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The recommendations of the commission under Judge Philip Waki still hang in the air. Kenyan politicians have hesitated to proceed to a full-scale investigation by a tribunal of names on Kofi Annan’s secret list for fear of arousing new outbreaks of violence. The present coalition is a sincere attempt to re-establish a democratic state on a sounder parliamentary footing. There is an obvious object lesson here for Zimbabwe, and we must all welcome the strong statement from Raila Odinga today on that subject. Prime Minister Odinga has so far succeeded in pressing forward with reform without antagonising his allies in the coalition. A truth, justice and reconciliation commission on the South African model may be one way forward, but a new constitution is urgently needed to guarantee a more independent judiciary and a police force free from corruption.

Parliamentary reform is proceeding, but it is not yet complete. Even with the 70 per cent of new intake of MPs at the most recent election, there is huge public distrust of political patronage and of overpaid and inflated government. The media are relatively free to criticise from day to day, but they do not yet have the authority to lead the nation forward.

The Minister knows better than I do that we at Westminster are doing a lot to encourage reform and the political process. The value of exchanges at every level of advice and training in parliamentary practice is undisputed. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, with his strong connections, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, with his background, and others have contributed their personal time to this. The FCO, DfID and the British Council are firmly behind it, and they need to maintain this momentum alongside other donors and civil society.

Kenya has been a remarkably tolerant society, open to suggestion not only from outside but from within Kenya—itself proof of a healthy democracy—and the churches and non-governmental human rights organisations are active there. Under new standing orders, members of the burgeoning select committees now confront their Ministers properly, and MPs must consult their own constituencies and local interest groups if they are to earn public respect. They are no longer simply the big men of the area. Equally, the political parties, especially the ruling PNU and the ODM, and the media have to reform themselves. The international community can play a stronger role there, too.

I emphasise that the wider east African region, including the Great Lakes, which many noble Lords have mentioned, is still in a state of ferment and that Kenya must remain a central force for peaceful change and careful diplomacy, as it has been for many years until last December. The regional bodies are growing in influence and are playing their part. We can help there, as we have alongside IGAD—the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development—in transforming the situation in southern Sudan.

One country that has come back into the spotlight is Somalia, which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned. Somalia is not only Kenya’s neighbour but the source of a large and growing community in northern Kenya, which is another flashpoint. The

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Ethiopia-backed transitional Government have failed, and neither an autonomous Somaliland nor the Islamic militia can provide a lasting solution. Is it not time for the UN to take on a more robust and permanent role alongside Ethiopia and Kenya? The latest Security Council resolution extending the mandate on piracy will help, but there needs to be a much stronger purpose in the UN and the African Union to find a diplomatic solution.

Somalia is of great concern to Kenya. Refugees are pouring over the border, which one local MP told me has become very unsafe; there have been Somalian attacks on Kenyan towns. Kenya is calling on us to raise the issue above the present level of indifference and inertia. Ten thousand civilians have been killed in Somalia in the past year, mostly in Mogadishu, and 600,000 people—more than half the population—have fled from the capital.

On 5 November, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said that we are trying to help but that we cannot act on our own. I hope that, for the sake of east Africa’s stability, we will keep trying.

5.13 pm

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate on foreign affairs, although it is difficult to imagine what the future may hold for us all. These are very uncertain times. The United States President-elect has made it clear that his agenda is likely to be very different from that of his predecessor. He may be less inclined towards military intervention, seeming to favour negotiation instead. I am very pleased about that. I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and was always sceptical about the so-called liberal or humanitarian interventionism to which our former Prime Minister seemed addicted. Sending in the B-52s always threatened to increase the amount of human suffering, particularly among civilians.

Military intervention does not always assist western-leaning democrats. As a result of our intervention in Iraq, the fundamentalist Government in neighbouring Iran have been strengthened. They are a Government with an appalling human rights record. There are frequent public executions, women are repressed—indeed, they are still stoned to death for alleged offences—and there is repression of dissidents. I have supported those in all parties who have campaigned for the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran to be accepted by our Government as a legitimate political opposition to the current Iranian Government and I was pleased when court decisions compelled its removal from the proscribed list of terrorist organisations.

The present Government in Iraq have strong links with Iran. I welcome the decision to withdraw coalition forces from Iraq; it is clear that that is the intention of the forthcoming US Administration. However, in Iraq there is a concentration of Iranian dissidents and refugees in the city of Ashraf. They are at present covered by international law and the Secretary-General of the UN has spoken in support of their continuing to be protected. Our Government should seek to ensure that this protection is continued when coalition troops are withdrawn.

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Despite my strong feelings about the Iranian Government and concern that a Government of this type should acquire nuclear weapons, I do not support military intervention; neither does the PMOI. But international pressure could be applied and due recognition given to those like the PMOI whose political agenda is very different and includes gender equality and opposes the brutality of the present regime.

On international co-operation, it is appropriate to consider the current state of our relations with Russia. I sometimes wonder whether our Foreign Office has really adjusted to the fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists and that the Cold War is over. Russia is often represented in our media as aggressive, assertive and bullying, a description that is frequently applied to Vladimir Putin. He is often demonised in sections of our press. However, anyone who has visited Russia, as I have, knows that he is popular. Furthermore, as far as many Russians are concerned, there are good reasons for this. He has brought stability, following the anarchy of the Yeltsin years. The chaotic privatisation of Russian state-owned industry brought enormous wealth to a few and impoverishment, unemployment and humiliation to many. Things have improved in recent years and Putin is credited with having brought about these changes.

There is also no doubt about the way in which the last war, which they call the great patriotic war, still resonates with many Russians. Nearly 27 million Russians died and the Nazi armies reached quite close to Moscow. Leningrad, as it then was, suffered the most appalling siege and this is still remembered in St Petersburg. US missile sites in adjoining countries and the possible eastward extension of NATO give Russians the feeling that they are being surrounded, which is not surprising, given their recent history.

The Georgian dispute was presented in our media entirely, at least in the beginning, from the standpoint of the Georgian leader. His decision to invade South Ossetia did not emerge until much later. The dispute was reported originally as simply a matter of Russian aggression. Some years ago I visited Georgia and I was struck by the strong cultural links that existed with Russia. Many of the population still identify with Russia. Over the years there have been population exchanges and about 1 million Georgians now live in Russia. The same is true of the Ukraine, which has a substantial Russian population. The idea that these two countries—part of what Russia regards as its near-abroad—should join NATO seems absurd and is bound to be regarded as provocative by many Russians. After all, what is NATO for? What have these two countries to do with the north Atlantic?

I suspect that the CIA has been very active in both countries and has encouraged forces identified as being anti-Russian with a view to reinvigorating a Cold War-type stand-off. Now Russia is seeking to make contacts in South America, in the backyard of the United States, as a direct response to the missile sites and the eastward spread of NATO.

The fact has to be recognised that Russia is a major power, with vast natural resources and legitimate national interests. Fortunately, there is some understanding of this within the EU—hence the decision that has put

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NATO membership of these two countries on hold, at least for the time being. The whole notion should be dropped. The so-called neocons look set to lose influence over US policies in the future and it will be interesting to see whether the new Administration follow a different and more realistic course. I sincerely hope so.

5.20 pm

Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, in my two years in your Lordships’ House I have seldom heard a debate so unanimously led by the spirit of peace, accord and humanity, with concerns expressed with such unanimity. It therefore strikes a discordant note to rise at this hour and talk about weapons of war and warfare itself, but the last two words of the title of this debate are “and defence”. I shall speak briefly on the subject and raise with the Minister two issues.

The first concerns the active front-line helicopter fleet available to our fighting forces at the present time. At the moment there are 512 such helicopters actively engaged, although that figure includes a number that are currently under maintenance, on long-term conversion or being upgraded. Those 512 helicopters comprise 159 that are entirely in the two categories of Lynx. The remaining 11 categories average 32 per model and must represent the most horrendous burden in terms of maintaining for so many fragmentary groups an adequate provision of spares and skilled maintenance. I cannot imagine a worse average number to have to cope with in terms of maintenance needs. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at this issue. Will she indicate how many of the 512 machines are actively available for service at any one time? What could be done to centralise spares on a smaller range? That would make a large economy, which might ultimately help to finance the increase of the fleet altogether.

In case any noble Lord should think that I must have a mole in order to get such accurate data, I should hasten to say that I have something much better than that—I have Hansard. The data were set out in Commons Hansard on 4 July at col. 478. Unless Hansard got the information from a mole, these data are absolutely good quality and beyond challenge.

My second concern relates to the defence technical academy at St Athan, the former RAF base that is being converted by a company called Metrix into the principal education centre for our defence forces. The work is being done at a cost of £16 billion. That is quite a large sum of money. It could fund the rescue of a bank or two and certainly cover the Olympics on the current estimate—we must hope that it would still prove sufficient. However, the figure is quite staggering in the context of the present MoD procurement budget, as this project will take up roughly half of it. My question is really one about value for money because at the moment we are facing huge procurement demands.

We have just heard the good news about the intended delivery in six or seven years’ time of the two carriers, which will be very welcome. However, when they come into operation, they will be in desperate and urgent need of adequate seaborne defences to protect them, particularly if, as we understand, they are going to be insertion carriers for amphibious warfare, which are in many ways the most difficult to defend. Instead of the

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traditional defence concerns and preoccupations of an ordinary carrier, when you look at the sky for dive-bombers and at the sea for submarines, you also have to look for land-based attacks. There is a triple direction of attack to defend against.

In one respect we are most fortunate, because the Royal Navy has just taken delivery of what may be the greatest ship in terms of technical capability that has ever come into its possession. It has been presented with the second ship in the category of Type 45 destroyers, which is seemingly a vessel beyond the wildest dreams of any admiral who ever set to sea. The first of the range had a few problems, but these have been ironed out in the second. I hope that we will see the rest of the order of six, once it has been fulfilled, all conforming to the second of the class. That information comes from publications such as Jane’s and other technical magazines that report on the subject and I have no reason to doubt it.

The carriers will cost over £1 billion each. On 21 July, the Minister for the Armed Forces announced that he is now taking a close look at the St Athan £16 billion budget with the contracting party to see if it can be cut. I suggest that it requires only a 12 per cent cut in the budget to finance an additional two Type 45 destroyers, which would take us to the target of eight vessels. As my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever has said before in this House, that is the minimum number required to provide adequate cover for the two carriers facing their triple defence concerns when they are seaborne in a dozen years’ time. These two concerns are fundamental to the future security of this invaluable and hugely influential addition to our fleet.

The noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, in his days as Chief of the Naval Staff, gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph—I imagine that he does not do so too often these days—and said that the Navy needed 30 frigates and destroyers. When he said that, there were 35; today there are only 25 and in a year’s time there will be only 22. So we will have ultimately a net figure of about 27, which is not enough. I would like to know what the noble Lord, Lord West, would say wearing his present hat about the security implications that this carries. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to an Iranian shipborne nuclear bomb bearing down on our shores. I hope that we will have eight Type 45s available for defence when that hour comes, because we might then have a chance of stopping it.

These are serious concerns that go beyond other immediate budgetary concerns and procurement requirements; they are two paramount points with which the Minister should be concerned.

5.26 pm

Lord Hylton: My Lords, last month I was privileged to visit Baghdad. The international zone in that city is a truly amazing sight—all concrete blast walls, razor wire and check points. Pedestrians are strongly discouraged, if not altogether totally forbidden, and helicopters seem to be two a penny. I am sorry to say that I saw nothing of the rest of Iraq, apart from the remarkable congregation of St George’s Church, Haifa Street, Baghdad, and Basra airport.

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It is true that violence is now much less, even compared with last summer, but personal security and freedom of movement throughout Iraq are unpredictable and sometimes poor. Civilians still suffer severe shortages of water and electricity, and health services are not good because so many medical staff have left Iraq. Even though most schools are functioning, progress since the fall of Saddam can only be called disappointing. Far too many people are being detained without trial, both by the United States and the Iraqi authorities.

Because I was travelling with Canon Andrew White, I was able to see the reconciliation that has developed between the senior religious leaders—Shia, Sunni, Kurdish and Christian. They stated their agreement very clearly last August by issuing a joint Shia-Sunni fatwa against violence and, in particular, against suicide bombing and attacks on civilians. This was quite unprecedented. The religious leaders are acting together to curb and prevent the earlier and the recent attacks on Christians and other minorities. They wish to see a law-based state, one without corruption, particularly in the police and army, and an independent judiciary. I am glad to say that the religious leaders have committed themselves to meet every two months. Politically, the constitution and the oil law are controversial and therefore of great importance, as indeed are the agreements on the future status of external military forces.

Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, I suggest that better understanding of religious and spiritual motives and greater co-operation with religious leaders would be very helpful in other conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel and Palestine, not to mention the Horn of Africa. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Steinberg, that Jerusalem is just as important to Christians and Muslims as it is clearly to Jews. It seems that agreement is needed for free access by all concerned to their religious sites and for some kind of time-sharing within the old city of Jerusalem.

I turn now to Israel and Palestine, where there is uncertainty because of the general election in Israel, the handover of office in the United States and the lack of unity on the Palestinian side. I can therefore only ask questions, although these relate to the urgent needs of the people, who have been suffering for far too long.

Has Israel yet responded to the European Union presidency statement of 14 November about Gaza? Will the presidency ensure that the whole civilian population of Gaza does not go on suffering further collective punishment, contrary to international law and the EU-Israel trade agreement? Has Israel acted on the request by our Foreign Secretary to allow entry for humanitarian supplies to Gaza and, more widely, to implement the binding agreement of 2005 on movement and access? Lastly, are Her Majesty's Government making progress in their request to Israel concerning the release of elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Assembly? Of course the release of Corporal Shalit will be asked for, but even a caretaker Government should be able to resolve such matters. I look forward to the Minister’s replies on all those points, all the more because of the eyewitness account of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, which we heard earlier.

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There is a further small step that could be taken now. Hamas, as has been said already, cannot be for ever excluded, even though nearly three years have been wasted since its election victory. Will the Government use their good offices to secure free movement for Hamas’s leaders? That would enable those in Gaza to meet those in Damascus and to meet both the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. This could be done quietly and without a fanfare of trumpets. Will the Government at least consult the Government of Saudi Arabia on this point? Your Lordships will recall the major efforts made by that Government to achieve, first, the Arab League peace initiative mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and, secondly, the short-lived Palestinian Government of national unity. I trust that I have made a practical and usable suggestion in the hopes of getting nearer to real peace instead of the endless and very frustrating process that has been going on for so long.

I conclude with one implication for home policy. British Muslims and others should be free to make political criticisms of the de facto military occupations of countries such as Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan without automatically being labelled extremists. To prevent this, our Ministers should consult regularly with the elected representatives of the Muslim population in England, Wales and Scotland, locally and nationally. We need much greater sensitivity and understanding of the links between foreign and domestic policy.

5.34 pm

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, some hours ago this debate started and, in his usual amiable way, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, made an attack on the Labour Government. It was long on condemnation but short on solutions. However, I agreed with his remarks about the new Administration in the United States. What he had to say about them was highly relevant. I hope that we will follow up his remarks carefully and practically.

Many years ago, I was a Eurosceptic. How wrong I was. I realised this long before I went to the European Commission, but my experience there underlined it in no uncertain way. Of course, meetings of Commissioners evidence disagreements; that also happens here when Ministers meet. Compromises have to be sought. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that; indeed, it illustrates how this aspect of democracy works. Differences have to be debated in private, but ultimately policies have to be defined and emerge.

Over the years, majorities in the Labour and Conservative Parties have largely reversed their positions, and the Liberal Democrats, under their present leadership, have become rather less enthusiastic about the European Union. For my part, not only do I think that there is no alterative to supporting the European project, I would fear for its demise in global affairs if Britain became ambivalent about it.

We are now confronting a global economic downturn. It is academic to ask whether, as I believe, we would have emerged from it in a better state had we adopted the euro—we are where we are—but joining the euro must be our ultimate aim. It is distinctly realisable once the credit crunch has been overcome.

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What I find infinitely depressing is the stance of most of the Conservative Party. Some stress the desirability of leaving the European Union entirely, which would be fatal to the United Kingdom’s true interests. Others express the belief that, somehow or other, we can apply an ambiguous attitude to the European Union—that we can be both in and out. That seems to be the policy, if one can dignify it as such, of the Conservative leadership. But would other members of the European Union tolerate this attitude?

This section of the Conservative Party hopes that the Irish will not change their stance. But what will it do if they do not? Even if they do, would it be tenable for a leading member of the EU to adopt such a position? Its ambivalence or even hostility to the European Union may just be an electoral ruse—a device which it hopes will confuse the electorate and a device which, once it achieves power, can be conveniently overlooked. Such a plan would be both undignified and dishonest. However, there are others—notably, but not only, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke—who perceive that Britain has a leading role to play inside the European Union, helping to mould it into a vital cog in reshaping the world’s economic, financial and environmental policies.

What of the Government? How I wish that most if not all the opportunities to be a cardinal member of the EU had been seized over the past 11 years. However, at the very least, the Labour Government have shown their desire to be a prominent player, in marked contrast to the majority of the Conservative Party.

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