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House of Lords

Monday, 16 June 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Israel and Palestine: Quartet

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, despite many challenges, the Annapolis process continues to offer the best opportunity to achieve a sustainable, two-state solution. The quartet’s policy remains to support the process, including the ongoing dialogue between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert and wider negotiations between their teams. As the quartet noted in its statement following its 2 May meeting in London, there has been progress. However, it is evident that much remains to be done.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Surely current policy should evolve from past failures. Does he agree that, for years past, the rest of the world has been paying the economic and social costs of Israeli occupation and colonisation of the West Bank and Gaza? To mention just one factor, the budget of UNWRA for the current two years is more than $1 billion. Should not these matters that are so vital to world peace now be urgently reviewed?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is of course correct that the cost of the Middle East conflict has been huge, not only to those immediately involved—Israel and its Palestinian neighbours—but to the broader donor community. We therefore all wish to see a resolution. The British Government have been quick to promise that, in the context of such a resolution, we would be generous supporters of peace and reconstruction within a two-state solution. This has been a long-standing and intractable problem, but I repeat that the Annapolis process and the quartet’s support for it offer a better path to peace than any other currently available.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the US Secretary of State yesterday attacked the Israeli Government for continuing to expand settlements, particularly around Jerusalem. Is this the declared policy of the quartet? Will the quartet make known to the Israeli Government its concerted views about the unhelpfulness of this continued settlement expansion?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, the quartet has always been opposed to illegal Israeli settlement and has recognised that it is an obstacle to peace. It is not for me to say whether the quartet would adopt the specific terms used by one of its members yesterday, but opposition to settlements has been a continuous part of quartet policy.

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Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would be helpful not to be one-eyed and selective in our approach and to recognise that, when Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza, it was rewarded with a rain of rockets on its territory? Given the facts of the Annapolis initiative, when Condoleezza Rice said that there would be a solution by the end of the year, whereas Mahmoud Abbas has been highly dubious and downbeat of late, where do Her Majesty’s Government stand in the spectrum? Is there any serious prospect of a solution by the end of the year?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, Secretary Rice is the leader of the realist school of American foreign policy. Therefore, if she is optimistic, that gives us all some cause for hope. Obviously there are huge hills to climb between now and the end of the year, but I would put myself in the diplomatic camp known as “eternally optimistic”.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the settlement situation that has been referred to is deplorable, particularly as part of Annapolis was that illegal settlement should be halted. That there should be building in the disputed areas of Jerusalem is miserable and I hope that we have made representations about it. However, perhaps I may turn to a slightly more hopeful aspect of Annapolis: the dealings between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights and a move towards a more reasonable Syrian position generally on both that and Lebanon. Will the noble Lord tell us a little more about that? What contributions are the British making towards that more hopeful development?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made a visit to the region, although, unfortunately, as I told the House last week, he had to come back before the Israel leg of it. However, the visit allowed him to focus on these wider issues of Lebanon and Syria. He was there to show that we support progress for peace on both those fronts.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the great problems with the continuation of the settlements and the line of the security wall is that the possible other independent state—the Palestinian state—is becoming increasingly economically unviable and, indeed, agriculturally unviable given the position of the aquifer? Can he give us any assurance that, in the Annapolis talks and their sequels, serious consideration is being given to how one can retain economic viability in this second independent state?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, we are not privy to all the internal discussions in the Annapolis process, which is a closely held one, but the economic viability of a Palestinian state is a core concern; it is particularly the preoccupation of Tony Blair in his role. I think that everybody agrees that the wall is not a long-term solution or part of a secure, safe and mutually recognised two-state solution.

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Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister recollect that, within the past fortnight, the head of state of a neighbouring Muslim country said that Israel will soon die and as a geographical entity will be expunged? Do not those words reflect the true jeopardy in which Israel still lives, 61 years after being formed as a sovereign state?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is of course correct to remind us all that not everybody by any means in the Middle East yet even accepts the right of the state of Israel to exist. That is why it is such a closely held principle of the quartet that recognition of the right of Israel to exist is an absolute predeterminant and necessary condition for peace.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, particularly following on that last question, maybe it is as well to remember that it was the current King of Saudi Arabia, when Crown Prince, who espoused the two-state solution very early on in this process. Can my noble friend tell us what direct economic and political support this process is receiving from Arab countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, rather than giving the noble Baroness an incomplete answer, I shall write to her with details.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, does the Minister agree that Israel is—

Noble Lords: Order!

Defence Industrial Strategy

2.44 pm

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Lance-Corporal James Bateman and Private Jeff Doherty of 2 Battalion the Parachute Regiment, who were killed on operations on Thursday 12 June in Afghanistan.

We remain committed to the defence industrial strategy and are working closely with industry to develop it further. We continue to review with industry the timetable for the publication of the planned update. A date has yet to be determined and I will keep the House informed.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we on these Benches join the noble Baroness in sending our condolences to the families and friends of Lance-Corporal James

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Bateman and Private Jeff Doherty of 2 Battalion the Parachute Regiment. She says that the Government remain committed but since the departure of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, it appears that work in the MoD on a revised DIS has been derailed and that, as we feared, the civil servants are triumphing. Is she aware—I am sure she is—that this is causing great uncertainty for industry, particularly for SMEs? Can she assure the House that she will now give a clear sense of direction to the Government’s defence industrial strategy, particularly where it relates to the further implications of partnering with industry and retaining our sovereign capabilities?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I can certainly tell the House that the whole of the MoD, including civil servants, is very committed to the defence industrial strategy and that a great deal of review work is being undertaken sector by sector in close conjunction with industry. The most recent workshop, in which we discussed operational sovereignty, occurred just two weeks ago. Very senior people—key players in the defence industry—were present and fully involved, which proves the commitment on the part of industry and of the MoD.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, we on these Benches wish to be associated with the tribute. Given the tremendous pressure on the defence budget, does the noble Baroness not find it somewhat ironic that most defence contractors, whether they be involved in manufacture or outsourcing, are making record profits and that that sector is very highly rated by the stock market? Given that the Government’s policy is one of partnership with the industry, and while we want a prosperous defence industry, does she consider that the present risk/reward ratio between government and industry, both in terms of profits and penalties, is fair?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the noble Lord refers to a problem that has existed for all Governments for many years; that is, how to ensure that we have a thriving defence industry while also ensuring that the taxpayer gets good value for money from contracts. By working in new ways with the defence industry and having different types of contracts, be they PFI deals, partnering or leasing arrangements, the MoD is able to work out what is appropriate for each capability. All the time we are looking at new ways of ensuring that we get best value for money so that we can provide our Armed Forces with the capabilities which they need.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us on this side are grateful for the fact that for the past 11 years we have had a Government who have a defence industrial strategy? Will she confirm that the potential award of the contract for the two aircraft carriers will provide jobs throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, but that the jobs in Scotland could be put in jeopardy if the SNP were to have its way and get a separate Scotland? Will she also confirm that these jobs represent an important part of the union dividend?

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Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I confirm that I know of no plans by the SNP to build any aircraft carriers in Scotland, or indeed anywhere else. We have made significant progress with the maritime industrial strategy, which will be underpinned by the decision to go ahead with the carriers, and we are now waiting for the joint venture company to fulfil its further legal agreements before the next stage. A lot of jobs will be created in all parts of the United Kingdom.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, as the defence industrial strategy is related to procurement, on which there is a Question tabled for Answer on 7 July, will some information as to the revised version be available by then? I have forgotten the previous Minister—

Baroness Sharples: The noble Lord, Lord Drayson.

Lord Campbell of Alloway:Yes, my Lords. He devised this defence industrial strategy so the revision in outline would be greatly appreciated before 7 July.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I said earlier that I could not give a specific date. All I will say is that the discussions with industry are taken very seriously by both sides, and I hope that we will make very good progress and have a document that is well worth all the effort that both industry and the MoD have put into it.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, is it correct that the Strategic Defence Review announced the carriers and that it has taken over 10 years to place a production contract for the vessels?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the decision to go ahead with the carriers was first made in July last year, so I do not think that there has been undue delay since then.

National Security: Electronic Attacks

2.51 pm

Lord Soley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, electronic attacks have been directed at various organisations globally, including elements of our national infrastructure, for criminal and other purposes. They may emanate from many parts of the world, and it can be unclear where responsibility lies. Such attacks involve unauthorised access to computers and networks with the intent of stealing data or disrupting services. It is not in the interests of our national security to confirm or deny attacks against specific organisations.

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Lord Soley: My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. As my noble friend knows, it is a complex area, but I understand that there have been attacks on some legislative bodies around the world. Whether they come from organisations or nation states is hard to know. Should we be discussing an international treaty or legislation to deal with this when it is done by Governments as opposed to organisations?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, some interesting points have been raised on this important and dangerous area. There is no doubt that as we become more interconnected—as we are in terms of links to the internet, webs, and so on—we become more vulnerable. In a funny way when one is no good with computers and they are not linked, there are air gaps.

There are a large number of attacks but it is not in the interests of national security to be specific about who has been attacked or when because that would give away techniques and skills. We talk internationally about this. I was in Canada and the United States two weeks ago, and cybersecurity and e-crime—identity theft—were discussed at length. They were also discussed last week at the G8 in Tokyo. The G8 sponsors the Meridian process, where we discuss all these issues. It is something that worries other nations particularly. We were more aware before and they are now much more so. There was an attack in Estonia. It is an issue we should be worried about and we give lots of advice on it.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the Government are on record as saying:

Is that not a bit of a laissez-faire attitude? Will the Minister say whether there has been an increase in personnel since the National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre merged with the National Security Advice Centre last year?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point. We give a lot of direct support. We have computer emergency response teams for government and the public sector. We have GovCertUK, which is based on GCHQ, and the CESG. For the private side CPNI has a combined security incident response team which gives advice. We give guidance on the Security Service, CPNI, GCHQ and Get Safe Online websites. The message I want to get out to everyone, to big industrial firms, SMEs and private individuals, is that they need to think very hard about this. If you are connected to the web, people can get into your computer. The only sure ways of stopping that are air gaps, firewalls and having things enciphered. All these things help and all of us need to do them. We are very joined up now and a lot of data are given away if we are not careful. That is why we are taking this so seriously. An awful lot has been done since last June. I focused on this particularly when I came into post. We discussed it in a Cabinet meeting two months ago and I think we are going in the right direction.

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