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I hope that when the Prime Minister meets President Bush in Washington this week he will not allow the very timely discussions that they will no doubt have on future policy on Iraq to divert them from the urgent need to address the critical situation in Israel and Palestine—the “regional context” of Iraq's problems, as an editorial in yesterday's Financial Times put it. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have suffered enough. Surely it is time for the quartet to revive and intensify its efforts to return to the road map, even if the route is changing. Continuing violence by both sides across the borders of Gaza has too easily diverted attention from the wider suffering and deprivation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem and, of course, Bethlehem. That includes their continuing economic hardship; their lack of access to education, employment and health treatment, caused by restrictions on movement and border crossings; the intrusive construction of the so-called security fence, which has divided Palestinian families and blocked access to their olive groves and orchards; and the continuing expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and around Jerusalem.

I do not want to focus solely on the dreadful suffering and bitter resentment caused by continuing Israeli occupation and annexation of Palestinian land. It is encouraging that voices can now increasingly be heard from private individuals on both sides calling for a peaceful settlement and the end of occupation.

Three positive developments in the past few weeks are worth noting. First, there was the unilateral announcement of a ceasefire in Gaza by Hamas and the consequent call by the Israeli Prime Minister for restraint on the part of the Israeli Defence Forces. Secondly, there was an important and potentially historic speech by Ehud Olmert on 27 November, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, referred, in which he not only made a conditional promise to release numerous Palestinian prisoners, but committed himself to implement the road map by working for an independent and contiguous Palestinian state. Thirdly, Prime Minister Olmert called for the assistance of neighbouring Arab states, including Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, to achieve a fair and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians—a call that seems, to those of us who had the privilege of hearing King Abdullah of Jordan speaking in the Robing Room a month ago, likely to receive a positive response. Indeed, all of us who heard King Abdullah on that occasion will have been impressed by his warning that time for a peaceful settlement is fast running out.

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No doubt there will be further violence and difficulties to frustrate these good intentions, not least the problems that Mahmoud Abbas is facing in trying to form a national unity Government. I believe that this is a moment when our Prime Minister has perhaps his last opportunity to use such influence as he has, or should have, with President Bush to persuade the Americans to grasp the nettle of a fair and peaceful solution to the Arab-Israel dispute by adopting and maintaining a balanced—I keep repeating that word—just and proactive policy towards both sides.

Of course, there is an urgent need to relieve the economic deprivation in both Gaza and the West Bank, and I acknowledge the outstanding and generous contribution that we and our colleagues in the European Union have made towards that end. But aid is not everything. It is all the more urgent to revive the road map, to maintain and encourage a dialogue with all the parties, including Hamas, and to use our own historical connections and our diplomatic skills in the Middle East to assist the parties to fulfil their ambitions for a just and lasting peace settlement. This will require courage and concessions from all the parties. They will need firm and consistent support and encouragement, not least from the United States superpower, if we are to achieve an outcome that would be of major importance for the interests not only of Palestinians and Israelis, but of peace and stability in the wider Middle East.

I find it deeply disappointing that President Bush, on his recent visit to Jordan, apparently made no attempt, as he could easily have done, to invite either Palestinians or Israelis to meet him, to show at least that he regards a Palestinian peace settlement as central to his policies in the Middle East. Mr Blair has this week a unique opportunity to persuade Mr Bush of the vital necessity of United States commitment or recommitment to the road map. I hope that he will take it.

Much has been said and written about the loss of influence in the Middle East that Her Majesty’s Government have suffered because of our involvement in the tragedy of Iraq and because of our implicit failure, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, referred, to support a rapid ceasefire in Lebanon. I firmly believe—but then I would, wouldn’t I?—that our Diplomatic Service has unique strengths and experience in the Middle East and elsewhere to enable us to play an influential and vigorous role with all our friends and allies in working for the peace settlement that has eluded us for nearly 60 years.

There are conflicting reports, nearly all depressing, on the effect that the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review is likely to have on the resources available to the Diplomatic Service—a service, I remind your Lordships, with one of the smallest budgets in Whitehall—to maintain adequate representation in our embassies and high commissions worldwide. Many of us have expressed our regret that the Diplomatic Service has already been forced to close several diplomatic posts. I hope that the Minister when he winds up the debate can give us an assurance that sufficient resources will be made available to enable our diplomats to continue not only to represent our interests in the Middle East, but to have the wherewithal to pursue a genuinely global foreign policy.

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5 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, the issues we are debating today have direct implications for our own security here in the United Kingdom. Our domestic security necessitates marginalising extremism by winning hearts and minds. However, a significant number of hearts and minds are not being won in some quarters by the perception of what is happening, or failing to happen, in the Gulf, the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Nothing can justify the vicious and sinister terrorism, but in the grim reality of Iraq there are lessons to be learnt, and which must be seen to be learnt, if we are to have credibility in the global role we seek to play.

First, trust is essential, and it was extensively damaged when the reason given for intervention and its timing proved false.

Secondly, the absence of a specific, convincing Security Council resolution did not just mean that some ritualistic formula had been neglected, or even just that international law had been flouted. Its absence meant that a sufficient global consensus for what was being undertaken had not been achieved, and that as adverse consequences predictably accumulated, dangerous polarisation inevitably grew, accentuating hostility towards those primarily involved, not least the United States and us.

Thirdly, it was inexcusable to launch such major action without having thought through and planned for all the potential consequences. Building peace matters every bit as much as winning wars. Official refusal to acknowledge the number of civilian casualties and fatalities during the intervention was provocative, wrong, insensitive and highly counter-productive. The brutalities which followed by some of the security and armed services compounded this.

Fourthly, plans for a constitutional and political settlement have to be owned by a widespread and representative cross-section of those for whom it is being made. Durable democracy, justice and stability have to be carefully built from the foundations upwards; they cannot simply be orchestrated and coerced by outsiders. Of course the outside world can assist, and reliable and inclusive regional guarantees, arguably involving both Syria and Iran, could be a vital part of this, but a lasting solution cannot be imposed by outsiders.

To say all this is in no way to condone or deny the barbaric cruelty of the previous regime in Iraq. However, what is sad is that the tragic consequences of the intervention and the way it has been conducted may have become even more globally destabilising than was that regime with all its sick manifestations.

In the morass, as it now is, nothing matters more than to endeavour to find a constitutional and political way forward that meets the situation as it is, rather than as we would like it to be. We cannot just walk away; that would be cynical and irresponsible. We have to face up to the consequences of our actions, but the way in which we do that must relate to what is really a viable way forward, however radically different this may prove to be from what we hoped would happen.

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In the Middle East, justice remains an indispensable element for success. Historically, the United Kingdom carries a special responsibility to the people of Israel. Our forebears were among those who played a lead role in the creation of that nation, but we must never forget that no people paid a higher price for the creation of Israel than the Palestinians. Maximum possible justice for them must therefore always be, and be seen to be, a priority. We all welcome the ceasefire. Now the Government of Israel must be encouraged to understand that finding a viable way forward will necessitate talking with people with whom it is not easy to talk, as we ourselves discovered in Northern Ireland. It is a flawed and counter-productive approach to talk only to those with whom it is easy to talk. The objective is surely to marginalise irreconcilable extremism. Bridges must be built with those in Hamas and Hezbollah who can be won to a political process. Once more, our experience in Northern Ireland is relevant. As with Iraq, the outside world can assist—as can regional neighbours, not least Syria if it is seriously so minded—but it cannot impose a lasting solution.

Meanwhile, the destabilising humanitarian plight of the Palestinians must be addressed. The suspension of international aid to the Palestinian Authority—$350 million of direct budgeting support in 2005—and the withholding of tax revenues by Israel, which totalled $814 million in 2005, have led to a dramatic increase in poverty. The World Bank has estimated that poverty increased to 44 per cent in 2005 and is expected to rise to 67 per cent in 2006. There has been a drastic contraction in public services, with essential medicines in short supply, public hospitals stopping all but emergency treatment and dialysis, and health NGOs facing collapse with the curtailment of Ministry funding.

The temporary international mechanism has not halted the decline. While it may be true that 60,000 public sector workers have received partial payments under the TIM, it is estimated that as many as 90,000 workers have been excluded from the scheme, mostly security personnel. The World Bank believes that public sector incomes have dropped by 60 per cent. Meanwhile, refuse collection and sanitation are at breaking point. Cesspits are overflowing, and refuse is piling up in the streets. The TIM provides its funding through the Fatah office of the president, but the danger is that such parallel funding structures undermine existing Ministries and complicate nation-building and stability.

It has been disturbing to hear of the upsurge in fighting in the south of Afghanistan, linked as it is to a revival of the Taliban and the determination by the Afghan Government and the NATO ISAF to establish government authority there. It is especially disturbing that the Taliban infiltration seems to be occurring in new areas in the west and centre—for example, Farah and Wardak—threatening to spread to areas of the north with Pashtun populations, and is now close to Kabul itself. There are reports that shadow government structures are being set up in parts of northern Helmand, with sporadic attempts at control in other areas. At the same time it seems that, in non-Taliban areas, local commanders with well

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armed militias are posing a serious threat to the authority of the Government and hampering reconstruction efforts.

Like others, I am concerned by the failure of some NATO members to live up to what had been expected of them in Afghanistan. It must raise questions about the future of NATO. Indeed, I wonder whether it does not throw new light on the importance of military co-operation within the European Union. Dependability is critical in military planning and operations. That demands closer political integration, it seems to me.

It has become clear that the unanticipated strength of the military opposition in Afghanistan has undermined the intended two-pronged strategy of military toughness and humanitarian effectiveness. Does my noble friend not agree that it remains true that the use of military power alone will never resolve the current problems in Afghanistan? Is it not essential to give equal emphasis to increasing the capacity of Afghan institutions to manage security, improve governance, and both lead and deliver on reconstruction and development? Poverty should surely be recognised as one of the key causes of the current instability. Afghanistan, after all, is ranked 173rd out of 178 countries on the human development index.

Does my noble friend also agree that more donor attention and resources must therefore be directed towards those areas where they can make a tangible difference to the security problem over a longer time frame; for example, health and education, employment programmes, justice sector capacity-building, and police and army reforms? In a report published on 27 November, Oxfam—I declare an interest as a former director—highlighted that half the children in Afghanistan still did not go to school, despite a 500 per cent increase in enrolment in the past six years. With the advent of democracy, the main symbol of national regeneration lay in the dream of educating every child—boy and girl. However, there remain many obstacles to achieving that. Demand for education has to be bolstered, as does the confidence to stay in the education system.

The Oxfam report underlines that extra investment in school buildings is desperately required. Over half of pupils do not go to school because there is no school nearby; over half of the schools need major repairs; the majority are without clean drinking water or toilet facilities, while 2 million children study in tents or in the open air. Against that background, Oxfam has called on the international community to invest $563 million to rebuild 7,800 schools across the country.

In Afghanistan there may be up to 10 million small arms circulating in a country with a population of just 23 million. Guns have arrived in three waves since conflict began in 1979. Up to 2 million people are thought to have died since then, and hundreds more are disabled by their injuries. The guns come from all over the world, including the US, the UK, France, India and Pakistan. While some disarmament has taken place, many leaders of armed groups still possess weapons and use them to abuse and threaten people and to steal property. As in so many other

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crises elsewhere in the world, ordinary people have to pay the price. Surveys suggest that nearly two-thirds of Afghans now believe that disarmament is the most important way to improve security.

There is no simple solution. Ex-combatants must be disarmed, demobilised and reintegrated into their communities. UN programmes, albeit with mixed results, have attempted to achieve that. Alternative sources of livelihood must be provided so that the gun is not the only means of survival. Foreign Governments should remember their part in arming Afghan warring sides in the past and therefore recognise their heavy responsibility to ensure that arms supplies do not fall into the wrong hands. The world really must take responsibility for the arms it supplies. To do that, the proposed new international arms trade treaty should be urgently agreed.

I must congratulate our Government on their strong leadership on this. The United Kingdom was commendably active at the UN General Assembly in October. As consultation goes forward in 2007 and the group of governmental experts is convened, the Government will have to keep up the pressure on the United States—the only country to block the vote for an ATT in New York—and on the other countries which, by their abstention, could become obstacles to the achievement of a legally binding arms trade treaty. I understand that there will be a further relevant vote on these matters in the UN General Assembly this week.

I am among those who fervently want to see the United Kingdom play a lead role in international security. The issues we have debated today illustrate what a complex challenge that is. We cannot police the world on our own. What is required is a strong commitment to the United Nations, to effective international and regional arrangements for military and police co-operation, and to making a success of the international rule of law, so badly set back by the kind of intervention that took place in Iraq. This means that we must critically examine our current and future defence expenditure to ensure that we give substance to this global commitment. It is highly questionable whether it remains appropriate to renew colossally expensive, and arguably distorting, unilateral postures of the past. Prioritisation is essential. We must will the relevant and effective means as well as the ends. All this also means never bringing about a faltering in the brave endeavour by putting our courageous men and women of the armed services at risk of failure by expecting them to be in too many places at once or by sending them into operations ill equipped.

5.14 pm

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, we have for many years enjoyed power and influence in the world for two reasons: a sophisticated, professional foreign service and highly trained Armed Forces. The Government are on the way to destroying both. The FCO budget, as distinct from DfID, is 0.2 per cent of total public spending. Of its staff, 6,000 are UK-based; 10,000 are locally engaged. The FCO's international priorities, as set out in Active Diplomacy

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for a Changing World
, include expertise in human rights, conflict prevention and energy security and concentrate on improving diversity and bringing in people from a wider background.

Unfortunately, many of the decisions are taken and much of the policy-making is done in No. 10 Downing Street. Despite what Active Diplomacy describes, accurately, as the language and negotiating skills of the Foreign Office, the Prime Minister sent the head of his own Strategy Unit—a serving diplomat but, I think a specialist on Europe—to negotiate with Syria, just as he sent the noble Lord, Lord Levy, as his personal negotiator to the Middle East and Latin America. The head of the Foreign Policy Centre that he created was “horrified to discover” that our foreign policy was based on the UK's national interest and has only recently taken the view that we do not need arms or defence because,

Much valuable knowledge in the FCO of the probable consequences of trying not just to get rid of Saddam but to fit the Shia and the Sunni into the same tidy Procrustean democratic bed in Iraq has been ignored. Our Armed Forces are now paying for that. Equally, negotiating with Syria, Iran—and, perhaps, in the context of the future of the Kurds, Turkey—will require deep knowledge of the history of the region and not simply negotiating skills. It is not too late to draw on that knowledge.

The same is true of Afghanistan, which is a harsh land and, history tells us—although the Government do not seem to read much history—is by tradition both warlike and fiercely Islamic. It is wholly unlikely to change its traditional attitude to women—I wish that I could think otherwise—or to abandon tribal structures for democracy. Do we really think that the Army is there to hold the ring to allow a western civilisation to emerge, with the help of DfID, at some unlikely future date? This country cannot afford to lose highly trained soldiers on what is likely to be a long, long war of attrition in which there may be no decisive victories. The military mission in Afghanistan needs to be redefined.

We are committed, under the defence planning assumptions, to one enduring medium-scale military deployment, one enduring small-scale operation and one non-enduring small-scale operation. The strategic review considered that we should never do two major operations at once, but that is exactly what we are doing. We are failing to use our resources properly and to give our overstretched forces the support that they need. Both the National Audit Office, in its report on 3 November on recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces, and the 35th report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body are ringing alarm bells. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that those warnings, including the fact that the commitments routinely exceed current manning, are being heeded not in some distant future but now.

According to the National Audit Office, four major reasons are given in a list of 28 for military personnel to think of leaving the service. One is the impact of service life on family life: 64 per cent, overall. Another

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is quality of equipment: 49 per cent. Another is uncertainty over the future, given current changes in the forces: 54 per cent. Most disturbing of all is the

55 per cent. Those are issues of both morale and efficiency and it is essential that they be addressed for reasons of both recruitment and retention.

One problem which concerns both the NAO and the Armed Forces Pay Review Body is defence medicine and the need of the wounded soldier to be treated in a military environment. The NAO reviews a number of pinch-point trades—the trades where there is real trouble and not enough people. Case studies 10—“General Practitioners, Tri-Service”—and 11—“Accidents and Emergency and Intensive Therapy Unit Nurses, Tri-Service”—are relevant and disturbing. The NAO expects that GPs will remain on the operational pinch-point register at least until 2010, and points out that 50 per cent of medics in field hospitals in Operation TELIC in Iraq have been provided by the Territorial Army and that medical support personnel have also been provided by some coalition partners and even some contractors to meet some of the forces’ commitments. There is much to be done to remedy this serious pinch point, although, despite everything, the Territorial Army has done a brilliant job.

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