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7.53 pm

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I cannot hope to emulate the most interesting tour de force of the Minister in opening this debate, but I will do my best to concentrate on three particular areas. I start with Iraq. Like my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, I am disturbed by the way in which the reduction of our forces in Iraq was announced and how it appears it is about to be carried out. Surely we agree that there should be no premature weakening of our presence in Iraq. The position is still extremely fragile, but there are signs of hope, not least because of the way the Iraqis themselves are increasingly taking control over their own affairs. Obviously there is a long way to go, and we have a great responsibility for keeping our presence strong and effective, in particular by helping them to deal with insurgents, by holding the ring and continuing with the training of Iraqi police and military personnel, which our forces have done with such consummate skill and which is now extremely well established. What a tragedy it is for the people of Iraq that a Sunni/Shia struggle for power within Iraq is depriving them of the great opportunities which undoubtedly await them, if only they could settle their differences and manage their own affairs effectively.

Turning to the Middle East as a whole, most commentators refer to the need to resolve the Palestine/Israel situation. I agree on the importance of achieving that, or at any rate of making further progress towards achieving it. No doubt the two-state solution does offer the best prospect for peace, but I do not think that that has any chance of coming about unless there is the prospect of a viable Palestinian state, and that in turn cannot come about unless Israel ceases the building of settlements and withdraws from the east of Jerusalem the settlements which it is in the process of establishing.

It is also most important that we engage Syria as actively as possible in our discussions when referring to the Palestine/Israel settlements. Syria is an Arab League nation and should be closely involved in all the discussions. Perhaps the opportunity will arise during the next few days for the Government to encourage Saudi Arabia to renew the initiatives it showed a short time ago. Perhaps that nation can broker an arrangement with Syria to become involved in these discussions.

However, the discussions are about to move to Annapolis in the United States of America, a city of which I have the honour to be a freeman and where one of my ancestors, the last colonial Governor of Maryland, is buried. We are not quite clear about what is going to happen in Annapolis, nor are we yet 100 per cent sure exactly who will be taking part in the discussions. Like the Select Committee, whose

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report is before us in today’s debate and was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, I suggest that greater emphasis should be placed on the possible role of Hamas. I know that it sticks in the throat to have to talk to people who have engaged in acts of violence, but throughout our history we have had to do that over and over. The time has come when Hamas needs to be drawn more openly and fully into the substantive discussions which the other countries are engaged in. I hope, therefore, that our Government will change their position on this point and encourage the involvement of Hamas directly in the Israeli/Palestinian summit to be held next month in Annapolis.

I agree with those who have said that a solution to Iran must be found through diplomatic endeavour. On this point, to what extent is the Minister able to tell us about the position of Russia following the visit of Mr Putin to Tehran? Is there any encouragement coming from that quarter? Is there any prospect of a settlement on a diplomatic basis? I know that Russia was more interested in establishing a Caspian security arrangement and that the interest there lies in oil. But oil is not the only interest that Russia must have in Iran. Russia must also be anxious to ensure that a fundamentalist Islamist influence does not permeate from Iran further north towards Russia.

While on the subject of Iran, I would like to say a word about the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran. There is no justification to continue the proscription of the PMOI. It is not a terrorist organisation. We only went along with that in a form of appeasement to Iran which has done absolutely no good. The people of Iran are anxious for a settlement with the West. The mullahs of Iran may not be, but those who speak openly about the need for greater rapprochement with other countries in the Middle East from Iran deserve all the encouragement that we can give them. That certainly applies to the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

My noble friend Lord Lamont referred to the long shadow of history. I agree with him that we all bear some responsibility for preserving an undue significance in those shadows. We all have the baggage of history on our shoulders, but even in the situation in the Middle East we can find hope if we can change the education policies of some of those countries. Perhaps this is a subject on which my noble friend Lady Warsi, whose brilliant speech was so moving, can make further contributions at some time. I think of the madrassahs in Pakistan, of the schoolbooks that are being used in Palestine right now and of the amount of preaching of hatred that goes on the whole time, more often than not in the name of religion. Education holds a hope for the future if we can get it right.

Lastly, nobody can talk about the Middle East without talking about America’s presence there. Without America there could be no prospect for any settlement anyway. I hope that American policy-makers can be less heavy-booted in their approach to these matters sometimes and not refer to everyone by the blanket label “Islamists”. People in Arab countries are as different as people in western

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countries. The people of Iran are different from the people of Syria and Lebanon and elsewhere. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said, what we need to bring about a settlement of these issues more than anything else is patience. He is right; we do need patience. But I would add one further word to that tenacity.

8.04 pm

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, it is a real privilege both to listen to and to participate in this kind of debate in your Lordships’ House, graced by so many accomplished, knowledgeable and experienced speakers, by two very distinguished maiden speeches and, among many others, by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, with his very particular knowledge, perspective and experience. I was struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, whose words resonated with me over and over again, though at the very end—and thinking of my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester—I wondered whether what he was talking about will prove to be the case or whether it is a momentary blindness; I wondered whether religiously based states are a stage through which states will pass on the way to greater democracy or whether this is how things may be for centuries and in many other parts of the world as well.

I appreciated the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Eden, about history and those of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, about what we in our age may be laying up for our grandchildren, just as our grandparents’ generation laid up so much of the present situation. One thing that has surprised me in this debate is how little reference has been made to British responsibility in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s for so much not only of the boundaries but also of the character of the regimes that have preceded the present ones right across the area about which we have been speaking and how that has left people of all sorts in these countries viewing us in some rather particular ways as British people and British Governments.

Some of your Lordships may have seen in the press that, in June, I wrote with two of my colleagues, the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Exeter and of Coventry, a letter to the Prime Minister as he came into office. With an eye on Annapolis and as people with different but long-standing interests in the Middle East, we wrote to see whether we could draw out of him his own sense of the essentials and vision for the region, particularly around Israel/Palestine, offering some of our own observations and conclusions. We began by supporting the commitment of the Prime Minister and the British Government—although it is a much more widespread commitment, too—to a two-state solution, although we noted the extent to which that was becoming, for a range of reasons, increasingly unviable, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden, has just said.

We noted the speech that the Prime Minister made at the president’s dinner of the Board of Deputies of British Jews on 25 April, in which he committed himself to fight anti-Semitism and to remain a

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lifelong friend and supporter of Israel. In recognising the absolute right of Israel to exist, he called for people to work together for a two-state solution. We said that those were all sentiments with which the three of us wholeheartedly agreed. But we went on to note how on that occasion he had spoken of his understanding of the Hebrew word “tzedakah”, or justice and righteousness—a great biblical word in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament. We said that it seemed to us essential to hold that word in mind and to encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to hold it in mind about each other. We wondered whether, in that connection, he had really seen, and allowed to enter deep into his consciousness, the character of the security wall and the way in which it was, as we put it, separating people from their land, isolating communities and acting as a significant element in impoverishing and pauperising a large part of the Palestinian communities.

In that connection, I was intrigued a week or so ago to read in the press the comments of a UN official—he probably should not have said what he was reported as saying—who talked of recently briefing the previous Prime Minister in his present role on the situation in Israel and Palestine, particularly about the borders and the implications of the security wall and of the range of policies on both sides of it for the welfare and viability of Palestinians at present and in a future state. He said that he found Mr Blair both amazed and surprised by the briefings. This UN official then described how very surprising he found that, given the position that Mr Blair had been in for so long. Like my colleagues and many others, I believe that what is critical is an attempt to take in what is happening to Israelis and Palestinians in the present situation.

It was intriguing to receive, in a letter dated 5 October, the Prime Minister’s response, not least because it was so very much more positive, more engaged, more daring and more explicit than the Government’s response to the EU Committee’s document, which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, absolutely fairly said was bland and non-committal to a degree—although I have said more than the noble Lord said, that is what I think he meant. The Prime Minister was very up front. He shared our vision and said that this was a rare moment of opportunity to take the peace process forward. He said that the US-led meeting in November will focus minds on a goal and that we really need to be up and at it and play a full part as the UK, and then within the EU and within the quartet.

That led me to think that the Prime Minister had in mind some of the kind of things that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and his friends had very interestingly said in the committee’s document. I confess that, as I only got hold of it today, I have only read portions of it, but other noble Lords have noted significant portions. While supporting the position of the EU within the quartet and recognising the fundamental relationship with the United States, noble Lords are also saying that some independence of mind is required and necessary. There is a particular history

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of EU countries with the Middle East and there is a particular history within the EU of the UK in the Middle East.

The Prime Minister went on to be much more explicit than what was in the Government’s response. He said:

He also said:

It is important that we pick up the issues and encourage the Government to do so—I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s winding-up speech in that regard—with the greater sense of urgency that has found its way out into the media and the press in recent years about a situation that, for both Israelis and Palestinians, has elements that are simply terrible. We cannot be seen to allow it to continue until something better appears over the horizon.

I return to the question of the viability of the Palestinian side of the two-state solution. Noble Lords may have recently seen in the press an energetic critique, which surfaces periodically in the work of NGO Monitor, the Jerusalem-based think tank, of the work of Christian Aid in the Occupied Territories. The critique is of a pair of Christian Aid documents in particular, one of which I re-read—Israel and Palestine: A Question of Viability, a report published by Christian Aid in June this year—having read NGO Monitor’s material. This is not the moment to go into detail, except to say that I encourage noble Lords, if they are tempted to accept NGO Monitor’s critique at face value, actually to read the document that it is critiquing. Having re-read the report, I do not find that the critique relates to the Christian Aid text with any real accuracy. More important, the report is worth reading because it is among the most valuable and—from my experience, which is linked particularly to Bethlehem—accurate summaries of what is now needed if the Palestinian side of the two-state solution is to be viable.

I have already alluded to the fact that the committee is right to look for a greater sense of energy and initiative, both from the UK Government and in EU participation in the quartet, if the process is to be kept moving. Too much hangs on the whole situation in Israel/Palestine. While I value and agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, it is not good enough to say that that is the key to it all. I find when I talk to young Muslim people in Southampton that among the things that fire them—and that, their elders fear, fire them very much when they watch Al Jazeera or whatever coming into their homes—is the question of what is perceived across the Arab and Muslim world as a particularly profound injustice and dishonesty among western powers around Israel/Palestine. That is an urgent matter for us to address.

I have been grateful that a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Eden, have questioned—as has the EU Committee, although in very diplomatic terms—the wisdom of the exclusion of Hamas from the range of diplomatic activity. I would like to hear

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the Minister on that subject. If the British Government are rightly arguing for probing, accurate and excellent diplomatic work with Iran, why are they not saying the same thing with regard to Hamas? I see no significant difference. As others have pointed out, so much in our history says that we have to talk to people. A meeting in Annapolis or anywhere else with such an utterly partial representation of Palestinians is a meeting set up to fail.

I again underline the urgency of the situation. In Israel/Palestine, the Israeli state and hundreds of thousands of Israelis suffer seriously from the failure after so long of all sides, both internal and external, to find a resolution. From the Balfour Declaration onwards, we in the UK hold enormous responsibility for the whole situation through the mandate. I am struck that, whenever I speak about these things in Winchester, people tell me that they were there in 1946, 1947 and 1948 and speak about their experiences in that period. They ask why this process is taking so long and why we in the UK with our history and huge and onerous responsibility are not working much harder to resolve the problem. I am distressed and feel considerable anxiety and guilt at the thought that in recent years the international community has left this situation to fester, thus causing enormous damage to Israelis and still more to Palestinians. I hope that the Minister will commit to an energetic lead in working at these questions and will not let the problems just go on and on.

8.21 pm

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the debate.

We can debate the desirability of current military operations but we also have to examine the UK capacity to engage in them to the extent that we do. British defence planning assumptions allow for one medium-scale operation enduring—medium-scale comprises a brigade of 3,000 to 5,000 men—and one small-scale, comprising a battalion group of 600 men, possibly with naval support, and possibly enduring. The reality is that we are at double medium-scale plus and we have been doing this since 2003. This is a recipe for disaster. We cannot go on in this way.

It is not just about the 24-month tour interval; it is about strategic assets supporting two operations when just enough for one is provided; it is about the rate of spares usage and refurbishment of platforms. More importantly, it is about training for war rather than just the war; the training and experience of senior officers and, finally, the ability to deploy on a large scale deliberate intervention at divisional level—an LSDI.

I have served on an LSDI called Op TELIC 1. Your Lordships will recall that it was militarily successful, but part of that success came from deploying on exercise Saif Sareea in Oman in 2001. But we cannot undertake another exercise Saif Sareea until at least 2015. The very time one questions the need for an LSDI capability is a few years before it is really needed. However, at that point the genuine LSDI capability has been lost and then we get our posterior kicked. The need for the LSDI capability

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was recognised in the SDR. Does the Minister agree that we cannot engage in LSDI at the moment but that we need to maintain that capability?

I will not weary your Lordships explaining the perils of operating far outside defence planning assumptions for an extended period but they are very real. If any noble Lord thinks that US forces do not have this problem, he should think again. They do, but as with everything American, they have it on a bigger scale than we do. Clearly, we must either cut our commitments or massively increase our resources. Since no extra funds for defence or overseas operations are likely to be available on the scale required—and in any case it would take too long to implement any enhancements—we must cut our commitments.

We cannot affect the outcome in Iraq, however hard we try. We have a small fraction of the forces deployed by the Americans. But we can affect the outcome in Afghanistan, especially if we concentrate our forces on that operation, rather than do too little everywhere. I leave it to the foreign affairs experts and party leaders to say where to concentrate our efforts, but I know what I would do.

We should not reduce our forces in one area. We should close that operation completely. I did not know that my noble friend Lord Howell was going to put this point so well. On Iraq, he said that we should get in or get out. He rightly pointed to some of the risks of a small deployment. In principle, he is right. But, in reality, countering the risk of a large-scale attack could mean that our forces do very little other than exist in theatre. I have already undertaken to spare your Lordships a lesson in military logistics, but closing an operation completely is a lot different from reducing it. There are a lot more savings. But we must avoid the trap of withdrawing from Iraq completely and then redeploying all those forces to Afghanistan because of the long-term damage we are doing to our defence capability. We would be continuing to operate far outside of defence planning assumptions. If we continue to do that, we will encounter serious problems.

There are two useful concepts for engaging counter-insurgency and peace support operations. They are effects-based operations and the comprehensive approach. Many noble Lords have referred to the lack of a comprehensive approach to current operations. Put simply, as a crude example, a desired end state might be a peaceful area of operations. The effect needed might be for the farmers who have turned guerrillas to leave that area. Two activities could have that effect. One is to bomb them—a kinetic solution with all its attendant problems. The other is to put more resource into the aid effort by providing or repairing irrigation systems, and providing seeds and tools, so that the farmers will go home and do what they are good at. Of course, that is a civil activity and not a military activity, but you arrive at the desired end state of a peaceful area of operations.

My concern is that while we might engage in effects-based operations at a low level, we certainly do not do a comprehensive approach at the strategic level in Whitehall and the UK. It is even more difficult to

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ensure that we have a comprehensive approach at coalition level. The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, referred to it as an elusive concept—I think he was referring to a comment in a recent report. But that is not to say that excellent work is not being done in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Kajaki Dam project is a fine example. Money to improve the electricity supply comes from the USAID, but the security comes from British forces in Helmand province. The electricity will improve the lot of the ordinary Afghan and will be a tangible and obvious benefit of progress. It will drive a wedge between the reconcilable and irreconcilable Taliban, and will help to extend a writ of the Government of Afghanistan to all their country.

I know that there is a post-conflict reconstruction unit, but it does not mean that we have a comprehensive approach at the strategic level. Which Minister is in overall charge of current overseas operations? As far as I can see, there is not a Minister for Afghanistan or a Minister for Iraq. I believe that at one point Lord Longford was Minister for Germany. He was obviously running the whole thing, the comprehensive approach. We are not doing that at the moment. Theoretically, of course, the Prime Minister is in charge, but I suspect he is a bit busy with domestic policy.

There is public dissatisfaction with both the aid and military operations in Afghanistan. This derives from unrealistic expectations of the rate of progress. There is no doubt that we will have to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan for at least a decade, maybe longer. This is not a prophecy of failure; it is the nature of the problem. In Helmand there is a considerable need for reconstruction and development, but it is difficult to implement reconstruction without improving security. However, it is very hard to improve security until the local population reject the Taliban.

Yes, we can militarily engage the Taliban, but this has its own problems, and Taliban body count is not a measure of success. It will be a slow process to put some security in place in Helmand, in order to facilitate some reconstruction, in order, then, to get some freedom of manoeuvre for the military. There is no doubt that the British public expect there to be some great event in Afghanistan, whereby the Taliban will be defeated. Of course, that will not happen. It will be a slow process to drive that wedge between the reconcilable and irreconcilable Taliban, and to marginalise the irreconcilable.

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