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One of the questions one has to ask about the proscription of the political wing of Hezbollah is whether this is primarily about Iraq or the Palestinian territories. As the Minister is well aware, my party has never supported the full weight of western intervention in Iraq. Armed resistance in Iraq is not always necessarily legitimate. Hezbollah is now a political actor in the Lebanon and a member of the Government—not entirely an attractive member of that Government, but we all have to deal with movements of which we disapprove. Hamas, similarly, is a very unattractive body in many ways but a necessary partner in negotiating to move away from the Israel/Palestine conflict. Many of us intensely disliked negotiating with Sinn Fein but, again, recognised that it was necessary.

I ask the Minister how the additional criteria come in. The specific threat posed to the UK seems thin. As I understand it, Hezbollah does not intend under any

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circumstances to operate within the United Kingdom. We are talking about activities in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Iraq. It is probably difficult for the Minister to outline the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK, but, as I understand from the order, this is not itself a major issue. The two primary justifications among the additional criteria are: the specific threat posed to British nationals overseas—by which we mean British troops still in Iraq so long as they are there—and the need to support international partners in the fight against terrorism. Some of us wish to distinguish between the British definition of the fight against terrorism and the Bush Administration’s definition of it, and are not sure that the Government should always support 100 per cent the latter. However, would the Minister confirm that the need to support international partners is one of the major motivations for this order?

1 pm

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I am somewhat puzzled by the timing of the order introduced by Her Majesty’s Government. As someone who is concerned about the use of terrorism in various parts of the world, I have viewed with interest and encouragement, albeit with some impatience, the moves by Hezbollah towards the democratic process.

Some years ago, I was asked to start meetings with Hezbollah on the development of a peace process in the Middle East and specifically how it could address the question of its weapons, which at that stage was a major international issue for it. I had a series of meetings with it at that time. There are a few requirements when dealing with weapons and the decommissioning of weapons. First, there is an alternative political process for dealing with difference and political disagreement. Secondly, those who are being invited to decommission must not feel that they are under a threat that requires them to retain their weapons. Thirdly, there should be a mechanism for them to do this.

The great difficulty that arose in those conversations was the increasingly obvious move that led eventually to the south Lebanon war. There was no prospect of persuading people to deal with their weapons if they felt that they might be invaded, and indeed when there was clear evidence that they had been invaded. The question of dealing with the weapons has therefore had to be postponed. The question of a peace process in the Middle East is fraught and difficult. Nevertheless, there have been a number of interesting developments in the last little while, almost none of them involving the United Kingdom or the United States. I am thinking of the discussions involving Syria and Israel, assisted by Turkey; the discussions between Israel and Hamas, facilitated by Egypt; and the recent agreement, facilitated by the Germans, for Hezbollah to hand over the two IDF soldiers and, in return, for Hezbollah operatives to be returned.

In all these situations, it is clear that negotiations are possible. Indeed, there have already been some negotiations. As I say, there has been an indication in the past few days that Israel is prepared to enter into talks with Hezbollah and with those in Hezbollah who have military responsibility, and with Hamas using the

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interlocutors of Egypt. It is therefore a puzzling time to send the message, whatever the legalities of the thing—other noble Lords have already questioned the clarity of the order in this regard—not so much that we are hostile to terrorism, because frankly there is nothing new there, but that we are hostile to and do not welcome the opportunity to win people over to the democratic process and encourage them in that regard, and that we want simply to appear antagonistic to them and all that they stand for.

I am puzzled to know how a political development of that kind assists those of us who are trying to persuade people in Hezbollah that there are alternative ways of dealing with difference and political difficulty. The West in general, of which we are a part, is eager to facilitate that, but at the point at which there are moves towards discussion of these very issues, there seems on every occasion to be some kind of military or security development that sends the message that such discussion is not very welcome. That is absolutely how it is perceived. When there are talks about decommissioning weapons, next there is a war that makes that impossible, and when people start to become involved in the democratic process by being elected, in the case of Hamas and Hezbollah, the message is not, “Now we can start to engage you and persuade you to go the full way in committing yourself to democracy”, but, “We have to isolate the whole community that has voted for you”, because we do not particularly welcome the result of their election.

The timing is puzzling, and I would be interested to hear the Minister say how he believes the order will facilitate the political process to persuade people to give up military force and instead follow a fully democratic path, and whether this development makes life more difficult practically, legally and politically for those of us who do not believe that there is a military solution to the difficulties in the Middle East. There is a military role, but there is no military solution to any of them. How will the order facilitate moves toward political dialogue and political exchange, and how far do Her Majesty’s Government feel that a development of this kind and at this time makes a difference to terrorism and in any way facilitates political progress?

Lord Russell-Johnston: My Lords, I shall speak briefly on a different issue in which the Minister was involved. The PMOI, after a long and complicated legal process in the British courts, was cleared of being a terrorist organisation. I recall the Minister making a statement about this in this House. He, and certainly the Minister in another place, indicated that the consequence of the case would be a change of attitude in the European Union Council of Ministers. This has not happened, and I would like to know why and what attitude the British took.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for this considered debate on the proposals, and I appreciate the views expressed by colleagues in this House on the wider concerns that are affected by the order. There have been some thoughtful and helpful interventions, and I will try to deal with them.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, articulated very clearly our reason for going down this route. He asked how confident one might be about differentiating between

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the different parts of Hezbollah, particularly in collecting money and moving it. I agree that this is extremely difficult. The police and the Charity Commission will have to look at the arrangements that cover money flowing out of the country. Generally, it is incumbent on the person who gives money to something to check exactly whom it is going to, but I accept that this is difficult. The police and the Charity Commission will have to look very carefully at this, which is not easy to do. Will we ask the EU to proscribe this? We will take this to the EU and see how that goes with the committee that reviews this.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, asked why our position on the PMOI has not changed. I will touch on this in the context of the EU. The EU addressed this, but I am afraid that some of the other nations in the EU did not feel the same way as we did. Therefore, the issue is slightly in limbo at the moment and is still on the EU’s list. I am not sure how this will go forward, but that is where it stands at the moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, talked about disarmament. We would like to link this to disarmament, but it is extremely difficult to do so. Again, we will have to see how this can be done. It is not easy, but it is extremely important that we show that we differentiate between these two things. The issues that made us change our mind and review all this have been going on for many months, and we have had to have a lot of discussions with a lot of people, sift all the intelligence and look at all the evidence. The end result was that we were very clear that this was having an impact on our troops in Iraq. There was also the issue of the Palestinian territories. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked whether we could differentiate between the two. The answer is no. The threat to coalition forces, which inevitably include our own troops, is very great. We have lost 136 of our people there, and it is very important that we show that this is totally unacceptable not only so far as terrorism is concerned but unacceptable full stop. We have reached that position, which is the reason for the timing of the order.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, asked about the timing of the order. He has great experience of conflict resolution, and we all think very highly of it. He knows a lot about it, and he made some very important points. I touched on the issue of disarmament. It is absolutely true that it is almost impossible to get anyone to disarm if they feel that they will be attacked, and that is quite understandable. One has to get beyond that before anything can be done. In an ideal world, the timing, as with so many things in this area, might not be quite like this. As I said, however, there is a very real threat to our people—136 have been killed, many of them by these very clever improvised explosive devices. We know now that Hezbollah is linked to this as terrorists. We had to move on this to give a signal.

Is this absolutely the best moment to do that? It is important to show that we understand the good things that Hezbollah is doing within Lebanon. Our ambassador in Lebanon has talked to the various people involved there. We think that it would be wonderful if Hezbollah became a proper political party. It is rather important to show that we differentiate between the two. That is why the timing might seem a little strange. I am afraid

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that it takes a long time for these things to flow through and to do all the checks. We have arrived at that stage now. There is no nefarious plan. It has not been done as a clever move to send a particular message. I agree that it might not be the best moment, but it is important to make it absolutely clear that we are unwilling to let terrorists act in the way that they do, particularly when they injure and kill our people who are operating in Iraq. A number of speakers have rehearsed the possibility of going further than we have. I believe that there is a difference between the two wings, and have already touched on the issue of how easy it is to differentiate them in the UK. It is difficult to do that, but we should try because it is important.

I hope that I have touched on most of the points raised. If I have not, I will, if I may, write to noble Lords afterwards. As I said, this is an issue of great importance. A number of noble Lords asked whether the threat from this group is specifically within the UK. I have to say that it is not; it is within Iraq and the Occupied Territories. The threat is not to the UK but to our interests abroad and to those who are serving us abroad. It is therefore important that we do this. It will contribute to our efforts to make the United Kingdom a hostile environment to those who support terrorism. It will send a clear message of our condemnation of Hezbollah’s support for terrorism while at the same time showing it that there is a way forward by becoming a proper member of the community and doing all the good things that it does in supporting its own community. As such, I commend this instrument to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Pensions Bill

1.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House again in Committee on Amendment No. 130EW.


Lord Lucas moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 130EW, Amendment No. 130FG:

“( ) persons representative of pension trustees,”

The noble Lord said: The provisions for consultation in Amendment No. 130EW seem excessively narrow. That is why I have moved this amendment and the two that go with it. I beg to move.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I am happy to tell the noble Lord that I agree with him about the importance of consultation with the groups that he is concerned about. I am happy to accept his amendment in principle. Perhaps we can work on the drafting before Report stage. I also gave positive responses to the noble Lord’s amendments, Amendments Nos. 130FC and 130FD. With hindsight, I could probably have been even more

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positive. I should like to clarify for the noble Lord that I believe we can also accept these two amendments in principle. Again, I should like to work with him on the technical drafting over the summer.

Lord Lucas: I am delighted to hear that and am very happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 130FG, as an amendment to Amendment No. 130EW, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 130FH to 130FK, as amendments to Amendment No. 130EW, not moved.]

Lord Skelmersdale: I apologise for that confusion; it is a rather difficult area. Those few noble Lords who have taken an occasional interest in this Bill may well have wondered what was going on yesterday. It was rather like a pugilistic event between the two Front Benches for most of the time. We had hoped that, following our debate on Monday, the Minister would have withdrawn this amendment, but he chose not to do so. As was noticed yesterday, we spent some considerable time in Committee debating further what could have been transferred to the more productive environment of the DWP consulting in earnest with those who have briefed us. On consultation, I, like my noble friend Lord Lucas, was delighted by the Minister’s response to the previous amendment.

We accept the Minister’s assurances that the department will now consult further and hope that that consultation will be broadly based, and not simply with those who agree, wholly or in part, with what the Minister certainly gave me the impression were the Government’s settled views. I also hope that the Minister will brief us and colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches in good time before Report stage commences. That is shortly after the Summer Recess. My noble friend Lady Noakes said on Monday that the consultation document did not make it clear that the Government were consulting on such a sweeping power as the one contained in Amendment No. 130EW. The word “draconian” springs to mind. In response, the Minister said that,

That confused me, for one. I think the Minister intended to refer to paragraph 1.40, not 1.38. That paragraph says:

The consultees would, in my view, have concluded rightly that what the Government would legislate for bore some relation to the specific issues discussed in the remaining 40 pages of the consultation document. Instead, Amendment No. 130EW takes the widest possible power to make the largest possible number of changes, potentially with infinite retrospective effect. This is part of the problem with the consultation, and one that the Government simply must address. The power needs to be much more tightly drawn.

The Bill depends crucially on consensus that the contents of Part 1 are the right way forward. The amendment that we have been debating for, it seems, days—although I suppose it is hours—is not, strictly,

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part of that consensus. The high-handed way that the Government are handling their own amendments to this Bill is not conducive to consensus holding on the wide range of concerns that we still have about Part 1. In particular, we are far from satisfied that the personal accounts project can be delivered on time at an acceptable cost to members and without taxpayer subsidy. We will return to those issues on Report. Our enthusiasm for consensus at that stage will bear a direct relationship to the way that the Government are prepared to address the outstanding issues. It would have been an act of good government for the Minister to have withdrawn his amendment so that his department could commence discussions on an open basis with all—I repeat, all—the interested parties. Instead, by pressing their amendment, the Government seek to go into any such discussions with the whip hand of having the amendment as part of the Bill. That, as I have said before, is a disgraceful way to legislate, especially as Ministers know in their heart of hearts—in fact, rather more than that, because the noble Lord has just said that he will consider favourably some of my noble friend’s amendments—that what is being bludgeoned into the Bill today will be amended before it reaches the statute book.

We have thought long and hard about this. If we were to press Amendment No. 130EW to a Division today, we would run the risk of failing to achieve a satisfactory resolution during the remaining stages of the Bill. Whoever won the Division, the House would have expressed an opinion that would make later changes more difficult or perhaps even impossible. We on these Benches are committed to responsible opposition. In the interests of achieving the right result in the end, we believe that we should not erect procedural barriers to amendments on Report. On that basis, and with a very heavy heart indeed, I shall not be seeking to divide the Committee on this amendment.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I hope that the noble Lord will agree that what we have had over the past few days is a series of important debates with some excellent speeches that have raised genuine concerns. I hope also that I have been able to reassure noble Lords on a number of issues. It is fair to say that as a result of these debates we are all largely heading towards the same place. I detect that there is broad agreement that the Government need to take action to address emerging issues. I have made it clear that over the summer we will have discussions with those noble Lords, in good time as the noble Lord requests, who have shown a keen interest in these issues to ensure that we can develop the legislation in a way that strikes the right balance. We will engage with stakeholders, including the CBI and the BBCA, to work closely with us on these very important issues. We need to use the relatively short period of the summer to work on how we can best achieve the policy intent set out in April.

The risks are real and there is a need for the Government to act on them. Our amendment sets out our intention to make changes to anti-avoidance legislation to tackle these risks. On that basis, I urge noble Lords to accept the amendment. Having said that, I am grateful to the noble Lord for indicating that he will not resist it, and I understand his comments on how this has come about.

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On Question, Amendment No. 130EW agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 131 to 133 not moved.]

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 134:

The noble Lord said: This amendment, which would insert a new clause into the Bill, hides for me a real dilemma. For many years we have had annual uprating orders whereby the state pension has been increased by the rate of inflation pertaining in the previous October. The noble Lord has done several, and I did many more. Section 5 of last year’s Bill, now enacted, states that the Secretary of State would introduce an order for state pensions to be increased instead by the increase in the average wage. This concept was intrinsically linked in the Pensions Commission’s report with the introduction of what we now call personal accounts. The Government have said that they will be introduced in 2012, though recent statements by the chief executive of PADA have thrown some doubt on this. It seems to be merely an objective, not a promise. Furthermore, we do not yet know whether the Government regard the tying of this to the introduction of personal accounts as essential or not.

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