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House of Lords

Wednesday, 7 November 2007.

The House met at three o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Winchester.

Local Transport Bill [HL]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce a Bill to make further provision in relation to local transport authorities, the provision and regulation of road transport services and the subsidising of passenger transport services; to amend Sections 74, 75 and 79 of the Transport Act 1985; to make provision for, or in relation to, committees that represent the interests of public transport; to rename the passenger transport authorities as “integrated transport authorities” and to make further provision in relation to them; to make further provision in relation to charging for the use of roads; and to make provision in relation to the acquisition, disclosure and use of information relating to vehicles registered outside the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill [HL]

3.09 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce a Bill to make provision for and in connection with using money from dormant bank and building society accounts for social or environmental purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

House of Lords Bill [HL]

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce a Bill to make provision for the appointment of a commission to make recommendations to the Crown for the creation of life peerages; to restrict membership of the House of Lords by virtue of hereditary peerage; to make provision for permanent leave of absence from the House of Lords, to provide for the expulsion of Members of the House of Lords in specified circumstances; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

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Disabled Persons (Independent Living) Bill [HL]

3.10 pm

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce a Bill to impose certain duties on certain persons and bodies in respect of disabled persons; to confer certain rights on disabled persons for independent living; to amend the Mental Health Act 1983; to amend the Care Standards Act 2000; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Powers of Entry etc. Bill [HL]

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce a Bill to regulate powers of entry and powers in relation to documents and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Committee of Selection

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That in accordance with Standing Order 64 a Committee of Selection be appointed to select and propose to the House the names of the members to form each select committee of the House (except the Committee of Selection itself and any committee otherwise provided for by statute or by order of the House) or any other body not being a Select Committee referred to it by the Chairman of Committees, and the panel of Deputy Chairmen of Committees; and that the following members together with the Chairman of Committees be appointed to the committee:

B. Anelay of St Johns,

B. Ashton of Upholland (Lord President),B. D’Souza,L. Grocott,L. McNally,B. Massey of Darwen,B. Shephard of Northwold,L. Shutt of Greetland,L. Strathclyde,V. Tenby.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


Lord Grocott: My Lords, before we resume the debate on the Queen’s Speech, I shall give some advice about timing of speeches. There are more than 40 speakers listed today, which means that we shall finish well in time for the 10 o’clock rising time provided that Back-Bench speeches are limited to around eight minutes. That will enable us to do as we are required.

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Debate on the Address

3.12 pm

Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Baroness Corston—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, it gives me great pleasure—and not a little surprise—to open the debate on the details of the Queen’s Speech. I start by paying tribute to my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, who has gone to follow his lifelong passion for motor-racing; he is keen to race next year in the American Le Mans series. I am unsure whether this job is in any way a training for that, but I want to place on record my admiration for the way in which he won the respect of the military, his department, the defence industry and this House. Like him, I am well aware of the high—indeed, intimidating—level of expertise on every side of this House. As this is my first day in the job, I have not yet been able to meet and talk with those involved in this area, but I hope to be able to do that in the next few weeks and to continue the noble Lord’s briefings for those interested in this area, whatever side of the House they are on. I look forward to continuing that tradition, which he started.

Today’s uncertain world presents us as a nation with many challenges: failed and failing states, terrorism, energy security, climate change, mass migration and the proliferation of weapons and weapons technology. This country cannot isolate itself from those issues, nor can we alone solve them. As the leading member of key global institutions, not least the United Nations Security Council, we take a broad global approach. Furthermore, it is in our interests to do so. As we saw in July 2005—and before that on 9/11—threats to our country and our people can be and are fomented abroad, and our position as the leading economic power and a world-class centre for science, engineering and technology depends on us being an open society. It requires us to embrace the opportunities of globalisation while recognising the difficulties that it can bring. Tackling today’s challenges surpasses the remit of any one government department; in fact, those challenges cannot be dealt with effectively by any single nation in isolation.

I want to say a few words about how this Government are responding. By focusing the efforts of all government departments, we are trying to achieve the maximum possible impact—what we call the comprehensive approach. Fundamentally, this comprehensive approach is a recognition that to deliver effective and lasting progress we need to use all levers of government, just as we do when dealing with threats to our security at home. The balance between these levers—military, diplomatic, development and others—will vary from case to case, but by uniting

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them in a common strategy towards common aims we can achieve far more than through separate parts of government working individually. This is obvious in principle, but it is not always so easy in practice, as others have found.

This applies not just to Whitehall, where, I am pleased to say, our efforts are increasingly joined up; it is mirrored on the ground. This can be seen in Afghanistan, where there can be serious fighting, peace support work and development all happening in the same area. On the ground, military personnel, MoD civilians, diplomats and DfID officials work together, often under one roof, to make sure that our efforts are as coherent as possible. That way they can deliver the maximum effect.

Our overseas aid is an important and often underestimated influence. Improving governance, the rule of law and the quality of life will eventually win the day in Afghanistan and Iraq, and aid has a key role to play in achieving that change. But aid needs to be intelligent, sustainable and conducted hand in hand with issues such as debt elimination and trade access to developed markets. There is no point lifting a nation out of conflict or poverty without allowing it to sustain its position in the long term. Last month, the Government announced that the development budget will increase by 11 per cent per year up to 2011, raising it to more than £9 billion. This Government are increasing our resources here because they are serious about delivering the millennium development goals in every country, not just some.

Obviously, we need international alliances. We cannot do everything by ourselves. The challenges that we face affect our friends and allies as well, so more and more we need to, and do, co-ordinate overseas activity with them. On Iraq and Afghanistan, the impression from the media and elsewhere is that we are there with the United States and perhaps one or two others. The reality is that there is a 28-country coalition in Iraq and a 37-nation-strong effort, managed by NATO, in Afghanistan. Each nation has different concerns, characteristics and capabilities—we acknowledge that—but it is important that the burden is shared, and shared equitably. We will continue to press our partners to do more.

In addition to individual nations, the key global institutions have a vital role to play: the UN, NATO and the EU. We are a leading voice and strong supporter in all these, but we are also determined that, like our own cross-government effort, they should be as effective as possible. Some—NATO and the UN, for example—are now addressing a far broader range of challenges than they did originally, so we continue to push for change and reform to make them more efficient and effective. We welcome the growth of the EU’s capability and capacity into the defence and security arena, especially where it provides an opportunity for a joined-up approach to counterterrorism, but it is always important that developments such as these should strengthen and enhance what NATO offers, not seek to replicate or compete with it.

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For security and development to be sustainable in developing countries, we must continue to invest time, people and effort into conflict prevention, which is why that is and will remain one of the Government’s top priorities. We will continue to work to prevent conflict before it turns to violence by supporting local, national and international mechanisms to manage and resolve disputes peacefully. When conflict breaks out, our response must always be closely tied to dealing with the underlying causes—for example, using our conflict prevention pools and peace support operations, as well as the obvious diplomacy routes.

Many of the significant conflicts in the world today are internal. One of those is obviously Afghanistan. The aim of our work there is to help to create a sustainable, secure, democratic nation. That is easy to say but not easy to achieve. We are not talking about simple rebuilding of a country, as in Bosnia or even Germany after World War 2. In many ways, we are talking about building capacity and infrastructure from scratch, as a result of decades if not centuries of conflict and instability.

Much progress has been made in large parts of Afghanistan, but it has been hard work. Key to progress has been establishing the right security conditions for development, which means extending the reach of the Afghan authorities. They need our help. Without it, we risk a return to the lawlessness and extremism that has in the past been exploited by international terrorists.

As security spreads in Afghanistan, so do development and reconstruction. Around 5.4 million children are now in school, compared to 1 million in 2001, and over a third are girls. Basic healthcare now covers 82 per cent of the population, compared to 9 per cent in 2002. The UK has already spent more than £500 million on humanitarian and development assistance. We have signed a 10-year development partnership agreement with the Government, and the daily lives of ordinary Afghans are getting better. Politically, progress is being made as well, with the growing capability of the new democratic Government and an economy growing at over 10 per cent each year.

As we train local security forces, we can focus more on development and good governance. We are not imposing our solutions; we are helping Afghans to find Afghan solutions to Afghan problems. The transformation of Sangin is testament to what can happen once secure conditions are established and take root. Six months ago, it was a conflict zone. Now, there is a vibrant community and commerce with a growing sense of hope and optimism.

Another important element of our work in Afghanistan is, of course, counternarcotics. We need to help the Afghan Government to deal with the criminals at the top of that trade and to provide alternatives for farmers. We must support the Afghan Government in their efforts to eradicate poppy. Their national drugs control strategy is a good start—a balanced, eight-pillar plan which includes the whole range of activities required to combat illegal drugs.

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That now needs to be fully implemented with the support of a healthy judiciary system to deal with the criminals.

As the Afghan Government’s partner nation on counternarcotics, we are spending £270 million over three years to help the Afghans to deliver that strategy, not least because 90 per cent of the heroin in Britain originates from that area. I think that we are all aware that it is in our interests to tackle this problem.

Looking at the broader region, we are all concerned about recent developments in Pakistan. Despite pressure to the contrary from the United Kingdom and the United States, President Musharraf has announced a state of emergency, granting him extra executive powers over and above the constitution. We recognise the threat to peace and security faced by Pakistan, but we urge its Government to use normal democratic processes to promote peace and stability. Our position is clear. We call on the president to restore constitutional order and to confirm publicly that free and fair elections will be held on schedule in January. This means the release of all political prisoners, including members of the judiciary, confirmation that the president will stand down as chief of the army staff by 15 November, reconciliation with his political opposition and lifting restrictions on the media. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in his Statement in another place, this is taken very seriously by this Government.

I now turn to Iraq. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has announced a clear way ahead for our presence in Iraq. Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki said that he hopes to see the Iraqi Government assume security responsibility for Basra province—the last of the four in our area of responsibility—by the end of the year. This is excellent news. He made this announcement while marking the handover of Karbala province from US to Iraqi control. That means that Iraq now has full responsibility for eight provinces across the country. This is testament to the Iraq security forces, which are steadily increasing their capability, and to our own forces and our allies, which have given the Iraqi forces the time, space and assistance to develop their capability. As the capacity of the Iraqi forces increases, our force levels can reduce. We plan by spring to have reduced those to about 2,500 personnel deployed in southern Iraq.

At the same time, the UK, led by the Department for International Development, will continue to assist the Government of Iraq with the reconstruction of their economy. There is an economic dividend from the improved security. We are doing this primarily through helping the Government of Iraq to unlock and use their substantial oil wealth and through promoting private sector investment in the south.

Perhaps I may take a little time to pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces and their superb work on our behalf, day in and day out. That is the case not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in areas of former conflict such as the Balkans and the Falklands. It is a sad truth that we have lost brave service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. I

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salute them and those who have been injured in the line of duty. I salute their families also, especially those whose loved ones have given their lives while serving their country. I know that the nation will make a special effort this weekend to remember their courage and sacrifice.

We must make sure that our personnel, who place themselves in danger for our sake, are properly looked after, as well as their families. The Government fully acknowledge our responsibility to do just that. My colleagues in government have worked to improve the support that is offered to them in every area—in accommodation, medical care, pay, equipment, bonuses and operational welfare. During the past year, some £700 million has been invested in accommodation.

The Government have also boosted medical care by increasing community nursing and psychiatric support. The number of military nurses has increased, a military-managed ward in Selly Oak has been created and there are now better travel and accommodation arrangements for visiting families. However, I assure the House that Ministers recognise that more still needs to be done in this area.

I now turn to equipment. A key part of looking after our people is ensuring that they have the equipment that they need to do their jobs. The Government have put a huge effort into that. The feedback from operational theatres now is that the kit that our people have is excellent. That is, in part, because £2.2 billion has been spent on urgent operational requirements to meet the needs of those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over £1 billion of that has gone on force protection. The Mastiff vehicles are an example. They were built, upgraded, tested and delivered in just 23 weeks and have been so successful that another 150 are being bought.

Much of the credit for delivering better equipment to time and to cost lies with the defence industrial strategy, which was launched two years ago to improve the way in which we deliver and support equipment on the front line. It has transformed the way in which the MoD does business with the defence industry, bringing a new level of transparency and allowing industry to understand short, medium and long-term ambitions. That will mean that we are better at providing the equipment that our forces need when they need it. To ensure that we continue to have the military capability that we need, we are investing heavily in new, world-beating equipment, including two new 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers, which were announced in July, C17 transport aircraft and the new Future Rapid Effect System vehicles that are so necessary for the Army.

It is in this country’s interests to remain an active and leading participant on the world stage. To maximise the effect of our efforts, we must harness and focus the tools available to us, across government and across the international community. That is what we are doing and will continue to do and that is our best way of responding to the very significant challenges that face us in protecting the people of this country.

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3.32 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I warmly welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton. I think we overlapped a little in the House of Commons and I certainly remember sharing an “Any Questions” platform with her in the distant past.

I confess that I share her slight surprise that she is here and that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, is not. In future, I must always remember to believe rumours. I gather he has gone motor racing, which presumably is a rather less risky pastime than being a Minister in the Ministry of Defence. The task that he performed in Government was not an enviable one. The Ministry of Defence is fighting two wars and many other engagements under great strain. Perhaps I can say in his absence that the noble Lord faced those problems with acumen. In my view, the MoD was lucky to have his professional skills at a very dire time—but now he has gone.

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