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Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on the gracious Speech. I am also glad to be able to welcome my noble friends Lord Drayson and Lord Triesman to their new posts. They have hard acts to follow, but I am sure they will be very worthy successorsalthough personally, I shall miss my noble friend Lord Treisman on employment.
I have previously spoken on Iraq. I opposed our entry into that conflict and I continue to do so today. I know that the Government want us all to move on from Iraq, but it is not going to be easy. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said that he would not take a Labour victory as indicating a vindication of his decision to go to war, and that he respects the views of those who took a contrary position.
Many have said that it was not an issue on the doorsteps during the election campaign. That might have been so in some areas; it certainly was not the case where I live and where I was very active throughout the campaign. It was repeatedly raised. Our MP had consistently and vocally opposed the war. By emphasising that we were able to get her returned with a good majority. We are left with the results of the decision to go to war and the debris that it has left behind.
The insurgency continues. There are horrifying incidents every day. There is an elected governmentof sortsbut they do not seem to be accepted by the section of the population that boycotted the election. It is said that some of the leading activiststhe suicide bombers in particularare from outside Iraq, but it also appears that there is a substructure to the insurgency that is being provided by the Iraqis themselves.
There is not much reporting in depth because I understand that it is too dangerous for reporters to get out and about to report what is happening. There are, no doubt, criminal elements that have tacked themselves on to the insurgency, but if the main cause of the incidents, which continue to cost so many innocent lives, is the presence of the coalition forces, because they are seen as a foreign occupying force, those forces are not providing a solution, they are the major part of the problem.
There are a number of other matters which are a cause for concern. The world was shocked by the photographs of the abuses of Iraqi civilian prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. We know that certain individuals from the US have been charged, but what has happened to the prisoners? How many such prisoners are still held by coalition forces? Are they to be charged? What is their fate?
What of others arrested who were said to be close to the previous regime? They include two women scientists, one of whom qualified in this country. They could not
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have been involved in the production of illegal weapons of mass destruction, as there were none. Are they being charged and, if so, with what? If they are not to be charged, why do they remain in custody?
Then there is the matter of Iraqi casualties. Of course I understand that circumstances may make it difficult for accurate figures to be obtained and those from the Iraqi Government do not cover the full period from the commencement of the war, but it is surely necessary to try to find out. Even more important, what steps are being taken to ensure that those who are injured receive treatment and those bereaved are properly cared for? As we know, Fallujah was almost completely destroyed. What happened to the inhabitants? Those are questions that no one seems to ask, yet the coalition forces, of which we are a major part, have responsibility as the occupying force.
From time to time, I have asked about compensation for the victims of the warthe civilian victims. On 19 May 2003 (at col. 494 of the Official Report) my noble friend Lord Rea referred to a former Iraqi colleague, a doctor in Basra, whose house had been destroyed. Four of his children, his mother and four other members of his family had been killed by a missile during his work at the hospital. I met that doctor when he came to the House as a guest of my noble friend Lord Rea and he was absolutely shattered by his appalling experiences.
My noble friend Lady Symons responded that that was a tragic situation but there was no entitlement to compensation under international law. She did, however, say that victims, as well as sympathy, should have any help that we can give. Of course we accepted what my noble friend said about legal entitlement, but it was clear that she felt that there was a moral obligation. I think so too. Surely, whether or not people were in favour of the warand it is clear that a sizable proportion of the UK electorate was notthere is an obligation on us to do whatever we can to assist the innocent victims of this conflict. What is being done and by whom? It cannot simply be left to the new government in Iraq.
I was interested in what my noble friend Lord Drayson said about the steps being taken in reconstruction but, so far, that is a rather broad brush approachalthough I understand why, in such a long speech, it had to be.
I and, I am sure, many others, would like to know what is happening to the people directly concerned. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but a secular tyrant. That meant that he did not apply Sharia law and, under his regime, the position of women in Iraq was to some degree better than in many other Arab regimes where Sharia law is heavily applied. It meant that women had access to education and, to some degree, participated in public lifeor, at least, some of them did.
The war and subsequent conflict have seen the emergence of a strain of Islamic fundamentalism that bodes ill for women who are opposed to the repression that that entails. According to some reports that I have read, women are beginning to organise against that. They should be given all possible assistance.
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As I said earlier, I believe the Iraq venture to have been terribly mistaken. Many will say that it has got rid of Saddamotherwise, he would still be there. My response to that is that I long ago gave up believing, if I ever did, that the end always justifies the means. The means in this case were horrific, for that is what modern warfare is for those, nearly always innocent civilians, caught up in it on the ground.
I hope that there will therefore be no more foreign adventures at the behest of President Bush. I am glad that the Prime Minister has stated categorically that there will be no invasion of Iran and that the UN route is to be pursued in regard to Iran's alleged nuclear weapons activities. That is very important, as there appears to be a vocal opposition active in Iran to which many women who are opposed to oppression by the mullahs give their support. They want international support but are emphatic that it must not be by military means.
Finally, we should do all that we can to strengthen the United Nations; I am glad that the gracious Speech refers to that. No doubt the UN has its flaws, but it is all that we have. The problem is that important and influential people in the United States, commonly known as the neo-cons, are doing their best to undermine the UN and its Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. That is because they believe in the right of the United States to do whatever they like. They have no concern at all for international law.
Fortunately, not all US senators feel the same way, hence the recent opposition to the President's nominee for the post of United States ambassador to the UN. Such influence as we have should be brought to bear in support of those who believe in the UN and in maintaining friendly and non-combative relations with the rest of the world.
As to Iraq, we ought to be working to devise an exit strategy for our troops. In that respect, I welcome the impressive speech by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, who made detailed reference to that. The UN mandate runs out at the end of this year. We should work to a timetable to try to withdraw our troops by then, but other, constructive assistance should be made available under the auspices of the UN. I welcome the commitment by my noble friend Lord Drayson that that is one of the Government's objectives.
Lord Lyell: My Lords, what a treat it is to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. I shall follow her not just on Iraq but possibly on many other aspects of the Armed Forces. First, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his appointment and wish him well.
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Earlier today, on the Benches just over his left shoulder, he may have seen his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, who I hope will soon be the chairman of the All-Party Defence Study Group. I am at present its secretary and hope to be able to carry on in that capacity. It is in that humble capacity that I speak from the Back Benches with enormous interest in defence matters and support for every man and woman who is serving today all over the world.
As the Minister and others will be well aware, decisions taken todaythis month, this yearcontinue for the next five or 10 years and even beyond. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, has already referred to carriers. My noble friend Lord Luke is much more alert to and specialised in that aspect than I, so I shall not go on, but those carriers require a great deal of support from arms and logistics. I am pretty sure that it will be the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, who will be at the front end, responsible for logistics support.
As for the Army, there will doubtless be for this year and five or 10 years ahead the question of armour. Do tanks have a role? If so, what will they be doing? Our group visited the Household Cavalry regiment at Windsor. Quite apart from the traditional aspect of riding and equitation, we were able to see a demonstration of armoured reconnaissance, which was a great lesson to me and my colleagues. My noble friend Lord Astor of Hever will be back; he has much greater knowledge of the Life Guards, the Household Cavalry and armoured reconnaissance then I.
Decisions about helicopters for the Army will also have to be taken and fine-tunednot just attack helicopters, anti-tank helicopters, but what I might call battlefield taxis. That is why it was nice to hear the Minister refer to what I think he called the fleet, as a fleet manager transporting Armed Forces personnel and equipment all round the battlefield. That will be one aspect of his responsibilities.
All that is tied up with the defence budget and finance. Defence budgets tend to get decided and spoken about in your Lordships' House. We receive handouts; indeed, my little library in my office is stuffed full of glossy brochures with fancy names, such as Options for Change, Strategic Defence Review and other marvellous things. They tend to say the same things, but if you take a careful look, you will find that they are very much restricted by the budget. These tend to be followed by pearls of wisdom in your Lordships' House, especially during specialised debates on defence.
I return to a subject close to my heart: the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. Over the past 32 years I have been lucky to be a member of the House of Lords All-Party Defence Study Group. Over those years I have noticed enormous changes: first, it is interesting that the senior ranks are now a little younger than me; secondly, all the ranks are immensely professional, articulate and bright.
My noble friend Lord Freeman referred to national serviceindeed, I was among those who participated. Forty-eight years ago I was trained, along with 16 other young men, by Sergeant Clements of the Coldstream
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Guards, known as Kiwi, because it was said that he gave everything, including us, a spit and polish. Within eight weeks he had turned us into soldiers. I was lucky then to go to officer cadet training, an incredible course that in 16 weeks turned young soldiers into platoon commanders. That system worked during the Second World War, it worked very well in Korea and extraordinarily well in Malaya, with 18 and 19 year-olds doing their duty for two years as professional soldiers. I spent 16 weeks at Eaton Hall in Chester, where I was guided by the father of the Second Principal Doorkeeper, Mr Blood. There is an enormous thread through your Lordships' House that has drilled me, a civilian, a young Scot, to become a soldier.
When the All-Party Defence Study Group visited the Household Cavalry at Windsor we had great difficulty restraining my noble friend Lord Renton from getting on a horse and repeating his equitation course of the 1930s, but we also saw the enormous professionalism involved in armoured reconnaissance, to which I have referred and on which my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever will be able to elaborate.
In 2002, my noble friends Lord Jopling and Lord Attlee and I had the enormous good fortune to visit the special forces at Poole, a chance given to very few members of the public, let alone parliamentarians. Those two aspects gave my colleagues and me a chance to see the vast range of disciplines in all services, including combined or joint services, of the British Army. There is one essential element in these disciplines: all the men and women are soldiers. They are not mere drivers or specialists; they must have basic military skills.
The Minister referred to an "f" word: flexibility. He is right; you must be flexible as a soldier. I give him my old acronym: FIBUA, which means "fighting in built-up areas". He referred to the flexibility in the reorganisation of the infantry in December. No army can do anything without first-class infantrymen, and I pay my respects to them. My case has been made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, who referred to the reduction in the infantry battalions. There might have been a reasonable case for that but I have my doubts. The Minister need not worry: this is not a party line; it has been argued for up to 20 years. My late noble friend Lord Vivian referred to the issue of the budget. Reducing four infantry battalions because the arms plot is to be done away with is fine, but I take the Minister back to April 1982, when overnight we had to send an expeditionary force to the Falklands. Having reduced four battalions, would we have that capacity today? We might do it, but it would be extremely difficult.
I had something to say on recruiting but thankfully the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, has dealt with it. I had the enormous good luck earlier this week to see another incredibly important element of a first-class British Army. I had the marvellous chance to meet the Major General Commanding London District; the Garrison Sergeant Major, a terrifying soldier; and the Commanding Officer of the First Battalion Irish Guards, all of whom were stationed five minutes' walk from here. They were doing
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ceremonial duties, but in a twinkling of an eye all those men, and the women who support them, might well be in action.
For all Scots Guardsmen, including me and my family, 27 April this year, during the election campaign, was a very special day. Her Majesty the Queen presented the highest award for gallantrythere are two words on the medal: "For Valour"to Private Beharry VC and his friends, mates or muckersI do not know what he calls themin the team who contributed to and fought in Iraq. We owe them a huge debt. Just last year, people were doing things. The citation for Private Beharry and his team will make the case that I am putting, and which I hope the Minister can pursue over his career.
I say to the Minister: do your duty, just as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who has sat here throughout the debateI do not know whydid. In two instances we had quiet words with her and she took two courses of actionon HMS "Sheffield" and with the First Battalion King's Own Scottish Borderersthat were enormously welcomed. She has perhaps not been mentioned in today's debate but I add my enormous gratitude to her and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and wish everybody in the Armed Forces well.
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