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Middle East: Special Representative

2.57 pm

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the UK strongly supports the work of Tony Blair as quartet representative. The UK has provided £400,000 to the United Nations development programme trust fund, which provides operational and technical support to Mr Blair’s office in Jerusalem and has seconded four members of staff to his team. Other international donors are supporting the work. Mr Blair has been appointed by, and reports to, the four members of the quartet—namely, the US, the EU, the UN and Russia. Mr Blair receives no salary in his role as quartet representative.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. She said that the right honourable gentleman receives no salary. However, the expenses seem pretty substantial. Can she confirm that, in the view of the Government at least, all this represents much better value for money than the right honourable gentleman’s recent visit to China, where I am told he made a speech lasting only 20 minutes, which was rather boring and for which he was paid £200,000?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not think that that question is worthy of a reply.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, does the Minister agree that we should all be very proud that our former Prime Minister has been entrusted by the UN, the EU, Russia and the United States to be their envoy in the Middle East, which is one of the most intractable problems in the world at the moment and in our time? Does she also agree that this Question betrays a mean-minded party-political spirit that does nobody any credit?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords, and I would further add that, as Prime Minister, Mr Blair demonstrated his commitment to advancing the peace process, and that is what he is continuing to do. I, too, am very proud of that. I also note the new interest of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in these issues because, when the matter was raised in the debate on the Middle East in the House last week, he was sadly not present.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that all parties to the problems in the Middle East need to be brought into discussions on the way forward? Will she therefore convey to her noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown the fact that his apparent acceptance of this principle is very welcome and that he should not be pressured into thinking or saying otherwise?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, of course, all parties should be brought into the process. That is extremely important. I know to what the noble Baroness refers and I think that in his Statement the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, was merely reiterating the position of the UK Government.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, has Mr Blair been given a timescale on when he should report to Parliament on his progress with the quartet?

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, Mr Blair will report to the quartet and not to Parliament because the quartet appointed him. I do not know the definitive timescale but I know that he is working very hard to prepare the donors conference, which will take place in December.

Lord Soley: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, underneath this and contrary to the initial Question, there is an important matter, which needs to be examined from time to time in both Houses and elsewhere? Tony Blair has a better understanding of the need to create a process, just as a process was created in Northern Ireland. That political process takes time and involves people who need to be brought in from time to time. It is that process that is important and we would be very foolish if we did not treat this matter much more seriously than we have done so far.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is indeed the process that is extremely important, and the Prime Minister has exemplary credentials in respect of Northern Ireland. We should look to the Annapolis meeting later this month as a very important part of this process.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, can the Minister explain whether Mr Blair is the British representative or the European representative of the quartet? It consists of the United States, the UN, Russia and the EU. The United States has rather dominated the quartet so far and we clearly need a stronger European voice. I am sure that the Conservative Benches would support that as strongly as I do.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, Mr Blair was appointed by the quartet itself—the four members of the quartet. He represents not one part but the quartet as a whole.

Lord Trimble: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Mr Blair was appointed by the quartet as its representative of economic development in the area and that he has no function with regard to a talks process?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I have the mandate in front of me and the noble Lord is absolutely right that the first part refers to mobilising international assistance to the Palestinians. I could go on but, having recently been in the region, I should say that there are great expectations on him. While that is his very narrow mandate, both Arabs and Israelis in the region want to use his expertise and experience for their own advancement.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that unless there is economic development, particularly for a Palestinian state, there is no hope of peace in the Middle East? Does she also agree that for one politician from any part of the world to command the confidence of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia is remarkable and something of which this country as a whole should be very proud?

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend. Economics must underpin the peace process, and that has been missing to date. For that reason, we are very proud that the former Prime Minister is able to do this.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, the Minister referred to the Annapolis conference. We should bear in mind that during their book launch visit last week, Messrs Mearsheimer and Walt said that they feel it might not even take place, let alone be anywhere remotely near a possible success. Bearing in mind so many examples of previous disappointments, what extra component can Mr Tony Blair bring to the peace conference that is planned in America that was not present on previous occasions, in view of the fact that his credentials have been dented by what happened over the Lebanon war?

My Lords, as my noble friend said earlier, economics must underpin the peace process. If Palestine cannot be an economically viable state, the Palestinians cannot be active participants in this great quest for peace in the region. That is precisely what the right honourable gentleman is bringing to the peace process.


Lord Grocott: My Lords, before we resume the debate on the Address I should give the usual health warning about timing. We have a 10 o’clock target rising time. If Back-Bench contributions are contained within 10 minutes each, we should meet it quite comfortably.

Debate on the Address

3.06 pm

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday 6 November by the Baroness Corston—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, I am delighted to be opening today’s debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech. Today we discuss the Government’s proposals on home affairs, justice and constitutional affairs for this parliamentary Session. I am also delighted to be supported by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who will wind up today.

The measures announced will affect the lives of the British people in many ways. They include the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, the Counter-Terrorism Bill, the draft Citizenship and Immigration Bill, the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill and proposals on party finance and expenditure. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will deal with many of the issues on taking forward the Government’s constitutional and criminal justice agenda when he speaks later. I hope that we can achieve consensus on the Constitutional Renewal Bill, to be published later this Session. It will

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ensure that Parliament has the final say over such fundamental decisions as the deployment of the Armed Forces overseas and the ratification of treaties.

In the mean time, I am happy to assure noble Lords that, through the measures outlined in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, the Government remain committed to reducing reoffending, protecting the public and increasing confidence in the justice system. This includes measures such as a commitment to providing enough prison places for those who the courts determine should be there—which is why my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles, whose report is to be published before Christmas, has been conducting a review into the long-term supply and demand for prison places—and measures to ensure that the United Kingdom does not provide a safe haven for foreign criminals and terrorists. This will send a clear signal that such people cannot expect to secure settled status in this country.

I am sure that the House agrees that the first responsibility of government is to ensure the security of the country and its citizens by tackling crime in our communities, addressing the threat of terrorism, strengthening our borders and protecting people’s identity. In each of these areas the Government have made great progress but, as the measures in the gracious Speech make clear, we must continue to anticipate and respond to the changes that could weaken our security. These include the dangers of an increased terrorist threat, the challenges of global migration, and new and disturbing developments in criminal activity.

On crime, policing and anti-social behaviour, on immigration and identity, and on counterterrorism, the Government have put protections in place for good reason. We will extend these protections through the measures announced in the gracious Speech. The ultimate aim of those protections is to support and amplify our freedom: the freedom for everyone to be able to get on with their lives as they want to live them in safety and within the law. They will provide protection for our families and our property, while upholding a society which values the right to equality and fairness under the law, with accompanying safeguards and accountability. These are powerful values to unite behind, as they are historic British values but also lie at the core of Islamic jurisprudence.

That we share those values should not be surprising, and consequently there is a shared interest in uniting against terrorism, which is a threat to those shared values. It is a threat that is serious and sustained, growing in complexity and growing in extent. As the director-general of the Security Service set out in a speech last week, we are currently contending with about 30 plots and about 200 groupings or networks, totalling about 2,000 known individuals. Of course, we do not know everyone involved. So far this year, thanks to the police and intelligence services, 39 people have been convicted in 14 significant terrorism cases and 18 of those individuals pleaded guilty to their crime. According to the director-general,

and he does not think,

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In bringing forward the Counter-Terrorism Bill, the Government will act with proportion and precaution to address the threats that we face as a country. Over the summer, the Government have consulted widely on possible measures for inclusion in legislation. There have been many useful meetings and many useful insights have been received from noble Lords, Members of the other place, law enforcement agencies and legal opinion, and, very importantly, from faith and community groups and those who represent the views of all our communities.

The Government believe that agreement can be secured on a package of further measures to tackle terrorism and to deal justly with those found guilty of terrorist offences. Those will include: to enhance the investigation of terrorists and their activities by ensuring that the police and the intelligence agencies can make full use of information and data; to strengthen prosecutions against terrorist suspects by allowing post-charge questioning; to improve public protection by strengthening arrangements for monitoring convicted terrorists after their release from prison; and to ensure that the police have sufficient time to charge terrorist suspects.

In the consultation and elsewhere, an argument has been set out that the time is now right to consider the extension of pre-charge detention beyond the current limit of 28 days. The president of the Association of Chief Police Officers has said that the proposals on this issue,

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, has said that,

We also agree with his view that,

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. He has spoken of his desire, and that of the Government, to have consensus on these matters. What steps has he taken in particular to gain consensus on the issue that he has been addressing about the duration of detention of suspects?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I will, if I may, cover those points as I go through the rest of my address. As I mentioned, the trend towards an increasing complexity of plots, an increasingly international range of terrorist activity, and an increasing amount of information that must be sifted and analysed means that we must consider whether we have the right protections in place. We have already made use of the full time allowed. Up to early July this year, six people in total have been held for between 27 and 28 days. Of those, three were charged with terrorist-related offences.

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In each of those cases, the CPS charged at the earliest opportunity once the evidence had emerged and the questioning was complete.

One can therefore say thank goodness that Parliament had legislated for the 28 days when it did. All three alleged terrorists would have had to have been released, with consequent risks to our people. It has always been recognised that these powers would be used only in exceptional circumstances, and so it has proved. It is worth noting that, since the maximum period was extended beyond 14 days, eight other people have been charged after being held beyond that 14th day. We believe that there is a case for going beyond 28 days in future, but again only in exceptional circumstances.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, how many extra days are needed? The Home Secretary seemed not to know on the wireless.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I was about to say that further work is needed. This is part of the consultation to decide exactly how many more days are required, which will be part of the work that will be done in the next weeks. We have set out options for how this could be done, and we are determined to approach the provisions in a spirit of genuine openness with noble Lords. Last week, draft clauses on key elements of the Bill were circulated to shadow spokesmen and to the chairmen of the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Government will try to be receptive to other proposals that they and noble Lords may wish to make, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will encourage direct access to officials on the detail of the proposals that we will place before the House. We will seek to build consensus wherever possible, but there should be no doubt about the Government’s determination to act to address the grave and growing threat that terrorism poses to our safety and security. Similarly, I am convinced that this House intends no less, even if there may be disagreement on how to achieve that end.

We have said from the outset that we want a wide-ranging discussion on pre-charge detention. The Liberty paper on international comparisons is an interesting part of that process, and we will look carefully at what it says, but it is not of course straightforward to compare the situation in one country with that in another. Different legal systems and approaches need to be taken into account. We will, however, study the report very carefully.

I recently articulated my assessment that it would take a generation to excise the cancer of terrorism from our society, and I share the director-general’s view that we need a long-term strategic plan to ensure success. That is exactly what we are putting into place. It is not the Government’s intention to legislate in a rush or in the heat of the moment. Nor is it the Government’s wish to be in the position where a terrorist suspect is held to the limit of existing provisions but released because there is insufficient time in which to build a case, and who then goes on to perpetrate a terrorist act. This is the dilemma that all honourable and noble Members must face. We have been within a hair’s breadth of that happening three times, but for how much longer can we be lucky? If such a case arose, noble Lords, and particularly the general public,

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would rightly ask us why such an individual had been released, why we had not studied the trend, and why we had not acted to provide greater investigatory powers when we could do so.

I shall talk very briefly about immigration and asylum, with some linkage to what I have said about countering terrorism, particularly through our continuing work to make our borders more secure. By 2010, our e-borders programme will capture 95 per cent of all passenger movements into or out of the United Kingdom, increasing to 100 per cent by 2014. The data will be checked against watch lists, analysed, risk assessed and shared between UK border agencies. It will improve border security and assist in the fight against organised crime and illegal migration.

This House very recently gave consideration and approval to the UK Borders Act, legislation through which immigration officers now have new powers to protect the border and tackle immigration crime. This is the latest step in the Government's improvement of the Border and Immigration Agency, which will see the most far-reaching changes to the immigration system in the past 40 years. We are making sweeping changes to Britain's migration system and delivering a fair, firm and effective process for determining eligibility, processing applications and clamping down on abuse. From early next year, the points-based system will help us do that, working closely with the Migration Advisory Committee and the Migration Impacts Forum to give us the balanced analysis that we need on the skills gap which we have to fill and the impact of immigration on our public services. From next year, the biometric identity cards for foreign nationals working in the United Kingdom will be equally vital to the protections that we are putting in place.

Within this framework, the Government will continue to provide a haven for those in genuine need and continue to ensure that speedy decisions are taken. We will also simplify immigration legislation and establish a clear, consistent and coherent legal framework for the control of our borders and the management of migration.

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