|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I must begin by apologising for my absence from the opening speeches. It was impossible to leave a meeting near Winchester, which has been in my diary for nearly a year, without attending the first hour of it from nine o'clock. I am very sorry that I was not present from the start of the debate.
I had intended to begin with comments on the situation in Israel/Palestine, but we have heard at least six distinguished speeches on the subject. I hope that the Government will pay particular attention to the line of thinking that we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice, Lord Wright and Lord Hylton. However, before moving on, I must say with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Steinberg, that the people I know and spent six days among in Bethlehem, both Christians and Muslims, the wall looks like a wallvery solid and very high. The separation barrier looks
19 May 2005 : Column 188
like a separation barrier. The whole thing looks long-planned and permanent. It would be hard to persuade those who are imprisoned by it that it is anything else.
I turn to my main point. I welcome the line in the gracious Speech which speaks of the Government's intention to use the presidency of the G8 to make progress in tackling poverty in Africa. I want to congratulate those responsiblethe Prime Minister and his colleagues and stafffor the report of the Commission for Africa. It is comprehensive, well-argued and distinguished, although it would have been a great help to all of us who want to use it had it contained an index. I hope that those responsible are thinking of providing one. It is difficult to use a report of that scale when there is no index.
I was unable to be present on 14 March when there was a brief debate in your Lordships' House on the publication of the report, but two comments in the debate seemed to be important. One was that from my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, who asked what would be the mechanisms in government for pursuing the goals. As I read the report and prepared to speak today, I returned to that question.
The other was a comment, with which I resonate strongly, from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is in his place. He noted that the report contained little for states which have already failed or are failing. That is my sense too, as I come to it from the particular perspective of engagement with and concern for the Democratic Republic of Congo. I should declare an interest as president of the Congo Church Association and bishop of the only Church of England diocese privileged to be in a partner relationship with the Anglican Church in the Congo.
My text has added in pencil, "or have been destroyed". There is a level of unreality in the report relating to the most difficult cases, the most chaotic states, the areas of Africa only small parts of which I know with any closeness, where the situation is utterly deplorable and disastrous. They look to remain so for the foreseeable future unless particular attention is paid to them. That said, I would be grateful to know the Government's mind on three questions which I did not find adequately addressed in the report. They are questions around justice, the investigation of war crimes and an end to impunity.
The report did not seem to address the question: how can still fragile or even ungoverned African states be encouraged and assisted to investigate serious human rights and criminal abuses perpetrated in recent years, often arguably by or under the aegis of those now in power; or participate in peace discussions or in transitional national governments? That is a critical question which urgently needs exploring.
19 May 2005 : Column 189
Secondly, the question must be pressed: what has been learnt for the future concerning best practice in the provision of UN and other external forces in the light of the experiences of recent years? What has been learnt of their provision, management, composition, mandate, equipment, logistical and interpreter support, training and so forth? What kinds of forces, from which countries, speaking which languages, are of most use in which circumstances? There is a range of object lessons to be learnt from the histories of MONUC in the Congo and from the short-term French force in north-eastern Congo in 2003, and I am sure from recent experience in Sierra Leone and Liberia and from the lack of such forces and the tiny numbers, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in Darfur.
Is that not true of the Democratic Republic of Congo? But that raises the question: what are the responsibilities and opportunities of major donor states where recipients of their aid engage in military activity, whether at first hand or by proxy, in human rights abuses and/or in the exploitation and pillage of neighbouring countries? It seemed to me that that point was not approached in the report, and it is critical.
A theme running through report after report on the enormous difficulties and distresses in the Great Lakes region is that there is an integral connection between the pillage of resources, the supply of arms and immense suffering of the people. This House needs to hear from the Minister, either now or on some future occasion, whether he is aware that the NGOs in this country, which look to the UK national contact point within the OECD processes as a means of bringing to account those suspected of improper economic activity in the DRC and similar places, find the UK contact point, in comparison with its EU equivalents, poorly staffed and unable or unwilling to take initiatives or to seek to make an independent assessment of the allegations made on a number of fronts, not least in the UN panel of experts' report. Frankly, they find the contact point incompetent in the face of the powerful players with whom it is its business to deal. It seems to me that, although that is strictly a DTI question, it is also an FCO and a DfID question.
Lastly, is the Minister aware that, in response to those of us who argue that Congolese asylum seekers should not be sent back to the Congo because it is vastly too dangerous a place to which to repatriate anyone, his colleagues in the Home Office make a great deal of play of FCO documents which it appears they have not read? I hope that he will find a way to have a conversation with his colleagues in the Home Office and draw their attention to information which they need to take note of and understand. It is a tiny part of the picture but we shall not find ways to help a
19 May 2005 : Column 190
country such as the Congo to come through to a fresh orderan order that it has never hadif we persist simply in sending back for the most part good people who will receive certain further ill treatment and perhaps death because of our anxieties about asylum seekers in this country.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me at this late stage if I concentrate mainly on Bulgaria and the European Union accession treaty. As noble Lords who have been attending these debates might recall, I have spoken regularly about Bulgaria since 1994, when I made my maiden speech, but I think that this is probably the first mention of Bulgaria in the gracious Speech since Gladstone's days.
I fully support my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, who opened for our Benches with a fascinating and eloquent tour d'horizon, reminding me of the excellent ones with which we used to be regaled by the late Member of the other place, Julian Amery. I look forward, too, to the wind-up speech for our Benches from my noble friend Lord Astor of Heverour skilful spokesman on defenceespecially as defence matters are more and more vital in these troubled days.
First, I turn briefly to the subject of Africa as it appears to be at the top of the Prime Minister's agenda regarding international development. We all know, and have heard again today, that the crisis of HIV/AIDS continues. There are also the ongoing problems of corruption and illegal drugs, which are intrinsic to this debate. Those issues have been outlined in great detail and with considerable passion by noble Lords. With the little time available, I shall not attempt to repeat them, especially as I spoke on this matter at some great length in November. Needless to say, we welcome the attention that the Government propose in addressing poverty and suffering in Africa. However, we cannot forget that there is great suffering and poverty in other parts of the world; I shall return to that issue later.
Of course, aid programmes will go some way to alleviate suffering but, as I outlined in November, it is the importance of trade and property rights, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Howell, and not just aid that will finally develop the economies of these countries and ultimately alleviate the suffering of their people.
There still remains a great lack of investment in the developing world, due in no small part to the fear of corruption and a lack of good governance in the poorest countries. The Government's policy for international development cannot shy away from addressing these issues. I noted that, yet again, Zimbabwe, with all her problems, did not get a mention in the gracious Speech. That is truly disgraceful, as was rightly stressed by my noble friends Lady Park of Monmouth and Lord Howell of Guildford.
I particularly appreciate the reference in the gracious Speech to the signing of the European Union accession treaty by Bulgaria and Romania and its forthcoming
19 May 2005 : Column 191
ratification by Parliament. The introduction of an EU accession Bill to give effect to the EU accession treaty is a very welcome move. It is my hope that the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union will consolidate their free market economies and their commitment to the democratic values that we all share. At this point, it is important to acknowledge the significant efforts that both countries have made to prepare for entry. Noble Lords will remember that Bulgaria and Romania missed the first round of EU expansion into the European Union because they had failed to implement sufficient democratic and market reforms.
We have set high standards for new members. They will no doubt continue to demonstrate a stable democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law and the protection of minorities. Furthermore, we support their adherence to a functioning market economy and adopting the common rules, standards and policies that make up the body of European Union law.
It is easy for many of us to take those areas for granted. I am pleased that the stage was reached in April of this year for both countries to be in a position to sign the EU Accession Treaty. This event has marked the culmination of those people's aspirations to return to civilisation after decades under the yoke of communism.
"Romania suffered under a brutal communist dictatorship for decades. The Parliament's assent to Romania's application shows just how far the country has come since Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989. The new government of Romania under President Basescu is redoubling its efforts to fight corruption by making it a crime against Romania's national security. Romania is a loyal member of NATO, has a strongly Atlanticist perspective and is committed to free market and tax reforms, all of which Conservative MEPs support".
Bulgaria has lead Romania on this path in every respect. I would add that Bulgaria too suffered greatly under the Zhivkov dictatorship and has made huge strides and progress under its enlightened first President Zhelev and now under the present Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski. Of course, there is more to be done but, contrary to some voices who fear their entry into the EU, we should applaud this development as it will contribute to a stronger and more peaceful Europe.
I cannot close without mentioning the unsettling events unfolding in central Asia, in particular and most recently in Uzbekistan. The recent massacre of people in peaceful protest adds to the long list of human rights abuses not only of Mr Karimov but across the region. The Government make great play of their ethical foreign policy but then act against it, for example, in supporting the lifting of the arms embargo to China. We want to see the Government's actions mirror their ethical intentions and support those who stand up against such inhumane forces. A shining
19 May 2005 : Column 192
example recently has been President Sakashvili's leadership in Georgia. Now is the time for Britain to show real direction in this area.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|