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House of Lords

Thursday, 19 May 2005.

The House met at eleven of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Several Lords—took the Oath.

Committee of Selection

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the first 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. Shutt of Greetland, L. Strathclyde, V. Tenby, L. Williamson of Horton.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Liverpool City Council (Prohibition of Smoking in Places of Work) Bill [HL]

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House resolves that the promoters of the Liverpool City Council (Prohibition of Smoking in Places of Work) Bill [HL], which was introduced in this House in the previous Session on 24 January 2005, should have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session in accordance with the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150B (Revival of Bills).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.
 
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London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I beg to move the third Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House resolves that the promoters of the London Local Authorities Bill [HL], which was introduced in this House in the previous Session on 24 January 2005, should have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session in accordance with the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150B (Revival of Bills).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

London Local Authorities (Prohibition of Smoking in Places of Work) Bill [HL]

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I beg to move the fourth Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House resolves that the promoters of the London Local Authorities (Prohibition of Smoking in Places of Work) Bill [HL], which was introduced in this House in the previous Session on 24 January 2005, should have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session in accordance with the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150B (Revival of Bills).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

11.4 am

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday by the Lord Dubs—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 Drayson): My Lords, it is right that we consider foreign affairs, defence and international development within the same debate because it reflects the nature of the world today. Domestic interests and international action are intertwined more than ever before. Globalisation means that events elsewhere have a direct impact at home. Action on terrorism, AIDS, climate change and poverty all require us to work with other countries and through international organisations.

Our policy is clear. We will pursue British interests by working with our allies to make the world a safer, fairer place. That means reforming Europe and it means fighting terrorism and stopping the spread of weapons of
 
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terror. It means modernising and reforming our Armed Forces, and it means using our leading roles in the G8, the EU, the Commonwealth and the UN to promote global action on poverty and climate change.

The long and distinguished list of speakers today reflects the importance of this debate. However, before I begin, I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Bach, who has a deep and profound affection for the Armed Forces and a determination to do his best by them. He will not be an easy act to follow. But I am sure that he will bring his undoubted skills to bear at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

I also wish to mention the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who, as Liberal Democrat spokesman on defence, provided a knowledgeable input to defence matters. He has been succeeded by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, who will bring a wealth of experience to the role. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, and I came into the House together on the same day, and we already have some experience of working together in starting the new, and I hope long-standing, tradition of the new Peers' dining club. I look forward to working with him and with the noble Lord, Lord Astor, to maximise the defence of our country. I hope that we can continue the robust but friendly relationship established by my noble friend.

Noble Lords who are experienced in defence matters are of course aware of the incredible capability of our Armed Forces. I am looking forward to getting to know the noble and gallant ex-service chiefs on the Cross Benches and learning from their vast experience and wisdom during these debates.

However, as a newcomer to defence, I want to say that in the short time since my appointment, and as I get to grips with my brief, I have been greatly impressed by the professionalism and ability of our Armed Forces in all that they do. We all appreciate their successes in operations, but some of the daily achievements, and indeed routine tasks, that are hugely impressive can sometimes be overlooked. For example, I learnt earlier this week of the ability of our forces to change a Challenger II tank engine in the field in under an hour. Examples like that, which underpin the effectiveness of our Armed Forces, reflect both the thought that went into the design of the equipment in the first place and the professionalism of the troops themselves. The success of the recent spoof video for Comic Relief produced by the men in Iraq is also testament to the wonderfully innovative ability that some of them have, and I am glad to learn that the Ministry of Defence has a sense of humour in these matters.

Today's world is increasingly unpredictable. Although we are unlikely to return to a Cold War-style threat to the United Kingdom or to our allies in the foreseeable future, nevertheless the threats to international peace and stability that have emerged since the end of the Cold War are real and immediate. International terrorism, failing states and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction have already shown their ability to trigger effects that have been felt around the globe.
 
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At the heart of the UK's security policy lies a strong Euro-Atlantic relationship built on the foundations of NATO. It has been a remarkably successful alliance, but its continued strength will depend on its ability to act purposefully when and where it matters, to deter and counter threats before they come to us and to operate beyond its traditional area of interest, as the important NATO-led International Security Assistance Force operation in Afghanistan, and now the NATO Training Mission in Iraq, are demonstrating.

The UN Secretary-General's report entitled In Larger Freedom explicitly links the inter-related challenges of security, human rights and development and proposes a comprehensive package of UN reform. The Government fully support Kofi Annan's objectives and are now formulating their formal response to the report. We are looking ahead to the Millennium Review Summit in September that should shape the way forward for a strengthened United Nations. At the summit, the UK will represent the EU, and the Government will use this opportunity to press the international community to make a renewed commitment to meet the millennium development goals, aimed at halving the proportion of people in extreme poverty by 2015.

The Commission for Africa, set up by the Prime Minister, recommended a package of measures for investing in people, promoting peace and reducing poverty. We want the G8 to agree a plan of specific actions to address the complex and inter-linked problems of Africa. We want this to include more and better aid, more debt relief and fairer trade.

The Government recognise that more resources are needed, and are needed now. On present plans, the UK will meet the UN target whereby 0.7 per cent of a country's gross national income will be used on development assistance. We are encouraging others to do likewise. The Chancellor's proposed international finance facility could provide an additional $50 billion a year for development assistance between now and 2015, doubling the resources presently available to the poorest countries.

Through the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, over $70 billion in debt relief has been agreed for 27 countries. The Government, with G7 colleagues, want to go further by writing off 100 per cent of all bilateral debts for heavily indebted poor countries. We are also taking a lead internationally towards 100 per cent multilateral debt relief.

On trade, our priority will be to ensure that the World Trade Organisation ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December agrees measures to benefit the poorest countries. An ambitious outcome could produce annual global benefits of between $250 billion and $600 billion annually and reduce the number of people living on less than $2 a day by 144 million. Sub-Saharan Africa would see the greatest benefits with a reduction of over 60 million in the number of poor people. Those policies take us towards our long-term goal of helping to lift a billion people out of poverty.
 
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On climate change—one of the most important challenges that the world faces today—our prime objective this year is to engage our G8 partners to address the problem of climate change and to persuade them of the economic cost of inaction. Critical to the success of these plans will be agreement on effective delivery mechanisms, ensuring that commitments are met.

On 1 July, the UK will assume the presidency of the European Union. We are taking as our framework the strategic themes of the European security strategy, seeking to make the Union more capable, more coherent and more active.

Tackling international security problems effectively requires an integrated approach combining the effects of military, diplomatic and economic instruments at both national and international levels. We have achieved that by setting up a joint Conflict Prevention Pool to ensure that the FCO, DfID and the MoD work well together. In the Balkans, for example, DfID is encouraging community policing, the MoD is training humanitarian de-mining personnel, and FCO advisors are assisting efforts in tackling organised crime.

The UK is already making a significant contribution to help Africans to develop their own capabilities to handle conflict prevention, resolution and peace-building under the joint G8 Africa Action Plan. Our Armed Forces are focusing on security sector reform—the training of modern, democratically accountable African armed forces—as well as advising the African Union and the sub-regional organisations on setting up the African Standby Force that will create an African-wide peace support capability.

In October 2004, we set up the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit designed to improve the UK's capacity to implement post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction throughout the world. It will ensure co-ordinated military and civilian planning, drawing on the technical expertise of external civilian experts. By improving the effectiveness of post-conflict stabilisation, we should help to reduce the risk of conflict recurring. The unit is, therefore, one part of our broad contribution to conflict prevention, management and resolution.

In Iraq, we remain committed to helping the Iraqi Government in stabilising the country for as long as they wish to have our assistance. We have some 8,000 troops there as a demonstration of our commitment. In conjunction with the NATO training mission, we have been developing the capability of the Iraqi security forces to assume full responsibility for their own security. They are making steady progress, but still need our support. Noble Lords will no doubt have seen for themselves the bravery of the Iraqi people during the national elections in January. The success of security measures on the day was possible only because of the hard work of the Iraqi security forces themselves and supporting roles by the coalition.

In conjunction with DfID, the British forces have been supporting the reconstruction of the country's dilapidated infrastructure and basic utilities after decades of neglect. Their work has included education, health and power regeneration projects, as well as
 
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assistance in the commercialisation of Basra airport. A peaceful and stable Iraq will benefit not only the Iraqi people, but it will also make the region and wider world a better and safer place.

In Afghanistan, our Armed Forces are helping the Afghan people to restore peace, stability and democracy to their country. Much progress has been made. The presidential elections last October were a major success and clear proof of the Afghans' commitment to democracy. But there is more to do: we share President Karzai's desire to see Afghanistan free from terrorism and free from the opium trade. Both are a threat to Afghanistan and to the United Kingdom.

We have made a strategic commitment to the security of the region and to the Afghan people, with 1,100 personnel from all three services deployed there. We have recently agreed to extend our commitment to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force with the provision of the Kabul Patrol Company for another year. We will also maintain our provincial reconstruction teams in northern Afghanistan and our Harrier detachment in Kandahar. The Allied Rapid Reaction Corps will deploy to Afghanistan in spring 2006, and we aim to support the further expansion of ISAF to the south, at which stage our provincial reconstruction teams would relocate from the north.

There have been positive steps on the Middle East peace process, including renewed high-level contact between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and a dramatic fall in the level of violence and the number of casualties. But the situation remains fragile.

The UK remains energetically engaged. We have been working with partners to ensure that the commitments made by the Palestinians and the international community at the meeting in London on 1 March are implemented and that follow-up work continues.

In Iran, we will continue our diplomatic efforts to obtain objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes. This was set out in the Paris agreement signed by the foreign ministers of the UK, France, Germany and Iran last November. The UK and EU partners remain committed to a policy of engagement, but Iran must sustain the full suspension of its nuclear activities while dialogue on long-term arrangements continues. However, we welcome Iran's continued engagement in the negotiations, the corrective measures that Iran has taken in respect of its previous breaches of its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards agreement, and its commitment to act in accordance with the provisions of the additional protocol.

In Sudan there can be no lasting peace without an end to the crisis in Darfur. We are putting pressure on all sides to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis. In the mean time we continue to observe the ceasefire and other commitments made by the Sudanese Government.

We welcome the Security Council's decision to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC). We have donated £66 million in humanitarian
 
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aid to Darfur since 2003, and a further £75 million will be spent in Darfur for humanitarian assistance this financial year.

Alongside our diplomatic and international aid effort we will maintain a strong military capability. Britain's Armed Forces are among the best in the world. We aim to keep it that way. Modern demands on our Armed Forces are changing, which is why reform and modernisation are essential. Our mission as a force for good in the world must take account of the increasing cost and complexity in defence technology, the globalisation of the defence industry and the accelerating pace of change in operations.

The Government will continue the programme they set out in the previous Parliament to equip and restructure our Armed Forces. The 2004 spending review reaffirmed the Government's continued commitment to the Armed Forces and to Britain's defence. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a £3.7 billion increase in the defence budget over the next three years. That represents an average annual real growth of 1.4 per cent and is the longest period of sustained real growth in defence spending for over 20 years. We will make further resources available through efficiency savings in each of the next three years, equating to £2.8 billion by 2007–08.

In 2002 we introduced our defence industrial policy, which was aimed at sustaining and enhancing the competitiveness of the UK defence industry while ensuring that the needs of our Armed Forces are met. It will ensure that we maintain our position as a world leader in defence technology.

Our defence scientists and engineers are at the cutting edge of research in order to provide the best kit for our forces. I am pleased to report to the House that our scientists have not lost their touch—developments range from sensors able to detect so-called stealthy sea mines to the best armoured vehicle protection available.

The cornerstone of our future expeditionary capability will be our two new aircraft carriers. They are likely to be the largest carriers ever built in this country and are due to enter service early in the next decade. The new carriers will be furnished with the joint combat aircraft, which are stealthy, multi-role fast jets that will be able to locate and monitor targets and attack them with precision weapons. Our maritime capability will be further enhanced by the acquisition of the Type 45 destroyers and Astute-class submarines.

Modern vehicles, such as the Panther armoured reconnaissance vehicle, will enhance our capabilities on land. Looking further ahead, the innovative future rapid effects system programme, comprising the medium-weight family of armoured vehicles, will further modernise the armoured vehicle fleet.

I turn to our air capability. Typhoon will provide the RAF with an exceptional aircraft and weapons system. We intend to buy outright the four C17 aircraft, which are currently leased, and to further enhance our
 
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strategic airlift capability by the purchase of a fifth C17. The five aircraft will complement the capability to be offered by the A400M military transport aircraft.

Noble Lords will recall that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a Statement on 16 December in another place on the future structure of the Army. The future Army structure is driven by the need for increased agility and flexibility. That is in keeping with the demands of the modern world. We move towards a more balanced force, organised around two armoured brigades, three mechanised brigades, a light brigade and an air assault brigade, which will be in place by 2008. The move to larger, multi-battalion regiments will create an infantry structure that can be sustained in the long term.

The Army Board decided that the infantry arms plot—the mechanism by which units routinely move location and change role every few years—was no longer the best way to deliver operational capability. In the future battalions will be fixed by role and largely by location. Phasing out the arms plot will also mean that the infantry can offer much greater stability for soldiers and their families. The previous requirement for battalions to move location or rerole meant that at any one time as many as seven battalions would be unavailable for operations. At the end of this process many more, if not all, of the future 36 infantry battalions will be available for operations.

The changes to the force structure will be accompanied by significant enhancements to the key specialist capabilities, which include communications, engineers, logisticians and intelligence. In addition, noble Lords will be aware that we recently made a statement about the formation of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment as part of the UK Special Forces. Special Forces are one of several instruments in the Government's strategy to counter international terrorism, and we continue to invest in both people and capability for them.

We are modernising the discipline legislation for our Armed Forces. The Armed Forces Bill will replace the three separate systems of service law and will better meet the needs of our Armed Forces in the modern world where they increasingly train and operate together.

Noble Lords experienced in defence matters will rightly stress the importance of regimental tradition in contributing towards morale and operational effectiveness. I wish to reassure the House that the Government truly recognise this and that regimental traditions and local connections will be retained under the new arrangements.

We are all incredibly proud of our Armed Forces and the contribution that they make to international security, both at home and abroad. They and their families deserve our thanks and admiration for their selfless efforts and courage in circumstances that are often dangerous and unpredictable. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in recognising the outstanding achievements of our service personnel all over the world.
 
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Perhaps I may emphasise what I said at the beginning. In an interdependent world we will work with our allies to make the world a safer, fairer and better place.

11.27 am


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