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House of Lords

Wednesday, 15 December 2004.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, before business begins, may I take the opportunity to inform the House that I will be undertaking a personal engagement on 21 December? Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.

Terrorism

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, varied. Although we condemn the activities of Al'Qaeda and other terrorist groups, we also recognise that actual and perceived injustices, poverty, economic and political exclusion and religious intolerance provide fertile soil in which terrorism can grow. We are endeavouring to tackle these through dialogue on economic progress, education, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Most recently, the forum for the future initiative is a clear example of positive movement in these areas.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does she not agree that the calculating minds behind terrorism succeed only if they have a climate of ambivalence and alienation in which to operate? Is it not therefore essential that, whatever control mechanisms need to be in place, the really tough challenge is this business of winning hearts and minds? In that context, will my noble friend assure the House that top of the Government's priority remains the need to bring the iniquities of Guantanamo Bay to a conclusion, rapidly?

It is also essential to ensure that in our own administration of immigration, asylum and community policy the dignity and self respect of those being controlled are of paramount importance all the time. We must not add to the legions of disillusioned on whom the terrorists can prey.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, this is a complicated question and to be perfectly frank,
 
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this is the sort of issue that lends itself to a full-scale debate in your Lordships' House. However, let me do my best to deal with the main points.

My noble friend says that the calculating minds behind terrorism succeed where there is a climate of ambivalence. I do not think that that is true. They flourish when some people who have truly evil intent manage to get hold of the instruments by which they cause death and destruction on a large scale. I put it to my noble friend that with the episode of 9/11 there was not so much an ambivalent climate as an opportunity.

My noble friend can say, as he does, "Ah, but thereafter that allows the climate to grow and terrorism to take root". Of course, the issues of Guantanamo, immigration and asylum must be dealt with sensitively, but I travel extensively in the Middle East and the people who tell me that they have problems with growing terrorism do not cite any of those issues to me. They cite issues about economic progress and human rights and, I am bound to say, about the Middle East peace process. Therefore, although I agree with my noble friend that it is terribly important to get behind these issues, I cannot agree with the detail of his analysis.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, bearing in mind what the Minister has just said and the words of President Musharraf recently in Britain, will she accept that one complaint has been about the softly-softly approach taken by Western governments to some of the activities of Mr Sharon's Government, especially the rapacious route of the security wall? Does she hope for a change if Mr Shimon Peres and his party enter the Israeli Government?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not think that we have been as softly-softly as the noble Lord seems to imply in his question. We put tough points to the Israeli Government about the route of the barrier. I have put very tough points to them about the ways in which occupation has been dealt with and the checkpoints operate. Israel has high aspirations on human rights, but sadly sometimes falls short of those aspirations. I put those points and I put them very robustly, so I cannot accept that there is a softly-softly attitude. We need to get on better terms in an international dialogue over this issue, which I believe is one of the excuses used—I do not say that it is just cause—for international terrorism.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can anything be done to restore the safe feeling of the international aid agencies, which have been so disillusioned recently? In the past, no matter how severe the conflict, people seemed to welcome international NGOs and aid agencies which came to help the poor people and those suffering terribly from these conditions. Recently, we have seen such occasions where people from these agencies have been forced to withdraw from areas of conflict.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there is a great deal in what the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, says, especially in Iraq, where we have seen terrorists making a real effort to
 
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target those who are trying to bring aid and succour to areas where much needed help has been wanting and where the terrorists target certain international organisations. But many aid agencies do keep going in quite appallingly difficult circumstances—in Sudan, for example, which we recently discussed in your Lordships' House. Many also carry on in difficult circumstances in certain parts of Africa, so let us not for a moment imply that the aid agencies are not carrying out their valuable work very courageously. However, in some areas where aid agencies are specifically the targets, yes indeed, it has had a deleterious effect.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, as regards the Minister's first reply that countering terrorism is primarily a matter of winning hearts and minds and of addressing the underlying causes of terrorism, does she agree that the phrase "war against terrorism" is extremely misleading and skews the perspective in which people see this issue?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I think that the right reverend Prelate has misunderstood me. Hearts and minds are enormously important in this battle but there is also a tougher side to our response on terrorism; let us not forget it. I refer to increased efforts regarding gathering intelligence on terrorism; a deepening of cross-departmental working relationships on counter terrorism within our own set-up in this country; developing a model on counter terrorism that many of our allies are now putting in place in their own countries; and developing broader international networks on terrorism. The fact is this is a brutal, nasty business and we cannot just approach it through winning hearts and minds. Sadly, we must sometimes adopt a fairly brutal response because the security of our own people is of paramount importance.

Lord Rea: My Lords—

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): It is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one way of winning hearts and minds is to be seen to tackle the many human rights abuses which are by no means confined to Middle East countries, and that the emphasis should be on human rights and not on trying to impose strange and unfamiliar systems of government on other countries?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord has said. That is why we have sought partnerships—most recently in Rabat this weekend—with the countries of the broader Middle East. However, the noble Lord is quite right; the problems extend far beyond that area. This is not a question of imposition but of forming much needed partnerships in many areas. That is why I referred to
 
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economic growth, education, democracy and rule of law issues and, of course, the all-important question of human rights.

Minimum Wage

Lord Rosser asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Triesman: My Lords, the Government have not received any recent representations calling for the abolition of the minimum wage.


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