesting background as a former shop steward. The woman I love—to paraphrase the song—my wife Margaret, is also up in the gallery, accompanied by my son Paul. They are busily assessing me for technical merit and artistic impression.

Lady Young is Norwood Green born and bred. Indeed, her grandfather and partner built the estate where we now live. I chair Norwood Green Residents' Association and I am a governor of our local school, Three Bridges Primary School, which is named after an interesting piece of local civil engineering designed by Brunel to accommodate the intersection of road, rail and canal. The school, which my children attended, reflects the diversity of the community. Twenty-nine languages are spoken with English as the second language at home—a challenging educational environment.

I started working with the GPO—as we called it in those days—in 1958 as a telecom apprentice. I was not a very good engineer, which I put down to a poor genetic inheritance; that is, my father, who was unable to connect two pieces of wood if given a hammer and nails. I must mention my first mentor, a Geordie called Mac. He was a cleaner who arrived at the telephone exchange where I was working. He was fond, among other things, of resting on his broom and discussing current affairs and socialism. He gave me two bits of advice that profoundly affected my life. He said, "You should attend your union meeting and read this book, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist". For those who are unfamiliar with this work of literature, it has become the bible of the trade union movement. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my trade union, formerly the Post Office Engineering Union and now the Communication Workers Union, which gave me a great education and the opportunity to pursue a vocation.

Tom Paine, that great libertarian, said that the world is my country, to do good is my religion—two principles which I admire greatly. I have chosen to intervene in this debate because of my interest in international development. Here I must pay tribute to the Department for International Development whose generous support has helped two organisations with which I have a close acquaintance. The Ethical Trading Initiative is a tripartite organisation involving major retailers and suppliers to UK markets representing many familiar high street names, trade unions representing workers in every country where unions are legal and NGOs working to promote human rights and equitable development worldwide. Our members work together—that is sometimes surprising—with the main aim of improving the lives of workers and their families in global supply chains by applying internationally recognised labour standards, in particular fundamental human rights. We
24 Nov 2004 : Column 64
were a key player in helping the Government to draft essential legislation on the licensing of gangmasters which we hope will help to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers in the UK. No doubt noble Lords will remember the recent tragedy of the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers. Exploitation does not occur only in the developing world.

I am also chair of the One World Broadcasting Trust, a charity that exists to promote media coverage of the developing world and helps to develop broadcasting talent in the developing world. Noble Lords do not need me to remind them that we live in a global society which is both unequal and dysfunctional. Finding solutions to these problems is surely the most important challenge of the 2lst century. I welcome the UK Government's efforts to lead by example on debt relief for the developing world. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for reminding us about our ability to reach the 0.7 per cent aid target, helping to tackle the causes of poverty and instability. I also welcome the recent announcements on the Commission for Africa and the attempts to reform the European common agricultural policy—essential themes if we are to tackle global inequalities.

Outsourcing of UK jobs to the developing world is another highly contentious issue, not just because of the employment implications for the UK but also because in some cases the workers who gain employment are exploited and denied basic human rights. Decent core labour standards should be the linchpin of a global society in the 21st century. Corporate social responsibility—a phrase that noble Lords will no doubt have often heard—will be seen as an oxymoron unless companies and governments ensure that the principles are put into practice and workers, wherever they are in the world, get a fair deal.

All of us like a bargain, but the next time noble Lords shop and see an item at a very low price—for example, an item of clothing for £5—they should think about the workers at the end of the supply chain. The relief of poverty and the elimination of exploitation are in all our interests and an essential part of the struggle for a peaceful world.

I am frequently asked how I got to be in the House of Lords—for me a difficult question. Some of my erstwhile Left-wing comrades believe that it is another example of my class collaboration, refusing to believe that I could be part of a deep conspiracy to destroy the aristocracy from within—clearly, they are born cynics. I am not sure what special qualities I bring to this House, but two teenagers at home ensure that I am well aware of the dangers of joining the BOF brigade; that is, the boring old flatulence—I have changed that word slightly. I hope that I can use my experience of industrial relations, which has taught me an important basic rule; namely—I apologise for the next bit—multis modis felem deglubere potest. For those noble Lords who are not Latin scholars, that means there is more than one way to skin a cat. I thank noble Lords for their indulgence because, as they will realise, with that pronunciation I am definitely not a Latin scholar.

To conclude, 170 years ago some of the first trade unionists were transported to Australia for trying to form a union. I wonder what the Tolpuddle Martyrs
24 Nov 2004 : Column 65
would have thought about the inheritors of their heroic legacy occupying seats in the House of Lords and the other place. I again thank noble Lords.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, it is a real treat to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green. The Officers of the House are very efficient and, seeing my place on the list, they gave me his CV. I looked through it with proper respect, and must admit that I was expecting someone rather solemn and venerable to address us, instead of which the noble Lord is young-looking, if I may say so, lively and certainly thrusting. However, from his CV, there is no doubt that he has built up a very wide agenda through the trade union that he served, the general council of the TUC, the BBC and his many interests. It is much more than the usual courtesy and platitude to say that we look forward very much to him educating us on many of those matters in the months and years to come.

I want to say some words about Iraq, as many speakers have. It is the first time that I have done so in this House, for a reason that I find rather hard to explain, but I think that I am not alone in it. On both sides of the argument, the feelings that the war has aroused have been so strong—certainly in my case—that it has been rather difficult to turn them into the courteous and cool debating style to which this House is rightly accustomed. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, nods her head, so I am not alone in having that feeling. I take comfort from my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, who showed us again this afternoon how one combines very strong feelings with a courteous manner.

The Prime Minister and noble Lords in this House give us the same message when they say, to those of us who believe and have believed all through this adventure that it was foolish and wrong, that we should put aside disagreements about the past and concentrate on the present. The difficulty about that—it has some force—is that the past shapes and often dominates the present. No one in their senses—no one in the House, certainly—would argue against the aim of a stable and democratic Iraq, reinforced again yesterday by the conference at Sharm el Sheikh. However, it is much more difficult to achieve what we want because of the miscalculations at the outset and because—let us put it bluntly—of the many thousands of Iraqis killed as a result. We should not underestimate, any more than dictators should underestimate in their dictatorships, the deep-seated and long-standing anger and grief that can come from such things.

I would like to ask specifically about the influence of Her Majesty's Government over the present strategy pursued in central Iraq, which we are underpinning with the decision about the Black Watch. It is clearly wrong to argue that the decision was purely operational—purely a matter for military commanders. I courteously want to make a point to the noble Lord, Lord Bach. It is not enough for Ministers simply to praise the skill and courage of our Armed Forces. Anyone who has had experience of them—that includes most people in the House—knows that such praise has been and is now
24 Nov 2004 : Column 66
absolutely justified. However, it does not in itself at all justify whatever strategy our Armed Forces are sent to execute by their political masters.

The strategy in central Iraq is still going on. It is highly political, and is designed to clear the way for elections in January. Its outcome is uncertain because of the risk that in such operations one creates as many terrorists as one kills, because of the hatred that one causes. That is the lesson of Gaza and the West Bank, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester eloquently pointed out a few minutes ago. It is the lesson of Chechnya, where, town by town, homes are destroyed and lives are wrecked.

We do not know the outcome in central Iraq because the operation is still under way. My question is much more limited, but is important. Did the Government know and approve at ministerial level the strategy that they agreed to underpin? That is a necessary question because of what happened last year—it is not now in doubt—when our Prime Minister simply accepted without question the Pentagon's strategy for the occupation of Iraq after the military victory, a strategy based on assumptions that turned out to be disastrously and predictably misguided.

There has been talk of delaying the elections because of the insurgency and the state of central Iraq. It is certainly hard to see how, in practice, the citizens of Fallujah, Samarra, Ramadi and now part of Mosul will be able to take a great deal of interest in registration and electioneering as they creep back to rebuild their shattered homes. I am not clear—I would be interested if the Minister said something more about it—that delaying the elections would help matters. It would bring considerable success to the insurgents, including the brutal terrorists. It might well lead to more months of killing and destruction.

There seems to be a growing consensus, not least in this House, that it may therefore be best to hold the elections as best we can. We should not deceive ourselves that the holding of elections will solve the problems, particularly in central Iraq, but they should lead to a new constituent assembly and a government with some democratic legitimacy, which they do not have at the moment.

My final point relates to the future. It is not too soon to look ahead to the situation after the election. I hope that Ministers will not brush that aside by saying that it is premature. It is precisely the failure to look ahead—to look beyond the immediate problem—that has landed us and Iraq in a great deal of trouble. Now, not later, is the time for forethought. Later, we shall be told that we have no option about whatever is going to happen. Now is the time for options and thought.

If a new government emerge in Iraq consisting mainly, as is more likely than unlikely, of the Shia majority in alliance with the Kurds, if most or a large part of the Sunni minority in central Iraq and Baghdad do not take part in one way or another, and if violence on something like the present scale continues, a question will arise about the role of British and American troops in particular. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford that there can be no question
24 Nov 2004 : Column 67
of arguing for immediate or early withdrawal of our forces. However, we should surely be wary of sliding into a not-inconceivable situation where a fragile government in Baghdad under real pressure rely on us almost indefinitely to keep under control by force what is essentially an unsolved political problem; namely, that of reconciling the different factions and communities in Iraq to make possible a system of governance that is generally acceptable.

The situation is not like Cyprus, where, for many years, we have joined in policing and patrolling a settled line dividing two parts of an island. It is far from ideal, as we all know. However, it is child's play compared to what might be involved in occupying provinces of Iraq by force because of a failure to agree. In the end, the problem would in those circumstances be a political problem needing a political solution. It would be for us and the UN to do everything that we could to help the Iraqis to solve it. However, we should not continue the illusion that has haunted the enterprise, particularly in some of the things said on the other side of the Atlantic, that it is possible to introduce democracy into Iraq—or the Middle East in general—with tanks, missiles and the apparatus of military force.

I am not asking for details of policy after the elections; that is obviously not possible. What I ask for—I think that it is reasonable to do so—is an assurance from the Minister that those problems, options and worries are this time being carefully weighed and considered in advance.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page