Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

As far as I can see, the only members of NATO who will not have access to the C-17 are the Spaniards, the Germans, the French and, possibly, the

20 Nov 2006 : Column 205

Portuguese, who are all stuck with the A400M programme. Is it not a sad reflection that our major NATO allies in Europe will be deprived of access to what is, in my view, the only serious strategic transport aircraft? As I have said before, I very much hope that Her Majesty’s Government will see a way of releasing resources from the defence budget by coming out of the A400M programme themselves now that BAE Systems has sold its shares in Airbus and no longer has any serious interest in the success of that venture.

Unfortunately the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is not in her seat, although I did tell her that I was going to say something nice about her later this evening. It may surprise your Lordships to know that I agreed very much with what she said about cluster bombs. I think they are a weapon that should be used only in the most restricted of circumstances. I was appalled at the use the Israelis made of them in Lebanon, but I still think they are a legitimate weapon of war. I have always thought of them as an airfield-denial weapon and not as a weapon to be used in civilian areas. I say that as someone who stood up in your Lordships’ House and defended the use of landmines.

The noble Baroness also said that we must have a debate on the Trident programme. I can imagine nothing more boring than a debate on that programme because the decision on Trident has already been taken. Everyone knows that. It was actually taken in Paris, not in London. Can anyone in your Lordships’ House imagine a British Prime Minister of any cast of mind or political party saying in the House of Commons, “Mr Speaker, I wish the House to know that my Government have decided on mature reflection that the Trident weapon system will serve us in good stead for many, many years, but we now wish to release the resources for it for other purposes, and to that end we will be putting the ultimate defence of our island in the hands of our good friends on the other side of the English Channel”? It beggars belief that any British Prime Minister could say that. He might then add, “I offer our Pakistani citizens the additional reassurance from President Musharraf that their best interests will be served by the Islamic bomb”. No British Prime Minister could survive the ridicule that would follow remarks of that sort.

Lastly, I shall say a word about Turkey. The attitude of the international community generally towards Turkey has been disgraceful. The Turks are making enormous efforts to meet the quite proper requirements of the EU on how they handle their social arrangements in Turkey, but it is inexcusable how the international community has discriminated against the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus compared with the way in which it handles the Greek republic of south Cyprus. I am so glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has just arrived in the Chamber. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Garden, will tell her all the nice things I have been saying about her. That is the last thing that I wanted to say. I thank noble Lords for their attention.

20 Nov 2006 : Column 206

9.08 pm

Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, I often agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert; I certainly agree with his praise of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and his comments about Turkey. However, if there is one department of government in which I could never find myself it would be the one concerned with defence procurement. My comments are therefore on a different set of issues and follow the very important things said by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the fact that this has turned to a considerable extent into a debate about Iraq. I am very much a bystander on Iraq. All one can do at this point is to hope that attempts to prevent a swing from tyranny to anarchy and possibly back to new kinds of tyranny will be successful. However, this is the time to think about what went wrong and what might be done to avoid such mistakes in the future. I say that as one who still believes that intervention to bring about regime change can be justified. If we want to live in a world of liberty under law, we cannot tolerate vicious regimes which practise murderous oppression at home and threaten those around them with aggression. The Westphalian era of letting states do what they want within their borders is over. It is no accident that the doctrine of non-interference is today preached primarily by dictatorships from North Korea to Zimbabwe.

Action to bring about regime change has to be multilateral. The only universal organisation we have for this purpose is the United Nations. It would have been preferable if more of the recommendations for reform by the high-level group had been adopted, but it is good to learn from the gracious Speech that the Government will contribute to a modern and inclusive United Nations. Inclusiveness is of course both the strength and the weakness of the United Nations. We may have to live with the fact that the wheeling and dealing about necessary resolutions is not edifying, but when it comes to matters of principle, such acquiescence is not easy. It is particularly difficult to accept that those who systematically violate liberty under law sit in judgment over others.

This is relevant to the lessons from the Iraq debacle, of which two seem particularly important. One is that there has to be a clear and precise analysis of the causes for intervention. This should not be a negotiated analysis, but one that identifies violations of enlightened values, many of which are embodied in the UN charter and can be further identified with the incorruptibility and persuasiveness which the International Atomic Energy Agency displays in its field. The other lesson to learn is to take a considered approach to the institutional changes needed in the country at issue: what needs to be done and how. Something like the Copenhagen criteria of the European Union may serve as a model for applying the principles of the constitution of liberty under varying and always specific historic and cultural circumstances.

There is at this time no organisation or even arrangement to achieve these ends. NATO is regional and primarily military in culture. The Council of

20 Nov 2006 : Column 207

Europe is also regional and has been somewhat generous in interpreting the values of its foundation. This is true also of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. I have in mind the political equivalent of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in economic matters, a universal though not inclusive arrangement to bring together those committed to liberty under law, a sort of organisation for political co-operation and development, an OPCD, as it were.

In this connection I was interested in an article published in the Guardian on 9 November by Timothy Garton-Ash endorsing a report by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University entitled Forging a World of Liberty Under Law. The report recommends what it calls a “concert of democracy”.

One great risk of the experience of Iraq is that those involved, and indeed the bystanders, conclude that withdrawal and protection are the best way to go. This danger must be avoided if we do not want lawlessness and lack of liberty to prevail. The way to achieve this is not to return to unilateral action or even to bypass existing organisations, but to add to them the powerful voice of those who realise that liberty under law needs active defence. Formalised or not, we need to bring the democracies of the world together to reach a common understanding of reasons for intervention and methods for making regime change effective.

9.15 pm

Lord Luke: My Lords, it will come as no surprise that I would like to press the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on an issue that I have raised in the defence debates following the Queen’s Speeches in 2004 and 2005: aircraft carriers. While I am delighted that the Minister has frequently reiterated the Government’s unflinching support for the projected two new aircraft carriers, I am frustrated—although, sadly, not surprised—that I cannot congratulate him on the start of their construction, let alone anything else.

In May last year my questions about press reports that the Main Gate date was slipping into 2006 went unanswered, yet 18 months later we still have no date. Indeed, the Daily Telegraph reported at the start of this month that there are risks of even further slippage due to,

That is a debate in itself, considering that the initial estimate was between £2.8 billion and £3 billion and we are now looking at a figure closer to £3.8 billion.

I fully accept the desirability of maximising the de-risking process within the carrier project but the MoD’s management has been disappointing. The creation of this alliance, followed by the award of a physical integrator contract to KBR, has revealed a constantly shifting strategy. Has the de-risking process now been accomplished? Can the Minister inform the House of the outcome of the alleged discussions with the industry at the start of this

20 Nov 2006 : Column 208

month? How is the component costing and consequent business case for the project proceeding? Will he now give a firm date for Main Gate, as there appears to be a chicken and egg situation, with each side waiting for the other to move first? Perhaps the Government, as the customer, should get on and place an order and rely on the industry to make its own arrangements for how and where the various modules of both vessels are to be produced. It seems to me that, once the Government and industry have sight of the workload in future years, the review of the shipyard situation can be also successfully concluded.

Linked to the cost debate, I hope the Minister can offer me greater clarity on the role of the French. We welcome their desire to take advantage of the extensive design work undertaken in the UK but we remain concerned that, given the pressures on the budget, Her Majesty’s Government may suddenly announce that they will share the two carriers between the UK and France, consistent with the Le Touquet declaration of 2003. Will the Minister give an undertaking that this will not happen?

I reiterate our belief that the “Queen Elizabeth” and “Prince of Wales” will eventually be ships of which we will be enormously proud. They are essential if the Royal Navy is to continue to carry out its remit, and will be the nucleus of a very formidable fighting force capable of projecting military power and peace-keeping anywhere in the world. However, the abandonment of the original proposed in-service dates of 2012 and 2015 respectively leaves us with a very serious capability gap. Without the right kind of Sea Harriers, the Invincible class will require another nation to provide air defence. What discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with other nations, such as the USA, about the provision of air defence should the situation arise?

In the debate of 19 May, I asked whether the Joint Strike Fighter in-service date will coincide with the arrival of the first of the carriers, stating that the weight problem appeared to have been solved. Unfortunately, the outstanding issue still appears to be the ongoing lack of agreement on the supply of technology which will allow British contractors to maintain and upgrade the aircraft. If this is not sorted out, it is self-evident that this aircraft will be useless to us.

Does the new political scenario in the US affect this? Could the Minister update us? If there seems to be no solution to the problem, what is the Government’s plan B? Will the carriers be capable of being converted to take non-short-take-off and vertical-landing aircraft? It is possible that the whole future of the carrier programme will depend on the good will of the new US Congress. Up to now, the Government have been very consistent in their support for the project. Can we be assured once again that that support is still in place?

I am conscious of the workings of these debates, and ask the Minister to undertake only to write to me in answer to any questions that he cannot respond to today.

20 Nov 2006 : Column 209

9.21 pm

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am sorry that I cannot take part in the defence procurement debate. However, I agree strongly with the many speakers today who have said that the conflict of Israel and Palestine, with its overspill into Lebanon, holds the key to world peace. I therefore welcome the emphasis on this in the gracious Speech and in part, at least, of what the Prime Minister said recently at the Mansion House.

It is in the interests of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and people, the Arab states and the rest of the world to bring military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to an end and to work for long-term resolution. The economic development of the whole Middle East, including, for example, Gaza’s offshore gas, is held back by instability and excessive military spending. I heard, as some of your Lordships may have done, the king of Jordan speaking earlier this month in this Palace and saying that progress towards peace was crucial in the coming six months. If stagnation continued, he indicated, his country faced being surrounded by civil wars in Lebanon and the West Bank, as well as in Iraq. That is one especially acute local perception. The wider world interest is to make progress to remedy a situation which gives a pretext for action to every violent jihadist, wherever he or she may live. The difficult part is to get down to the details and make progress on particular points.

I should like to emphasise the helpful role of Egypt and Jordan. They could form a mini quartet, working with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I wish to underline the importance of confidence-building measures. The most obvious starting point concerns prisoners and detainees. Generous moves by Israel on releasing women and children, old, sick and long-serving prisoners, would provide strong incentives to the organisations now holding a handful of Israeli military prisoners. There are also the detained Hamas MPs and, of course, the Gaza crossing points of Karni, Rafah and Erez. Unless these are open, Gaza is just a fenced-in prison.

There are also the foreign passport holders and the foreign spouses, all of them resident in the occupied Palestinian territories. These people are providing employment and developing the battered economy. Regularising their position would help prevent those territories sliding still further in the direction of Somalia. Releasing customs and VAT money would also make a huge contribution to stability.

The biggest confidence-building measure of all may well be a hudna, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. It is important that everyone understands the full meaning and significance of this word. As long ago as the 14th century, Ibn al-Mansur defined haadana as meaning “he made peace”. Hudna is the noun which derives from this verb. It can mean more than just “ceasefire”. In 2001, an Israeli businessman proposed that the concept be applied to the affairs of his region. In 2003, Hamas and Islamic Jihad unilaterally declared a 45-day hudna. In January 2004, a senior

20 Nov 2006 : Column 210

Hamas leader, since killed, offered a 10-year hudna in return for complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.

More recently, there has been talk of a 10-year hudna to allow for negotiation of issues arising from 1967 onwards, to be followed by a much more long-term hudna for negotiation of post-1948 issues. Such thinking deserves very serious consideration, since it comes from Hamas, whose acronym means also “zeal”, and stems from the Muslim Brotherhood. If a hudna of whatever length were backed up by a religious fatwa, it would have a strong, binding moral force. The history of hudnas among Muslim peoples shows that they are very seldom broken and that they imply an obligation to negotiate, therefore giving at least de facto recognition of the enemy or opponent. A note to me from your Lordships’ Library states that a hudna obliges the parties to seek permanent, non-violent resolution of their differences. It would be ideal if the other significant militant groups could be associated with Hamas in a hudna.

I conclude that it is no longer sufficient or satisfactory just to say “Everyone must get back to the road map”. Too much has happened since that was first proposed. What is needed is maximum diplomatic effort to achieve ceasefires and an early start to negotiations on the most urgent issues. Will Her Majesty's Government initiate this, working with the European Union, the Arab League and the United Nations to persuade the United States and Israel? These two states are the most capable of starting helpful movement. Neutral states, including the Vatican diplomatic service, should be involved, too. Diplomatic effort should be backed up by inter-religious dialogue, in particular among the great monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Both Israel and Palestine have large diasporas which can play a constructive part. Despite the difficulties, religious and civil dialogue across the existing barriers and boundaries is urgently needed.

I look forward to the Government's reply; first and foremost, on the diplomatic effort required, and, secondly, on the use of the economic and other incentives that we and our European Union partners already possess.

9.29 pm

Lord Cotter: My Lords, I am grateful to be given this opportunity to raise a matter that is of great urgency and importance. I was, unfortunately, unable to be in the House at the start of the debate, due to rail delays.

Much good intention and good will is directed towards Rwanda. In that connection, I pay tribute to the work of this Government, the Rwanda Government and to many other organisations. I shall single out one—SURF—a charity for the survivors of the genocide, of which I am proud to be a patron.

Rwanda has been through a trauma of enormous proportions but, somehow, it has to find a way forward, which has to be through reconciliation and justice. As President Kagame, the president of Rwanda, said:

20 Nov 2006 : Column 211

Today I am here to speak for the survivors. Our Government to their credit are funding the initiative for reconciliation, called “gacaca”, but it is proving difficult. Gacaca involves perpetrators, of which there are 100,000 in prison, facing up to victims and relatives to own up to their crimes and by this process gain release. But not everyone has genuine remorse or, indeed, owns up to everything—and witnesses are being attacked and, in some cases, killed.

So what needs to be done? Gacaca does not allow for a witness protection programme. Survivors are being intimidated and threatened and there is an urgent need for a protection programme to be put in place. Also, once released, perpetrators are threatening and attacking with impunity the very people who have been victims already. There is a need for sanctions and re-arrest for such offenders.

A violence-free, stable and peaceful society needs to be created in Rwanda, but that is now at risk. I know that the two Governments are aware of those concerns but the situation is difficult and urgent and action is desperately needed.

9.32 pm

Lord Garden: My Lords, this has been an excellent debate with a number of common themes: the centrality of the Middle East peace process, the despair over Iraq, questions over British foreign policy and the wish for Europe to do more have been recurrent issues. We have been fortunate to have four outstanding maiden speeches from noble Lords, Lord Patel, Lord Leach, Lord Browne and Lord Jay. Your Lordships' House will be further strengthened by the addition of their different worlds of expertise.

I start with Iraq—the “disruptive epicentre”, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, described it, because it is the most difficult and urgent foreign and defence policy issue facing Britain. Few of us, when we opposed the 2003 intervention, imagined the strategic incompetence which has followed over three and a half years. We have tried to offer constructive ways forward at each turn of the screw. Internationalising and engaging regional powers is not a new idea. It would have been easier if done in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, or even a year later, but now it is much more difficult. As my noble friend Lord Chidgey said, there are few incentives for Iran to dig the United States out of its hole. Indeed, the mixed messages to Iran from Mr Bush and Mr Blair over the past week can have done little to make Iran feel that the approaches are serious in any case. But, as my noble friend Lord Ashdown argued, we must try to engage all the neighbouring states.

We do not know whether the United States is thinking of ramping up the number of its troops or drawing it down. The president, in the wake of Mr Rumsfeld's departure, seems to have three different study groups to advise him. I will not even ask the Minister what the UK Government’s position is, because it is of absolutely no relevance. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire explained, we know that Downing Street will wait to be told what to

20 Nov 2006 : Column 212

do by the White House. If America says “stay”, we stay; if America says “go”, we go. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, was right when he said foreign policy is in limbo.

The noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, graphically described the tragedy of Iraq. Transparency International has reported that Iraq has slipped this year to 160 out of 163 in the list of corrupt states in the world. Government agencies now kidnap, torture and murder other government employees. The United States has put no serious funding forward for next year for aid and reconstruction. The situation with the electricity, water, and sewage infrastructure remains desperate. The Government remit in Iraq operates little beyond the Green Zone. Despite many noble Lords speaking against it, partition is now in effect being arranged on the ground. Our own Chief of the General Staff wonders whether we are doing more harm than good.

Our other major operational commitment is in Afghanistan. My noble friend Lady Northover described the problems of reconstruction. At the same time the head of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency, General Maples, told a congressional hearing last week,

We have seen that in the casualties sustained by our own forces and our allies in recent months. I trust the Minister will update us on the UK intelligence assessment of the outlook for the next year and whether we can still expect a draw-down of UK personnel in Afghanistan when our headquarters function is handed over in the spring.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page