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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as is so often the case in debating foreign, defence and international development matters in your Lordships' House, today we have had the opportunity to hear some of the greatest expertise and the most powerful advocacy and intellectual erudition that the House has to offer.

We have also been very privileged to hear two excellent maiden speeches. The expertise of the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, was well known to many, particularly in relation to democratic values. We are now aware of her gentle humour and of her wisdom. I have known my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green for many years. His reputation as a trade unionist today has been enhanced by his contribution to our debate on international development and human rights. I join others in looking forward to hearing more from both new Members in the years to come.

There has been real conviction and real passion in the arguments adduced in the debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on leading for his party on foreign affairs. However, I thought his new role had given him some new flights of fancy; in particular, his view that the Government have been uncritical of United States policy. I thought that owed a little more to his extracurricular reading than to what Ministers actually say. He moved from PG Wodehouse to the scriptures at breathtaking pace. But I thought his conclusions smacked more of a boisterous Bertie Wooster than the wisdom of Solomon.

For many of your Lordships, the fundamental issues behind our action in Iraq continue to burn into the heart of any discussion on British foreign policy. At the same
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time the visceral issues around the Middle East peace process and the balance between an essentially European or transatlantic approach to this country's international relationships have been focused upon by many noble Lords.

The role of the UN, of Europe, the search for international consensus on the huge issues of tackling the scourge of poverty, terrorism proliferation and international security have all been discussed. The role of our Armed Forces and the need for a step change in our attitude to development, to international law and to trade and health were issues that also dominated the contributions from many of your Lordships. I shall do my best to respond.

Understandably many of your Lordships concentrated your contributions on Iraq, including the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, the noble Lords, Lord Hurd of Westwell and Lord Avebury, my noble friend Lord Gilbert and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. My noble friend Lady Turner of Camden spoke eloquently and powerfully in opposition to the military action. My noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale expressed with her characteristic clarity that the year 2005 will be a critical one for Iraq. The January elections mark a key step forward in the political process.

Iraqis want elections. That is borne out in all Iraqi opinion polls. So it is welcome news that a firm date of 30 January has now been set by the interim government. Voter registration is well under way. The registration of political parties began on 1 November. Already there is widespread interest in the participation from across the political spectrum. A major public information campaign has been launched. But of course security for the elections is vital. That is why UK Armed Forces and other members of the multi-national force are giving the Iraqi Government and Iraqi security forces every possible support.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, will forgive me if I do join the many tributes paid during the course of the debate to the remarkable courage and determination of the United Kingdom's Armed Forces. I pay tribute also to the staff in our embassy in Baghdad under the leadership of our ambassador, Edward Chaplain, to our officers working in Basra and in Kirkuk and to the former staff of the coalition provisional authority for the tireless work that they have undertaken to help the people of Iraq.

The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, was right in this respect: we really do have to plan better on how to support Iraq's future. It is vital that we and the rest of the international community continue to support the efforts of the Iraqi Interim Government to rid Iraq of the insurgents and to support the political process and to help rebuild Iraq.

I agree strongly with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, that the support of the European Union is vital in this respect, as is the support of Iraq's neighbours. That is why I welcome the commitment expressed yesterday by Iraq's neighbours and the wider international community at Sharm el
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Sheikh to continue to support the political process and the reconstruction effort in Iraq. I welcome too the Paris Club agreement last weekend to write off 80 per cent of Iraq's external debt. That will give Iraq 100 billion dollars to help underpin economic recovery.

I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that we cannot afford to let Iraq fail. The insurgents want to create maximum chaos and disorder to advance their extreme, fanatical agenda and we do have to defeat them. If we can defeat them in Iraq, we will strike a major blow against extremist forces worldwide.

However, I do not believe, unlike my noble friend Lady Turner, that this is a total catastrophe in Iraq. There are 240 hospitals and 1,200 primary healthcare centres in Iraq which are functioning. Routine immunisations were restarted in the year 2003 and national polio and measles vaccination programmes are now complete.

The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, gave us further details of his important and courageous work—work which is also undertaken in a different sphere by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, who unfortunately is not able to be in her place today. Meanwhile, over 6 million pupils and 300,000 teachers are in over 20,000 schools and 350,000 students and 50,000 employees are in higher education. Major school refurbishment programmes are under way; 70 million new textbooks have been distributed. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, is quite right that much is improving in power generation, in access to safe water and in transport and communications.

In response to the points about women put by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, six out of 31 ministers in Iraq are now women, including the important ministries of agriculture, labour and social affairs. There is a reference to respect for women's rights in UNSCR 1456, and electoral law aims to ensure that one in every four successful candidates in the election for the transitional national assembly is a woman.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, spoke about casualties, which we have discussed in your Lordships' House only in the past few days. There are no wholly reliable figures for Iraqi civilian casualties, but Iraq's ministry of health began collating statistics in the past six months. Those figures include victims of terrorist activity. They amount to just fewer than 4,000, so it is difficult to understand the assumptions underpinning the Lancet figure of 100,000.

Noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield, discussed the legality of the war. It is important to highlight the difficulty of the lack of international consensus on how such decisions are reached. Those issues are developing in international law. For what it is worth, my view is that a UN capacity in this respect might be very welcome, provided that the participants in such decisions at the UN themselves have a recognisable legitimacy through a mandate regulated by the rule of law. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, I hope that the report from the UN High-Level Panel may shed some light on the matter, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
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I cannot go into the details of the case of Trooper Williams, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Astor of Hever. We are immensely proud of our service personnel in Iraq, but this matter is sub judice, so it would not be proper for me to comment on any aspect of the case that is a matter for the court. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that we hope that a single tri-service Act, replacing the separate systems of service law, will be introduced. We are committed to it, and I hope that it will come forward soon.

The noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis raised issues on Iran. We welcome, in particular, Iran's commitment to put in place a full, sustained suspension of all fuel-cycle activities. That is essential if the international community is to have assurances that the aims of Iraq's nuclear programme are indeed exclusively peaceful. The contribution of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in that respect has been enormous; I am sorry that it was not more fulsomely acknowledged. He has been tireless in his commitment to seek a way through this particularly potentially damaging international dispute.

For many noble Lords the more deep-seated, fundamental problem in the region is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, was right to say that the Prime Minister's decision to go to Washington reflected his commitment to leave no stone unturned in the search for peace in the Middle East. That was not excitable impetuosity, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Howell; it was a well timed intervention which, as the Minister responsible for the relationship with that part of the world, I found that many Arab representatives at the United Nations last week appreciated hugely.

For many noble Lords this issue is the fundamental concern of international politics at the moment. That view was reflected by the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Alderdice, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, at the end of whose contribution I almost cheered—as much for the speed of his delivery as for the content. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and my noble friends Lord Desai and Lady Ramsay also spoke about the issue.

As the Prime Minister went to Washington, he and President Bush were able to reaffirm a joint commitment to a two-state solution. That commitment is shared by our partners in the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. But let it be said that it is also shared by the crown prince in Saudi Arabia and all the members of the Arab League. There is a commitment to a secure Israel, side by side with a viable Palestine, achieved through negotiation between the parties. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and the right reverend Prelate that there was no doubt in my mind about what I was told by the Arab permanent representatives at the UN last week.

Of course, words are not enough: it is action that counts. That point was made powerfully by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. Since the last
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debate on the gracious Speech, much has changed. The Sharon disengagement plan is a welcome first step in a broader process, working with the grain of an Israeli-led initiative. The re-election of President Bush opens the way to greater real United States engagement than we have seen in recent months. The inevitable changes in the Palestinians' leadership, following the death of their president, may create an environment in which negotiation and real exchanges between the parties are, at long last, possible. However, it means real effort and real work, not merely shouting instructions or advice at others from the sideline.

In his wonderfully powerful contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, asked me, "What remains?". In the UK, we have worked for some time with the Palestinian Interior Ministry and the security chiefs to improve security in Gaza and the West Bank. Now, the international community—the EU, the US and the UN—must provide support for the Palestinian elections next January. Israeli support is vital too, to accommodate the elections on the broadest possible franchise. To support Israel and the Palestinians, we must also, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, suggested, give support to Palestine's nearest neighbours. The political, economic and security infrastructure will be essential if a viable Palestinian state is to take root, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, envisaged, supported by my noble friend Lord Desai.

Israel has an opportunity to demonstrate its willingness as a democratic state living under the rule of law with humanitarian values to respond to a Palestinian leadership that is prepared to tackle security and deal with terrorism. We call on Israel now to make good its undertakings on a settlement freeze; deal with the hardships caused to the Palestinians by the routing of the security barrier; and support credible Palestinian elections. A new Palestinian leadership will have an opportunity to deal with terrorism; organise security properly; deal openly and transparently with corruption; and establish the rule of law. If that is possible, there are some real chances for the region.

I shall write to my noble friend Lord Desai and the noble Baronesses, Lady Rawlings and Lady Northover, about their well expressed concerns about Afghanistan and drugs. The United Kingdom is providing over £90 million for the development of alternative livelihoods; for targeted eradication campaigns; for law enforcement and interdiction; for criminal justice; for drug demand reduction; and for information campaigns to raise drug awareness. I hope that that answers the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever. I would also point out that a great deal is being done to deal with the shattered infrastructure of Afghanistan. Most tellingly, 3.1 million refugees and 500,000 internally displaced people have returned home. They have done so because things are getting better—not worse—in Afghanistan.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, again juxtaposed our relationship with the United States with our relationship with the European Union. His argument was, worryingly, a mirror reflection of that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of
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Saltaire. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, believes that we are too European, to the detriment of our relationship with the United States; the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, believes that we are too influenced by the United States, to the detriment of our relationship with the European Union.

Of course, there are, at times, international tensions across the Atlantic. We have seen differences over Iraq, and we see them emerge on defence and NATO-related issues, as was illustrated by the story told by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. However, to describe our attitude to Europe as subordinate to our attitude to the United States is plainly wrong. We disagreed with France and Germany on Iraq, and we agreed with the United States on Iraq. On Iran, we have been shoulder to shoulder with our European allies and in a somewhat different place from some of our United States friends.

My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel raised some interesting issues about the neo-con tendency in the United States administration. The UK's position as the United States' closest ally is fundamental to the understanding and co-operation that there must be between the European Union and the United States, if we are to tackle effectively the threats to global peace and security. We will work hard to strengthen the commitment on both sides of the Atlantic to global partnership between Europe and America.

The United States and Europe remain by far and away each other's most important commercial partners. The transatlantic economy generates roughly 2.5 trillion dollars a year and employs 12 million people. So who can fail to recognise that there are opportunities and that there are risks too? In going down the path of those who want to urge the Government to make a choice one way or the other—Europe or America—I counsel noble Lords to be very careful before taking any such position.

As always, there were contributions on the European constitution—notably from the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, in his not quite maiden speech. It gave me as much pleasure to hear from the Cross Benches as it did to hear similar speeches from the Liberal Democrat Benches. I also hugely valued the well argued contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell.

We have been over those issues many times, and time is short this evening. Perhaps I may say to your Lordships that the EU constitution is, in the opinion of the Government, good for Britain and good for Europe. It makes Europe more Atlanticist, less integrationist and more reformist. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, tried to persuade us that we lose more than we gain from the European constitution.

But my view is very different. For the first time ever, the treaty will allow national parliaments to examine proposed legislation from the European Commission. If one-third objects, the Commission must review its results. The appointment of a full-time president of the European Council, the body representing member states, will mean that European governments—not a federal body—will set Europe's agenda.
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We will have the opportunity to develop those matters more closely when we look at the European Bill. I agree strongly with the excellent points made by the noble Lords, Lord Dahrendorf and Lord Hannay of Chiswick, and my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis about Turkey's accession discussions beginning, which is a decision that we hope will be taken at the European Council on 17 December. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made a point about the length of time in respect of the Bill. That is very much a matter which is in your Lordships' hands.

I turn to the questions on Ukraine raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and my noble friend Lord Gilbert. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in a statement yesterday:

In the mean time, we urge all restraint on the Ukrainian people and that their differences with each other remain peaceful.

My noble friend Lord Desai raised questions about Kashmir. Progress in the peace process between the two countries is an important signal to the outside world of the new phase in Indo-Pakistani relationships. We hope that they will also reflect the views of the people of Kashmir.

For many of your Lordships the main thrust of our policies lies not so much with the difficulties in Iraq or the Middle East, nor even with the interpretation of our proper role in Europe, but in the age-old, heart-wrenching arguments about poverty, hunger and disease in the world, and our responsibilities in tackling some of the most pressing development issues that there are.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross, Lady Rawlings, and Lady Cox, and my noble friend Lady Whitaker, all made powerful contributions in that respect. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, in his extraordinarily compelling contribution, concentrated on those issues. I was also very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Winchester and the Bishop of Oxford for their timely and well informed remarks.

To the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, I say that the Government are well aware of the concerns that he raised about the illegal exploitation of the DRC. The United Kingdom National Contact Point on national resources is following up on the reports of the UN panel and has had discussions with a number of parties involved. We remain fully committed to the industry's transparency initiative, which was launched by the Prime Minister in 2002, to promote full transparency of the payments. If there are further points that the right reverend Prelate wants to raise with me on those issues, I hope that he will do so.

The right reverend Prelate asked what more can be done, and the issues surrounding poverty reduction were mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross
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and Lady Rawlings, and by my noble friend Lady Whitaker. Africa will be at the heart of our political agenda next year. Africa is unlikely to meet even the 2005 millennium development goals, let alone the targets for 2015. That is why we are putting Africa at the top of our priorities for our chairmanship of the G8 and the EU next year, and 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 to put forward a strategy for its future development. UK aid to Africa will reach £1 billion in 2005, and we are taking the lead on bilateral multi-debt relief. We have also proposed an international finance facility to raise an extra 50 billion dollars a year for the developing world. I hope that this answers the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and I shall write to him further on the points concerning women's health.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was right to emphasise the importance of the WTO Doha development round. Trade is indeed the key to so much of development potential, in particular when it is done in concert with development targets. It is the sort of help mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. The EU's position on trade co-operation is, I believe, more sensitive to development issues than the right reverend Prelate implied. I should like to write to him and to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on the issues of debt relief, aid and trade justice.

I should like also to write to the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross and Lady Northover, on the enormously important issues they raised regarding HIV/AIDS. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and although time is against me, I do not want to skimp on this point. We in the UK are leading the fight against AIDS. Over the next three years we will be making available £1.5 billion for prevention treatment, help for orphaned children and scientific research into vaccines. We are doubling our contribution to the Global Fund for the eradication of AIDS, TB and malaria to over £150 million.

I will write to the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, about their points on Sudan. Those are enormously important, but we have debated them relatively recently in your Lordships' House, so perhaps they will forgive me if I write.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, made about Latin America. The noble Baroness knows how interested I am in that region and I hope that she wins her next attempt in the ballot for a debate. Similarly, I have much sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, on Cuba. I confess that I too have a huge affection for that country. I was the first political Minister to visit it since the revolution and I believe that we can do much more in relation to Cuba. I shall write to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on the issues she raised about Burma. We have also discussed those fairly recently. On the issues of UN reform, which are complex and difficult, perhaps I may write to my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden, and the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Hannay of Chiswick.
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A number of noble Lords concentrated their remarks on the Armed Forces. The noble Lords, Lord Monro of Langholm, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, Lord Swinfen, Lord Lyell, Lord Astor of Hever, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Park of Monmouth and Lady Strange, all concentrated many of their remarks on the Armed Forces. I was particularly impressed by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, whose contribution was so telling that he moved smoothly from the Liberal Democrat Back Benches to the Front Bench during the course of the debate.

I have listened carefully to the concerns about future plans for the Armed Forces, in particular for the infantry, as well as to the concerns expressed about overstretch and the need to maintain sufficient infantry to meet our operational commitments. Let us be clear: the changes we are making are not just about investing in high-tech equipment. They are deliberately designed, and designed by the Army itself, to make better use of our capabilities. We realise that technology can never replace the value of boots on the ground. That is the very reason why we are making changes to the way in which we organise the Army, in particular the infantry. In this way we shall have more deployable troops and will be able to ensure that those troops are deployed more effectively and, equally, are more effectively supported.

Change is always difficult, but the Army Board itself has concluded that the approach of the arms plot is no longer sustainable. Ministers agree and the facts speak for themselves. I could give your Lordships illustrations, but I know that my noble friend Lord Bach will write to those noble Lords who contributed to the debate on this basis. However, I should say that much of this will deliver the very stability that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, was so persuasive in suggesting to your Lordships is vital.

The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, took us from "Come Dancing" to the "Generation Game", stopping off at various trouble spots during his youth. The noble Lord should look at what happened under the Conservative government between 1992 and 1997. He should look at the way in which many fine regiments, with names going back over generations, were amalgamated.

As to what he described as a "really good girl"—an epithet which I presume is meant to be flattering—I shall be very happy to discuss those issues with him further. Personally, I would welcome a debate because it would give us the opportunity to show that under the last Conservative government the naval fleet was reduced in size. Submarine numbers fell from 18 to 10, a fall of some 45 per cent; the number of frigates fell from 22 to 19; the number of naval personnel was cut from 55,800 to 45,100; and the number of RAF squadrons fell from 55 to 47.

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