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House of Lords

Wednesday, 11 February 2009.

3 pm

Prayers—read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Winchester.

Australia: Bush Fires


The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, during Questions yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, proposed that we should, as a House, express our sympathy and concern for the tragic events in Australia. There was widespread support for this proposal, both within the Chamber and around the House. I have therefore today written to the president of the Australian Senate to express this House’s concern and sympathy for the victims of the disastrous bush fires that have taken so many lives in Australia in the past few days. A copy of my letter has been placed in the Library of the House.

Sudan: Comprehensive Peace Agreement


3.01 pm

Asked By Baroness Cox

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, first, I apologise to the House for my piratical guise; I have an eye complaint.

The comprehensive peace agreement is the foundation for future peace and stability across all Sudan. Indeed, 2008 saw progress in some key areas, including preparations for elections, but implementation remains slow and 2009 will bring significant challenges. With only two years before the end of the interim period, we must accelerate progress. We remain fully engaged with both parties and international partners to secure full implementation of the CPA.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. When in January I travelled widely throughout southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains, I found widespread concern over renewed hostilities by the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, which was killing, abducting and torturing civilians, and even greater concern over the fact that it was widely believed that Khartoum is widely supporting the LRA. Will Her Majesty’s Government make the strongest possible representations to the Government in Khartoum, as the renewed hostilities by the LRA can destabilise southern Sudan and, indeed, undermine the comprehensive peace agreement?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the whole House recognises the noble Baroness’s interest in and concern about this area and her informed position on the matter. We share concerns about the horrific atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in recent months and years, but we are not aware at this stage of the Government of Sudan in Khartoum giving any support to the Lord’s Resistance Army. They once did; they do not now. We have seen no evidence that they are, and we do not believe that either side wants to return to war. However, it is essential that both sides maintain efforts to implement the comprehensive peace agreement. I understand the noble Baroness’s concern and anxiety.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, at least the ceasefire is holding, but my noble friend appears to recognise that time is running out and that key problems, such as the census, have not yet been addressed. Is he confident that the international community properly recognises the danger of failure to the civilian population in Sudan, and is he also confident that the challenges, such as the exclusion from the process of key elements, need to be addressed very speedily, given that the process is due to end in 30 months?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, because he has highlighted an important part of the development of the comprehensive peace agreement—the institution of elections—which can take place only when a census has been effected. I think that I will encourage my noble friend when I say that the census process is working quite well and we anticipate that it will be completed in the near future. It will provide the basis for us going on to the next crucial stage.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the CPA is falling behind not only in regard to the census but also on border demarcation, DDR and the consultation process. If there is no hope of the scheduled date for the referendum being achieved, would it not be best to be realistic and recognise that, and see whether the parties concerned could agree on an adjustment to the timetable?

Secondly, I wish to ask about the situation in Darfur, particularly following the gratuitous bombing of Muhajiriya by the Sudanese air force, killing many people and causing the displacement of another 30,000 to add to those already without homes. Will the noble Lord see that we ask for this matter to be raised in the forthcoming Security Council resolution, following the Secretary-General’s report of 30 January?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, on his first point, I think the noble Lord is being excessively pessimistic. We live in hope that the timetable for the completion of the census will be adhered to. He is right that the whole peace agreement has been subject to woeful delays, but there is confidence in the international community that that aspect is progressing.

I do not think that we need to bring pressure to bear on the United Nations about the issues in south Darfur. The Security Council is all too well aware of them, and the Secretary-General has emphasised that

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continued military action by all sides is putting civilian lives at risk. The United Nations is greatly concerned about that. We will play our full part in seeking the development of peace in south Darfur. It is one of the areas, although not the only one, that is causing real concern.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned the bombing and upsurge of violence in south Darfur, where there does not seem to be much sign of peace at all and where government forces appear to be combining with others to attack the Justice and Equality Movement, the rebel group. Can the Minister explain why this sudden increase in violence has occurred? Is it anything to do with the suggestion that the International Criminal Court may be about to deliver charges against President al-Bashir?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we hope that the Government of Sudan will co-operate with the International Criminal Court, which is engaged in proceedings for which it is entirely responsible and that it is entirely entitled to follow. We are all too well aware, and it will be obvious, that Khartoum does not look kindly on the possible charge—none has been laid as yet—against the President of Sudan. However, to link that to the situation in Darfur may be stretching issues a little far. Suffice it to say that we expect the International Criminal Court to pursue its position according to its own processes, and we want to see peace restored in Darfur.

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, what measures are Her Majesty’s Government taking to ensure that the proposed indictment of President al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court does not provide an opportunity for the Sudanese Government to renege on their commitments in implementing the CPA, particularly the delayed census results and, one of the most serious matters, the demarcation of the border between the north and the south, on both of which the forthcoming elections depend?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has accurately identified some of the very difficult issues that need to be resolved. I hope that I have indicated our optimism about the census. The International Criminal Court will pursue its own strategy and developments. However, we recognise that that raises issues about Khartoum.

Afghanistan: Military Equipment


3.09 pm

Asked By Lord Selkirk of Douglas

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I draw attention to my non-pecuniary interest listed in the register of interests.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, all sensitive or high-value military equipment and vehicles are transported from the UK to bases in Afghanistan by air in order to prevent their theft or destruction en route. The transportation of some lower-value and non-sensitive vehicles and equipment to theatre is contracted out to commercial suppliers which are responsible for providing security en route. The cost of replacing any MoD vehicle or equipment lost in transit to a theatre of operation would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, does the Minister accept that a shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan, and some transport aircraft, has greatly increased our reliance on transportation of supplies to our forces? Is it the case that a helicopter that is shot down will be replaced with extra funding by the Government but that a helicopter that is worn out by wear and tear will not be replaced with any additional funding?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I do not accept that there is increased reliance on surface operation because of any limitation on helicopters. Commanders on the ground have sufficient assets to do key tasks. The replacement of a helicopter that is lost in combat would undoubtedly be covered from the reserve. The overall net cost of operations, as I understand it, is met from the reserve. If that is in any detail incorrect, I will write to the noble Lord.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, at last weekend’s annual security conference in Munich, the United States special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, said, on Afghanistan:

“I have never seen anything like the mess we have inherited”.

General Petraeus said that the war in Afghanistan had,

and warned of a downward spiral of security. Do Her Majesty’s Government agree with these assessments?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the noble Lord puts on my shoulders the heavy burden of starting a verbal war between ourselves and our greatest ally. We believe that what we are doing in Afghanistan is right and that it is important to be there. Our strategy is to support the Afghan Government to deliver security and political, social and economic developments for Afghanistan. We lead the civil military mission in Helmand and we believe in working with the Afghan Government to deliver post-conflict reconstruction.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Pakistan is a frontline state in the war on terror and does he agree that the Pakistani army needs to be well equipped? The Taliban has better equipment and better

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trained people than even the Pakistani army. Recent reports said that the Pakistani army is fighting a war in sandals and shalwar kameez because it cannot afford shoes and proper rifles. I understand that the Government of Pakistan have asked for armoured vehicles. Will Her Majesty’s Government provide those armoured vehicles and equipment to the Government of Pakistan?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am afraid that I have no knowledge of any request that the Pakistani Government may have made. I know that we consider our relationship with Pakistan, and the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, to be crucial, and I believe that those relations go well. If we have received any requests that can be put in the public domain, I will write to the noble Lord.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, when equipment is in the care of a civil contractor and is lost, who is responsible for that financial loss? Is it the contractor or is the stuff insured? Where does the responsibility lie?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the general answer is that the responsibility lies with the contractor, but there is very little equipment of any value—only large vehicles which have been de-weaponed and desensitised. The expensive stuff travels by air. As I say, my general understanding is that the responsibility is in the hands of the contractor. If there is any detailed difference from that, I will write to the noble Lord.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, could the Minister possibly answer the question put by my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas about whether it is the case that money is found to replace a helicopter that has been destroyed in combat but that that is not the case where a helicopter is worn out? If that is so, why?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord feels that I did not answer the question, but I responded as far as I could. If a helicopter is shot down, the situation is clear. My understanding is that, generally speaking, the net cost of the war is met from the reserves.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: That is not an answer.

Lord Tunnicliffe: I am told that that is not an answer, but it seems to me that a worn-out helicopter would be a net cost of the war, and therefore the war is financed as it goes along from the reserve. The question sounds simple, but the mechanisms here are complex. I must respond to such a complex question very carefully, and I can only do that in writing.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, if what the Minister says is correct, it is as yet unknown to our armed services.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot know what the armed services tell the noble Lord.

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3.16 pm

Asked By Lord Blaker

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are cautious about the workability of the recent power-sharing agreement, but this is the solution that has been agreed by the Zimbabwean parties. Our hope is that the parties can make it work. Our formal engagement, including the provision of donor support, will depend on the new Government’s ability to demonstrate, through their actions, a sustained commitment to reform.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure that the House shares with many in Zimbabwe the hope that today marks the opening of a happier chapter in the history of that country. Can the Minister assure us that the United Kingdom response will be that, as good friends of the people of Zimbabwe, we will seek to guard their future well-being by measuring the progress of the new Administration against the specific European Union benchmark set for Zimbabwe in 2006 in accordance with the Cotonou agreement before releasing aid for anything other than emergency humanitarian purposes?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is of course very knowledgeable about that country and its developments. I assure him, as he will have deduced from my initial reply, that the Government will cautiously analyse the progress of Zimbabwe towards more normal political operations and constitution. We recognise the challenges before the parties in this shared Administration, and of course we wish the people of Zimbabwe well and therefore want to see power-sharing work. However, the noble Lord will understand that at this stage the Government are in the position of monitoring rather than reaching any definitive conclusion.

Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, on Tuesday, 600 women from a highly respected and internationally well known human rights group demonstrated peacefully in Zimbabwe, handing out roses and early Valentine cards. Apparently the riot police broke up the demonstration, assaulting and arresting members and even throwing one elderly woman into a moving truck. Meanwhile, South Africa and other SADC states are clamouring for the EU sanctions against the ZANU-PF elite to be lifted. Will the Minister make representations to SADC countries asking that they be equally vociferous in their request for the release of human rights activists and political detainees?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government certainly would regard the early release of human rights workers such as Justina Mukoko and other political prisoners as an indication of an important change in the regime of the Government of Zimbabwe. Of course international pressure is important, but the British Government have been persistent and consistent

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on this issue. We regard it as an important benchmark in the progress towards normality in the government of Zimbabwe.

The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, during my many visits to Zimbabwe over a 10-year period in the late 1990s and the early part of this century as director of a church mission and aid agency and subsequently as a bishop, I witnessed at first hand, even then, the reality of hunger and starvation among the poorest of its citizens. Clearly a catastrophe was then in the making. Given that today the increased use of torture and calculated starvation has reached crisis proportions, in what ways are Her Majesty’s Government encouraging and supporting intervention on humanitarian grounds by the international community?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a significant priority for the Government. The right reverend Prelate will be all too well aware that one of the conditioning factors that will best improve the situation is if we can get movement towards greater normality in Zimbabwe. This means an immediate end to political violence, intimidation and repressive legislation. It also means a reinvigoration of a disastrous economy within which people are suffering greatly. We will keep on all the pressure that we can. Britain is the second largest donor to Zimbabwe and we will keep faith with its people, but we want significant change at the top in terms of the decisions taken by the now shared Government.

Lord Avebury: My Lords—

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, shall we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, first?

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, while it is reasonable to be cautious about the future of the agreement, would it not be a tragedy if we erred on the side of pessimism and failed to do everything that we possibly can to make the agreement work for the people of Zimbabwe? Given that Mr Tsvangirai is today to be sworn in as the Prime Minister, would it not be a good message to the people of Zimbabwe to say that we will support them as far we reasonably can?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend has a long record of interest in equality, justice and good government in southern Africa. He speaks with great authority on these matters and I am glad that he has introduced this important element. We must live in hope that the power-sharing position will work and we will do all that we can to support it in the interests of the people of Zimbabwe. However, at this early stage, the Government are bound to enter in a note of caution, as he will recognise.

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