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House of Lords

Wednesday, 18 July 2007.

The House met at three o'clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Norwich): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

UN: Human Rights Council

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, despite resistance from others, we support full implementation of the Human Rights Council’s mandate to promote and protect human rights everywhere. We welcome provision on its new agenda to address specific human rights accusations, wherever they occur. We continue to work positively on the establishment of the council’s universal periodic review mechanism to review the human rights record of every UN member state on an equal footing.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his new office in this House. I hope that I can say without being accused of flattery that among the international NGOs with which I am concerned there was rejoicing at his appointment. I also thank him for the very diplomatic reply to my Question, but perhaps I may ask him to be a bit less diplomatic in his answer to my next question.

In the light of what happened last month at the fifth session of the UN Human Rights Council, especially the inclusion of only one situation for selective treatment—that of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel—what, if anything, can be done to guarantee that the council ensures universality and is not guilty of double standards and politicisation in breach of its mandate? I reflect in that question what has already been voiced in the European Parliament.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much for his kind words and I am very grateful for the support of the NGOs of which he knows. The new Human Rights Council is a work in progress, and you win some and lose some. British diplomacy has been very active in ensuring that nine country-specific and 28 thematic special procedures have now been approved as a result of the last session. Unfortunately, we lost the vote on retaining rapporteurs for Cuba and Belarus—two countries that evidently deserve rapporteurs. The noble Lord is correct that, unfortunately, the only special arrangement referred to related to the Occupied Territories, but I hope that we will continue the fight to get more equal treatment for all cases.

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Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, can the Minister suggest what measures might be taken to support and strengthen the working groups of the old sub-commission, including those on slavery and indigenous people, in the face of the forthcoming review of their mandates?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very good point. The arrangements to which she refers were almost cut in the new council. We had to fight hard to preserve them and we will now fight equally hard to try to strengthen them.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble Lord. We are immensely pleased that someone of such vast international experience can join us and we hope that he is frequently able to share his wisdom and experience with us at the Dispatch Box. The United Nations Human Rights Council has had a pretty patchy first year, as everyone agrees. We all want to see it strengthened and we hope that the new agenda and new procedures will do that. But is it really true that, even in this new phase, it has decided to end its scrutiny of Iran at a time when we are getting reports of people being stoned to death there, together with other atrocities? Surely now is not the time for the council to give up on that matter. Does the noble Lord have any information on that subject?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his welcome. I believe that I am correct in saying that Iran is not currently the subject of one of the country-specific mandates. We have not yet been able to establish a country-specific mandate for Iran. I completely concur with him that we should try to do so.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I assure my noble friend that his appointment is widely welcomed on these Benches, too. Will he confirm that it remains the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to oppose the use of the death penalty in all countries and in all circumstances? Can we have an assurance that part of his efforts at the FCO will be devoted to ensuring that countries such as Iran and Iraq do not abuse the death penalty in the present blatant and indiscriminate manner?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his welcome. I stand absolutely with him in wanting to ensure that we ban the death penalty everywhere.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, will any steps be taken by the council to protect the realm against terrorist attack?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord raises the enormously important issue of how as a global community, not just a British one, we both protect human rights and prosecute the war against terrorist attack. We all agree that these need not be incompatible objectives. The protection of human

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rights around the world is one of the vital ways in which we limit support for terrorism. We want to stand for freedom, but freedom within secure borders here and abroad.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Minister will be highly familiar with the internal politics of the UN General Assembly and the various agencies and councils. Her Majesty’s Government are members of an extremely close caucus, the EU, and of a very useful network, the Commonwealth, which together amount to nearly 40 per cent of the membership of the UN. How actively do Her Majesty’s Government work through these networks and how useful do we find that in promoting the aims of a more effective Human Rights Council?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. After many years at the UN General Assembly, I arrive in this House a happy and relieved man—a refugee from a much more complicated environment. The point on the Commonwealth is a good one. We should make much more use of it to promote values such as human rights and democracy around the world and turn it into a much more active lobby, if you like, for that within the broader UN membership.

Olympic Games 2012: Lottery Funding

3.07 pm

Lord Jopling asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Olympic Lottery Distribution Fund has committed to releasing grants to the Olympic Delivery Authority within 10 working days of the receipt of a compliant request. This allows for the proper appraisal of requests and the administration of payments. In practice, the average time between receipt of a compliant request and payment has been approximately four working days.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he recall the House being warned that, if this circus is to come to town in 2012, there could be a very severe danger of bombs, bullets, boycott, blackmail and bloodshed, to say nothing of the case about bogus budgets, which has already been well and truly made? Does he accept that, while some funding delays are acceptable, those that go through the Olympic projects review group are not acceptable and there is a danger of bumbling bureaucracy being added to the list?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we have learnt the lesson from the Dome. We have set up two organisations: the Olympic Delivery Authority, to deliver the infrastructure and to create the park, and

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LOCOG, the co-ordinating committee, to mount the Games. The two bodies work in close consort. It is an efficient structure, sufficiently so to win us plaudits from the International Olympic Committee.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, is there now a reasonably firm budget for the whole of the Olympics; and can the Minister enlighten us on whether we have yet to solve the problem of inclement weather in this country, and on the provision of cover for those who watch from the stadium?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government have not solved the problem of inclement weather, but the Olympic authority will provide a roof for part of the stadium.

Lord Addington: My Lords, can the Government confirm that we have a process at the moment that meets international standards for the distribution of funds, one that has been applauded throughout the system? When it comes to a roof for the stadium, it is quite normal for people to get soaking wet at athletics meetings.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that may be, but the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, pressed me on whether there would be any roof at all. I can assure the House that that is the intention for the main Olympic stadium. On the overall position, of course we have to watch the issues carefully, because very big sums of public money are involved, both from the Exchequer and from the National Lottery, which is also a form of public money. We therefore need clear structures in place to ensure proper, efficient delivery and accountability and it is on that that we have been commended.

Baroness Morgan of Huyton: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that a clear set of milestones has been established and that a clear set of milestones for the delivery of the authority has been laid out for the future?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is certainly the case, but there is no cause for complacency, because this is a very complex operation. The House will recognise that the crucial issue for the Games is that everything has to be in place on a prescribed and definitive date. At the moment, we are proceeding satisfactorily.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, the Minister mentioned a partial roof. Will it cover the spectators or the competitors?

Lord Davies of Oldham: Not the competitors, I fear, my Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, it is common for athletics to be conducted in the open air, but there will be cover in the stadium. How far that will extend and to which categories of spectator I am not able to define precisely at this moment.

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Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, mentioned the question of security—bombs and bullets, I think he said. Does the Minister agree that Tarique Ghaffur, the assistant commissioner in charge of security, is more than happy with the arrangements being made at present?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I can attest to that statement. The substantial increase in the budget included a very hefty sum for the necessary security to guarantee, as best we are able, that the Games are carried through peacefully.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, what financial return do the Government expect to secure from their investment in the Olympic Games?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it was London that bid for the Games, not the Government, and it did not do so on the basis that this investment would reap huge financial rewards. It will certainly bring extensive rewards in the prestige of staging the Olympics; after all, it is almost 60 years since we last had that honour. However, we are quite clear that the development of the land in east London will bring returns, which we are confident will help to restore resources to the lottery, for instance, some of which have been concentrated on the Games.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, when the Minister cited the Dome as an example of financial efficiency, did he have in mind the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on it? It said:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I did not say that we are paralleling the organisation for the Dome but that we had learnt lessons from it. I said that, in splitting the responsibilities between the two main bodies concerned with delivery of the Games, we had taken on board a crucial lesson from the Dome: to avoid mixing up the objectives and thereby causing difficulties.

Iraq: Withdrawal

3.15 pm

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence & Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Lord Drayson): My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Guardsman Daryl Hickey, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan last Thursday.

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It would be wrong to set an arbitrary timetable for withdrawing British troops from Iraq. Any changes to troop numbers are based on conditions and in consultation with the Iraqi Government and our coalition partners. We have already reduced the number of our forces to around 5,500. The planned transfer of Basra Palace to the Iraqi authorities later this summer will see our force levels further reduced to around 5,000 troops.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply; perhaps I may associate myself with the message of condolence. Is it not the case that the whole of this Government, with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, whom I, too, welcome to this House, are somewhat in denial about the scale of the humanitarian disaster in Iraq? Will the Minister confirm that the figures quoted by the Prime Minister this morning for deaths in Darfur are comparable in scale to the estimates made by the Johns Hopkins University for deaths in Iraq? Given that, is it surprising that a recent opinion poll quoted by the Economist showed that 47 per cent of Iraqis thought that attacks on coalition forces were justified? Is it surprising that people ask what the point is of British forces fighting pitched battles with the Iraqi police? Given that the US Secretary of Defense has said that the war may not be winnable, should we not be doing what Republican Senators are now doing, and thinking about a negotiated exit strategy?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, we recognise the very significant problems and difficulties that we face in Iraq. However, we do not believe that this is an unwinnable war. This is not a war; it is a process by which we are supporting the ability of the Iraqi people, their democratic Government and in particular their security forces to take over responsibility for the security of their own nation. We have made progress towards that end. We believe that the process of supporting those forces will in the end provide us with the exit strategy that we expect.

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, we on these Benches add our condolences to the family and friends of those service personnel who have lost their lives recently.

What is the Government’s response to evidence showing that the casualty rate rises whenever the troops disengage and their strength is reduced, as in Iraq, as part of a transition process? With the insurgents now launching far more attacks in an attempt to show that they can take some credit for the withdrawal process from Iraq, can the Minister assure us that our troops will have the most up-to-date armour and helicopters with a lift capacity available to ensure that their exposure and increased risk is kept within manageable proportions and not extended through this exercise?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I am absolutely able to give the noble Lord that assurance on providing our forces with what they need in terms of up-to-date equipment for force protection. We need to recognise

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that, as we move through the process of transition in Basra province, we must expect attacks on our forces to increase. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been saying for some considerable time, we must expect as we go through this difficult transition process that our forces will increasingly become the target. We are doing everything that we can to provide them with force protection in terms of tactics and equipment, but as the senior military commander, Lieutenant General Graham Lamb, said on Friday:

Lord Bramall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in the Basra area by far the greatest proportion of the violence is directed at coalition forces? If the forces were to withdraw, presumably the violence—in that area, at any rate—would diminish and not increase. If there is still a job to do, of course the forces must stay and accept the risks, which are becoming considerable, but what exactly is their job today in Basra?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord is absolutely right: our forces are increasingly the target for the militias. The reason is that the militias want to take credit, as they see it, for forcing us out of Basra. However, we have shown our strategy to be successful in the other provinces that we have handed over—for example, Al Muthanna province. Once the Iraqi security forces, in particular the Iraqi army, have the capability to take over responsibility for security, our forces are then able to withdraw and the level of violence decreases. So the solution to the problem in Basra—the last province, for which we hope to see transition later this year—is to get the Iraqi forces trained up and with the strength and capability to take over responsibility, and to make the transition at that point.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords—

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, with the greatest respect, it is the turn of the Labour Benches.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, referred to the humanitarian disaster in Iraq. Can my noble friend confirm that it is believed that if we prematurely withdraw our troops the humanitarian disaster will be even greater?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. We have a responsibility to the Iraqi people to ensure that, at the point that we leave, we give them the best possible chance of avoiding the humanitarian disaster to which my noble friend refers.

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