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6.30 pm

Lord Jones of Cheltenham: My Lords, I, too, welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, and the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, who is to respond to this debate. The noble Baroness may remember that we worked together in a previous existence in another place on the Standards and Privileges Committee and became known as the sleaze busters. Exactly five years ago today, almost to the minute, I suffered a heart attack, so it is with great pleasure and some relief that I rise today to add my comments on yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.

I wish to address my main remarks to the words in the gracious Speech:

In particular, I shall address how that relates to the provision of clean water in Africa.

Noble Lords will be aware from my entries in the Register of my interests in Botswana in Southern Africa. In over 13 years in another place and just over two years in your Lordships' House, I have developed an interest in the whole continent of Africa, and have visited a number of countries from Ghana to Mozambique, from Senegal to Namibia, and this summer from South Africa and Botswana to Kenya and Burundi. Every time I return to this country from Africa, two challenges are uppermost in my mind: water and jobs.

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This year we have seen devastating floods across much of Africa. We know that a lot of rain falls on the continent, yet all too often we also see on our television screens pictures of people struggling to survive because of drought. Animals die, starving children and emaciated mothers suffer and aid agencies find their resources stretched and inadequate to provide sufficient help. Meanwhile young men stand idle with no jobs to do. I take Burundi as an example. I visited Burundi in September with the Inter-Parliamentary Union. That country, half of the former Belgian colony of Ruanda-Urundi, has been plagued by civil war. Aid agencies are there in force, not least our own Department for International Development. The newish Government have been in power for two years and regard that as an achievement because they have not been overthrown in a bloody coup. Yet everywhere young men stand around idle, a tinderbox waiting to explode again.

In Kenya, I heard of women—it is almost always women—who walk miles every morning to go and fetch water. They walk home, cook the family meal, go to bed, wake up in the morning and go and fetch more water. That is not living; that is a grinding existence. I know some of the difficulties of having no water supply. I live in Gloucestershire, where the Mythe waterworks on the outskirts of Tewkesbury were flooded in July. For two weeks we had no water supply. It is true that bowsers were promptly delivered to key points and bottled water was also supplied, but to fill the toilets we took large containers to a nearby stream and carried them home. It was a nuisance for us, but for those Kenyans having to walk miles to get water is more than a nuisance.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting will take place in Uganda in a couple of weeks. In 2001, I visited Uganda with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and saw a Rotary-backed project to secure a water supply coming out of a hill. The water had originally formed a pool that became polluted. The project had surrounded the water with concrete and installed pipe work leading to taps. Unfortunately when I was there no water was coming out of the taps. The people explained that there had been no rain for two years and they had no water for their animals or crops and precious little for the people. It was one of those moments when it was difficult to find words. I think I mumbled, “I'll see what I can do”. An hour later, while enjoying a rest at the Jinja sailing club, the sky darkened and we experienced the most dramatic thunderstorm. The manicured lawns disappeared under water, and for the rest of our visit Michael Howard, before his leadership days, claimed the credit for bringing the rain.

Even in Botswana, the most successful country in Africa, where they found rich mineral and diamond deposits and did not have a war over them, there is a water shortage. Last year, after good rains, there was grass everywhere, animals looked healthy and well fed and the main dam in the country’s capital, Gaborone, filled up. This year the rains failed, the dam became depleted and animals wandered the streets looking for food. Yet Botswana has invested much of its resources in constructing a north-south water carrier, so that

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surplus water in the north of the country can be pumped to the south where most of the population live. Without that the situation would be much worse than it is. We hope for better rains this year.

There has been criticism of the Government’s programme because it contains no vision, so may I suggest a vision for them? Cannot the global community make a commitment to sort out the water problems of the world? Some aid agencies do their best. WaterAid scratches at the surface of the problem, yet its total annual budget is less than the amount spent by Thames Water on improving the quality of water in London from 99.98 per cent purity to 99.99 per cent purity. We know vast quantities of rain fall on Africa every year. The problem is that when there is an abundance, the water is not stored and there is little infrastructure to deliver water to areas of shortage. Climate change threatens to make rainfall less predictable. The time for action is now. What a project this could be: building dams and reservoirs to store water, installing pipes and pumps to move water to where it is needed and providing work for unemployed young men and women who need jobs and hope for the future. We know it is possible because of the success of a prototype: Botswana’s north-south water carrier.

Yes, it would cost a lot of money, and noble Lords would be right to ask where that will come from. Let me put it this way. Since 2003 the United Kingdom and the United States of America have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on an unnecessary, and in my view unjustified, invasion of Iraq. The country was knocked down at great expense in finance and human lives and now the country is being rebuilt at huge cost. The result was that we made a lot of enemies, and we are told that our country is now less secure than it was. By contrast, the project I have outlined would probably cost less than the adventure in Iraq, and we would end up making a lot of friends. So the next time our friends in Washington—and they are our friends—suggest knocking over another country—let me take one at random; say, Iran—it would be preferable for our Prime Minister to say, “No, hang on a minute, I have a much better idea”. This is a vision. I tried it out on a gathering of aid agencies in Burundi in September. Those people are in the front line of delivering the millennium development goals in Africa. Their unanimous view was, “Why don't you get on with it?”. Why indeed? The Government should eagerly adopt this vision and put the United Kingdom at the heart of a brave and worthwhile project. I hope they will.

6.38 pm

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friends Lady Taylor and Lord Malloch-Brown on introducing and winding-up this debate. I welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to working towards reaching a lasting peace settlement between Israel and Palestine. Almost two years ago, Israel claimed to be withdrawing from Gaza, yet according to the Human Rights Council report commissioned by the UN last year and released earlier this year, Israel retains control of Gaza’s airspace, sea space and external borders, and the border crossings at

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Rafah, for persons, and at Karni, for goods, are ultimately under Israeli control and remain closed for lengthy periods.

Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel, killing soldiers, and Israel continues to kill Palestinian civilians. In the previous 12 months, Hamas killed 27 Israelis, mostly soldiers, and Israel killed 583 Palestinian civilians, including women and children, and that figure excludes targeted assassinations, fighters and suicide bombers. Over 80 per cent of Gazans now live under the official poverty line. There is a shortage of money, food and medicine. The recent fuel rationing by Israel is a collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Hamas must release Corporal Gilad Shalit who is illegally held by it, and the Israelis must release 11,000 Palestinians who are illegally held in their prisons.

While our prayers and good wishes are for the future peace talks, I am afraid that peace talks without Gazans will not have much support in the Arab world. Perhaps the Minister can say whether Her Majesty’s Government have any humanitarian aid programme in Gaza. And have they made any representation to the Israeli Government on the humanitarian situation there?

I now turn to a very serious and dangerous situation in Pakistan. I speak as someone who was born in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir, Pakistan and brought up in Yorkshire. My love and admiration for the country and its people takes me back to Pakistan at least four times a year. I support many charities in the health and education sector. My son, who is a Yorkshireman, runs a school in Kashmir.

In the past few years, while the politicians and military leaders have been arguing over military rule, uniform security, democracy and rule of law, the poor people of Pakistan have suffered with inflation going through the roof and very low wages. The rich property dealers, including a few generals, have become super rich, and, with the middle classes diminishing fast, there is crisis in many parts of Pakistan, with poverty, lack of clean drinking water and a shortage of medical facilities.

I am aware of the dangers from terrorism and nuclear weapons and the danger of these weapons being in the wrong hands. I remind the House that it was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a democratically elected leader of Pakistan, who initiated the nuclear programme and that it was Mian Nawaz Sharif, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, who tested those weapons after the Indian tests in 1995. So why is it that we cannot trust the people of Pakistan to elect a leader who has the support and confidence of the Pakistani people, and who is capable of dealing with extremism and ensuring the control and command structures of safeguarding these nuclear weapons?

General Musharraf has proved to be tough on words but weak on delivery. His policy in Baluchistan province, Waziristan, Swat Valley and Kashmir has been disappointing. In Baluchistan action was taken against Mr Bugti, an 80 year-old former governor and chief Minister of the province, who was killed in a cave. Arresting him and putting him before the court

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would have been much better. In south Waziristan the army has lost more than 1,000 soldiers. Many are now refusing to fight the extremists. In the past three weeks, 300 soldiers have surrendered to the militants. In Swat Valley, Maulana Fazalullah was allowed to run a pirate radio station. I remind the House that the Government recently switched off 40 TV channels overnight, but did not switch off this radio station for months while he was recruiting extremists and an army of fighters who were getting ready to take over the civilian government in the settled areas of Pakistan. Only 10 days ago did the Pakistani army start to take action against this group.

We know that in Islamabad two brothers were allowed to run the Red Mosque while weapons were being brought in. They were caught with weapons, rocket launchers and explosives. What happened? A Government Minister made a deal to have the two brothers released so that they could run the place in a normal way. Rather, the Government should have prosecuted and put them in prison—and we know what happened six months later.

There has been the disappointing exclusion of the Kashmiri leadership from the talks, which have achieved nothing. We saw the sacking of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. That was because of the disappearance of 200 Pakistani citizens and the corruption in the steel mills. Finally, earlier this year in Karachi more than 50 Pakistanis were murdered by terrorists. President Musharraf showed his fist to say that this was “people power” rather than terrorists who had killed innocent people.

So the country is facing a lot of dangers. President Musharraf said to the West that he was imposing emergency rule and martial law because of the dangers from extremists and terrorists. That was because the judiciary was about to deliver three very important decisions which were to the national interest. The only action President Musharraf has taken has been against lawyers, human rights activists and journalists and to replace the judges.

We should not suspend Pakistan from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, we should give the generals an ultimatum: release all political prisoners and allow freedom of the press within seven days. More importantly, we should lift the provisional constitutional order and allow the Supreme Court to run its affairs. We should not stop the development aid, but we should target our actions and sanctions against generals, whether in Burma, Thailand or Pakistan.

6.47 pm

Lord Luce: My Lords, the gracious Speech refers to governance and democratic issues in this country which need to be debated. I welcome that. But it is noticeable that the gracious Speech does not refer to the encouragement of democracy abroad. I want to address a few remarks to that issue because I think that it needs a more consistent and coherent approach.

With this and previous United States Administrations, you tend to see a lack of consistency, a swinging from on the one hand idealism, sometimes involving the

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imposition of democracy, to on the other hand realism, which very often means supporting autocracy. There was of course that famous conversation between Nasser and Nehru, in which Nasser boasted to Nehru,

To which Nehru replied,

There is a lot to that view. If you look at the history of India you see how well it has developed its democratic system and how robust it is, whereas in Egypt it is fragile. However, if you do put extremists in Parliament, you want to be sure that they accept the rules of democracy, for, as I think the late Lord Hailsham once said, those who have tried to create heaven on earth very often end up by creating hell on earth.

The United Kingdom, it seems to me, is well equipped to play a constructive role and is well positioned in two areas in particular. One is the Commonwealth and the other is in the Gulf countries.

I support the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who has not had enough support today, on his remarks about the Commonwealth. I agree with everything he said with the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in two or three weeks’ time in Uganda. Here is an ideal forum, however difficult it is to handle, that is a cross-representation of the globe in every sense, from culture to religion to regions, to play a constructive role as an equal partner in tackling the many global issues that affect all members of the Commonwealth. One aspect of that is democracy and good governance. After all, the Commonwealth is committed—however well or badly its members live up to it—to promoting fundamental political values: democracy, good governance, the rule of law, representative institutions and a plural society. From the Singapore meeting in 1971 to Harare, of all places, in 1991 to South Africa in 1999, that has been reinforced. As we know, the Commonwealth is active in this. As the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said just now, it is active through the Ministerial Action Group in monitoring countries, in providing good offices to reconcile internal differences in countries, in observing elections, in supporting institutional development. I remain a very strong admirer of the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It needs more resources to fulfil its objectives of promoting democratic evolution.

Technical assistance is also provided by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Foundation, of which I was privileged to be chairman for five years in the 1990s, is tasked to help to develop civil societies and strengthen democracy. It will be chairing and organising, in Uganda just before the main meeting, the People’s Forum on how to realise people's potential. I hope that links will be established informally there with non-governmental organisations in Zimbabwe.

The test case will be how the Commonwealth deals, first, with Pakistan, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said, where, despite a not very strong record on democracy since independence, everything should be done to encourage constitutional evolution and to preserve the independence of the judiciary. The Commonwealth is well placed to help in that. In Zimbabwe—in a different

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situation altogether, Mugabe having suspended Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth—the Commonwealth needs to stand ready to make it plain to the people that, once Mugabe goes, if they satisfy certain conditions on standards and democracy, they can re-enter the Commonwealth. I am glad that the President of Nigeria today is reported to have made strong criticisms of the present regime in Zimbabwe. The Commonwealth has a vital role to play.

In addition, we have long traditions and links in the Gulf. It is a very volcanic area and we have seen what happened in Iraq, but I think that in the Gulf countries with which we had a protective relationship are the beginnings of some kind of evolution of constitutional monarchies, which ought to be encouraged, but each country in the Gulf has different circumstances. Over many decades, Kuwait has developed a constitution with quite a robust Parliament. Saudi Arabia is a more conservative society, but evolving gradually with local government developing. Here, I must stress that dialogue is more important than boycotting. Then there is the United Arab Emirates, where a completely different situation exists: 80 per cent of the population are foreigners. Although it is an open society, it has no Parliament. We have to judge each country on its own merits according to its history, traditions, culture and our traditional friendship with it.

I suggest that Turkey should be something of a model for those countries. Here is a secular constitution but an almost wholly Muslim society. Success in Turkey should be a source of encouragement to the countries of the Gulf.

Lastly, in approaching these issues, we need clear criteria. We should not preach, patronise or impose on others. We tried that in the old days. It did not always work. We should share our experience with our friends, but as friends, and acknowledge their different cultures and traditions. After all, we have taken centuries to evolve our system. It is only recently in history that women got the vote. We are all aware today that our parliamentary system and our media are pretty inadequate and need improvement, so we need a humble approach. We should be consistent in our approach and not swing between trying to impose democracy and back again.

It is important to accept that there is no standard solution or template for all countries: each must be judged on its own merits. It is that approach, the approach of encouraging evolution rather than revolution, on which we should be consistent and through which we can make a contribution.

6.55 pm

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, there was no reference in the gracious Speech to a Bill to ratify the EU treaty. I totally support what my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford said about the Commonwealth and what the noble Lord, Lord Luce, has just said. I do not apologise to the House for banging on a bit about the Commonwealth. I agree with my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford: we are going in the wrong direction, at great expense.

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Today, by the grace of God, we do not have to make a decision, but sooner or later, when we have the benefit of the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, we shall have to make a decision. The report will be a great help towards making it. However, it is not so much our decision that matters; it will be the decision of the electorate at the next general election. The Government, at their behest and will, will have this treaty ratified. As my noble friend Lord Howell said, this is a very serious time for reflection—not so much for our reflection but the reflection of the electorate. On a manifesto commitment, the electorate will have to decide whether to withdraw from the treaty. That is the simple position.

There are many factors and one can mention only a few in a few minutes. One is that our national global interest, our relationship with the Commonwealth and with the United States—never let us step aside from that—is a wholly different quality of interest from that of any other member states. When my noble friend says that we are moving in the wrong direction, he is right.

The point is not what we think—I come back to this again—it is what the electorate will think. The very esoteric arguments that one hears in this place—as they always are—have to be reduced into very simple terms. At the end of a debate in both Houses, the electorate will be enabled to piece together, with the aid of the media, the press and everything else, what they think. One comes back to the democracy point made by the noble Lord, Lord Luce. That will be how this matter is resolved.

One or two matters arise from this. What do the people think? What will they say about this as a sort of staging post towards the dream of Jean Monnet to create a unitary European state? I do not know. In the Written Statement on 22 October, there was no mention of the European Court of Justice, or indeed of the manner in which it has exercised its jurisdiction to favour integration on the balance of objectives. In this context, the authoritative contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, on 9 October at cols. 121-22, is crucial, as it correctly states the tendency and the jurisprudence of the court to favour integration.

The Government made two assurances: first, that the national interest is protected; and, secondly, that they will stem the tide of integration for 10 years on ratification. Those assurances are not well conceived. They cannot be made by a Minister of State or a Government; they can be made only by the European Court of Justice, which will favour integration. We are in a cleft stick; on ill conceived assurances, one sets out to sea in a sieve with the owl and the pussycat in the light of the moon. Even the report from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, which gets as near as you can get, is no substitute for the decision of the European Court of Justice or for what the people may think—the democracy point made by the noble Lord, Lord Luce.

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