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I would have liked to have spent some time on the situation in Iran, but I expect that we will be coming back to that as things develop. My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire spoke wisely on how we should be
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I turn finally to the Middle East peace process, Israel and its problems. We have had a rich debate on this, to which many noble Lords contributed. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester spoke about the effect of checkpoints. Those of us who have worked in the West Bank and Gaza very rapidly came to understand how they generate anger. If that can happen in a short time, I do not know what it must like to be there all the time. The right reverend Prelates description of the situation around Rachels Tomb was important in terms of understanding the problems. The noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord Judd, and my noble friends Lady Tonge and Lord Jacobs all spoke with passion from different perspectives. It is important that we have those different perspectives.
We have a very fragile peace at the moment. Indeed, it is a measure of how parlous the situation is that we take comfort from the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel and the UN-monitored ceasefire between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel. Neither situation is stable or likely to be long-lasting unless progress is made in finding a way for this small but volatile region to live at peace. As King Abdullah told us, we are running out of time. As many noble Lords have said, Israel has managed by its actions to produce an elected Hamas Government as well as Hezbollahs increasing power within Lebanon. Given the current scene, it looks set to get worse.
My noble friend Lord Wallace reminded us that reports over the weekend suggest that Saudi Arabia is ready to take a lead in brokering an Arab-Israeli peace deal based on the initiative of four years ago. I would be interested to hear the Ministers views on that.
We have talked about the engagement of Syria and Iran. I was struck by the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Hylton. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, made clear the importance of engaging these nations. It appears that President Bush has no great interest in doing much more. He did not bother to do anything while he was in Jordan. We have to advance this, if necessary without America, until America is ready to help. The Oslo agreement was done without America kick-starting the process.
The destructive war in Iraq, the hypocritical indifference to the human dimensions of the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations, the lack of diplomatic initiative in dealing with Iran and the frequent use of Islamophobic rhetoric are setting in motion forces that threaten to push America out of the Middle East, with dire consequences for itself and its friends in Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Wherever we have looked across the Middle East and Afghanistan, it is clear that the long-term
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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, it is my great pleasure and privilege to respond to this debate on behalf of my colleagues. I consider it an honour to do so, but also a somewhat daunting challenge. It has been a typically outstanding debate. We would expect no less with such expertise in your Lordships House as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, in her masterly overview.
My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford opened with a characteristically forceful and important speech that covered Iraq and the Middle East. The situation in Iraq and other parts of the region, including Israel-Palestine, has been well covered by your Lordships. Events in Iraq were sadly in the news again this weekend. I do not intend to add much to what has been said so ably and eloquently by noble Lords. At this late hour I will concentrate primarily on reconstruction and Afghanistan, a nation I have discussed regularly in this House since 1994. I should declare an interest, as I have done many times, as patron of Afghan Mother and Child Rescue.
Many noble Lords emphasised how important it is that we do not forget the demanding challenges we face in Afghanistan. Just as the UN estimated that October saw the highest number of fatalities since the Iraq war began, so this year has been the most costly since the Afghan campaign began, with the awful figure of nearly 4,000 deaths, one-quarter of them civilians. Much impressive work, though, is being achieved in Afghanistan, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, told us. A democratically elected national assembly and provincial councils have been launched within the past 12 months, giving the country its first legitimate Government since 1973. A professional supreme court has recently been created. Significant improvements in infrastructure continue to take place, from road-building to irrigation projects and the hydropower stations completed in Ghor by Afghan Aid, a remarkable charity.
The United Nations Security Council has admitted, however, that progress this year has not been as rapid as hoped. Many development agencies are finding their reconstruction efforts increasingly vulnerable. Security is clearly a problem, especially in the southern provinces. Unfulfilled aid promises and depleting resources are also severely weakening those efforts and pose long-term problems that require long-term responses.
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We have heard interesting contributions from all around the House on the problems of security, especially in the knowledgeable speech from my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth. She also pointed out how the Foreign Office budget has been overtaken by DfID. In the debate on the gracious Speech I, too, mentioned that DfID now receives twice as much in funds as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does.
NATO must now recognise the importance of development for the enduring political and military success of its Afghan campaign. Less parochially and selfishly, we must justify our continued presence after five years to the local population. That requires visible evidence of reconstruction, through basic facilities such as fresh waterstill denied to the majority of the populationrenewed infrastructure or employment and education opportunities for both males and females.
We also support the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who in her informative speech stressed, as many others did, the need for better security and reconstruction, the plight of women and the furthering of microfinance facilities. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, put into context how vitalor, as he said, crucialTurkeys role and position is to our future. We on the Opposition Benches completely agree with him there. Time does not allow me to refer to all the speakers, but my noble friend Lord Blaker and many others asked the Minister to urge that there be discussion of the Baker study groups report, which is due out tomorrow. Can the Minister press for that in the not-too-distant future?
It is very important that we actively encourage good governance in Afghanistan and local participation in development projects, particularly in the context of the resurgent Taliban and the influence exerted by the countrys drug barons. Let us look into creative ways of dealing with the opium problem, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, emphasised. The launch of democratic bodies across the country is a heartening start, but, as in Iraq, we should recognise that there is no short-term solution and no room for complacency after achieving an initial goal.
Government organisations in the country are still fragile and need our continued support and authority. Corruption is a continuing, widespread problem that threatens the credibility and popularity of the new Afghan Government. Few would disagree that we should target government officials who have links to
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I shall finish on a more positive note, about the successes and potential successes of reconstruction. In the youngest age groups, a third of all schoolchildren are now girls. Joint international and Afghan programmes are providing more employment opportunities to the local population, of whom over a third are unemployed. Many roads and villages have been rebuilt from total ruin; we need to show unwavering commitment to these and other projects.
It is perhaps too optimistic to believe that visible success in reconstructing Afghanistan could help stimulate those in Iraq to pursue a similar goal, but it is certainly the least that the long-suffering Afghan people deserve. Economic insecurity and intense military activity over the past three decades have been aggravated by flooding and food shortages from severe drought. What is clear from todays fascinating debate is that we cannot neglect Afghanistan now.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, the breadth and depth of todays debate doubtless underlines the extent of the challenges that we face in bringing long-term peace and stability to the Middle East, to Iraq and to Afghanistan. The knowledge of the House has been brought to bear and I thank all noble Lords who have spoken for the great quality of their speeches, which were intellectually gripping and moving.
Noble Lords who have held the highest offices of state in the United Kingdomor who have been responsible for the safety, security and representation of this country know only too well how easy it is to offer grand visions for peace in the Middle East, but how much more difficult it is to find practical solutions that work. Ending conflict, building peace and expanding democracy and growth require decades of confidence-building, conciliation and commitment to succeed. That may be disappointing but there are no quick fixes. That is why we must focus our efforts on strengthening the political and military reach of the Iraqi Government of national unity so that they can take over that responsibility in their country. There will be no cut and run in Iraq. We must make sure that the distinctive task of supporting President Karzais Government in Afghanistan is achieved fully and properly with no cut and run. We must also encourage the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and their neighbours to move along the path of peace.
We need to understand fully the reminder of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that on occasion the price at which we bought stability was that of accepting co-operation with dictatorships. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, made a similar point. That tells us something about living in modern times. I appreciated very much the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, which, with that of the noble Lord, Lord Luce, demonstrated how the national origins of many of the countries with which we are dealing have thrown up complexities, resulting in cultural barriers which
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The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Garden, addressed tactical and military questions. I shall deal briefly with some of them, as I wish to discuss many other issues as well. The tactics and procedures of British forces remain under constant review. They are adapted and refined in line with individual situations and circumstances as they evolve. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was right to say that the media give little credit to the significant role that the forces can play as they make those changes. Our forces have developed expertise, experience and best practice, which, as I said, is evolving, to deal with counter-insurgency, peace support and anti-terrorist operations. They do so with proper rules of engagement and carefully prescribed laws of armed conflict. Their behaviour is crucial to how we are perceived. Unlike insurgents and militias, our troops operate within that legal and moral constraint, which is as much a part of determining tactics as any of the military questions that arise. Courage, compassion and commitment are shown by all the service personnel. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, did us a great favour in describing realistically their readiness and capacity.
Are we overstretched? Our commitments to Afghanistan and Iraq take account of the changes in the requirements in each of those countries. We continually review our force levels in each theatre. I assure the House that the current levels are manageable and that they give the commanders what they need to do the job. The Armed Forces are, of course, heavily committed but the number of regular Armed Forces deployed on operations has decreased during the last year. I am told that the figure now stands at around 18 per cent overall. I do not deny that that is challenging, but I am told that commanders believe it is sustainable. I do not want to keep a single member of the Armed Forces in Iraq or elsewhere for a moment longer than is necessary. But we will not draw down those troops until we, our coalition partners and, in particular, the Iraqi and Afghan Governments are confident that those Governments are ready to take over. As I said, that is our sovereign choice; it is not in any sense imposed on us.
I shall say a few words about Israel and Palestine and the Middle East peace process. It cannot be said that we have no clear strategy for advancing the process. The Prime Minister has consistently made it clear that moving towards a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, as set out in the road map as a model, is the central plank for achieving peace.
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There has been a question about the Foreign Office and the conduct of foreign policy. I want to deal with the issue broadly. I will never argue against the Foreign Office getting more money or the Comprehensive Spending Review being more generous. Foreign policy is still developed in the Foreign Office, which may come as something of a surprise to one or two noble Lords. It would be a fiction to suggest that it is undertaken entirely by the Prime Minister. Of course the Prime Ministers office and the Foreign Office work closely together. When, historically, was that not the case? The challenges and opportunities in the world today are truly global. Foreign policy is an integral part of domestic policy. Indeed, it is inconceivable that this or any future Prime Minister, of any party, could sit at the sidelines and not have foreign policy and its implications in their mind as they deal with matters.
I shall turn now to the vital points made during the debate, in the order of the speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, in a typically thoughtful contribution, argued that we needed to engage others without threats. I have some sympathy with that argument, but there is a difficulty with it. This is clearest when we look at a country such as Irans nuclear development, which is bound to be a matter for the United Nations Security Council. Iran has a great deal of historical pride, and we must respect that, but a balance must be struck between the effort to keep people within the camp of friends and ensuring that they do not take steps with which we could not live in the future. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, made essentially the same point. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will accept the point I made. I hope I did not suggest that we needed a lot more regional conferences; I believe that we need rather more durable structures than that.
Despite what the noble Lord said, I believe that we make a genuine impact. I want to give one example. Diplomatic talks in recent weeks have undoubtedly convinced Syria that British foreign policy has been changing in a way that it should respond to. The visit to Damascus in October by Sir Nigel Sheinwald unquestionably made an impact on how that country considers reaching out to its neighbours. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made some very important points. I do not accept his point that deception led to the Iraq war. Four inquiries were held; they did not find that deception had taken place. There may well be disagreement over the wisdom of it; people are perfectly entitled to take that view.
I also do not accept the noble Lords view of Labours tradition of internationalism. I have always thought of myselfI hope not unfairlyas an internationalist. One of the things that internationalism
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In all of this, as my noble friend Lady Symons said, it is right that in moving forward in our international relations we do not set unreasonable preconditions. The same point has been made by a number of noble Lords. But internationalism does not simply mean that we are welded to the United Nations. On occasions, as my noble friend Lord Soley said, it means, as it did in Kosovo, that some independence must be exercised. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to Spain, France and Italy. Although their plan came as something of a surprise to the Palestinians, the Israelis and, I believe, everyone else, none the less it is well worth exploring, and we are not resistant to doing so. I conclude my response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, by saying that I agree with him 100 per cent that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism and it should not be characterised as such unless there is specific evidence of anti-Semitism in a free-standing way.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said that the dispute in the Middle East should not be allowed to drag on. I believe that we are major contributors to trying to deal with that continued violence and to ensuring that the Palestinian state, as it emerges, becomes economically viable. There are some fundamentals that probably do not have to be rehearsed in this House but I shall say them in brief, telegram form. The Israelis should not build on Palestinian land and they should not build their fence on Palestinian land; equally, they should not be subjected to rocket attacks in their beds at night. They have a right to defence, and even a fence if it is on their own land.
My noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean made some vital points and I hope that I can do them justice. It is crucial that in Afghanistan we create new livelihoods. Security is essential to doing so, and a number of NATO states are feeling their way towards that. They are all sovereign states and they have differences of view, but I agree with my noble friend that more engagement is essential.
I also agree with the points that she and others made about the role of women. Briefly, the FCO/DfID gender strategy for Afghanistanit is available in the Library of the House of Commons and I should probably ensure that it is available in our House as wellremains the cornerstone of our approach. The priorities outlined and the objectives that we are funding include: promoting security and the rule of law for women; promoting womens civil and political rights; and protecting womens economic, social and cultural rights. Further, through the Global Opportunities Fund of the FCO, we are sponsoring a number of projects that are specifically designed to increase womens access to justice; improve their living standards; promote equal participation in governance; create a professional
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There is a robust discussion with Syria, and I have just mentioned Sir Nigel Sheinwalds mission there. In response to my noble friend and to a number of other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, I can also say that I believe that, when the Baker-Hamilton report comes out, it will repay early study. I guess that we will be studying it at the end of this week. I cannot commit the House and its authorities to a discussion, but I find it a little hard to imagine that there will not be one. The Prime Minister is going back to the region very soon, and we are awaiting the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. We do not expect the study group to advocate sudden withdrawal but, if it does, we will not support it. A clear-cut view of our own will be put forward.
I understand the points that the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, made. I wish that people would go back and re-read John Reids statement because I believe that it has lost a little in translation. He said that he hoped that shots would not be fired in action. He also said that he did not anticipate too much good fortune. I think that John Reid usually says what he thinks in terms, and I suspect that re-reading what he said will repay the reader.
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