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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords—

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I have very limited time, so I hope that the noble Baroness will interrupt me shortly.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is also very important that pupils have good guidance so that students know what offers are available to them?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. I thank her for interrupting me. In fact part of the proposal is to ensure that there is good guidance. That is crucial in trying to raise participation at that point.

Part of the discussion on participation was about motivation. It is not simply about the educational offer made but about how you motivate those on the other side of the table to feel that it is worthwhile. That takes us back to our discussions in earlier debates about what does or does not turn off some young people from engaging in education.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about the importance of early years, wider social factors and support services. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about looked-after children and some of the disadvantages that they have faced before being looked after. Clearly, the international dimension is valuable.

There is not as much time as I would like to respond to all those points but I take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that 9 per cent of young people are not in employment, education or training at all. That is one of the hardest targets to crack. Our proposals for a new programme for 14 to 16 year-olds, to which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred, based on entry to employment, will include high levels of advice, guidance and support to tackle non-educational problems, including teenage pregnancy. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for reminding me of that point.

I have just a few minutes to touch briefly on other important issues raised. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, a redoubtable contributor to our education and training debates, raised an eyebrow at the fact that religious education was hardly mentioned. The White Paper has not changed the position on religious education: it remains a statutory requirement up to age 16. The proposals recognise its importance in personal development, and the RE framework introduced by Charles Clarke, to which the right reverend Prelate referred, provides a sound basis for strengthening RE in
 
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schools. All that is there, believed in and a crucial part of the agenda. I assure the right reverend Prelate that it is not going away. Sometimes part of the challenge is not to write everything into White Papers because they would become almost unreadable. I know that he understands that.

I was also challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who said that the White Paper did not set out a clear vision of the knowledge, skills and attributes that young people need. I do not believe that that is so. It provides a firm grounding in the basics— English, maths and ICT—a framework of thinking and learning skills, including inquiry and creative thinking, and a body of knowledge and understanding about self, society and the place in the world, through the statutory national curriculum. A wide pedagogic view must be taken rather than a narrow one.

I have already touched on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, about the aim of creating a quarter of a million or so apprenticeships. I could say much more if there was more time. I shall write to him if he wishes.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked about reviving the co-curriculum. I can confirm that shortly we will set out our proposals to recognise and embed the value of wider educational and social activities in supporting learning. That could well be in the youth Green Paper, so I ask noble Lords to wait in patience.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked whether resources would be made available to raise the quality of vocational education. I can assure her that resources will be made available; for example, new capital funding for FE announced in today's Budget will improve facilities for vocational education. We are working with employers to set up new sector-based skills academies as national centres of excellence in vocational learning.

The noble Lord, Lord Moser, asked whether this was just one stage in a longer process that would bring together Tomlinson and the White Paper proposals. In essence, he was asking whether, if there was some divergence now, it would come back together later. The White Paper proposals clearly build on Tomlinson's proposals but go further in some respects. They have set the direction and will now enter a crucial phase of implementation. It will allow time for development, careful piloting and review to make sure that we get right the fundamental reforms of which I have spoken.

The White Paper also commits us to carry out a review in 2008 to establish whether anything further is needed to increase the breadth at advanced level. No doubt, that will give us opportunities to reflect on the issues and to see both how the reform programme that we have so far is going and whether it says we need to go further, faster or even wider.

The Government's focus will now be on making it happen. We have been through the process of testing, debating and consulting; it is now about action planning to deliver it. We are developing a clear, robust implementation plan. An extended range of GCSEs in
 
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vocational subjects will be available later this year, as will pilots of the upgraded maths and English GCSEs. The first four specialised diplomas will be introduced in 2008, and schools, colleges and training providers in each area will collaborate to deliver the full range of 14 to 19 options. We believe that those reforms will deliver the diverse routes needed to increase participation and provide the skills that our young people and employers need to take society forward. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that that will be substantially different as a result of the changes.

I thank the House and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for a stimulating debate.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his thoughtful response, and all noble Lords for their participation in the debate. I hope that the Minister will bring this very good debate to the Secretary of State's attention because it has been useful.

In general, quite a number of noble Lords lamented the Government's failure to rise to the challenge of creating an integrated framework. Nevertheless, as other noble Lords pointed out, many good things are happening. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, mentioned the increased flexibility programme, and the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, talked about the integration of the sector skills councils with developing the agendas in vocational areas. Those of us who feel that the whole is not quite the same as the sum of the parts need to take the good things that are happening but to go on pressing the Government to embed them into a more integrated framework. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Iraq

Lord Garden rose to call attention to the economic, political and security developments in Iraq since the intervention in 2003 by United Kingdom Armed Forces; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this weekend it will be two years since the United Kingdom joined the United States, Australia and Poland in a large-scale military intervention in Iraq. Ignoring the question of the legality or legitimacy, the coalition powers, after the short war, were in an extraordinarily strong position to help build a new democratic, economically viable and stable Iraq. Unfortunately, the speed and efficiency of the combat phase of the operation has not been replicated over the past two years in the reconstruction phase.

I have not called for this debate to repeat the concerns that many of us have over the process by which we went to war in Iraq. Nor do I want to spend time attributing blame for mistakes made in the planning, or the lack of it, for the aftermath. Rather I
 
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hope that we can review progress in the economic, political and security aspects with a view to tackling the many serious challenges ahead.

One of the difficulties that those of us who study these matters have is the lack of usable objective data. It is particularly difficult to plot trends in the economy, quality of life or physical security when different baselines and indicators are continually used. The assessment that I will make will be no more than a distillation of many sources. I shall be interested to see how far it accords with the British Government's assessments. The debate is about three interrelated aspects: economic development is urgently needed but it requires better security and a stable prospect for governance.

On the economy, lack of progress in infrastructure projects can contribute to lawlessness and insurgency. We are now two years on from the intervention, yet it appears that electricity in some urban areas remains as unreliable now as it was then. The measures of progress, whether in improving fresh water supplies, sanitation, transport, functioning health and education facilities, still remain unclear. Of the population of 26 million in Iraq, around 8 million ought to be in employment, but we now know that unemployment is running somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent.

We still have an aid programme based largely on American decisions. That, in turn, means that foreign contractors are doing the rebuilding, and therefore much of the money is going to non-Iraqis. Maladministration, not to say corruption, is a further worry, with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reporting at the end of January that $8.8 billion of Iraqi funds handed out by American administrators to Iraq ministries was "unaccounted for".

On top of that, the security situation is diverting too much of the effort away from infrastructure rebuilding work. Only $2.5 billion out of the $18.4 billion that the Americans allocated for 2004 was actually spent on rebuilding. Recent reports suggest, rather worryingly, that the number of Iraqis who are employed on the rebuilding projects is falling rather than rising.

I will be interested to learn what the Minister believes the British Government can do to get Iraqis more involved in rebuilding their country, both to ensure that individual Iraqi citizens can see that things are getting better month by month and to ensure that unemployed young men do not turn to crime and terrorism in even greater numbers. Perhaps the Minister will tell us a little more about the conference that was discussed earlier this week that will look at this matter later this year.

I turn to political developments. We all welcome the extraordinarily impressive turnout for the elections in January. Many brave Iraqis ignored threats in order to cast their vote. However, the euphoria over that excellent exercise in democracy should not obscure the real political challenges that still lie ahead. The 275-Member National Assembly is charged with drafting the country's new constitution as well as with choosing a president and two deputies from among its
 
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Members. Those three leaders will in turn nominate a Prime Minister who will go before the Assembly for approval.

We meet on the very day that the Assembly has gathered in Baghdad for the first time, but it was a gathering just for ceremonial purposes, as agreement between the main groupings, the United Iraqi Alliance, the Kurdish Alliance and the Iraqi List, has still not been reached. We keep on being told that they are close to agreement, although I hear from Baghdad today that they are asking for probably another couple of weeks. An agreement on those Cabinet posts must be reached before the new government can be named. It has already taken more than six weeks from that 30 January election to make even that much progress.

Another clock is running in the political process. The new constitution needs to be agreed by 15 August to make the plebiscite deadline of 15 October, although it is allowed one—only one—delay of up to six months. That is an extraordinarily challenging timetable, particularly given the real differences of view between the groups. Keeping the Kurds aboard during this process may be difficult. It is not going to be easy to agree what status should be accorded to Islam in the constitution. There will be difficulties over the Kurds' desire to include Kirkuk, with its oil, in their controlled area, as well as over demands that the region's autonomous status should be laid down in the constitution.

If running the country and formulating a consensus on the constitution were not enough, the full democratic elections under the new constitution are due by the end of the year. These are all positive, welcome moves, but they carry with them turbulent times, as Ministers change with each change of government. When predicting the future governance is so difficult, for those inside the country and those outside, we need to invest in Iraq.

While the process may need more time than is allowed in this tight schedule, keeping the momentum going is important, particularly to reduce the dangers of turbulence in the transitional period. I will be interested to hear whether the British Government feel that the timetable is achievable. What could we do to help achieve it?

The security situation is the most difficult of all on which to make objective assessments. I was struck by the difficulty when I received a phone call from an American journalist in Baghdad two weeks ago. She asked what my assessment was of the security situation in Iraq. I thought that she might have been better placed to do it, but she explained that she was unable to leave her hotel and that when she did, when fully covered, she could not speak because an American accent made her a target. I thought that she might have known from all of that what the security situation was.

Another journalist who is a regular in Iraq told me last week that he found the most reliable source for information to be Iraqi lorry drivers, who have to negotiate their way through insurgents, bandits and criminals. He was absolutely dismissive of the intelligence of the multinational force, "bunkered in the
 
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Green Zone", as he said. As he pointed out, it is not able even to secure the road from the international airport to the town.

My sources are journalists, academics who interview Iraqis, the Pentagon, which is so much freer with its information than our own Ministry of Defence, and the various hearings that take place in the United States. The picture that is painted is not entirely encouraging, despite reassurances by Mr Hoon during defence Questions in the other place on Monday.

I start with the threat assessment. For this, I draw heavily on the work of Professor Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. His interviews with Iraqi intelligence officers and senior officials and data from the Pentagon and the multinational force's headquarters, identify four main threat sources. The first is al-Zarqawi and other outside Islamist extremist organisation fighters. They are mostly foreign Arabs, but their numbers are quite small and are assessed as being well under 1,000. But, as we know, when they attack, they have enormous impact.

The second threat source is the former regime elements—a mix of supporters of the Ba'ath Party, alienated Sunnis, paid volunteers, temporary recruits and other disenchanted Iraqis. An estimate of their numbers is even more difficult to make, but the median figure is somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 fighters.

Thirdly, we are seeing a new phenomenon of home-grown Iraqi Islamist extremists. They are very few, but their numbers seem to be growing and they can have a similar impact with their suicide attacks. The fourth, and biggest, threat is organised crime. It is the major source of violence and insecurity in at least 12 of the 18 governorates. The criminals, who are out to make money more than anything else, seem to co-operate with terrorists and insurgents. Numbers are very high, and the effect on the overall feeling of insecurity also is very high.

We must ask whether our current approach is dealing with, and reducing, the threats, or whether some of them are still increasing. Following the daily fluctuations through media reports is particularly difficult, with the threshold for reporting steadily rising. These days, a bomb outrage with more than 100 dead will make the front page, probably; and explosions where 25 are killed make the inside pages. The many individual deaths, serious injuries, hostage-taking, armed crimes and extortion just do not get in the news, unless our citizens are involved.

The Pentagon e-mails me every day, as it can anyone who asks, with reports of deaths of US servicemen. That gives you some sense of the high level of violence across their area of responsibility. Sadly, such reports continue to arrive in my inbox virtually every day. As we know, the total of American service people killed passed the 1,500 milestone recently.

Through Questions in your Lordships' House, I have tried to discover a consistent measure for Iraqi casualties over time. We need to know how many Iraqis are being killed and injured, as far as we can;
 
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where it happens; and who is likely to be responsible. How can we judge our strategy without the collation of this sort of data? The editorial in last week's British Medical Journal stated:

I urge the Government to look again at what is a counterproductive policy of not collecting and collating such data. It will not be precise or absolutely accurate, but we have got to do the best we can, and we can do an awful lot better than is being done.

Our Armed Forces and those of our allies serving in Iraq have a difficult and challenging problem. There is widespread agreement that the only way forward is to provide the training and equipment necessary for Iraqi security forces progressively to take over the responsibility for national security. How do we keep that process on track while the trainees have become ever more targeted? Iraqi officials and officers readily acknowledge that Iraqi forces have a long way to go and still lack proper training and equipment. They acknowledge too that the transition to two new Iraqi governments, the current Government and the government that we hope will be elected at the end of the year, will create turbulence in the best of circumstances. They make it clear that they cannot predict how the new government will behave or how the constitutional process and efforts at inclusion will change Iraqi security policy. They acknowledge the limits to their ability to plan and manage Iraq's force development in any orderly way. Even if the course of the insurgency were predictable, Iraqi military and security developments are very much a matter of improvisation and uncertainty. Iraqi officials and officers also have no clear budget or force planning, and no way to predict the level of American and other multinational aid.

Some of the Iraqi officials interviewed by Cordesman are reported as saying they see the need for three changes. The first is the need to develop and implement plans to create Iraqi forces more quickly, which are equipped and deployed to stand on their own. The second is the need to develop common plans with the United States and the multinational forces to phase down the role of these coalition forces according to common criteria and in ways where both sides have the same expectations, allowing Iraqis to predict the future level of the coalition aid, and thus determine their own needs in terms of capability. The third need is to develop mid-term plans to create Iraqi forces with enough support and heavy land and air weapons eventually to replace all of the coalition forces.

Do the British Government recognise this as a possible way forward? If so, are there discussions between the coalition members aimed at co-ordinating this approach? Does the Minister agree that more specific timetabling of targets and milestones, and a build-up of trained Iraqi forces with parallel reductions in the coalition forces, would generate a more focused strategy? If she does not, what is the strategy? This approach is even more urgent now that Italy has announced it has decided to start a phased withdrawal.
 
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There are many challenges, and I have attempted to outline some of them. Some are beyond the UK's ability to influence or affect. We will need to work with other alliance contributors, particularly the United States, and, increasingly, in a supportive role to the emerging Iraqi government. However, we do have some levers, which we must use carefully, and we must do so with allies. If we fail to turn Iraq into a proper, viable state, it will be much more costly in the long term. I beg to move for Papers.


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