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4.05 pm

Lord Ashcroft: My Lords, I returned this morning from a visit to Chad that I made earlier this week. The purpose of my visit to the eastern border with Sudan was to see and understand the internationalisation of the Darfur conflict. For too long, the crisis in Darfur has been thought about and talked about in isolation. I have visited Darfur twice in the past two years and seen how bad things are on the ground. It is clear that the crisis has spilt across international borders, particularly into Chad and the Central African Republic. It is also destabilising the hard-won north-south peace in Sudan and contributing to tensions in the east of Sudan.

In Chad this week I visited Djabal refugee camp and Gourounkoun camp for displaced people. There are close to half a million refugees and displaced persons in eastern Chad. One hundred and eighty thousand of these are Chadian, forced from their villages near the border with Sudan by the Sudanese Janjaweed, who are propped up by the Sudanese Government and who have spread terror and unrest. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled across the border from Darfur.

I met displaced people who fear that across the nearby hills the Janjaweed and local militias roam freely. It is this fear that is preventing these displaced people from returning to their villages. Their frustration towards the international community is evident. One displaced person angrily approached me to ask why the camp receives visitors again and again and yet the situation never improves. Indeed, the situation for these people has deteriorated. They despair that the World Food Programme has not delivered food to Gourounkoun camp for the past six months and they try to survive a hand-to-mouth existence by selling firewood, of which there is little remaining.

In some cases, the refugee camps have now taken on such a permanent nature that the infrastructure—schools and health clinics—include better facilities than existed in the Darfuri villages from which the refugees were driven. This means that there is less incentive for them to return home, and certainly not while the insecurity and terror continue.

What recent discussions have the Government had with the French regarding the humanitarian situation in Chad? Will the Government give further information on the £5 million of British aid that is currently being spent in Chad? What are the Government’s plans for future spending there?

Meanwhile, across the border in Darfur, the international community faces intense embarrassment. The joint UN-African Union force for which we pushed so hard is a complete mess. There are supposed to be more than 20,000 troops on the ground; instead, there are nearer 10,000, few more than when the African Union was there on its own. The troops are woefully under-equipped and the people of Darfur are not being properly protected. Will the Government update

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the House on the latest efforts to beef-up the hybrid force in Darfur? Will they reassure the House that they are looking at the situation in Darfur holistically in the context of wider issues in Sudan, including the north-south peace process, and in the east of the country, as well as with regard to Sudan’s neighbours? Will the Minister comment on the latest state of play with regard to the indictment of President Bashir by the International Criminal Court and on the British Government’s position in respect of that? Until there is a peace agreement between the Governments of Chad and Sudan there will be no humanitarian solution—no hope for these displaced people and refugees.

There is an enormous difference between the rhetoric of the UN in New York and the world’s leaders about the responsibility to protect, and the realities which I saw for myself on the ground on the Chad-Darfur border. It is true that EUFOR is making a good contribution to promoting peace and security. The question is whether the successor to the EUFOR force, the UN—MINURCAT 2—force, will be able to build on that security. Will it be able to give confidence in the police system and the justice system so that the refugees and displaced people can return to their homes and villages? All this takes place against the background of a country which Transparency International regards as one of the most corrupt in the world.

Everyone understands that the Darfur crisis requires a political solution, not a military one. All those of us who have taken a close interest fully appreciate that. But having seen for myself over the past few days how this crisis has spilled over international borders, I urge the Government to play their part within the international community to secure a durable solution for the sake of the millions of people who are suffering so much throughout this region.

4.11 pm

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I welcome the reassurance included in what has otherwise been described as a rather anorexic gracious Speech that the Government will press for a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East. Given the frequency with which this reassurance has been repeated, I am bound to share some of the scepticism felt by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. But with a newly elected President in the United States who has vowed to restart the Middle East peace process, I hope that we can take an early opportunity to encourage our closest ally to take a fresh and balanced approach to the Arab-Israel problem.

As your Lordships know, I have repeatedly argued in this House that we should be ready to talk to more extreme elements, whether in Israel, Syria or Palestine, and that the quartet should no longer attach unrealistic conditions to our readiness to deal with Hamas—conditions which at least one of the quartet’s members, the Russians, have long since abandoned. The horrendous and despicable events in Mumbai last week will have done nothing to persuade sceptics in the United States or Israel that we should talk to Islamic extremists, still less to those wrongly identified with genuine terrorist movements. But having been accused at various points

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in the presidential campaign of being either a Muslim or—presumably an even more damning accusation—an Arab, President-elect Obama will, I hope, see the need to quell the disturbing growth of Islamophobia, if not Arabophobia, in the United States.

Those of us who had the privilege of hearing President Shimon Peres speaking in this House just over two weeks ago will remember that he called on Europe to put pressure on Hamas. How are we to do that if we continue our deeply mistaken policy of isolating Hamas? I am pleased to see that in the case of Syria, we have been prepared to distance ourselves from what I hope is the now obsolete policy of the outgoing Administration not to speak to those of whom they disapprove. Should our experience in Northern Ireland not have convinced us and our friends of the need to talk to those in the Occupied Territories who are now supported by majority opinion in Gaza and, increasingly, by many in the West Bank?

Let us not ignore the very real grievance and despair felt by all citizens of Gaza at their continued isolation and economic despair, so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed—the mounting frustration of Palestinians on the West Bank at the continuing effects of occupation, expansion of illegal settlements, restrictions on free movement and the continued detention by Israel of some 9,000 Palestinians, many without charge. All that contributes to the very real danger not only of a total collapse of civil society, but also of Palestinians, Israelis and other Arab Governments concluding that the aim of a two-state solution is no longer practical politics. That would be a serious tragedy for all parties, a disaster for Israel, and a shameful failure by the quartet to have achieved any tangible fulfilment of the hopes raised by the Annapolis conference almost exactly a year ago.

I turn to a more positive aspect. Can the Minister give the House the Government’s assessment of what Mr Tony Blair has apparently been able to achieve in the area surrounding Jenin in the north of the Occupied Territories, and say whether these apparently hopeful developments are likely to have any positive impact on the desperate situation elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza? It was not Hamas that recently broke its informal truce with Israel; incursions by the Israeli security forces into Gaza have yet again exposed the people of Sderot and Ashkelon to retaliation.

In six days’ time the Secretary-General of the United Nations will launch Human Rights Day in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under the theme of,

Surely this is the moment when we should make a fresh start at protecting the dignity, justice and security of all people in both Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Unlike my noble friend Lord Jay of Ewelme, I have not been able to give your Lordships five practical proposals in five minutes, but I shall give you one: please, let’s talk.

4.17 pm

Lord Truscott: My Lords, before I focus on the subject of my speech, I refer to recent proposals to disgorge your Lordships from this place while the

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House authorities refit and refurbish it, possibly over three or four years. In conversation last week, a former distinguished ambassador and I came up with the ideal temporary home for the House of Lords; namely, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Your Lordships could meet in the splendid Durbar Court, while Moses Room meetings could be transferred to the sumptuous Locarno Suite. The Foreign Office could meanwhile be transferred to empty office space in Canary Wharf. Strangely enough, the former ambassador is happy for me to take the entire credit for the idea, and I would be grateful to the Minister for his views on the proposal in his winding-up speech. I hope that I will enjoy the enthusiastic support of the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Wright.

The greatest challenges facing the world in the 21st century will be energy, food and water security. Taken together, competition for these resources presents the most pressing threat to global security, against the background of significant climatic change.

I shall focus today on energy security, mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Brittan. I make no apology for raising the issue in a debate on foreign and European affairs, international development and defence. It is my contention that energy security impacts on all of those. I was pleased to note the reference, albeit brief, to energy security in the gracious Speech. In raising energy security, I refer noble Lords to my energy and other interests as recorded in the Register of Lords’ Interests, in particular my associate fellowship of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, in which role I am writing a report on European energy security.

Although the price of oil has dipped to around $50 a barrel, most agree that in the medium and long term, it can only go up. Although I do not believe in the concept of “peak oil”, particularly given the untapped resources of the Arctic and Antarctic, the world’s nation states will for the foreseeable future be competing for finite resources of oil and gas. Despite the new push for nuclear and renewables, we will all remain dependent on fossil fuels for some time to come, with gas and, particularly, coal playing an increasingly important part in our energy mix.

In Europe there has been a wide-ranging debate about energy security and securing future sources of supply, an increasingly difficult task as production declines in politically stable OECD countries. The European Commission has just published its second strategic energy review, and three reports of the House of Lords EU Committee have looked at the EU’s targets for renewables, the economic distortion that may arise from pursuing unrealisable targets and the EU-Russia relationship, to which a number of noble Lords have referred.

From all this work, a number of conclusions follow. First, political cohesion and developing a functional and liberalised energy market are essential tools in the struggle to avoid energy dependency and enhance security. I think that point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne. Secondly, the case for European dependency on Russia is overblown. If you look at the statistics, only 6.5 per cent of the

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EU’s total primary energy comes from Russian gas. A far greater threat, in my view, to energy supply and security is the fall in investment and production in Russia and central Asia, a phenomenon which is spreading to other parts of the world as energy and mining companies pare back crucial investment. Thirdly, while acknowledging the real threat of destructive climate change and the security issues that it may engender, the pursuit of unrealistic renewables targets, particularly focused on wind, may distort investment patterns and lead to energy shortages. These have already been witnessed in South Africa, which, despite energy blackouts, is scaling back plans to build a new generation of nuclear plants.

In the UK, if we do not focus on the achievable alongside the pursuit of renewables, with the development of new nuclear, gas and clean-coal plants, we will undoubtedly witness blackouts by around 2015. The current global recession should not blind us to the fact that demand will rebound, and when it does, the necessary investment based on current plans will not have been delivered in Europe or elsewhere. In the United States, President-elect Barack Obama has ambitious plans for a New Deal type of programme for renewables to tackle climate change and end the dependency of the United States on oil. That is to be welcomed, but alone it will not be enough to provide the energy that the United States needs and ensure its energy security.

There is no single magic bullet to solve Europe's energy security needs, whether through the Nabucco or other gas pipelines or the somewhat dubious proposal for a trans-Saharan pipeline that would be a security nightmare to protect. As I mentioned, only common action on a common policy and a properly functioning European energy market and grid will provide the necessary security. Apart from the geopolitics and political risks of energy security, whether in relation to countries like Russia, Georgia, Ukraine or others such as Nigeria and Venezuela, there are increasingly obvious military threats to Europe's energy security. NATO's Secretary-General has recently been writing and speaking about the alliance's role in guaranteeing security of energy supply, pointing to the despatch of a NATO maritime taskforce to the Gulf of Aden to protect shipping against piracy, alongside the EU initiative to tackle Somali piracy. NATO, he argues, should also have a role in developing training with partners to protect crucial national infrastructure such as refineries, pipelines and LNG terminals. Direct assistance could be provided in response to energy blackmail or terrorist threat.

The question remains: how proactive should NATO and the EU be in protecting our sources of supply abroad, even in partnership with the countries concerned, in often sensitive and hostile parts of the world? What is certain in a globalised world is that whatever happens to one important energy supplier and to one major supply route will have an impact on us here in Europe and the UK. We can only address these major issues together. So, three cheers at least for the perceived demise of unilateralism.

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4.25 pm

Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, I begin by echoing the comments of my noble friend Lord Howell when he said that one element that was surprisingly missing from the gracious Speech was any mention of the Government’s support for the activities of the Commonwealth. It is on one region of the world within which there are many members of the Commonwealth that I should like to dwell today—the South Pacific, in particular the South Pacific island states.

When I was a Foreign Office Minister some 20 years ago with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, as Permanent Under-Secretary, I was fortunate enough to visit the region many times; indeed, I was “recalled to the colours” three times subsequently to represent the Government at South Pacific meetings. This country’s involvement with the South Pacific Commission, now the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, which we helped to found in 1947, provided the United Kingdom with an opportunity to maintain a close interest in the technical, professional, scientific, research and planning issues which the Pacific island states need to develop in the way that they would like.

I would be grateful if the noble Lord who is to reply could tell me what is now the status of our interest in the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. We withdrew from it some years ago, we went back into it and, I believe, we have left it again. Does not any diminishing of our role within that organisation put at risk our perceived interest in the region as a whole and our responsibility for our one dependent territory in the Pacific, Pitcairn Island? What of the Pacific Islands Forum, formerly the South Pacific Forum, and the dialogue partners, of which the United Kingdom is one? Can the noble Lord confirm that United Kingdom ministerial attendance at the annual South Pacific Forum dialogue meeting is regarded as important and will be maintained?

I have visited the region twice in just over a year, and I am well aware of the important role played by major Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand in helping to maintain security in the region. For example, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have benefited enormously from the military and other support that Australia and New Zealand have been able to provide.

There have been worrying examples of instability within the region, and it is certainly not in our interests, or anyone else’s, for that to develop; but if it is in our interests to maintain influence and protect stability, it is certainly disappointing to note that a number of our Foreign Office missions have closed in recent years, including in Tonga, Vanuatu and Kiribati. Our support for those countries is centred on our embassy or high commission—depending on whether it is in or out of the Commonwealth—in Fiji. Can the Minister say with certainty that the staff in that post can effectively cover the region and fulfil all the elements that were perhaps much better achieved by individual posts in countries intensely loyal to the United Kingdom for many years?

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One area of concern seems to be the complexity in the issuing of visas. For example, I am told that in Tonga, anyone who applies for a visa to visit the United Kingdom for education or any other purpose has to travel to Fiji for its issue. Can the noble Lord confirm whether that is so? If it is, it would seem to put an unnecessary, expensive and discouraging burden on legitimate travel. To mitigate the effects, might it not be wise to consider appointing at least an honorary consul, or honorary consuls in some of those countries, so that some of the more basic consular activities can be handled locally?

Lastly, I ask about our bilateral aid in the region. My understanding is that it has dropped markedly in recent years and is now mostly disbursed from our EU partners through some EU budget within the region. Can the noble Lord indicate the size of the overall aid budget, both bilateral and through the EU, how it is targeted and to what extent it is increasing or decreasing?

We should retain our long-standing friendships and influence within the region. One of the main pillars of our responsibilities for many years has been influence in and support for the South Pacific region. I hope that we can find some time during the Session to have a longer debate, whether a balloted short debate or a Question for Short Debate. The Government can then explain the matter more fully than perhaps they can today. I know that I have not given the noble Lord notice of these questions. Perhaps the Government will also take that opportunity to reaffirm their support for a region of the world that most certainly values the United Kingdom’s interest in its economic, political and cultural development because, if we weaken that, others will most certainly seek to fill it.

4.30 pm

Lord Avebury: My Lords, a few hours ago the Minister said that we invaded Afghanistan to prevent it becoming a haven for international terrorism. She did not remind your Lordships that that was also one of the excuses given for the invasion of Iraq, which, as President Mubarak said at the time, was likely to create 100 bin Ladens. He was probably out by a factor of 10, but that has happened. It has also involved us, as the noble Baroness said, in a £700 million contribution so far towards reconstruction, has placed huge burdens on our Armed Forces, and is an ingredient in the motivation of terrorists across the world.

Although there might be questions about the precise identity of the persons who committed the atrocities in Mumbai, they share the mindset of those who attacked the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in the 1990s, and the perpetrators of 9/11, Madrid and the bombing of hotels in Jakarta and Islamabad, right up to the latest strikes on Indian hotels. All these acts are motivated by a particular aberrant Islamic worldview inspired by the fundamentalist ideologues of Qutb and Maudoodi. Apart from a need to bring the perpetrators of the offences to justice, we should address the problem of the hate ideology that damns the whole world of what they call Dar al Harb as wholly evil and corrupt.

It is a losing battle to deal with individual acts of terrorism while ignoring the hatred and violence that is, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, spewed out

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by thousands of madrassahs, which, I may add, are funded by oil money, and which churn out graduates indoctrinated with loathing for Governments and people who do not conform with their ideas of Sunni orthodoxy.

Therefore, the Foreign Secretary says that we must prevent Afghanistan again becoming an incubator for international terrorism. However, neither in the blog of his visit nor his interview with the “Today” programme, nor in the Prime Minister's recent meeting with President Karzai, nor, indeed, in the noble Baroness’s speech this morning is there any recognition of the fact that military solutions alone, which ignore the underlying ideology, are doomed to failure. My noble friend Lord Ashdown rightly said that winning in Afghanistan is not a military operation. With a huge effort, the Taliban may be contained, but unless we confront its underlying philosophy of loathing which not only spurs the Taliban but also al-Qaeda and other organisations like Lashkar-e-Toiba, it will simply be reincarnated in another form or another part of the world.

At the same time we need to address, as has been said by several noble Lords, the genuine grievances of Islamic populations throughout the world, and particularly the failure to arrive at a proper solution for the sufferings of the Palestinian people and to implement the declared intention of the international community to assist in creating a two-state solution.

In Somalia, we seem to have no idea what to do about the security vacuum that will be heightened by the departure of the Ethiopian forces at the end of the year. It spells the end for President Abdullahi Yusuf, and, as I suggested several years ago to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, when he was a Minister, we put too many eggs in the basket of the TFG without having a plan B.

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