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House of Lords

Thursday, 4 December 2008.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Marine and Coastal Access Bill [HL]

First Reading

11.06 am

A Bill to make provision in relation to marine functions and activities; to make provision about migratory and freshwater fish; to make provision for and in connection with the establishment of an English coastal walking route and of rights of access to land near the English coast; to enable the making of Assembly Measures in relation to Welsh coastal routes for recreational journeys and rights of access to land near the Welsh coast; to make further provision in relation to Natural England and the Countryside Council of Wales; to make provision in relation to works which are detrimental to navigation; to amend the Harbours Act 1964; and for connected purposes.

The Bill was introduced by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill [HL]

First Reading

A Bill to make provision for the purposes of promoting public involvement in relation to local authorities and other public authorities; to make provision about bodies representing the interests of tenants; to make provision about the procedures of local authorities and the audit of entities connected with them; to establish the Boundary Committee for England and to make provision relating to local government boundary and electoral change; to make provision about local and regional development; to amend the law relating to construction contracts; and for connected purposes.

The Bill was introduced by Baroness Andrews, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Banking (No. 2) Bill [HL]

First Reading

A Bill to make provision about banking.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Myners, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

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House of Lords Bill [HL]

First Reading

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.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Steel of Aikwood, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

House of Lords (Members' Taxation Status) Bill [HL]

First Reading

A Bill to make provision about the taxation status of members of the House of Lords.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Committee of Selection

Membership Motion

11.09 am

Moved by The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

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, L Bassam of Brighton, B D’Souza, B Goudie, L Hylton, L McNally, B Royall of Blaisdon (Lord President), B Shephard of Northwold, L Shutt of Greetland, L Strathclyde.

Motion agreed.

Arrangement of Business


Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lord West of Spithead will today repeat a Statement entitled “Investigation into Unauthorised Release of Government Information”. The Statement will be repeated after the speech on the humble Address by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. In order to accommodate the Statement,

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we would still meet our target rising time of 7 pm if Back-Bench contributions to today’s debate were kept to 10 minutes.

Queen's Speech

Debate (2nd Day)

11.10 am

Moved on Wednesday 3 December by Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Marines Tony Evans and Georgie Sparks who were killed on operations in Afghanistan last week.

I am also sure that the whole House will want to pay tribute to all the men and women of our Armed Forces who, around the clock, 365 days a year, show their courage, dedication and professionalism in ensuring that the national security interests of the UK are protected. They work tirelessly on our behalf, often in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances. It is only right that we today acknowledge those who have been killed or injured in the service of their country. Each of us owes those brave men and women a real debt of gratitude.

This has been a busy year for defence. Our focus has quite rightly been on the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are our priority. I shall concentrate my remarks on those issues today. In both these countries, our Armed Forces are working to create the security environment needed to enable political, social and economic change. But let us be in no doubt: we are deploying UK personnel in Afghanistan because it is in our national interest to do so. That is why, as the Secretary of State for Defence has recently highlighted, we have an obligation to ensure that there is a clear domestic awareness and understanding about our mission in Afghanistan, and that the men and women of our Armed Forces, their families and the public understand why we are there.

The answer is simple: Afghanistan must not be allowed once again to become a safe haven for international terrorism. We cannot, and must not, allow the Taliban and al-Qaeda to return. The appalling events of 9/11 may be some time ago now, but we need to remember them and the fact that those events were made possible by the support given to al-Qaeda by the Taliban regime. That attack was intended to create terror and division. Instead, it galvanised a new

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determination across the world to tackle terrorism at its heart, a determination that we continue to carry forward with our military and civilian commitment in Afghanistan. It is in our national security interest to prevent the re-emergence of such a situation.

Some may ask, “How long will it take?”. There is no timeline, but I fear that it is safe to say that the military mission in Afghanistan will not be over quickly. Afghanistan is a counter-insurgency situation, a conflict with no front line. However, we must be resolute, because if we do not deal with one of the main sources of terrorism at its source, it will come to us.

To achieve a secure and stable Afghanistan we have to develop its own capabilities, and we are seeing real progress across a number of areas. The Afghan national army now numbers some 68,000 trained personnel and is starting to take the lead in independent operations, a crucial step towards the goal of self-sufficiency on national security. In Helmand, three infantry battalions and the brigade headquarters are now capable of conducting independent operations with minimal ISAF support. Some 80,000 Afghan police have also been trained, equipped and deployed.

Of course, as your Lordships know, this is not just a UK campaign; it is a truly international effort. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1776, NATO and other allies are working together. Fifty thousand troops from 41 countries are all working to reduce terrorism and promote stability. This calls for strong partnership working and this is happening in the areas where it really matters; for example, when it comes to addressing a shortfall in capability regarding helicopters. The helicopter initiative for Afghanistan launched at the UK/Franco summit earlier this year is proving extremely useful. Four nations—Iceland, Norway, Lithuania and Denmark—have already contributed to funds and several other nations have offered aircraft and access to their facilities. This initiative is gaining real momentum to increase the supply of helicopters ready for operations and the number of suitably trained pilots.

We continue to have other challenges; for example, the air bridge which we have discussed in recent weeks. We are always trying to improve that situation because we know the importance of moving troops back home on leave quickly, but we have to be careful. We have to ensure that we use only the right aircraft with full defensive aid suites because safety remains a priority.

The United Kingdom is still the second largest contributor in Afghanistan. We feel strongly that others should and must pull their weight too. That is why we are pressing other NATO allies to reconsider their contribution. It is important that the international community demonstrates its long-term commitment to Afghanistan. This will mean working with allies to ensure that they can contribute as best they are able, so that ISAF can meet key capabilities demanded by the situation on the ground. It also means improved UN-led international civilian co-ordination.

Those nations committing troops to ISAF have done so because they know the importance of that mission. The nations deployed in the south well understand the challenging operational environment that they meet there, and the need for few caveats and robust rules of engagement. We will continue to work

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with our ISAF partners to ensure that national caveats are kept to a minimum and do not impinge on ISAF’s operational effectiveness.

So we cannot know for certain exactly how long it will take for Afghanistan to become a fully self-sufficient, secure state, but we are committed to supporting the democratically elected Afghan Government in that achievement. Therefore, our mission calls for strategic patience. But eventually, as we are now seeing in Iraq, Afghanistan should be able to manage its own security. Improvement in security is critical if we are to maintain the advances that we have made in enabling the Afghan Government to meet the needs of the Afghan people. We have seen real progress in the past seven years. Six out of 10 Afghans exercised their democratic rights by voting in elections for the first time in more than 35 years. Five million refugees have been able to return home. Where just one in 10 Afghans had access to basic healthcare, that figure is now eight in 10. We recognise that huge challenges remain. The United Kingdom’s long-term commitment to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan is underpinned by the Afghanistan Compact, as well as the 10 year UK-Afghanistan Development Partnership Agreement. Only by helping Afghans to secure their country for themselves will we enable them to govern and develop it for themselves. However, we must recognise our starting point in Afghanistan. It is one of the poorest nations in the world and there are no easy quick-fix solutions. For our troops, the situation is challenging and changing, which is why we have to be responsive to the ever changing threat.

On 29 October, the Secretary of State for Defence, John Hutton, announced a £700 million commitment for an extra 700 vehicles further to improve the safety and protection of our troops in Afghanistan. This included more than £350 million for more than 400 new armoured support trucks, with 100 more Jackals, new tactical support vehicles and the Snatch Vixen. This is in addition to other equipment that has already been delivered to the theatre to great effect. Indeed, the recent House of Commons Defence Committee report on defence equipment praised the speed with which we are delivering vital equipment to our Armed Forces.

It is important to see this commitment in the context of our wider equipment programme. This year, the total defence budget is £34 billion, and that level of expenditure has grown over time, as the figures make clear. By 2010-11, the defence budget will be 10 per cent higher than it was in 1997, marking the longest period of sustained growth since the 1980s. In addition to the defence budget, some £9.5 billion has been provided from the Treasury reserve to meet the additional costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. This will increase to more than £13 billion by the end of this financial year. This includes £4 billion approved for urgent operational requirements, which are so important.

I highlight the process of urgent operational requirements, because that process, which is different from the normal procurement process, is proving absolutely crucial in the current operational tempo. The threat in Afghanistan is changing rapidly. In

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response to our military successes, the insurgents’ tactics have changed, becoming more indiscriminate and increasingly using improvised explosive devices.

That calls for flexibility on our part and a recognition that we need to be constantly adapting and enhancing the kit that our forces use. We can achieve this only by working closely with our industry partners. I take this opportunity to thank those companies in the defence sector that are driving through innovation and turning projects around very quickly. I am aware that many in this House have visited some of these companies and they will join me in saying that their commitment and responsiveness is making a huge difference on the front line.

This really is a dynamic process. The military, the MoD and industry are working closer together than ever before, and our processes are improving all the time and getting sharper. The urgent operational requirement process is proving to be a real driver on procurement, particularly when it comes to turning projects around quickly.

I want to say a few words now about Pakistan, which is perhaps the biggest area of complexity that we face. We cannot solve Afghanistan’s problems without also dealing with the training and movement of insurgents across the border. Unless the authorities on both sides can work effectively together, neither the insurgency in east and south Afghanistan, nor the instability in Pakistan’s border regions can be fully contained. For our troops in Helmand, Pakistan matters a great deal, because the Taliban there are directed and supplied from across the border. Most critically, however, Pakistan matters to us because it is to there that al-Qaeda has retreated and reformed, and it is from there that it casts a reduced but potent shadow across the world. I know that this is of concern to those in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as to people in this country. I recently met members of the Pakistan Senate Defence Committee, who talked to me about their concerns on this issue. The so-called “Af-Pak” security question must therefore be at the core of our approach to both countries. In practical terms, encouraging cross-border security co-operation, building on our good relationship with the Pakistan military and supporting the new civilian Government in Islamabad are very important—probably as important as any element in our Afghan strategy.

I want to say a word about narcotics—also an area of much concern. I think we all know that 90 per cent of the heroin in the United Kingdom originates in Afghanistan. We are helping the Afghans to tackle this and there has been some, though limited, progress. This year, 2008, has seen a fall in opium production. Counternarcotics is rightly a police responsibility but today the Afghans do not yet have the capability to discharge that role fully. NATO has therefore authorised ISAF to assist where narcotics targets are linked, as they often are, to the insurgency. This situation is welcome and can, we think, help us to make progress, but it is an area where Afghan forces must increasingly take the lead if we are to deal with this situation in the long term.

I turn to Iraq. In the five years that we have been in Iraq, the country has changed considerably, from a brutal dictatorship that threatened international security

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to a fledgling democracy. Our policy for Iraq, and indeed that of the coalition, is to work towards a state that is fully independent—a state that is able to manage its own security and resolve disputes through the political process and one that can play a constructive part in the international community. Real progress has been made. Today, the Iraqi Government and security forces have lead responsibility for security in 13 of the nation’s 18 provinces. That is a considerable achievement and we should congratulate everyone—the US, coalition partners, the Iraqi authorities and of course our own forces.

The UK has made an important contribution in the past five years to this march of progress—from war-fighting and insurgency control to investing in grassroots entrepreneurship and construction. Before 2006, Basra Provincial Council had never received a budget from the central government and had no experience of planning or delivering public services. Since 2006, it has awarded more than 800 contracts with a value of $650 million, thus delivering the things that really matter to the people of Basra: education, water, power and health. Basra’s largest hospital has been refurbished, a prosthetic limb centre has been established as a centre of excellence, and a new children’s hospital is scheduled to open in the new year.

DfID’s own investment since 2003 has connected 65,000 Basra households to the electricity grid for the first time. Overall, UK reconstruction spending across Iraq to date has totalled more than £700 million. Southern Iraq’s future economic prospects are also now beginning to look very positive. The Secretary of State for International Development recently attended the opening of the Basra Investment Commission, and major investors are showing genuine interest in the province. Thousands of travellers are passing through Basra airport as part of the Hajj pilgrimage, which is a significant achievement. So we now see an Iraq that is well on its way to being an independent, democratic and stable sovereign state. There are of course still sporadic attacks and periodic flare-ups, but broadly we are well on the way to an Iraqi-delivered security situation across the nation.

In the south, where the great majority of our forces are based, the security situation has improved significantly as the Iraqi authorities, with UK and coalition support, have developed Iraqi solutions to Iraqi challenges. As UK forces complete their remaining tasks in Basra, the capability of the Iraqi security forces continues to improve. Our military role will again change next year. We will move from a mission focused on large-scale support of Iraqi security forces operations in Basra to a close and more conventional long-term bilateral defence relationship, just as we enjoy with other partners in the region. As we make this transition, the focus of our work there will be very much on the training aspects of our responsibilities.

The two operations, in Iraq and Afghanistan, will remain our top priorities for 2009. While it is a fact that our forces are stretched, they are, as the Chief of the Defence Staff himself has stated, not overstretched. They retain the ability and capacity to respond where needed. The current role being played by the Royal Navy in global maritime security is an example of

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that. Its contribution to counterpiracy off the Horn of Africa with our international partners, including NATO, is a demonstration of that capability, as is our provision of the operation commander and the HQ to the EU mission to tackle piracy in the area—a contribution that has been warmly welcomed by our European partners.

I started by paying tribute to those in the Armed Forces. We ask a lot of the men and women who serve our country, and we ask a lot of their families as well. We are determined to make sure that they are well supported, well paid and properly looked after. Just a few days ago we debated in this House the service personnel Command Paper that my right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces launched earlier this year. This cross-government strategy involved widespread consultation with the forces, Whitehall, the devolved Administrations and service charities. This is not simply a document with good intentions. It is an important pledge with more than 40 separate commitments aimed at improving the lives of service personnel, veterans and their families. For the first time ever, a Government have set out the nation’s commitment in this way. I know that there is widespread support for these measures in this House. It is a tangible and practical support that will form a lasting blueprint for the future. Our forces and their loved ones deserve nothing less. They are the best Armed Forces in the world and we are very fortunate to have them.

11.33 am

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the House will be very grateful to the noble Baroness for opening the debate on the humble Address with this detailed survey. Of course we join her in the condolences and tributes she made at the beginning of her speech. She concentrated, naturally as it is her ministerial role, on the defence aspects. I shall be seeking to open up some broader issues of foreign policy, on which the House may wish to focus. My noble friend Lord Astor will return at the end of the debate to many of the detailed points raised by the Minister about defence and our brave military forces.

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