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My noble friend Lady Kinnock has dealt with a number of questions on Europe. However, I hope that the coalition will address the huge issues on stability, peace and justice that the coalition document says it wants to address. I hope that very particularly in relation to the Middle East. As the House of Lords Select Committee clearly demonstrated, Europe has a role in the Middle East peace process. The Conservative Party has signed up to that role, as the Liberal Democrats have done a trifle more willingly. American foreign policy is, of course, the crucial cornerstone in this conflict. However there is a toxic mixture of security challenges in which we, the British, as Europeans, have a real political role to play, in effect to establish a worthwhile Middle East peace process.
This conflict remains one of the most potentially dangerous for the security of all of us, complicated as it is by Iranian aggression and, to a lesser extent, by Syrian uncertainty. It is too important to be left to a US-Israel or US-Palestinian axis. We in the United Kingdom have a key voice in this European mix. I hope we will encourage more European-Arab dialogue as well as pursue our bilateral relationships, and that we will engage in real political relationships with Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Maghreb countries and, yes, even Syria.
We all know that both parties opposite are on a bit of a tightrope over Europe; their original manifestos demonstrate that very clearly. Europe runs like a golden thread through the Liberal Democrat manifesto whereas the Conservative manifesto seems to demonstrate a desire to put it in a box and shut the lid very tightly. Will the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, tell us whether Mr Cameron will now break the relationship with the partners his now deputy described as,
He went on to say that it does not help Britain, and he was right. Will David Cameron change his friends or will Nick Clegg change his mind? I would also be interested to know from the noble Lord what is likely to happen over aid to China-a country which is much richer than us, which has an enormous sovereign wealth fund and to which we are giving aid that could well be deployed elsewhere.
I wish noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite, who now have to shoulder some very awesome responsibilities, well. I hope and believe that they will keep this House well informed and that we will have many more opportunities to discuss these issues.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean. She was very incisive and effective
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There are greater experts than me in the House today who I am sure will speak on the nuclear proliferation treaty, including the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, and my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. I must declare an interest: I am speaking as the co-president of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, of which I will speak a little more later.
The timing of the NPT conference has been difficult. It has meant that we in the UK have had our minds on other things such as elections and coalitions, and even minor things such as where we will sit, so following it from a distance has been quite hard. Perhaps the Minister could give us some indication of where he thinks the draft resolution is. As far as I can see, among the P5 it seems that Britain, China and Russia will accept the language in the current draft that relates to the UN Secretary-General's five-point disarmament plan as well as references to a nuclear weapons convention. That is very encouraging, and it would be good if the Minister could confirm it.
There are conflicting reports, however, on the positions of the United States and France. There is clearly a deep division in the US between those who want to maintain the old 20th-century position and those of vision. We saw that vision in President Obama's tremendous initiative last September when he chaired the summit of the Security Council that adopted a far-reaching resolution on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The ambition of that resolution is important, but I want to concentrate on the steps taken towards it. If you think of nuclear war as a sheer cliff-face that you are in danger of falling off, then it is every step taken away from the edge that is really important-perhaps more immediately important than finding yourself back at your destination. The small steps are important too because, even given the divisions within and between countries, it is the small steps that take us on to common ground, which is a good place on which to build.
In this context, everyone agrees that there are more nuclear weapons around than are possibly needed; even those who believe in deterrence think so. Everyone agrees that the proliferation of fissile material is highly dangerous, much more so in a world of terrorists and unpredictable states than in a world of two superpowers. Everyone agrees that a nuclear accident would be a terrible thing.
Practical steps that move us towards a safer world in nuclear terms are not so hard. Here in the UK, under the last Government, we made an historic start with our co-operation with Norway on verification. I hope that this Government will energetically follow up
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There are two other important practical steps. The first is de-alerting our nuclear warheads. Five thousand weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched within 15 minutes. Even with the best command and control and safety systems in place, that is 5,000 accidents waiting to happen. There are some truly terrifying accounts of how near the world has been to accidental disaster.
I spoke of building on common ground to move us towards a future where a nuclear convention sees a world free of nuclear weapons. To do that we need both grass-roots civil movements and informed parliamentarians who can stand behind our leaders. I pay tribute to the work of the All-Party Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation and the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, who has arranged for truly inspirational speakers to speak to that group. I am glad that we have had word that it is continuing-its work is incredibly important-and now there is a top-level group of former Defence and Foreign Secretaries and those with particular expertise, who I am sure will keep the momentum going with the Government.
We need to replicate that at an international level. As I mentioned, we have Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, a group of more than 700 parliamentarians from 85 countries-including Russia, Israel, Iran, France, New Zealand, Canada and the US-which is important because those parliamentarians are realists and used to negotiation. It is a forum away from Governments, where real conversations can take place and posturing is left behind. We need our world leaders to be ambitious to make the world a much safer place. To achieve that, we need well informed parliamentarians to stand behind them, to question and to encourage, and to demand that they do not accept a world where an accident or a small regional conflict can become an immense global disaster.
We also need to be reminded of the horrors of nuclear war, and those Hiroshima survivors who still go around telling the world of the realities of surviving such a thing are incredibly important. Above all, we need honesty. I am extremely sorry that Israel has seen fit to further punish Mordechai Vanunu for coming forward and making a statement. This is a time for openness and, whatever Israel may have thought in the past about that, it should leave it in the past and allow him to live his life.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I intend to speak only about two aspects of defence: first, the full strategic review mentioned in the gracious Speech; and, secondly, picking up a phrase from the Speech, in support of our "courageous Armed Forces" and what is called the military covenant. Before doing so, I join in the tributes paid, quite rightly, to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on his appointment as Minister; I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Astor, whose appointment reflects the enormous amount of hard work that I know he put in as a spokesman in opposition.
I shall focus on generalities rather than detailed analysis because that will come when we have the debate on the review. If I had a magic wand, as I have mentioned in a previous debate on the probation service, I would like the clocks now not to say "0.00" but "PANT", which stands for "People are not things". I say that because I invite the House to remember, when considering our Armed Forces, that despite all the technical wizardry now available to them our Armed Forces consist of men and women.
When considering the selection of an aim for something like a defence review, various factors have to be considered. One is uncertainty, which will never be satisfied; and the second is affordability, which is a reality which must not be ducked. There are two definitions of "affordable": one is, "Can you afford it?"; and the other is, "Can you afford to give up what you have to give up in order to afford it?". I fear that in the past that second definition has been too often disregarded.
Military equipment has to be robust because it has to withstand the ravages of war and is therefore built to last. This means, inevitably, that today's commanders are saddled with expensive, out-of-date equipment, planned for a different circumstance, which costs men and money to maintain. Would that we were in a "clean sheet of paper" situation, which we are not and never can be.
The previous two defence reviews were conducted in the shadow of the Cold War and the equipment that was ordered during the Cold War period. Our national outlook now, since 9/11 and with the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, is very different from what it was in 1998 when the last review was conducted. This suggests that a major review is both timely and essential and that no sacred cow should be excluded from it-even the existence of three separate Armed Forces-if it is necessary to produce what is required in the national circumstances of today.
While I welcome those statements, as I do the formation of a National Security Council, I contend that the review should not be an internal MoD exercise but should be conducted by a team representing all aspects of both our global role and our defence and security needs.
However, before such an exercise is embarked on, one other important decision needs to be made which will affect the outcome. I refer of course to the nuclear deterrent. I and many others, including my noble and
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The term "military covenant" did not exist when I was serving. In essence, the covenant means the nation's repayment of the debt that it owes to the members of the Armed Forces in return for their preparedness to lay down their lives for the nation. Its most obvious public expression is in the frequent tributes sadly paid to the returning dead at Wootton Bassett and in response to the Help for Heroes appeal. Within the military, it is reflected in the loyalty borne upwards by service men and women to their political and military masters in the expectation that that loyalty will be reflected downwards to them.
I have therefore found it very distressing that this downward loyalty has been in question during recent years. Too many senior officers have resigned complaining of shortage of resources. Promises made by Ministers that all operational needs would be provided have gone unfulfilled. The Ministry of Defence has been required to pay back money made available to satisfy urgent operational requirements. There have been many complaints from families about living conditions. Two senior officers, General Sir Sam Cowan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger, were traduced in a published inquiry for their alleged responsibility for cuts that were part of the Strategic Defence Review and were held to have played a part in the tragic loss of a Nimrod in Afghanistan. The Armed Forces are accustomed to taking the rough with the smooth, but they are made up of people. They are not things and should not be treated as things.
I draw attention also to the position of veterans. I commend the previous Government for the appointment of a Minister for Veterans but regret that he was placed in the Ministry of Defence and not in the Cabinet Office. In America, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs is in the Cabinet. My alarm at the growing number of veterans in prisons has alerted me to the inadequacy of the systems and organisations that could have prevented them being there by helping their resettlement into civilian life. A Minister with the authority of the Cabinet Office would be better able to influence all those organisations that can help with this process. I urgently ask the Government to consider such an appointment.
It is inevitable that the Strategic Defence Review will focus on money and things, but I hope that the Government will not forget their obligation to the courageous men and women who make up our Armed
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Lord Sterling of Plaistow: My Lords, many of us in this still great country of ours feel that that we have lost our way and our standing in the world. Countries worldwide still look to us for moral leadership, in particular from the Commonwealth, which has contributed so much over the centuries to the enrichment of our nation-most importantly, with their blood in two world wars. They still look to us for leadership in international trade, defence and, perhaps most of all, diplomatic leadership in this difficult and increasingly dangerous world in which we live.
The Strategic Defence Review, which has been heavily delayed, can be meaningful only on the back of a clear, long-term, far-sighted foreign policy, clearly determining this country's future role in world affairs, our vested interests and moral responsibilities being key. This review must be long term-say, 30 years-if our armed services are to create, build and, most importantly, train appropriately in order to carry out the requirements of government and Parliament. I, for one, am optimistic that we will deal with our short-term financial difficulties, probably sooner rather than later. The world is not coming to an end, and this country's wealth will grow again. Indeed, world container trades are already indicating that global expansion is again taking place. This is, of course, subject to Governments making sensible long-term decisions on how to deal with sovereign and private debt. I am saying this because it would be hugely short-sighted to base our long-term needs on short-term expediency. The present defence needs have been heavily undermined by the continual chipping away at the defence budget, which was recently 4.6 per cent of GDP but is now close to only 2 per cent. Our defence chiefs are having to use money allocated to future capital commitment to meet today's needs. Of course, procurement must produce value for money, but our defence chiefs must have an effective structure in place to deliver its commitment to government policy. Ultimately, the dedication of our serving personnel and the quality of their training and, most importantly, their morale is what make our armed services some of the best in the world.
A lack of long-term commitment of funds, both capital and revenue, is the main cause of friction and is dangerous in the long run. The defence of the realm is the key responsibility of a Prime Minister and the Government of the day. I look forward to David Cameron as Prime Minister, William Hague as Foreign Secretary and Liam Fox as Defence Secretary delivering clarity and total commitment to these vital needs.
I am strongly supportive of our involvement in Afghanistan. Containment is vital in order to stop the possibility of the Taliban creating a situation whereby
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Having said that, I am troubled by views that the Afghanistan campaign is typical of conflicts that we will need to fight in years to come. The ongoing argument, therefore, is that the Army, which is of course doing a superb job, should become the key service for the future and be funded accordingly. I would be surprised if that is the official view as our armed services must have a balanced capability, always preparing for the unexpected. They work together in an integrated system of delivery.
The Navy, for example, is organised and trained to be inherently deployable and deployed at a moment's notice. That was demonstrated during the Falklands and Sierra Leone campaigns. In Afghanistan alone, for example, nearly 900 naval personnel are deployed to Operation Herrick, including 40 Commando and detachments from the Naval Air Squadron. A naval squadron of Sea Kings is also involved in battlefield reconnaissance and counter-IED support. The Fleet Diving Squadron, bomb disposal teams, medics and engineers are also there.
When the rest of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines returns to Afghanistan early next year, 10 per cent of the total naval service strength will be in theatre, namely 3,500, amounting to about one-third of the total UK forces in Operation Herrick. The Royal Air Force also has deployments there. Our future naval carrier groups will give this country great flexibility being both a major deterrent capability and, when needed, a highly effective fighting force, working together with the Army and the Royal Air Force. That investment must be continued together with rebuilding our fleet of frigates, which is down to a totally unrealistic level, taking account of our present needs.
My deep interest in world affairs is in the main due to my business involvement in world trade and shipping in all its forms over some 40 years. It has brought me alongside the Foreign Office, the armed services and, in particular, the Royal Navy. This country's interests over the centuries have always been interwoven with the great trade routes. Indeed, in the main, we created them, crossing the oceans of the world. It should
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Pacifism is a proven danger and many of us in this country still feel that we have a rightful role to play on the world stage. I have no wish to become, sad to say, a Belgium. This is a proud country and over the centuries these windswept islands have contributed hugely to the world at large. It is a great compliment that we are still expected to play an important world role. I am sure that many here will agree that it is still part of our destiny. In order to be able to achieve that, strong leadership will be the key.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, at my age I am encouraged by the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. He has great experience and I am confident that he has a great future before him. I congratulate him and my noble friend Lady Kinnock on two very good speeches.
My question is simple. After 13 years, there has been a change of Government. What new things can we expect in foreign policy or in defence and international development policy from the new Government? Clearly, on the domestic side, there have been radical changes, most notably seen in respect of education. Are foreign affairs different? Much of the context of foreign affairs is outside our control. However, there is continuity and traditionally there has been a bipartisan approach, so what might we expect? We at least have the advantage of the coalition document, but I should give a disclaimer: documents will tell us only part of the story. Had we read the speeches made by members of the Labour Government in 1997, we would have known nothing of the Iraq war or Afghanistan. Foreign policy is very much a response-a principled response, one hopes-to the problems that we face as a country.
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