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If we agree that the role of religion in the state must always be persuasive and never coercive, what are the implications for the application of Sharia law in Muslim countries? This is a crucial issue, affecting fundamental

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liberties, the status of women and the treatment of minorities. Debate about this matter is often ill informed on every side. We need a comparative study of how Sharia law relates to the constitutions and laws of different nations. It relates differently in different places. We need much further work on understanding the dynamism of the different schools of law in Islam, and how principles for development can be identified and applied. Education, education and education are certainly the priorities here.

In a region fraught with conflict—how many speeches so far have been about that?—it is important to have some convergence on when intervention is justified, or even necessary, to prevent oppression, destruction and genocide. This can be greatly facilitated by in-depth dialogue on the respective Islamic and Christian traditions of jihad and the just war. While there are significant differences between these two traditions, some convergence is possible, and such dialogue is now urgent. How will it be undertaken?

One of the prominent features of interfaith dialogue today is the need for a common commitment to freedom of belief, freedom of expression and the freedom to change our beliefs. We must note here the position of Christian and other communities in the region. We have recently been reminded of the perilous position of the Christians in Iraq: nearly half are now refugees in Jordan and Syria. There can be no justice unless these minorities are fully enfranchised and are secure. Whether it is the beleaguered Christians of Iraq, the Maronites in Lebanon, the Copts in Egypt, the Baha’is in Iran—or indeed the Jewish people in the Holy Land, taking the region as a whole—there has to be an end to persecution, the acceptance of coexistence and mutual respect.

It is quite possible to see what a two-state solution might look like in the Holy Land, and how shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, with particular provision for the holy places, might work. How that might happen has not been mentioned, but it will be one of the difficulties in any final status talks about Jerusalem.

Will the extremists be allowed to frustrate the realisation of such a vision? It is vital to understand that extremist anger is not caused by western policies—exacerbated maybe, but not caused. Rather, such policies are being used an excuse to establish dominance—the real agenda of some kinds of extremism in the region. Of course, extremists should not be provided with excuses, but neither should we capitulate to their desire for dominance. As always in the Middle East, “Assabr miftah al-faraj”—patience is the key to a happy ending.

6.24 pm

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, it is an honour to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester. He always says things that are correct, true and courageous, certainly among religious people. Not least this evening, he is right about interfaith dialogue: we have to get on with and respect each other. We have to understand that, whether we are in the Middle East or this country. We must get on

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with others who disagree with us. I thought his remarks were extremely wise.

I am sure we all commend our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on the role that he has now taken up in the Middle East, in the hope of creating peace. He certainly contributed to what nobody really expected to happen in Ireland; we are all immensely grateful that it has. He has an impossible task, but he might make it possible. In the circumstances, we are proud that he is the quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process. His role is one of state-building and I hope that he will help to remove corruption and create infrastructure—not least in the Palestinian Authority—and that there will arise a viable Palestinian state which can support a lasting peace. I am sure that we all wish him the best of luck.

I welcome the Annapolis summit next month, at the initiative of Condoleezza Rice; I hope it will capitalise on the ongoing dialogue between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, who are speaking together. Only if people speak together is there hope of peace between their peoples. It is important that all the major players are engaged in the Annapolis summit. That should include the Arab League, especially Saudi Arabia and Syria. Perhaps my noble friend will tell us what the Government are doing to broaden participation and engagement in the Annapolis summit, particularly among Arab states, because without that it cannot succeed.

I travel greatly, especially in the Middle East, and work towards achieving peaceful solutions, which requires two hands. One hand alone cannot clap, as in the Arab proverb. I work with Prince Hassan of Jordan in the Muslim-Jewish Coexistence Trust. We have to work together or we will die separately. Wherever I travel, the biggest concern for everybody is undoubtedly Iran. It is a particular threat to Israel. President Ahmadinejad said that he wants to wipe Israel off the map and on 5 October he announced that,

the Israeli,

Whatever Israel’s failings, it is the only democracy in the area and, however much we might dislike a particular Government at a particular time in our particular country, I am sure that we agree that democracy is best in the long run, even if sometimes it does not elect the Government we would wish to have. Certainly, the opposite side of the House is entitled to be wrong and to have a different view of our Government and their leader—that is democracy. It applies in Israel and nowhere else in the Middle East.

It is the wider regional threat that should worry us all: Iranian nuclear weapons will precipitate a Middle East arms race and countries including Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia may choose to begin their own nuclear programmes if nuclear weapons are obtained by Iran. It will spread, the area will increasingly destabilise, and so will the world that we live in. It will become a world in which there is a much greater danger that we will die. It is this added insecurity that

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will lead to regional divestment, damaging vital economic interests in the Gulf states, in Israel and throughout the area.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s call of 3 September for a third round of sanctions on Iran, and the calls of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, for vigilance on these issues. Does my noble friend agree that Russia has a major role to play in the ongoing negotiations in the United Nations Security Council, as Ehud Olmert’s visit to Moscow last week showed? I realise that Russia is not easy to deal with, especially given our current difficulties. Our relations with Russia are certainly not at their best, but will Her Majesty’s Government commit to doing everything in their power to encourage Russia to play a constructive role in the Security Council negotiations? We echo our Prime Minister’s call for stronger, more effective sanctions against Iran.

I have taken only six minutes, and I am going to cause great surprise by sitting down. Thank you.

6.31 pm

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Janner, for surprising me, and I hope that noble Lords will indulge me as I rise to make my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House. I was given two pieces of advice about today. I was told, first, to ensure that I used language that was appropriate for your Lordships’ House. I remind noble Lords that, as the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, English was an unknown language to me until I went to nursery school; but today I will certainly try to follow that advice. Secondly, I was told to remain non-controversial. As those who know me will know, on this rule I will have to try much harder.

I am the latest of a long line of women that my home town of Dewsbury has contributed to this House. There is the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, whom I confess I had hoped two years ago to replace in another place. There is the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, who as the Speaker of the other place had a distinguished career, and whose father, like my father, was a weaver in the textile mills of Yorkshire. Of course, there is also the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, whose contribution to this house as Deputy Speaker must be truly acknowledged, as must her tireless campaigning on women’s issues.

Today, I wish to highlight the plight of women in Afghanistan. In June 2001, Saira Shah, a British journalist, revealed the horrific lives of many ordinary Afghani women. She was assisted in her efforts by RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. She exposed an Afghanistan where women were excluded from jobs and medical care, where education was denied them and where war widows were forced to beg on the streets of Kabul. This was Afghanistan under Taliban rule. On International Women’s Day in 2007, some six years after our invasion, RAWA said that,

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UNIFEM, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have many statistics on Afghanistan, and I will share some of them. Some 86 per cent of Afghani women are illiterate; 87 per cent of the Afghan population still believe that a woman needs male authorisation to vote; every 29 minutes a woman dies in childbirth; and 50,000 war widows live in Kabul alone, and many still beg on the streets. The number of girls in secondary school is decreasing; 80 per cent of women face forced marriages; nearly 60 per cent are married before the legal age of 16, despite the 2005 protocol to,

Sadly, that honourable aim is unlikely to be met by then or at any time in the near future.

I acknowledge that some progress has been made. As we know, 27 per cent of Members of the National Assembly are women, but only one serves in the Cabinet and, sadly, too many are ineffective and subdued. Indeed, in recent provincial council elections, not enough women came forward to take up the women’s quota, resulting in some of the reserved women’s seats reverting to men. I pay tribute to Malalai Joya, a brave and determined young Afghani parliamentarian who more than deserves the international accolades that follow her, but whose life is under constant threat.

Amnesty International writes that,

Abduction and rape is widespread, and officials are killed merely for registering women to vote. An extremely disturbing phenomenon is the ever increasing number of Afghan women who seek death by fire: women who are set alight or set themselves alight in sheer desperation. Cases of self-immolation have doubled in Kabul in the past year alone, and the situation is even more acute in the city of Herat. Human Rights Watch believes that contributing factors are severe governmental and social discrimination, illiteracy and an incompetent justice system.

The pictures alone do not fully describe the plight of these women. It is a subject close to my heart and one of which I have direct experience. I chair a women’s empowerment charity, the Savayra Foundation, which seeks to empower women in Pakistan through education and training. Sadly, I meet many abused and desperate women, but one in particular remains vivid in my mind. Aliya, a beautiful 21 year-old woman, a loving mother of two, was set alight by her husband in her home in the Pothohar region of Punjab. She presented herself to me with severe burns and disfigurement from her scalp to her waist. She is a woman whose children fear her because of her appearance. She is a woman who simply longs to hug her young son.

Whenever we go to war, we must ensure that our actions leave women safer and stronger, and we must ensure that never again do we allow women to be abused on our watch in a country that we have invaded to make better.

Let me finish by thanking my noble friends Lady Morris and Lord Strathclyde, who have been far more

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than supporters—they have been consistently good-humoured despite my constant questioning. I also thank noble Lords from all sides of the House for their very warm welcome and constant offers of tea, far too many of which I have reluctantly had to decline in the interests of my growing waistline. Finally, I thank those who serve your Lordships’ House, many of whom have accompanied me while I was lost in the numerous corridors, and who always smile when they realise that I am the newest and youngest Member of your Lordships’ House and not an intern.

6.38 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, it is my duty, but it is also a great pleasure, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and to congratulate her on a most accomplished and rather moving, if I may say so, maiden speech in which she brought attention to an aspect of the problem of Afghanistan that is sometimes overlooked but should not be so. I would like to say how welcome she is in this House too. She adds to both our regional and ethnic diversity, both of which are to the good. She has been given a highly topical but rather difficult and important subject—community cohesion—which I feel needs shaping and defining as well as prescribing. I hope that she will help us to do that.

Perhaps I may also stray a little from the normal practices of this House by offering a pre-emptive welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, who is speaking later. I think that I am not allowed in the practices of this House to refer to her as my noble friend, but she is undoubtedly noble and she is my friend.

It is timely that we should have this opportunity today for a debate on the Middle East and Afghanistan. I am grateful, too, that the report on the European Union and the Middle East peace process, produced by the sub-committee on which I currently serve, is being brought within the ambit of our debate. With the important conference on the peace process summoned by President Bush due to take place next month, it was high time for the House to have an opportunity to discuss our recommendations and the Government’s response to them. I hope that the Minister will not take offence if I describe the latter—the Government’s response—as bland even beyond the normal average for my old department. I can see why references to keeping channels of communication open to Hamas and the need for an inclusive peace process might provoke an evasive response, but why on Earth the Government cannot agree that it is now important to begin to address final status issues as well as process completely eludes me.

It would, I fear, be a triumph of hope over experience to say that President Bush’s conference is taking place under particularly propitious circumstances or with particularly high expectations of success. The weak position of both the Palestinian and Israeli Governments—and, one could add, that of the US Administration—increases the likelihood that tough choices will be ducked or fudged. The divisions among the Palestinians, with the exclusion

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of Hamas from any participation, can be welcome only to the most short-sighted. Nevertheless, it would surely be unwise to approach the conference in a spirit of cynicism or of exaggeratedly lowered ambitions; to do so would likely be self-fulfilling, and another failure will only stoke the fires of extremism that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester referred to in his contribution, which are already burning fiercely enough across the Middle East and more widely across the Islamic world.

What is needed is not just another photo-opportunity conference—not some vapid declaration of principles which are then interpreted in totally contradictory senses by each party within a few weeks or even a few days—but rather the establishment of a robust and structured process designed to get to grips not just with interim deals and fixes like the road map but with the core issues of a two-state solution: frontiers, Jerusalem, security arrangements and refugees; a process that can survive the vicissitudes of next year’s US presidential election and which can be sustained through whatever acts of violence the enemies of a peaceful negotiated solution may throw at it. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referring to a study on the US side of the Atlantic which comes to precisely the same conclusion as I have just suggested. It would be good to hear from the Minister what the Government and the EU’s objectives are for that conference and what enhanced role the EU can hope to play in its aftermath.

There is also, I would suggest, a sub-plot here over the role of the United Nations in any process. There are renewed calls for the UN to pull out of the quartet and thereby, it is suggested, to regain what is described as its freedom of action. I believe these calls to be misguided and I hope the Government will advise the Secretary-General to resist them. It has been a mistake for two successive Secretaries-General, Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon, to forbid their special representatives in the region to have any contact with Hamas, or with Hezbollah for that matter. The UN should be prepared to talk to all parties in disputes of this sort. But reversing that mistake does not require the UN to pull out of the quartet. After all, the Russians accept no such constraints on contact with Hamas and yet they remain in the quartet. And just what would be this freedom of action that the UN would have if it distanced itself from the key external co-ordinating group?

Turning to Iraq, I do not want to get drawn into a detailed analysis of the prospects for stabilising the situation. Having tried a whole range of futile, counter-productive and poorly implemented strategies, the United States does now seem to be making the best of a pretty desperate job. But there is one particularly urgent problem that has the capacity to further destabilise the country and to which the Minister referred in his opening speech—it is particularly topical this week given the visit to London of the Turkish Prime Minister—namely, the tension between Turkey and the Kurdish region of Iraq over the incursions of PKK guerrillas and the possibility that Turkey will launch military operations across the border. That would be a high-risk

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policy fraught with many possible unintended and negative consequences for all concerned. I hope that the Minister will say something about the line that the Government will take on this matter with Prime Minister Erdogan.

It is hard not to feel some sympathy with the Turkish Government, faced with the casualties to their armed forces, and also to feel that the Kurdish regional government are not perhaps doing all they could or all they should be doing to prevent their territory being used for these incursions. No doubt the Americans are better placed than we are to address that aspect of the problem, but concerted pressure on all and a concerted effort by all concerned will be needed if a Turkish Prime Minister who has done more than any other to alleviate the situation of his ethnic Kurdish compatriots and who has resisted the earlier pressure for military action from his generals is not to be drawn dangerously down that road.

Then, there is the threat to the peace and security of the Middle East region posed by the doubts that still hang over Iran’s nuclear programme and by Iran’s refusal to accede to the Security Council’s request that it suspend its uranium enrichment programme. Neither Iran’s response so far to that request, nor the Iranian President’s overblown and often vicious rhetoric, nor the recent resignation of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator leave any grounds for complacency or illusions. An Iran with nuclear weapons or with fissile material enabling it to develop such weapons in short order would seriously destabilise one of the already most unstable regions in the world, irrespective of the wider implications for our own and our Allies’ security and for the future of the non-proliferation regime. So a renewed effort and new initiatives to agree a diplomatic solution are now, I would argue, becoming overdue.

It was quite right for the IAEA’s director-general to seek to clear up all the remaining doubt about Iranian past activities during the long period when it was operating a clandestine programme in breach of its international obligations. Dr El Baradei has been quite unreasonably criticised for doing what is simply his job to do. But however successful the agency’s work in that respect, it will not resolve the problems caused by Iran’s enrichment programme and the doubts about its future intentions.

A further sanctions package may well be needed, but as our debate on economic sanctions earlier this month demonstrated, sanctions are not an end in themselves and they cannot work in isolation from diplomatic action. What is needed is that the United States should accompany any decision on further sanctions with an unconditional offer to join talks with Iran over the whole range of Iranian and international concerns. That, after all, is what it has done with North Korea, and it does seem to be having some beneficial effects. Why can it not be tried with Iran? I would be grateful if the Minister will say whether the Government would support such an approach.

When the House last debated the situation in Afghanistan, the Minister said that the Government

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were currently reviewing all aspects of our policy there. I wonder if he could say a little more in his wind-up speech about the outcome of that review, though he did speak very interestingly about his recent visit there when he opened. I shall focus on one aspect only: the counter-narcotics strategy.

As Afghan production of opium continues to rise, with forecasts of further rises next year, how long will it be before we recognise that present policies are not working and are almost certainly not going to work? Since our debate earlier this autumn, the Senlis council has produced what seemed to me at least some interesting ideas for pilot projects linking the controlled legal production of opium with the pharmaceutical use of the drug. We know that controlled production can work and has worked in Turkey and in India. No doubt Afghan conditions are much more challenging. But is it not time to give something like this a try?

Any glance at the Middle East and Afghanistan is liable to leave one even more pessimistic and daunted than when one began, but pessimism is a poor prescription for effective diplomacy. We face massive challenges in this region, some of them due to our own earlier mistakes and miscalculations; and I am not speaking here only about Iraq. We need now to try to put that behind us and to work with as wide a degree of international co-operation as we can muster for better outcomes in the future.

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