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House of Lords

Thursday, 17 May 2012.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.

Sudan and South Sudan


11.06 am

Asked By Baroness Cox

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the humanitarian crisis in the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, we are deeply concerned at the serious humanitarian impact of conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan, and within both countries. We are closely engaged with the UN and other humanitarian agencies to ensure an effective response to the needs of affected people, and are pressing both Governments to enter into political processes to resolve conflicts.

Baroness Cox: I thank the Minister for her sympathetic reply. Is she aware that I recently returned from a visit to four camps on the Sudan/South Sudan border, where 250,000 refugees have fled from sustained aerial bombardment by Khartoum or been expelled by President al-Bashir’s commitment to turn Sudan into a unified Arabic Islamic state? Conditions in those camps were dire then; they are now becoming catastrophic, with a rapidly rising death toll. Will Her Majesty’s Government make strong, urgent representations to Khartoum to cease aerial bombardment of its own civilians, and across the border in South Sudan? It is in no way justified by President al-Bashir’s allegation of military action by South Sudan, which bears no comparison with his massive, sustained slaughter of his own people?

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I am aware of the noble Baroness’s visit, and I thank her for giving me a copy of her draft report. I am aware, as the House is, of all her work in this area. She reports some terrible stories within it.

Continued aerial bombardments by the Sudanese armed forces are absolutely unacceptable, and we condemn them. Ministers and officials at our embassy have pressed this point during meetings with Sudanese counterparts. We worked very hard with Security Council partners to achieve unanimous support for UN Security Council Resolution 2046, which saw the Security Council demand under Chapter 7 of the UN charter a political resolution to conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as addressing wider issues in both countries. We are also very actively monitoring the humanitarian situation and getting supplies in place.

Lord Chidgey: Is my noble friend aware that the UN Security Council passed that resolution on 2 May, and that within it was a two-week period for conflict to stop and negotiations to begin? That was on 16 May.

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There have been no negotiations starting; instead, the fighting has started again. What do the Government propose to suggest that the UN Security Council should do now?

Baroness Northover: Yesterday, the special envoy to the Secretary-General briefed the Security Council on compliance by Sudan, South Sudan and the SPLM-North with Security Council Resolution 2046. He is keeping a close watch on the extent to which the ceasefire is not being adhered to. He identified a small window for restarting negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan. President Mbeke is travelling to Khartoum and Juba to engage with the parties and convene a meeting between them as soon as possible. We, the US and France have confirmed our readiness to consider sanctions if necessary.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister concur with the view of Dr Mukesh Kapila, who was the high representative of this country and the United Nations in Sudan, that the second genocide of the 21st century is unfolding in South Kordofan? How can the Government continue to do business as usual with a regime that is led by someone who has been indicted for war crimes—crimes against humanity—by the International Criminal Court? How can we simply sustain diplomatic relations as though it is business as usual?

Baroness Northover: My Lords, it is not business as usual but, as the noble Lord knows, the UK Government engage with all Governments in the hope of bringing about the changes that the noble Lord would wish to see. In embassy involvement, the only countries from which officials have been withdrawn are Syria and Iran, which was necessary for the protection of staff. In all other areas, including North Korea, there is engagement, but it is not business as usual. With regard to the crimes to which the noble Lord referred, it is clear that there have been indiscriminate attacks on civilians and war crimes. Indeed, President al-Bashir is indicted by the International Criminal Court. It is worth bearing in mind, too, that the case of Charles Taylor shows that international criminal justice is not time-limited.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that DfID has suspended long-term development aid to South Sudan in response to the Government’s decision to turn off the oil pipeline. However, does the noble Baroness recognise the tragic effects of such action for the people of a country that has such desperate needs at this time? Will the Government reconsider that decision in the light of the fact that two major donors, the United States and Norway, have not taken such action and will maintain all development assistance, while at the same time focusing on dialogue between South Sudan and Sudan?

Baroness Northover: The noble Baroness rightly points to the implications of South Sudan cutting off its oil supplies, which constitute 98% of its revenue. It is extremely important to bring home to the Government of South Sudan the implications of that and that the international community will not simply bail them out. DfID is very much focused on humanitarian

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relief, which is extremely important, but the important issue here is to get the Governments in question to negotiate and take forward some of their responsibilities to their citizens.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, to pick up the point about humanitarian aid, given that children make up half the population of South Sudan, and that the malnutrition rate for children under five in the border areas averages between 15% and 22%, will the Minister please ensure that any UK humanitarian aid specifically supports the health and happiness of the children caught up in this tragedy?

Baroness Northover: The right reverend Prelate makes a very good point on what is, I think, his birthday—many happy returns to him. The UK has contributed £10 million to the World Food Programme for general food distribution and £15 million to the Common Humanitarian Fund. We are acutely aware that it is children who will be particularly vulnerable in this situation. Therefore, the provision that the international community is trying to make is very much focused on their needs.

Lord Elton: My Lords—

Baroness Tonge: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Elton: My Lords, are there plans in place to maintain the integrity of the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people who are intended to receive it at a time in the future when the application of sanctions may make Governments very anxious to acquire it for themselves?

Baroness Northover: All these issues are extremely complex and the noble Lord rightly points to the potential impact of sanctions. As for humanitarian relief, a huge logistical effort is going on at the moment to get food and other supplies in place, particularly with the onset of the rains coming down the track and the potential of mass migration that may result, as noble Lords may be aware. We are monitoring this very closely and my colleague, Stephen O’Brien, is watching all the time what is happening.

Businesses: Debt


11.15 am

Asked By Lord Harrison

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to monitor, enforce and improve the provisions of the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 to aid small and medium-sized enterprises’ access to finance.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, the Government closely monitor UK payment times. Experian reports that UK payment duration has been and continues to be historically low, and has

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reduced by more than four days since the first quarter of 2009. However, the Government recognise the importance of prompt payment to business cash flow, especially to small and medium-sized businesses, and we plan to improve the provision of the late payment Act by transposing the 2011 EU directive by 16 March 2013.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, at a small business event this week I met a “Dragon’s Den” winner who tells me that over the past three years paying late has increased and payment periods have increased, causing him to spend time on chasing people up and wasting valuable time that could be spent adding value to the business. When will the noble Baroness find the inner dragon in herself, not only to breathe fire into existing legislation but on big businesses and public institutions that deprive small businesses of £35 billion that should be available to them to add value to their businesses?

Baroness Wilcox: I thank the noble Lord—and, yes, I have been a dragon, but nowadays I am quite quiet. There is no doubt about it that half the problem is caused by the fact that small and medium-sized businesses are so grateful to get the contracts that they usually do not look at the payment terms and do not make sure how they are going to be paid in the first place. We have the legislation in place—the Labour Party put it in place. We are going to improve on it by using a system covering late payment which, after all, we were the first to put into the European Community. We are now writing it for them to extend it so that it will cover local authorities and any business-to-business transactions that are not being carried out successfully. I hope that that helps.

Baroness Sharples: Can my noble friend say whether government departments are paying their bills on time?

Baroness Wilcox: I am delighted to be able to say that, after two years, government departments are paying their bills on time. We are paying within five days to the main contractor, which then has to make sure that it pays within 30 days to its sub-contractors. We are watching that very carefully.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: During a House of Commons debate on late payments on 14 September 2011, the then Business Minister, Ed Davey MP, announced that the Government would transpose the EU directive on late payments,

“into UK law in the first half of 2012, which is earlier than we are required to do”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 14/9/11; col. 280WH.]

Can the Minister tell us why we are now talking about some time in 2013, given the Government’s commitment to assisting small and medium-sized enterprises?

Baroness Wilcox: It is a long-standing commitment of the Government not to gold-plate European Union legislation by implementing it early. We have confirmed many times our intention to transpose that directive, thereby providing business—especially smaller business—with certainty. We are making sure that it is written as it should be written and in a way that we think it can be enforced. As we know, within the European

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Community, our problem is that our Anglo-Saxon law here is not necessarily the same law as applies to some of the other countries. Therefore we have to be very careful that what they are going to do is enforceable.

Lord Razzall: Now that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is in his place, is the Minister prepared to give any more detail as to exactly how the implementation of this European directive will help small and medium-sized enterprises on this topic?

Baroness Wilcox: The fact that we are being asked to substantially write it is an enormous help. It means that we can write it following the legislation that we already have, which I have already explained and on which I complimented the previous Government for putting in place. The most important thing that we can get out of this is a requirement that local public authorities have to pay within 30 days. It is very important to get that in place, and it is certainly worth taking the time to get it right.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, is it not the case that this Act will never be adequately enforced until a public official is given the statutory task of enforcing prompt payment and prompt interest payment on behalf of SMEs? Next week the Government will announce the appointment of a groceries adjudicator to help farmers in their battles with supermarkets. Surely there are wide reasons for saying that a public official is needed to assist in enforcing this Act as regards the late payment of debts.

Baroness Wilcox: The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, who is a former Director-General of the Office of Fair Trading, always comes up with something on which I would like to reflect, and I will do so on this occasion. If he would like to write to me explaining exactly what it is that he thinks is a good idea, this Government are always willing to listen.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if we did not have to create legislation that suited all members of the European Community and could just do this legislation on our own to suit ourselves, it could have been done months ago—perhaps even years ago, during the time of the last Labour Government?

Baroness Wilcox: We are keen and happy members of the European Community, my Lords.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Will my noble friend contemplate more active support of small and independent businesses given that they are so much greater contributors to community life and local cohesion than their monstrous brothers?

Baroness Wilcox: The late payments that we have studied indicate that it certainly is not just large organisations which pay late. I say again that very often small and medium-sized companies do not make sure that their payment terms are right and do not do credit checks on companies. They should do credit checks no matter how big the company is. Nowadays we no longer hear the word factoring. When I ran my

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small business factoring was very important. If noble Lords look at today’s newspaper they will see a letter from the Royal Bank of Scotland which says just that. It advises small businesses to go to their bank and learn how to factor.

Schools: Parenting Skills


11.22 am

Asked By Lord Northbourne

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to implement the recommendation of the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances that parenting and the responsibilities of parenthood should be taught in all secondary schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, the teaching of parenting skills in schools falls within the remit of personal, social, health and economic education. We are reviewing PSHE to determine its core body of knowledge and improve the quality of teaching without being overly prescriptive about it. Schools will have the flexibility to determine whether they include parenting skills as part of their PSHE lessons based on local circumstances and the needs of their pupils.

Lord Northbourne: I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. However, I cannot help wondering whether the Government take this issue sufficiently seriously. Are they aware of the number of children who arrive in school at five years old damaged by a lack of appropriate parenting—sometimes almost by a lack of parenting at all? Do the Government realise the extent to which this damages and will continue to damage those children, and makes difficult the coalition’s commitment to developing social mobility and equality in schools?

Lord Hill of Oareford: The Government do take this issue seriously. I know how much the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, cares about it and I was glad to have the chance to discuss some of these issues with him a month or two back. The Government are taking a range of measures such as extending free education and care to 15 hours a week for disadvantaged two year-olds from September 2013, and doubling that again by September 2014. We have announced parenting trials and more flexible parental leave, so there are a number of measures. When one draws those together, I hope he will see that we take this issue seriously. We need to approach it across a broad front.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Is there any thought of including parents, along with the children, in these educational matters because the parent very often knows nothing about them? It is all very well to think of the next generation, but the present generation could do with a bit of help too, and if schools could in some way include parents in this scheme it would be to the good.

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Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, many schools do precisely that. They might have Sure Start centres on the same site as the school. They often run programmes to involve parents and educate them more generally. My noble friend makes a good suggestion and I know that schools already undertake it.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, perhaps I may ask two brief questions. First, how seriously are the Government taking the recent reviews on early intervention and social mobility? Secondly, when will we have the results of the review on personal, social and health education?

Lord Hill of Oareford: We certainly take those reviews seriously and, as I have said, we have already made some announcements and introduced new policies on the back of the recommendations that we received from Frank Field and Graham Allen. We are in the process of setting up, for example, the Early Intervention Foundation to help provide evidence for some of the policies that we have been discussing. So far as the PSHE review is concerned, I hesitate to raise this again—actually, I have not raised it; the noble Baroness raised it with me but we have been having this exchange for a long time. I know the delay is probably too long, and I know that that is what she feels. As she knows, the sequence is that we want to make our announcements on the national curriculum review, which we expect to do shortly, and then, on the back of that, it seems sensible to bring the PSHE review together with it—so the national curriculum will be first and, after that, the PSHE review.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does not the recent spate of cases of horrendous sexual exploitation of young girls, many of whom were in care, demonstrate that the lack of good parenting makes them very vulnerable? In which case, does the Minister accept that high-quality PSHE in schools can go a long way towards making up for that? It must be provided for every child in every school because, as we know from recent press coverage, sexual exploitation happens all over the country, not just in Derby.

Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with my noble friend’s remarks about those appalling cases, which are shocking. I also agree that good PSHE in schools can help to raise some of those issues, educate children and warn some of those who are most at risk of the kind of behaviours that they ought to avoid. Part of the PSHE review is looking at the question of best practice, the quality of the teaching—which is vital—and the content of PSHE.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, bearing in mind that citizenship education, through which it was intended to teach parenting, became devolved and was never sufficiently taken up, can the Minister assure us that parenting skills are emphasised to the young people concerned, because it will be one way to encourage early intervention to be successful, particularly if you can make it clear to young children from deprived backgrounds that their skills are going to be important for future generations?

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Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with the broad thrust of that point. One should also say that there is quite a lot of research, which, as one might expect, says that young people think most about parenting just before they become parents. Children in different kinds of schools in different parts of the country will also tend to need different kinds of education. That would include PSHE. However, I agree with the broad thrust when the noble Baroness says how important that is.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the cuts to childcare support and work incentives such as the working tax credit will inevitably result in more children living in poverty, and will therefore inevitably make the role of parenting even more difficult for existing parents?

Lord Hill of Oareford: As I have said, we are extending the offer of free education for three and four year-olds to 15 hours a week. We are extending it to disadvantaged two year-olds from September 2013 and to 40% of all two year-olds by 2014. The new universal credit will extend childcare help to those working less than 16 hours a week—that is, families who had not previously been eligible for it. We obviously need to do more to help people with parenting—particularly those from the poorest backgrounds—and I hope that the range of measures we are taking will result in some progress being made in that direction.



11.30 am

Asked By Lord Empey

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to make any further financial contributions to the eurozone bailout.

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, first, we should be clear that there are no requests on the table for further financial assistance. The Government have made clear their view that the responsibility for sorting out the problems of the euro area rests primarily with euro area Governments. The UK will not be a member of the permanent European stability mechanism, which will replace the European financial stability mechanism established under the previous Government, for which the UK holds a contingent liability.

Lord Empey: The Minister will be aware that there is considerable confusion in the public’s mind about what our commitments to the eurozone actually are. Although we may not have those commitments through formal European agreements, we are putting more money into the IMF and have done a bilateral deal with Ireland. Can the Minister clarify, in language that people outside can understand, exactly what our liabilities to the eurozone and its member countries are in the event of further financial turbulence?

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Lord Sassoon: My Lords, as I explained, there are no requests for further assistance on the table at the moment, so it would be entirely hypothetical to discuss what our further commitments might be. However, as I have said, as of July this year, the permanent European stability mechanism comes in. The UK is not party to the agreement to establish that mechanism and there will be no further commitments from the UK under the European financial stability mechanism from July this year. The IMF does not support the eurozone or any other currency union. It is there to support individual countries, and any assistance is considered country by country on the merits of each case.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, my noble friend the Minister is causing some of us a little concern. Why did he not answer the Question on the Order Paper with a simple no?

Lord Sassoon: Because it is a complicated Question, which deserved a somewhat fuller Answer.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, as the decisions affecting the eurozone clearly have a major impact on this country and its economy, can the noble Lord at long last tell us precisely what advantages are achieved for the United Kingdom by excluding ourselves from some of the very important European decisions?

Lord Sassoon: My Lords, we are not excluding ourselves from very important decisions; we are saying that it is for members of the eurozone to take the lead in sorting out the problems with the euro. We are very much at all the discussions. As well as questions of potential and past bailouts, we are discussing growth strategies and the completion of the single market, which will put Europe back on a sustainable growth path.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, what is complicated about our country borrowing at an increasing rate so that the national debt will be 50% larger in seven years’ time? What is complicated about ruling out providing money to the eurozone that we do not have to spend?

Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I have been completely clear that as of this July, the mechanism in the eurozone, which the previous Government signed us up to, will no longer make any future commitments. The new permanent mechanism that is being put in place is a eurozone-led mechanism and the UK is not part of it.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I referred yesterday to a report in the best newspaper in the country, the Financial Times, which obviously the noble Lord, Lord Howell, does not read. That report, by two journalists, said that the Prime Minister was contemplating capital for a European growth fund. That would be a sensible compromise with the new French President. Will the Minister either confirm the truth of this or deny it completely?

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Lord Sassoon: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Howell, I did not see the article. I thought that my noble friend’s answer yesterday was exactly to the point. Ideas have been floated around that the European Investment Bank should increase its capital and stability and in some way its ability to lend. If proposals come forward, we will look at them, but it is very important that the EIB does nothing to prejudice its own debt rating.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, given the relatively healthy state of the German economy and its growth rate, are the Government having any conversations with the Germans about using fiscal measures to unleash some consumption and spending within Germany so that 80 million Germans do not keep their money under their mattresses but use it as a spur to generate further growth?

Lord Sassoon: My Lords, we do not offer advice to the Germans on how to manage their own economy any more than they would offer advice to us.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords—

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, are Ministers saying that, if the European Union were collapsing all around us, we would stand aside and do nothing at all?

Lord Sassoon: No, my Lords, that is not what I have said or am saying.

House of Lords (Cessation of Membership) Bill [HL]

First Reading

11.37 am

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for Peers to cease to be Members of the House of Lords by way of retirement or in the event of non-attendance or criminal conviction. This Bill contains exactly the same provisions as the one passed by this House and sent to the Commons at the end of previous Session so, although it sounds like a bit of a fib, I have to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Bill read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Higher Education (Fees) Bill [HL]

First Reading

11.37 am

A Bill to ensure that higher education institutions in England, Wales and Scotland may not vary fees charged to British students based on a student’s place of domicile and to require organisations using public funds to assist students in paying fees not to vary support based on a student’s place of study within the United Kingdom.

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

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Police (Collaboration: Specified Function) Order 2012

Motion to Refer to Grand Committee

11.38 am

Moved By Baroness Stowell of Beeston

That the draft order be referred to a Grand Committee.

Motion agreed.

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Temporary Class Drug) Order 2012

Motion to Refer to Grand Committee

11.38 am

Moved By Baroness Stowell of Beeston

That the draft order be referred to a Grand Committee.

Motion agreed.

Arrangement of Business


11.38 am

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, in line with the advisory guidance that has been given on previous days this week, if Back-Bench contributions were to be kept to seven minutes, the House would be able to rise by its normal time of 7 pm today.

Queen’s Speech

Debate (6th Day)

11.39 am

Moved on Wednesday 9 May by Lord Cope of Berkeley

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, first, your Lordships might like to know that this summer, which will be a very busy one in this nation, we expect to welcome and look after about 120 foreign leaders and Prime Ministers and their entourages for the Olympic Games, as well as some 40,000 foreign media personnel. I hope that there will be no doubt in your Lordships’ minds that we at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be working hard to look after that lot.

On Tuesday last, my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary set out the Government’s two principal foreign policy aims: first, to respond to urgent challenges and crises in a way

17 May 2012 : Column 536

that promotes Britain’s national interest and our democratic values; and, secondly, to equip our country to be a safe, prosperous and influential nation in the long term, in the service of poverty reduction and conflict prevention, and in the upholding of human rights, religious freedoms and environmental safeguards.

To do this successfully, our nation needs to adapt. Wealth and power are shifting globally, so once again in our history we need to look beyond our traditional partners of recent decades to the new and emerging economies of Asia, Latin America and Africa. The world’s pattern of energy resources and energy powers, too, is being transformed by new gas discoveries and low-carbon aspirations. To make the most of the enormous opportunities that these shifts offer, we must move to reinvigorate and refocus our diplomatic network and our policy priorities.

Of course, that does not mean forgetting old friends. The United States of America will remain our strongest ally; our relations with our European partners will remain an essential pillar of our foreign policy; and we should recognise the growing importance of the Commonwealth, which is evolving into one of the most relevant networks in the changing world, embracing some of its most dynamic economies. I have called it the necessary network of the 21st century. It is certainly one of the key gateways to the great and rich new markets of the future, in which we must succeed.

I will say a word about the Arab spring and the developments of the past 18 months. Obviously, 2011 was a momentous year. Already, the Arab spring has brought huge changes to the Middle East and north Africa. Significant challenges remain, but the Government are optimistic about the road ahead. This summer, Libya is set to hold its first democratic elections in more than 40 years. Egypt’s citizens are about to choose their next President, and we hope that this will be an important step towards building a prosperous and stable future for the Egyptian people. Bahrain has committed to a reform process and has made some progress, although there is a good way to go. Peaceful reform is under way in such nations as Algeria, Jordan and Morocco.

However, there is still much to do. The region now needs to consolidate and build on these gains, taking further economic and political measures to entrench stability. The events of the Arab spring have also made ever more pressing the need for a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. We urge both sides to avoid any steps that would undermine the prospect of successful negotiations. In this House on Tuesday, I welcomed the news of the Egypt-brokered deal on the Palestinian hunger strikers.

The Government will continue to support the process of reform that is under way in the Middle East and north Africa. In February last year we launched the Arab Partnership Initiative, which aims to support long-term political and economic reform in the region. We committed £110 million over four years through the initiative. Last year the joint FCO-DfID Arab Partnership Fund funded more than 50 projects in 11 countries in the region. We intend to intensify that work over the coming years.

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Meanwhile, Iran’s stance and influence remain dangerous. We have yet to see any firm indication that it is willing to take concrete action to address concerns about the potential military dimension of its nuclear programme. We want Iran to take steps to build confidence in its nuclear activities, and we will maintain the pressure until genuine progress is made, including through sanctions and the current EU embargo on oil imports.

In Syria, the situation clearly remains completely unacceptable. More than 10,000 people are estimated to have been killed and many thousands displaced or detained. While we welcome the deployment of UN monitors in Syria in accordance with Kofi Annan’s six-point plan, which is already having an impact, it is deeply concerning that the violence continues. The Annan plan remains the best chance to find a way through Syria’s crisis, but we will not hesitate to return to the UN Security Council if rapid progress is not made.

I turn now to the broader pattern and the rise of Africa and the emerging powers. The positive developments in north Africa reflect a broader trend on the continent as a whole: that is, the gradual realisation of Africa’s enormous potential. Significant challenges, of course, remain in sub-Saharan Africa, as we all know. We are very concerned, for example, by the rise in military tensions between Sudan and South Sudan, and urge both parties to comply with the African Union’s action plan. In fact, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and associated groups in Africa remain a threat, particularly across the Sahel. We have seen an increase in terrorist attacks in Nigeria, and the Sahel and the Horn are suffering food and water crises.

These developments, however, should not dilute the broader message: it is a time of significant change in Africa. Many commentators need to catch up with that new reality. Infant mortality is down; foreign investment is up. The IMF forecasts that the African economy will grow by 5.8% this year, which sounds a lot from our perspective here in Britain. The continent has an increasing presence on the international stage. South Africa, a member of the G20, is playing an increasingly active role globally. Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Ghana are the new potential stars. I visited Ghana the week before last. Nigeria, with its wealth of natural resources, is unlocking its potential as a considerable regional energy power. Even in Somalia there is new momentum in the political process following the successful London Conference on Somalia. It is right, therefore, that we develop and strengthen our relations with Africa.

Equally, we need to raise our game in the emerging and already advanced economies of Asia, particularly in China and in Latin America, but also with the Korean and Japanese giants and world leaders. We have already increased our efforts to promote trade in these markets. In 2011, UK goods exports to Columbia increased by 35%. In India the figure is 37% and Indonesia an impressive 44%. We believe that we can do even better and will intensify our efforts. We have to recognise and work constructively with massive Chinese involvement and investment right across the globe, including in the UK, and not forgetting our continuing ties with Hong Kong.

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In doing so, we will not lessen for a moment our focus on human rights, which remain at the core of Britain’s values. In particular, discrimination and violence against women and girls remain among the most widespread human rights abuses. Tackling these issues is a priority for the UK and central to our work to advance gender equality and empower women.

It is Britain’s leadership, supported by our international partners, that has helped to secure tangible, real reform in countries such as Burma, where we are finally seeing a hopeful path forward and which my right honourable friend visited only recently. Meanwhile, nearer home, Europe is seeking to recover from the biggest financial crisis for generations. In Chancellor Merkel’s words, we are in a period of great uncertainty. That is very apparent.

Europe faces two big economic challenges: resolving the eurozone crisis, if that is possible, which remains a major obstacle to our economic recovery, and responding to the relative shift of economic power to the east and south—all predicted by some of us 15 years ago and to which rather slow-learning commentators have at last woken up.

While it is for each eurozone member to decide how to handle the crisis, particularly the immediate Greek crisis that fills our newspapers, we continue to believe that control of public finances and structural reform to increase productivity and competitiveness are the only realistic ways forward. We have just introduced a Bill to approve an amendment to the EU treaties and confirm the compatibility with the treaties of the eurozone-only European stability mechanism. We have ensured that the UK will not be liable through the EU budget for any future EU eurozone bailouts once the ESM comes into force.

We share common values and interests with our EU partners, and can use the collective weight of the EU in the right situations to increase our impact on the international stage. But the European Union must reform as well, and we will play a strong part in that. The EU must support peace and stability in the western Balkans. We look forward to Croatia’s accession to the EU, due in July 2013, and will bring forward a Bill to approve this. We will also continue to develop our co-operation with Russia.

On Afghanistan, my noble friend Lord Astor will have more to say on this issue and on our defence dispositions when he winds up this evening. However, I would like to pay a very strong tribute to all the British personnel who have lost their lives or been injured serving their country there. The process of transitioning security control to Afghan forces is on track, and we expect the ANSF to take a lead on security responsibilities across the country by mid-2013, with ISAF moving to a supporting role.

The Chicago summit later this month will focus on the size, make-up and funding of the Afghan national security forces. My right honourable friend the Defence Secretary has already announced that Britain will contribute £70 million a year from 2015 to fund the ANSF. As the transition in 2014 approaches, it is more important than ever that we engage with Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Pakistan and the central Asian states, and this we are most certainly doing.

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A common theme in what I have outlined today is the role of networks in the modern, globalised world. States are increasingly organising themselves into networks, ranging from the political—I have already mentioned the European Union—to the economic, social and cultural. Let us take one of the world’s greatest networks, the Commonwealth. This Government are committed to making more out of the Commonwealth, an organisation uniquely placed to advance our foreign policy and trade objectives. This is why Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed in Perth last year—a meeting I attended—to some of the most significant reforms in the organisation’s history. More than ever, now is the time, as we celebrate Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee and welcome the world’s leaders here, to make the most of our Commonwealth connections.

We will in due course publish the Government’s new White Paper on our relations with the UK’s overseas territories, another important network. Their future welfare forms part of our larger determination to assist small island states, not least those in the Commonwealth in the Caribbean, which face major challenges; for example, climate issues and crippling energy costs. I stress that we remain absolutely committed to the rights of the people of the Falkland Islands to self-determination and to develop their own economy.

That brings me to the network of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office itself, my own department. Over the past year we have taken steps to substantially reinvigorate our diplomatic network. We have put the Foreign and Commonwealth Office back at the heart of government in the making of British foreign policy. By the end of this Parliament, we will have deployed 300 extra staff in more than 20 countries around the world, and we will have opened up to 11 new British embassies and eight new consulates or trade offices in the emerging nations. We are achieving this while making £100 million per year in savings in the Foreign Office budget, as required by the FCO’s spending review settlement.

At this point I would like to pay a warm tribute to the FCO’s committed staff across the globe, often operating in very difficult conditions, and those of the Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence, who work tirelessly in support of our country around the world.

In security terms, the same kind of attitude and priority shift as on the economic and trade fronts is warranted. There is no dispute that America remains the most powerful hard-power military nation and ally, but in a world of dispersed power, cloud information stores and e-enabled, non-state threats, new instruments and techniques of influence and persuasion are required to underpin security and prevent the exercise of hostile force against British citizens and interests. We need, if I may quote Her Majesty’s own words, the,

“camaraderie, warmth and mutual respect”,

of other countries, which our overidentification with past policy and approaches failed to deliver and, in some cases, repelled.

Instead, we need to rely on new network and soft-power intimacies through: local government links; educational links; language links; cultural links such as our museum

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activities branching out from the UK; the BBC World Service and the British Council; parliamentary links; common judicial practices; common law similarities; common professional standards in medicine, science, accountancy and advanced research of all kinds; civil society networks, religious and faith ties; and the enduring power of ideas and innovation in all fields and every kind of service and design package that our creative and original thinking can generate. Alongside all this, we have become, in the words of the former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, a “development superpower”. It was good that, last year, no fewer than 143,710 Commonwealth students sought to come here. More British students should be encouraged to go to the great new universities of modern Asia.

Sixty years after Dean Acheson’s jibe about Britain having lost an empire and not found a role, we are now finding a role, despite misplaced American comment to the contrary. Britain is emerging as an agile new network power, positioning itself consciously and effectively in line with the new global patterns of economic power, trade flows, markets and influence. We are becoming a safe haven for the world’s investment and wealth.

Europe is our region and neighbourhood; America is our ally and friend; the Commonwealth is our family; and the changing world is our stage. If we are clever, wise and patient, we have every chance on this stage of maintaining and building on our prosperity and contributing decisively, as we must and should, to world stability and peace.

11.57 am

Lord Wood of Anfield: My Lords, I, too, thank FCO and MoD staff around the world for their extraordinary service and dedication. I know from my own time as an adviser in the previous Government that their professionalism, discretion and judgment are huge assets to this country in good as well as difficult times.

When the Prime Minister and his team came to power two years ago, they made it clear that their foreign policy would not be driven by any doctrine or philosophy. Instead, the Foreign Secretary pledged to be hard-headed and pragmatic. Not for him were wild fancies of reform of the architecture of international institutions, or visions of the future of Europe or the Atlantic alliance. Instead, the direction of foreign policy has, at most, been characterised by certain themes: taking emerging nations seriously rather than the traditional preoccupation with the troika of Europe, the Middle East and the USA; putting Britain’s commercial interests at the heart of foreign policy; and focusing on building up a portfolio of strong bilateral relationships rather than investing in multilateralism.

Many observers will support these themes and may have sympathy for underpromising on the vision front when it comes to foreign policy. But the modesty of the Government’s overall approach to foreign policy has, I fear, become a liability rather than an asset. Although muddling through may have been an adequate approach in normal times, it is an approach that looks rudderless in the times of extraordinary and unexpected changes that we are living through.

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We are living in times where Europe finds itself in a protracted economic crisis that has become a political crisis, in which democracy and growth have been weakened while austerity and anti-political sentiment have strengthened. The Arab world has seen an uprising against non-democratic regimes—a popular rejection of the false choice between radical Islamism on the one hand and stability based on repression on the other. Yet there is continuing uncertainty about what comes next. We have witnessed the death of bin Laden, widespread war-weariness in response to the Iraq and Afghan conflicts, a shift in American priorities to trans-Pacific rather than transatlantic relations and, recently, Brazil overtaking Britain as the sixth-largest economy in the world.

These are dramatic changes in the landscape and Britain has a reasonable expectation to know the Government’s strategy in response to them. Where do they see Britain’s place in this changing world? Where should we concentrate our efforts and where should we be less engaged? You would be hard pushed to find their answers. It is one thing to boast the absence of doctrine and quite another to lack coherence. Yet that is what the respected Atlantic Council earlier this week concluded about this Government’s foreign policy. It said that the,

“coalition government has yet to develop a coherent strategic vision for the United Kingdom’s role in a changing global landscape”.

It went on that,

“British foreign policy vision and strategy remain unclear,”


“threatens to leave London isolated”.

There is no better example of that than the Government’s approach to defence. Their 2010 strategic defence and security review failed to provide any genuine strategic rethinking of Britain’s role in the world and did not survive its first contact with reality. It delivered aircraft carriers without aircraft—an extraordinary outcome that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, described as,

“little more use than a pub with no beer”.

It made our Libyan operations dependent on a frigate planned to be cut and Tornado jets set to be reduced. It was characterised by a rapid lunge for savings rather than a considered review of strategy, and the recent U-turn on the Joint Strike Fighter—reinstating a Conservative cut to the procurement plan inherited from Labour—shows what happens when decisions are taken too quickly and ends are not supported by means.

When it comes to European matters, I confess initially to having been baffled by what exactly the Government thought they were doing. There have been consistencies, in particular the Conservative part of the coalition’s determination to plunge cavalierly into isolation within Europe. It began back in opposition days when, as is now widely known, David Cameron made a deal with his Eurosceptic—more accurately, Euroseparatist—Back-Benchers to pull the Conservative Party out of the mainstream centre-right grouping in order to form a new grouping of what might politely be called maverick parties further to the right. The result has been diplomatic isolation of the Conservative Party in Europe.

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Late last year came the decision to pull out of participation in the process of drawing up a new fiscal compact. British business was crying out for influence at a time of economic turmoil but the Prime Minister once again chose isolation. He said that he could not receive guarantees on behalf of the City of London but then walked away, ensuring his inability to protect its or any other British interests in the continuing series of monthly discussions that followed. He apparently thought that fellow non-euro countries would join him—they did not. He then claimed that he had managed the extraordinary achievement of vetoing a treaty before it had even been written. The Deputy Prime Minister disagreed, saying:

“The language gets confusing. Veto suggests something was stopped. It was not stopped”.

Indeed, it was not: something that walked, talked and smelt like a treaty got signed earlier this year by euro countries whom it affected. Non-euro countries that stayed in and ratified the arrangement without being affected by its terms got the right to attend and participate in some of the eurozone meetings on wider issues of competitiveness and institutional arrangements. Britain is not there. The Prime Minister’s team said, “Ah, but by not signing this ‘non-treaty’, we ensured that it would not be justiciable in the European Court”—except that they had not. Article 8 of the new treaty made clear that the ECJ’s rulings on issues brought to it under the treaty would be binding. The whole episode has been a mess, a sacrifice of British influence for the sake of keeping the Conservative Party from splitting at the seams.

Not content with institutional isolation on an unprecedented scale, recent months have seen the Government develop a penchant for diplomatic isolation inside the EU as well. The Prime Minister twice declined to meet—even informally—with Mr Hollande, first in Paris and then in London. Instead, Mr Cameron took the unusual step of endorsing Mr Hollande’s opponent, President Sarkozy, in Le Figaro. That approach caused consternation not just in France but in the ranks of our own Foreign Office. One senior diplomat told the Daily Mail:

“We put all the chips on one card and it turned out not to be the ace … It was an error of judgment and not what was advised”.

What is the Government’s approach to the current crisis of the euro? On Sunday, George Osborne angrily warned of the self-fulfilling dangers of speculating about the demise of the euro. Today his boss, the Prime Minister, said it was time for leaders of the euro to make up or break up. Which is it? Is the Government’s policy that the euro should survive, or that it might be better if it breaks up? The Government want us to believe that the problem of the euro lies in the design and policies of the euro area alone. We all know that there are problems galore in that area, but the Government want us to believe that it is just their problem and theirs to sort out. The British public, however, as well as the electorates of France and elsewhere, know that there is a second element to Europe’s economic crisis: the failure of a politics of austerity of which the Government are a champion, not simply a spectator.

Rather than continue this mixture of thinly veiled Schadenfreude, issuing dramatic ultimatums to Merkel, Hollande and others from the sidelines and calling

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those who disagree with government policies dangerous, does not the Minister agree that the Prime Minister would be better advised to engage in helping to find a solution to this crisis, and at least contemplate the possibility that his approach to recovery through austerity is just not working?

Finally on Europe, in the gracious Speech, the Government outlined their plans to approve Croatia’s entry into the EU and to remove future UK liabilities for European bailouts. We will work constructively with the Government when we see those Bills, but is the Minister confident that his own party’s Back-Benchers will do likewise? Given his party’s record on rebellions over Europe, including what I believe was the largest post-war Commons Back-Bench rebellion, is he 100% sure that there is not trouble ahead for his Government from those who see even the slightest treaty change as reason either to say no or to demand a referendum?

I turn to the Middle East, where the most pressing and worrying issue is the continuing oppression and violence in Syria. We have supported the Government’s approach since violence began last year, including their support for the Annan peace plan, but it is difficult to view the continuing cocktail of oppression by the Assad regime, inter-ethnic violence, recurrent terrorist attacks, and, just last weekend, spillover of violence into northern Lebanon, with anything other than serious pessimism. Does the Minister remain confident that the existing approach of the international community will achieve any success in limiting the violence and halting the spread of the conflict?

When it comes to Israel-Palestine, I am pleased to say that all sides of the House share the ambition of helping to secure a universally recognised Israeli state living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state. That outcome can be achieved only through a negotiated settlement between the parties involved. Although the region is no nearer either peace or even a peace process than it was two years ago, the international community has a role beyond simply being interested spectators. We must continue to condemn the appalling rocket attacks from Gaza, and at the same time continue to call on Israel to cease settlement building on Palestinian land. We must also, in an atmosphere where militants committed to violence threaten to attract support away from moderates committed to peace, do what we can to strengthen the hands of the moderates. In that context, we felt it right last year to support the recognition of Palestine in the context of its application to join UNESCO. Does the Minister continue to think that the Government’s refusal to recognise Palestine was correct, and can he clarify whether he speaks for both parties in the coalition if he answers that it was?

We recognise the continuing threat that Iran’s policy towards its nuclear programme poses to Israel and to the wider region. That policy must change, and the Government’s support for strict sanctions on the regime is entirely right and welcome. However, will the Government clarify whether Britain is seeking to postpone an EU ban on insurance for ships carrying Iranian oil, as has been reported recently? Perhaps the Minister would also clarify what is the UK government’s agenda for the P5+1 talks with Iran in Baghdad next week?

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In Afghanistan Britain has nearly 10,000 troops actively engaged, and our gratitude to them for their extraordinary bravery and sacrifice cannot be repeated often enough. Again, we welcome the fact that a cross-party consensus, even in the most trying and difficult times, has been maintained. Progress has been made, in particular with the growth in the size of the Afghan national army, but, as ever, serious challenges remain, and as NATO nations’ attention turns to exit dates and the logistics of winding down their military commitment, the nature of those challenges is changing.

While we support the Government’s actions in Afghanistan, I confess to having concerns that the Prime Minister’s commitment to making it his “number one priority” is slightly at odds with the fact that it is nearly a year since he made a parliamentary Statement about it. First, the NATO summit in Chicago takes place next week and, in light of recent announcements by the Australian Government, the incoming French President and President Obama, one key issue for Britain must surely be to ensure that NATO brings order to bear on individual countries’ dates for withdrawing their forces. Secondly, Chicago must provide greater clarity about the status of forces agreement between Afghanistan and those forces remaining in the country after 2014. Thirdly, there are widespread concerns that insufficient international diplomatic efforts are being applied to the task of achieving a lasting political settlement in Afghanistan. It is a subject we have heard little on from this Government, and there is no standing process in place to reassure Afghans and the wider region that it is the focus of the international community’s attention. We know from experience in Iraq of the dangers of not planning sufficiently for building a lasting peace. There can be no basic stability in Afghanistan without serious work to build self-sufficient political processes.

My colleague and noble friend Lady Kinnock will address issues around development policy and Africa later. I would like to finish by looking at the issue of the Government’s approach to multilateralism. It is fair to characterise the UK’s approach to engaging with the wider world as bilateralism writ large. With economic as well as strategic interests in mind, it has picked a selection of countries and focused its diplomatic and commercial efforts on building better links with them. It is an approach captured in the beautifully vague phrase in the gracious Speech that the Government will build relations with the emerging powers. However, where does this leave the Government’s approach to multilateral institutions? The challenges we face as a country—climate change, global economic instability, terrorism, food and water supply issues, and a gradual, cumulative shift in wealth and power to the east and south—do not observe geographical borders. We are moving from a world where military, diplomatic and economic power is no longer concentrated in one or maybe two great powers but is becoming de-aligned, fragmented and uncertain. These are challenges to which bilateralism writ large cannot provide an adequate response.

This is why the case for multilateralism embedded in strong international institutions and based on consent in the international community is so strong—and so much in our national interest. Yet multilateralism is

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not in great shape at the moment: Doha has been stalled for years; the international climate change agreements are making inadequate progress to meet the scale of the challenge we face; prospects for an arms trade treaty do not look very promising; and the G8 and G20’s response to continuing economic uncertainty in the last two years has hardly encouraged faith in those forums’ capacity to mount a fight-back against collapsing growth, fragile banks and low confidence. This is a time for Britain to lead in helping to restore faith in multilateral institutions, but the Government are showing no leadership whatever at the multilateral level. I would struggle to find any even semi-seasoned observers of the Government’s foreign policy to tell us what their plan of action is for the upcoming G8 summit, let alone what they want to achieve when the UK takes over the chairmanship in 2013. I know that June is next month rather than this, and so a long way off, but I have not got the first clue what Britain wants out of the G20 meeting in 32 days at Los Cabos.

The Government may eschew doctrines as flights of utopian fancy, but sometimes doctrines are revealed by silences rather than speeches. The Government’s continuing failure to take multilateralism seriously is not the hallmark of realpolitik but a failure to take a hard-headed, long-term view of the British national interest. Oscillating between isolationism and rhetorical bursts from the sidelines does not add up to a foreign policy. If the goal is, as it should be, to serve our strategic and economic interests by building stronger institutions and more effective rules in the international arena, foreign policy must be much more than simply an occasional opportunity to seek domestic political advantage at home.

12.13 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, let me start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield, on his new responsibilities at the Dispatch Box. Given what we have just heard, one thing we can be sure of is that our foreign affairs debates in this House will become perhaps not less controversial but certainly more interesting.

I want to pick out one or two points from the gracious Speech on Afghanistan and the Middle East. We look forward to the NATO summit in Chicago next week and hope that the French will be persuaded to set aside their campaign promises to bring their nearly 4,000 troops home even sooner. The challenges of securing a stable Afghanistan have increased with the problematic situation in Pakistan, coupled of course with the intransigence of the Taliban. It was inevitable, once the US announced a date for drawdown in 2015, that combat troops from other countries within ISAF would seek to go earlier. If the American intention, beyond political domestic audiences, was to suggest to the Taliban that they could have their country back from 2014 and therefore sit it out, it has palpably failed as the body count continues to rise. Indeed, recent attacks in the centre of Kabul have demonstrated evidence of their capability to infiltrate the Afghan national army at its heart. The rise of green-on-blue attacks, where the numbers are already nearing those for the whole of last year, are clearly jeopardising the

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joint-training module. Our forces are to be congratulated on their success in upskilling the Afghan national security forces despite these setbacks.

Views have been divided about the extent to which the Taliban can be trusted to honour their commitments at the negotiating table. I confess to some optimism last year with the announcement of talks and the opening of a political office in Qatar, but the suspension of those talks is a setback that demonstrates that the younger and more radical Taliban have the upper hand for now. The danger persists that while they may not be strong enough to rule the country, it is now inevitable that after 2014 they will be strong enough to thwart constitutionalism and the rule of law, particularly where women’s rights and human rights are concerned.

With regard to our own situation in Afghanistan, I welcome the Government’s negotiations to expand the options available for our own withdrawal. The stakes are high for our own successful exit, with 9,500 UK troops and some $5 billion of equipment.

For a Liberal, it is difficult to countenance rewarding some of the nastiest human rights-abusing regimes in central Asia with contracts and treasure, but given the difficulties of the supply routes through Pakistan, it is pragmatic to have these options, not least to demonstrate to the Pakistanis that they are not the only game in town. Nevertheless, if Pakistan’s co-operation can be secured and the safety of our troops and materiel guaranteed, it is clearly in our interest to use the least expensive option that that provides. When my noble friend concludes his remarks, he might be able to tell us whether the Government’s talks with the Pakistani Prime Minister earlier this week were fruitful in this regard.

I turn to the situation in Syria. After 14 months of violence, with tens of thousands killed and injured, we still find ourselves in a stalemate. Despite the Annan plan and the so-called ceasefire, the Assad regime continues to kill its own people, often within view of the monitors, and is slowly succeeding in doing what the Serbs did in Bosnia: giving false assurances, bidding for time, scaling down activity while monitors are around and then cracking down brutally when their backs are turned—in other words, to be assured that, with the protection of Russia, things can be strung along long enough for progress to be made on the ground to wipe out the resistance. I therefore regret that Mr Putin has decided not to attend the G8 at Camp David. A disengaged Russia does itself no credit and endangers its legitimacy on the United Nations Security Council.

We cannot stand aside and let this situation continue until an exhausted Syrian people simply give up. Too much blood has been shed for them to go back passively to life under this regime, and the infiltration of the real terrorists in the shape of al-Qaeda has begun. The American academic Anne-Marie Slaughter is right to call for the UN to up its game. One of the things that she proposes it might do is set up a recording unit of the atrocities as a means of delegitimising the violence. Bearing witness through the recording of acts of violence and the images of the people who commit them will allow for justice to be done when the worst individuals are brought to trial through the International Criminal Court.

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Diplomatic recognition is also an important element of sanctions, along with the others that this Government have initiated through the Security Council. I want to press them further on the actions that they can take against the Assad family. Have we considered withdrawing Asma al-Assad’s passport? I appreciate that she is a UK citizen by birth, but I believe that she also carries a Syrian passport. In this case would it not be a powerful symbolic and judicial step to indicate that her complicity in the regime’s atrocities make her an unworthy carrier of UK citizenship? I wonder whether we have taken legal advice in that regard.

Can my noble friend also update us on progress to form the various opposition groups based in Turkey and France into a cohesive opposition force in exile? We should accept that after decades of authoritarianism it will take time for a democratic political culture to emerge where there has been so much distrust. However, Syrians must themselves realise that when they seek democracy they must demonstrate a cohesiveness of intent and a steadfastness of purpose in the greater interests of their country.

In conclusion, let me pick up an observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield. He expressed disappointment about the modesty of this Government’s foreign policy. I say to him respectfully that, given that his party took this country into two major wars in under two years, a little modesty would probably be welcomed in this country by our own people at this point.

12.21 pm

Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I want to talk about African agriculture. When I say “Africa”, please read “sub-Saharan Africa” for the sake of brevity. Africa contains 13% of the world’s population but 25% of its undernourished people. It contains 23 out of 30 of the world's least developed countries. Of its population, 80% depends on agriculture and 70% of these farmers are women.

If one can focus on turning Africa’s smallholder subsistence farmers into very small but money-earning farming businesses, then one can kick-start their rural economy while helping to feed the people from their own resources. One can empower these lady farmers to take control of their own lives, which is an agenda in itself. One can ensure that they bring up children whose health is based on a varied diet. Above all, one can ensure they have the means to educate their children. You ask any lady farmer who has been taught how to earn money from her farming what she is going to do with that money, I can promise you 100% that she will answer, “I am going to educate my children”. And they do.

The point I am trying to make is that every single one of the millennium development goals can be met by focusing on farming. The potential for successful African agriculture is huge. Agriculture and agribusinesses already represent nearly 50% of the GDP of Africa. According to the World Bank, the African urban food markets will grow four times between now and 2030. Africa, with 60% of all unused agricultural land in the world, and its barely used water resources, represents a great opportunity for science, business and agriculture to combine to transform a continent.

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How do we realise that potential? How do we overcome the greatest poverty of Africa, which is a poverty of information? How do we get the information to transform lives through agriculture, to the people whose lives need transforming? To me, that is the key to unlocking the potential. Yes, we need roads to carry goods; yes we need markets and storage to ensure that good food gets to the right places undamaged and at the right price. But, above all, we need farmers to know how to access the best seeds, to know when to plant them, to know when it is going to rain or not going to rain. There are very few weather forecasts for farmers in Africa and, if you think about it, such information is the difference between life and death to a farming family. We need farmers to know how and when to treat the crop so that they get a quality product which sells well in the marketplace. Above all, we need farmers to know how to sell their product and get a fair price.

To some extent, this information can be distributed via the various Governments’ agricultural extension services. But, frankly, if you have 250,000 farmers per district, as in some parts of Africa, these underpaid, underincentivised and often undertrained national extension officers are never going to do much more than touch the surface. What you need is to encourage more agribusinesses to take on the risks and the role of supplying smallholder farmers not only with seeds and fertilisers but also with the knowledge required to bring their crop to fruition and, above all, to market.

These businesses will need help to understand that they have to work patiently with local communities. Patient capital in Africa often requires many years to take effect, many years to prove the benefits of every change to local practice and many years to encourage the necessary co-operation among smallholders. However, once you establish the lines of communication and the supply lines, for seeds and fertilisers in and harvested crops out, much of the other information on weather, timings of crop treatment, prices and collections can now be accessed on mobile phones. Crop insurance and money transfers can also be done on mobile phones. You do not need banking arrangements or cash, both of which leave room for corruption along the line. You pay a farmer directly on to her mobile phone. She uses her mobile phone to buy food in the shops as well as to pay for her seed and also—do not forget—to educate her children.

All this is now possible and happening in certain projects in Africa. We just need to scale it up. Of course, we need the right business environment to exist in the countries involved. No government control of inputs, please: we need free competition so that inputs are delivered to the farmer at the cheapest possible price and, most importantly, without any politicians taking a rake-off on the way through.

However, even if we manage to persuade national Governments to deliver this competitive business environment, there is still a great risk to the agribusiness involved. Food is a perishable commodity, and the endless official and unofficial delays and transport difficulties of doing business in Africa mean that the risks will remain high.

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There is no one exact solution to how the UK Government can best help agribusinesses minimise their risk. There will be a multiplicity of solutions—different ones for each business, each country and even each district. Already the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund does work of this nature and is one of DfID’s very successful conduits for its aid. However, now is the time to look again at the work that this fund does, to see how it can better sell itself and better assist all sorts of agribusinesses that specifically target smallholders. They are the key; I underline that point. If it can promote much more agribusiness activity with smallholders in Africa, the economic and social gains to huge swathes of the African population will be enormous.

12.27 pm

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I shall return to issues of defence and international security. Last Sunday afternoon I gave an address at a memorial service for Corporal Jake Hartley and Privates Anthony Frampton and Daniel Wilford. All three died in that most deadly incident involving an IED in early March this year, along with three other soldiers, two more of whom were from Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Regiment has borne more than its fair share of casualties. We salute and pay tribute to its soldiers’ courage and the sacrifices that they have made. Amid all the feelings of tragedy and grief on Sunday afternoon, there was a palpable feeling of pride, too. All had given themselves for a safer and more stable world. In this context, it was encouraging to read of the £70 million set aside to support the Afghan national security force beyond 2014. It would press us beyond tragedy if the lives lost in Afghanistan in the past 10 years were seen to be of no avail by allowing that country to slide back into anarchy, civil war or fragmentation into provinces ruled by dangerous warlords.

However, the other question that is posed concerns the true viability of a lasting peace without effective engagement with the Taliban. The presence of US bases and special forces until 2014 seems to rule out the possibility of such engagement. Peace will come only with realism about this factor and not simply by force of arms. What is the Government’s response to this aspect of the peace process?

The commitments outlined on the Horn of Africa and the Middle East are also welcome news. Having sailed through the Gulf of Aden only last year, and engaged to my full extent in pirate practice on board ship, the realities of the instability and dangers there were very immediate in our minds.

Only a brief visit to Eritrea opened one’s eyes to the acuteness of the suffering and poverty in this part of the African continent. The fragility we encountered is far exceeded in Somalia.

Although Her Majesty’s Government’s briefing do not mention commitment of military resources here, two issues remain relevant. Is the Royal Navy committed to contributing to the patrols in these dangerous waters while other efforts are made to bring greater stability to failing states? Secondly, if Syria, Bahrain and other Middle Eastern states remain unstable or in civil conflict, what ancillary resources and reserves do we have

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should further action be necessary? Libya produced challenges that could not have been predicted at a time when the defence budget was being drastically reduced following the recent SDSR. Indeed, the continued implementation of the SDSR with a planned cut in manpower of 20% alongside continuing gaps in procurement as we await the arrival of the two new aircraft carriers raises questions of how Britain sees her role in the unfolding unstable international landscape.

We have been very well served in this House in the rigorous and transparent briefings that we have received. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for his untiring work and courtesy in all this. Questions do, however, remain. First, there has been widespread welcome for the enshrining of the military covenant in law. A significant number of noble Lords from all parts of this House contributed much time and focus upon the covenant. My instinct is that the covenant is all the richer for the efforts expended within this House. Thus far, however, the delivery has been modest. Expectations remain high, and understandably so. I began with the families suffering greatly from the continuing casualties in Afghanistan. How will the challenge of caring for the physically and mentally wounded from the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan be met after combat operations cease?

Secondly, Her Majesty’s Government have not thus far made clear how they see the future role of Britain in international defence and security with the severe reductions in resources. Not only is morale, especially in the Army, very low, following the reduction of resources and the planned future reduction, as well as the cut-backs in manpower, there is also no real clarity about how the aims set out in the SDSR of a continuing high-profile role for Britain in international defence and security and how that is to be made into a reality. Now more than ever it seems important to develop our co-operation on defence issues with our European neighbours. My fear here is that the United Kingdom’s negotiating strategy puts such a step at risk.

The commitments to limiting nuclear proliferation are very welcome. It was good to hear the Minister in his introductory speech talking about Iran in particular. The restraint that the Government have shown in response to those developments in Iran and North Korea together with the robust commitment to non-proliferation is comforting in a volatile international theatre. Can we be given some indication of how we intend to work with the United States of America and the European Union in moving forward efforts to secure positive responses from both the Iranian and North Korean Governments?

We are living in unstable and unpredictable times. The continuing economic volatility adds to the danger of social unrest and military adventurism. The signs, as far as they go, in the gracious Speech are encouraging. But if we are to look toward a clear role for Britain in defence and security, we need a sharpening and filling out of the scenario with regard both to strategy and securing resources for the future. I hope that the Minister can encourage in us a real optimism in his response to these unanswered questions in his summing up this evening.

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12.34 pm

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, this debate is taking place at a very appropriate time in advance of the NATO summit this weekend, which will discuss NATO forces 2020. That is clearly an extremely important moment; Mr Rasmussen, the secretary-general, in the Times this morning says that it is dealing with,

“increasing security challenges but decreasing defence budgets”.

My noble friend the Minister said that the Government looked on the world situation with some optimism. I do not want to ruin everybody’s morning, but I hope that in the wind-up my noble friend may help to destroy some of my sense of gloom about some of the things going on. I took the opportunity to look at the first Queen’s Speech debate that we had in this Parliament. Given some of the events that have taken place since then, sadly there is no question that the world is a significantly less stable place and in many ways a more worrying place. We have of course the economic crisis, which suffuses everything and affects every country in the world in one way or another. And we have, undoubtedly at the moment, a significant number of countries that, if not actually failed states, certainly lack a secure and established Government. Greece has to have a temporary Government to hold the fort, and a number of other Governments are finding that they are rapidly defeated at the ballot box when they try to bring in measures that they consider necessary to restore the situation.

The Arab spring has certainly not become an Arab summer. One looks at the situation in Egypt and at the increasingly worrying situation in Syria today, with the reports that America is now intervening, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, providing more weapons to intensify the conflict there. It looks as though Kofi Annan’s initiative is of pretty dubious benefit at present. There is the suggestion that the conflict is spreading across into Lebanon as well, and there are continuing difficulties in Iraq—and then of course there are the problems in Libya and the uncertainties in Sudan and South Sudan as well. One of the least attractive parts of the Libyan legacy was the departure of a huge number of mercenaries—I think some 10,000s—who went with their weapons on the run, having been recruited from Niger, Chad, Mali and other territories and are now on the loose in those areas, making them extremely unstable and dangerous.

Then there is the Sahel. A distinguished United Nations spokesman talked of the prospect of famine there, saying that we may see a famine like the world has never seen, with possibly 13 million people affected. I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, who talked about an abundance of water in Africa. In thinking about what I might say today, I came across one staggering fact. Lake Chad used to be 25,000 square kilometres and is now after barely 20 years 1,500 square kilometres, with all the implications of that for agriculture in the future. Into that dangerous area, al-Qaeda has moved. We have talked about that organisation moving around, and the dangers of associated bodies in northern Nigeria and the problems they are causing there. Then we have AQIM—as my noble friend referred to it—which is al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. These are very dangerous situations.

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On top of this, we add the issues of population explosion. We have gone effortlessly from 6 billion to 7 billion and are heading for 9 billion in the world by 2050. We are also facing the issues of climate change. That throws into the equation the issues of food security and energy security as elements of tension threatening the world. Undoubtedly that means more unemployment, and we are seeing serious levels of youth unemployment in the world.

This debate covers a range of topics but in the brief time that I have I want to concentrate on just two. My first obsession is the situation in Israel. The situation in Israel has changed since we had the previous Queen’s Speech. It has lost the only two friendly neighbours that it might have had in the shape of Egypt and Turkey, which makes it much more isolated. I despaired of what I thought was the totally negative attitude of Mr Netanyahu and his previous coalition Government, egged on by AIPAC in the United States, which makes even Netanyahu look like a moderate at times. Given that situation, I wondered whether change could occur. However, developments have occurred such as the apparent agreement over the hunger strikers, the apparent willingness to enter into peace talks and the extraordinary move on the part of Mr Mofaz and the Kadima Party in forming a giant coalition. I wondered what it meant, particularly in relation to Iran. My other deep concern, which I am glad to see is echoed by a number of significant voices in Israel, is that an attack on Iran would be disastrous, given the unstable and chaotic nature of this area of the world. I know that Her Majesty’s Government are doing all they can to convey that message as clearly as possible. I think that President Obama is trying to make efforts in that direction as well. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, has said in this House that there are worse things than Iran getting a nuclear weapon. The chaos, confusion and proliferation that could follow an unsuccessful attack on Iran are certainly some of them.

The other issue that I want to address is Afghanistan. I listened with great interest to the speech of the right reverend Prelate, who set out his objectives: namely, the stabilisation of the Government and the avoidance of civil war and sectarian strife. One could have all sorts of ambitions, such as Afghanistan becoming a better, more civilised, place that was more aligned with objectives and ideals that we could share. However, I noted that the Statement which was made on the Kabul conference in July 2010, just after the previous Queen’s Speech, said that it had been rather a bad month. That speech was made virtually two years ago but the current month is also pretty bad.

There is no question but that I am unstinting in my praise for the courage of our forces and what they have done. I am wearing the tie with the Light Infantry Bugle. The unit used to be called the Somerset Light Infantry, then became the Light Infantry and is now The Rifles. I think that The Rifles have suffered as many casualties as almost any other unit in Afghanistan and have shown great bravery. However, the truth is that the objective for which we entered Afghanistan has been achieved. That objective was to make sure that it was no longer a place in which terrorist groups could be trained and recruited and in which they could plan their attacks on the United States and the western

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world. However, I am told that not a single al-Qaeda person has ever been found in Helmand. The idea that we are still fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is not true, and we have become caught up in other issues that are outside the original objective. Therefore, I say to the Government that given the threats we face from the Yemen, the issues arising in the Sahel and the southern Sahara, to which I have referred, and the risk of al-Qaeda emerging in other areas, we must be flexible in our response. I know what the Government’s plans are for withdrawal from Afghanistan and it is vital that we stick to them. And in that withdrawal, it would be absolutely intolerable if Pakistan did not agree to suitable arrangements for extricating all the equipment.

We face a dangerous time in the world. We need to face it with our NATO allies, all of whom face severe economic and financial challenges. That is why we must be flexible and mobile and, given that our defence capabilities are limited, we must achieve as many objectives as we can by means of soft power, as my noble friend said in his opening remarks, and as William Hague said yesterday. We must make sure that our defence capabilities are available to be used in different areas and that we do not get bogged down—we are coming up to our twelfth year in Afghanistan—so that when other threats emerge we can play our part in tackling them.

12.44 pm

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it is perhaps appropriate that I should follow the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, in this debate, given his concerns about what is happening in Israel, since I want to speak about the occupation of the West Bank by Israel and the continuing harassment and humiliation of the Palestinian people that this entails. In doing so, I ask the Government, through their membership of the EU and other international bodies, to use their best efforts to put pressure on the Israeli Government to stop the expansion of settlements and to adhere to human rights in their treatment of Palestine.

Having recently returned from the West Bank and Jerusalem, I was shocked by what I saw. There are now 500,000 settlers on the West Bank, and their numbers are growing every day. The size and number of these illegal settlements make a two-state solution, to which the Minister referred in his opening speech, more and more difficult because they deny the prospect of territorial integrity for a prospective Palestinian state. There has been no progress in the peace process. The Israeli Government give the impression that they wish to continue the status quo, modified only by even more settlers taking over land which at the time of the Oslo agreement was deemed to be set aside for the Palestinians.

GDP per head in Palestine is now only at 1994 levels. It has been calculated that the Palestinian economy would be six times greater in size were it not for the effects of the occupation. These effects include the inability of Palestinian businesses to export their products without very high costs imposed by barriers placed by the Israeli Government on the transport of goods from the West Bank into Israel. As a consequence, there is little interest from foreign investors, and

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Palestinians living abroad, who have attempted in the past to invest, have been unable to make a profit and in some cases have lost large sums of money.

Palestinian agriculture has been seriously damaged by loss of land to settlements and by the failure of the Israeli Government to ensure that water supplies are maintained. Water consumption by the settlers is hugely greater than that of Palestinians. The building of the wall has cut off Palestinian farmers from their olive groves and from their land for horticulture. In turn, this has led to a high proportion of the Palestinian population becoming dependent on food aid. This is mainly provided now by the EU and consequently means that British and other European taxpayers are having to fork out to pay for the consequences of the Israeli Government’s irresponsible policies. More than 80 per cent of national income in Palestine is now development aid, half of which is humanitarian aid, from which, of course, there are no long-term benefits.

The Palestinian people have for many years been committed to education, which they see as an important contribution to economic growth. However, stagnation in the Palestinian economy means that many educated young Palestinians have to seek opportunities overseas. The universities suffer from unacceptable harassment. For example, when trying to update equipment for their science and engineering laboratories, they order items from a standard catalogue used by scientific and technology faculties from many countries. Israeli customs dismantles the equipment and removes key components, which it justifies on the grounds that such equipment could be put to “dual use”. However, it gives no adequate evidence for this and leaves these important science and technology departments with expensive equipment that is unusable. All universities of any quality around the world now recruit their academic staff internationally and thus have many academic staff from overseas countries. The Israeli Government refuse to allow Palestinian universities to recruit from overseas, thereby damaging the quality of their teaching and the fulfilment of their research potential.

The military courts’ treatment of children who have been arrested for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers is little short of disgraceful. An international NGO has recently documented what happens to these children in a searing report entitled Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted. I recommend it to those of your Lordships who are interested in the humane treatment of children and in what happens when they suffer verbal abuse and humiliation as well as physical violence from those who have arrested them and are holding them in custody. The long-term effects of treating boys in this way cannot be underestimated. The bitterness and resentment they feel is no surprise and, of course, damages any prospect of good relationships between Israelis and Palestinians in the future—a prospect that we all must want.

The lack of time means that I cannot go into the issues around the use of administrative detention on more than 300 adult prisoners in Israel, the completely unacceptable prison regimes and the keeping of numbers of these prisoners in solitary confinement. However I welcome the fact that, following the recent hunger strikes, the Israeli Government have responded to

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these protests and promise reforms. Nevertheless, it is important that international bodies continue to monitor what happens to these prisoners, following decisions made this week.

Many other aspects of the occupation cause great distress and damage and disrupt the economy and people’s everyday lives. This includes the daily humiliation of going through Israeli-manned checkpoints to get to work, to go to school or simply to visit friends and families. The main checkpoint in Jerusalem is a particular cause for concern, with Palestinian workers herded like cattle through pens surrounded with metal fencing. The delays can be up to three hours. They affect the population at many different levels, from senior officials in the Palestinian Authority to schoolteachers who cannot get to school in time to instruct their pupils, to those undertaking semi-skilled and unskilled jobs in Israel. In parts of east Jerusalem settlers are taking over land and housing from Palestinians against their will. Elsewhere, Arab houses have been destroyed to provide yet more land for settlers.

The situation that I have described cannot be in the long-term interests of Israel. The more it goes on, the more other nations will refuse to support Israel in international, economic and political fora. Plenty of Israeli citizens wish for and deserve something better from their Government with respect to the treatment of Palestinians under the occupation. We owe it to those citizens, as well as to the Palestinians, to put pressure on the Government of Israel, first through economic sanctions—particularly on exports coming from illegal settlements—and, secondly, by upping political pressure for a change in Israel’s policies in occupying for more than 40 years territory to which it has no right.

12.52 pm

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, in my contribution I should like to concentrate on developments in the international aid sector.

For some years now, there have been extensive efforts across the aid and development sector and the recipient community to develop monitoring and assessment techniques and evaluation procedures to measure and gauge aid and development effectiveness—be it in the African Sahel, the impoverished plains of the Indian desert or in the infant classroom of a Chinese village school, or whether it be for the relief of famine, combating disease or for providing education, skills or training.

The pursuit of an effective and accepted global system of aid and development monitoring has proved as exhaustive as the outcomes have been elusive. Through a series of international fora, initially with the Paris agreement and then with the Accra agenda—it sounds rather like a quiz show—international agreement has finally, some 10 years later, been reached at the fourth high-level forum in Busan, in the Busan Partnership. All the international governmental delegations have signed up, even China—thanks in no small part, it has to be said, to the determination and persuasive talents of Andrew Mitchell, our Secretary of State for International Development. All the major charities—for

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example, the Global Fund, the Gates Foundation, the World Bank and many more—have signed up. The post-Busan interim group now meets in Paris at the OECD under the chairmanship of Rwanda and the United Kingdom. It has agreed on seven themes that should guide the selection of global indicators for the monitoring of the Busan commitments—the set of indicators which will monitor the progress on the prioritised themes. The proposed set of indicators brings together: first, indicators that are measured through country-level progress; secondly, indicators that are global in nature or draw on existing global data; and thirdly, indicators that do not require data collection at the country level or aggregation to inform global monitoring.

Given the intense pressure and often ill-informed criticism to which aid and aid projects can be subjected, an objective, quantifiable and measurable international methodology for monitoring effective development co-operation is essential. There is, however, one extremely important component missing from this formula—the one component which, I would argue, has the strongest interest in measuring the effectiveness of an aid programme, in measuring its cost-effectiveness and value for money and in deciding whether the programme or project really does meet needs of the community it is designed to serve. That component is clearly the people themselves or their elected representatives. Yet there is hardly a mention of parliaments, enhancing parliamentary capacity or strengthening parliamentary capability to better monitor and hold to account the activities of national and regional governments who direct these aid programmes.

I suggest that one way of making sure that aid does indeed work is to allow the recipients to take ownership of the aid programmes—which are, after all, theirs—by ensuring that their citizens can acquire the skills and talents they need to drive forward their economies, drive their communities out of poverty and break the dependency in conflict-affected and fragile states which historically had more than 40% of the land under fertile agriculture but in which the figure has now fallen to around 10%, with 40% of the population being dependent on food aid.

Parliamentarians were represented at the Busan forum, albeit in small numbers, including just a handful from development recipient parliaments in southern and central Africa and representatives from the International Parliamentary Union and AWEPA in Europe—perhaps three dozen in all. The international governmental delegations, aid organisations, lobby groups, functionaries and so forth, I am told, numbered several thousand, which confirms just how little sensitivity, involvement or awareness the aid community seems to have of the communities that it ultimately serves.

Reporting back to the final plenary session at Busan on behalf of the parliamentary forum, I and others called for donors to support a parliamentary platform on aid and development effectiveness that engaged donor and partner countries’ MPs. They should engage in a dialogue on knowledge and experience for joint monitoring, mutual peer learning, risk assessment and management, and policy coherence. We also called for all stakeholders to recognise that effective institutions and policies must start with the separation of powers

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in order to prevent abuse. We believe that this is essential. We called for Parliament to provide the meeting point for civil society, the private sector and local government on issues as diverse as climate change mitigation and combating corruption.

That leads me to the closing part of my contribution. Much is made of the proportion of our wealth that we allocate to aid, and of the decision to raise it in this country to 0.7% of GNI by 2013. That has been an international target since, I think, 1970. I appreciate that, 40 years on, that is something to be aspired to by many countries. Of course, the actual cash that we are passing over these days is somewhat less than it would have been a few years ago, given the fall in our GNI. People should remember that 0.7% is not a static figure. I want to put this in perspective and compare it with the potential wealth of some of the developing countries that we are aiding.

The DRC is estimated to possess mineral assets of precious metals worth in excess of $24 trillion. Yet in the UNDP’s Human Development Index last year, the DRC was again listed as 187th out of 187. It is estimated that less than 5% of the real value of the minerals exported from mines in the DRC finds its way to the state treasury; the rest disappears through a network of shelf and offshore companies registered in zero corporation tax havens such as, but not limited to, the BVI.

I am running out of time but a similar situation, but on an even greater scale, exists in Zimbabwe with the Marange diamond fields. Surely we should start to take seriously the naked international theft and corruption on an industrial scale which takes place in these fabulously wealthy countries, whose citizens are left in poverty.

1 pm

Lord Stirrup: My Lords, it is quite clear and quite right that the Government’s main effort over the coming Session will be on the economy, in particular the search for growth. I intend to speak today about the wider security concerns that were touched on last week in the gracious Speech, but I am in no doubt that in the long run our ability to respond to those concerns depends very much on our economic strength, and that is likely to be slow in building, given the continuing levels of public and private indebtedness. Nevertheless, there are some difficult near-term challenges that loom large on the international scene and, despite our straitened circumstances, we must be prepared for them.

In many cases, the press of events is likely to deny us the luxury of delaying our response until more prosperous times. First, there is the unfinished business of Afghanistan. The next two years will see a decline in our contribution to combat operations, with the Afghans assuming the lead across the country by 2014. This is in my view still the best option for achieving long-term stability. It was never possible for us to solve Afghanistan’s problems. The only people who can do that, if anyone can, are the Afghans themselves, and the sooner they take on the responsibility, the better.

However, I am concerned at the growing sense, not just here but more widely in the international community, that after 2014 we will pretty much be able to wash our hands of Afghanistan. This, I think, is wrong on two

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counts. First, the Afghans will continue to need expert support in many areas, not least militarily. We may end our direct combat role in 2014 but that does not mean that the Afghan national security forces will be able to operate entirely unaided. The number of people we have deployed will of course reduce dramatically, but we must be prepared for a long-term engagement with the Afghans. We will have brought them to the start line, but they have a long race yet ahead of them, and they will need our help in running it.

Secondly, and even more importantly, we have to resolve the issue of long-term funding for Afghanistan. People often talk of the collapse of Afghan governance following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, but what they sometimes miss is that the Najibullah Government managed reasonably well after the withdrawal of the troops. It was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent end of foreign aid that brought about the regime’s downfall. If the international community fails to put Afghan funding on to a sustainable basis post-2014, I suspect that a similar collapse will be inevitable.

It will of course be difficult to persuade many nations that they should go on footing the bill for Afghanistan when their own financial position is so uncertain. That will no doubt be true here in the UK too. However, having expended the lives of so many of our own people and so much of our national treasure in Afghanistan, it behoves us to sustain the necessary financial commitment to turn that sacrifice into lasting benefit. I would not say that if I thought that progress in Afghanistan was a lost cause; I do not. Indeed, I think that progress will become slightly less difficult once we disengage from combat operations and the Afghans become ever more responsible for their own destiny. It will not be pretty, and it may follow political paths that we did not foresee or would not have chosen, but continuing economic development and increasing levels of education will, in the long run, be good for Afghanistan and good for the region.

That means that they will also be good for us because although we might just feasibly be able to ignore Afghanistan, we cannot ignore Pakistan. The ties that bind us—and there are nearly a million of those ties in the form of UK citizens with family links to Pakistan—are simply too strong. Pakistan’s future is connected, inter alia, with that of Afghanistan. The challenges in Pakistan are to my mind even greater than those in Afghanistan, but neither can be viewed in isolation from the other. So Afghanistan will remain a long-term security interest for the UK, and we must treat it accordingly. With that in mind, I hope that over the coming months the Government will bend every effort to get international agreement on adequate long-term financing for Afghanistan.

The other issue that I want to address is Iran. I do not know whether the ongoing diplomatic efforts to persuade the Iranians to forgo highly enriched—that is, weapons-grade—uranium will be successful. What I am sure of is that a military attack on Iran’s facilities is unlikely to delay the programme for very long and that the consequences of such an attack are unpredictable but likely to be extremely unpleasant for everyone. I know that the Israelis see the issue through a rather different prism, and I have some sympathy with their

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concerns, but many Israelis would agree with the assessment that I have just put forward. I am also clear that sanctions against Iran are having a real and serious effect, and that this stick, if combined with suitable carrots, may just be enough to cause the Iranian regime to change course. Therefore, I hope very much that we see some substantial progress coming from the imminent talks in Baghdad.

However, in the line of business that I have followed for most of my life, we always reminded ourselves that hope is not a plan of action. No matter how much we might be against an attack on Iran, such a decision is not in our hands, so we need to be prepared for all eventualities. We need to remember that Iran views us with considerable suspicion, which is not entirely unreasonable given our previous form in that country, and that, if attacked, it could retaliate against us and our interests, no matter how loudly we protest our innocence. We must be able to respond if challenged in this way, and the more obvious it is that we are able and willing to respond, the less the chance that we will actually have to do so.

There are of course many other serious challenges to international order and stability, such as in the Yemen and the Horn of Africa, that could affect us here in the UK. Our first response in each case should be through diplomacy and aid. Indeed, I would resist strongly any suggestions that we should increase our military involvement unless such an option were inescapable. We should always be cautious about committing forces, bearing in mind that the outcome of such commitment is always unpredictable.

Nevertheless, the use of military force is sometimes necessary. Our military capabilities have been stretched very thin in recent years, and continue to be so. Of course, at present the Armed Forces are putting a lot of effort into containing costs and managing redundancy programmes. I do not deny the need for this. Balancing the MoD’s books was a necessary task, but defence does not exist merely to keep the books balanced. It exists to serve the nation in times of need, and this requires not just the right equipment and numbers of people but commensurate levels of training for the wide range of contingencies that those people may be called upon to face, none of which can be secured quickly or at no cost.

So, even at a time of such financial stringency, it is crucial that the Government keep their eye very firmly on the international scene and the risks that we face, on the responses that we may have to make to those risks and on the capabilities that we will require to underpin those responses.

1.08 pm

Lord Empey: My Lords, the Minister will not be surprised to learn that I want to say a few words about Libya. It is hard to believe that it was only last year that that nation was in turmoil and a bloody revolution to remove a vicious dictator was in full swing. I am pleased that our Prime Minister and Government took a robust stand against Gaddafi and led the world in the attempt to prevent the further enslavement of the Libyan people.

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For decades, Gaddafi ruled by fear and violence. He was reviled and isolated by much of the world, but in more recent years he underwent something of a change in status. After he renounced the drive to obtain nuclear weapons, he was welcomed in western capitals, pitched his tent as appropriate, and growing trade relations were gradually being established, led in part by Britain. However, memories are short. It was not that long ago that we witnessed, within walking distance of this Chamber, the brutality of the Gaddafi regime when its agents shot dead PC Yvonne Fletcher.

That action was but the tip of the iceberg as far as the Gaddafi regime’s crimes against the people of this country were concerned. Gaddafi began to ship weapons to the Irish Republican Army in the early 1970s and the interception of the vessel “Claudia” by Irish defence forces in 1973 was proof positive of his hatred of this country. Following our support for President Reagan’s actions in bombing Libya in the 1980s, Gaddafi decided that he would wage war on the United Kingdom using the proxy of the Irish Republican Army. This was not the first time that our enemies have used the vehicle of Irish republicanism to attack this country. It happened at least twice in the 20th century alone. However, Gaddafi’s supply of vast quantities of weapons and explosives to the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s was by far the most audacious and effective in recent years. Intelligence sources estimated that boatloads of arms and explosives were landed in Ireland, with the interception of the “MV Eksund” in 1987 being the only success in that decade. Intelligence sources conceded that that had been a serious failure and very costly.

In addition to vast quantities of rifles and other arms, the supply of the explosive Semtex was the greatest boost to the terrorist arsenal. These explosives allowed the IRA to conduct a bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain for many years, and were its most potent weapon. Events such as the bombings of the Baltic Exchange and the Arndale centre in Manchester, and numerous attacks on soldiers in buses and even on the Blues and Royals on horseback were fuelled by Gaddafi’s largesse to these terrorists.

This context leads me to my main point. The Minister knows that I have raised the issue of compensation for the families of those killed and wounded in this House and elsewhere for some time. I began by writing to the then Foreign Office Minister, Mike O’Brien MP in 2002 and 2003 as well as to Prime Minister Tony Blair. Since then, I have met officials dealing with this matter and believe that a situation now exists where we can make some progress. When the newly elected Government of Libya are established, can the Minister confirm that there will be a UK Government-led initiative to ensure that the victims of the Gaddafi regime’s crimes get compensation?

I know that there are some third-party actions, led by lawyers acting for a number of victims, and I know that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is facilitating their meetings with the National Transitional Council. But well and good as that may be, I want an assurance that Her Majesty’s Government will lead the main negotiation with the new Government of Libya and not leave it to random groups of individuals and lawyers to take up the case. If this were to happen,

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many people in this country would lose out. It needs to be led from the front by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

I hope that the efforts made by the United Kingdom to free the people of Libya will not go unnoticed by the newly elected Government. The United Kingdom took great risks and, at the start of the revolution, the Prime Minister was being briefed against by our American allies and others. Many western democracies such as Germany did not lift a finger to help and left it to us, the French and eventually the United States, with some Gulf support, to carry all the risks. You can bet your bottom dollar that the Germans and others will be queuing up in Tripoli to get contracts and do business despite their lack of effort. They did the same in Iraq and I hope that our business leaders and other government departments will not allow us to be left behind again.

I fully understand that massive problems exist in Libya, with much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed and many unresolved tribal issues. The pressure on a new democratic Government will be from their own constituents who will want jobs and services restored. Nevertheless, a marker must be put down that we want a positive outcome to the question of compensation from Libya to the United Kingdom for the crimes of the previous Government of that country. There can be a debate about what form that should take, whether cash or other offset deals involving contracts or trade but, at the end of the day, we want justice for the people of this country. Other nations have pressed their cases in the aftermath of air hijackings and so on and we must be just as resolute.

Although most of the victims are to be found in Northern Ireland, I have always avoided seeing this as a provincial issue. Many other citizens of the UK were victims also. All the regular soldiers who were killed and injured and returned to Great Britain are the most obvious example. However, people were also injured in some of our cities, such as London, Manchester, Birmingham and Warrington, to name but a few. As victims can be found all over the United Kingdom, it must be dealt with as a national issue by the national Government. I trust that the Minister can give the people of this country the assurances and guarantees that I am seeking.

1.16 pm

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I apologise to the House and to my noble friend Lord Howell because I had to attend to a puncture on my car while he was addressing the House.

This will not be a very long speech. I am really concerned with the position that was taken on the origins of the gracious Speech, the debate on which is being concluded today. It created a torrent of dissent, not only in my party, but also among the loyal Opposition and the Cross Benches. It concerned imposing a Government who would abolish this House, curtail the primacy of the other place and assuredly destroy the relationship established between our two Houses. Inevitably, that will cause dissent.

I am not criticising any particular person and certainly not the Leader of the House. By mentioning it today, I

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am seeking to ask the other place to consider retracking this coalition. At the moment it is not effective.

The voices and votes of people who support the coalition were not heard at all—certainly not the other day in the council elections. If one looks carefully, one realises that the coalition does not reflect anything that the electorate particularly want. In fact, they rather object to it. I take that as my theme today. I know that it will be thought that I am criticising the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but I am not. I have to make this clear because it may be taken that way, but that is not my intention.

One could go a little further because this is a debate on defence. My question relates to this. Defence of the realm is not something that just happens today; it happens for quite a time ahead. Foreign affairs are the same. They should both take fair precedence on government expenditure. However, they are both dependent on the state of the economy—and the state of the economy is and has been for some time a stalemate. This is relevant to adequate provision for defence and foreign affairs, which all relate to government expenditure.

There is not much that I wish to say beyond that. An amendment to the Motion was tabled yesterday by the Opposition. It made some points that I would like to make today. One is that there are no settled means of providing growth for the economy—none. There is no reference to them in the gracious Speech—none at all. If there is any reference to encouraging growth, there is no mention of effective means. Not only that, but there are no settled means of easing our mammoth debt. Every month we have to borrow more to pay interest on it. We are doing what we can—up to a point—but we must try to do a little more and ease the economy up. Then we will have a chance to deal with all these things.

This is the last day of debate on the gracious Speech. The Statement on the second day was something of a shock. I have made my points and I hope that the other place will help the coalition reset itself to reflect the voice of the people.

1.24 pm

Lord Teverson: My Lords, I have the great privilege of being the chair of the House’s European sub-committee on external affairs, on which I have been helped many times by the Chairman of Committees, who is in the Speaker’s place and whom I thank for his assistance over the past few years. Today I will go through some of the issues that the committee has felt strongly about and has reported on, and will ask the Government a number of questions on them.

South Sudan and Somalia are both in the Horn of Africa, which is one of the areas that we looked at and about which we have concerns. I will deal with the Horn of Africa first. We very much welcome the fact that our Government, together with the European Union, are bringing together a much more overarching strategy for the region—one that is not just based on naval forces against piracy but encompasses security sector reform, with personnel based in Uganda but for the benefit of Somali troops, as part of a much broader Horn of Africa strategy.

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In particular we noted that in the past two weeks there was an incident where EU forces in the Indian Ocean, as part of Operation Atalanta, attacked onshore pirate facilities in Somalia. I am sure that I speak on behalf of my committee when I say that we welcome that bolder-than-usual step forward towards making sure that we stem the problem at the source rather than trying to solve it in the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean. It is a major step forward.

We were very iffy—if I may put it that way—about the civil arming of merchant ships, which is being introduced with government approval. There, perhaps, the committee will have to eat its words. If it is done with sufficient training and is successful, it will be another step forward that we will welcome.

A Question was asked earlier in the day in the House on South Sudan. It is a key issue. Matters have got worse. We thought that perhaps they could not get worse but they have. The committee is very aware that the problem is not just with the Sudanese Government; the South Sudanese Government, too, have been reckless in this area by cutting off oil revenues to the north and by their occupation, however provoked, of Sudanese oilfields for a temporary period—as well as all the other issues in South Sudan.

We wish South Sudan every success in its independence, but at the moment the situation is going the wrong way. We know that both the European Union and our Government are very concerned to make sure that the matter is resolved peacefully. Again we ask them to bring China constructively into the conversations, because China is the main market for both countries’ output of commodities, so that we can somehow resolve the issue without all-out war between the two nations. It is a very difficult topic, but if it goes wrong it will threaten much broader regional instability that will spread into Uganda and other parts of that area of Africa.

Another area that our committee is involved in is not directly European but covers the UK-French defence treaties that were agreed at the end of 2010. It is probably not known by the House generally that my committee, together with the Defence Committee of the other place, meets the Senate and the National Assembly every six months to track the progress of the treaties and to give a parliamentary overview on whether they are fulfilling their objectives. The overview was demanded more by the French Administration than by us, but was very much supported by the MoD as something that would help us in our negotiations. Of course, the Libyan war was an example of bringing together our forces. Instead of practice through exercises, there was close co-operation between our two armed forces during that time.

We are very keen that those defence treaties should continue to be successful. There has been much progress with them over the past year: they have been deepened. But I would be interested in the Government’s view on how the change in aircraft specification for our own aircraft carriers away from cats and traps will affect that interoperability and whether it will in any way sour the potential defence relationship. Has there been any initial indication from the new French

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president in the Elysée Palace as to whether he is equally dedicated to this very noble cause of two great European powers making sure that together they are able to exercise their military influence in times of budgetary difficulty?

I would like to bring up an area of personal interest as chair of the All-Party Group for Guinea-Bissau, which is a small ex-Portuguese colony in west Africa. It has been an independent state since the 1970s. It has all sorts of issues. I was due to go out as an election monitor for the second round of presidential elections last month. Unfortunately, those did not happen because of a military coup. My APPG was part of the monitoring of the first round of presidential elections. The tragedy was that that election was carried out perfectly—as well as any election in this country—yet the military did not approve of the likely result and intervened. I want publicly to thank the Foreign Office and the ambassador in that part of Africa, who is based in Senegal, who helped that election monitoring to work and be successful. I can do no more than endorse European and British sanctions now on Guinea-Bissau and on those individuals in the military until that situation is resolved.

I was going to talk about the European military situation and the NATO summit in Chicago coming up, but I do not have time. However, it is imperative that the EU and NATO work together for Europe's defence now that America is cutting its own budgets and looking towards the Pacific theatre. We have huge resources in Europe and we should use them better, which means that they should not cost us any more money to be effective.

1.32 pm

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, it is now just over 18 months since the Government announced the outcome of their strategic defence review. Much criticism was and still is heaped upon it, suggesting that the outcome was driven by the financial difficulties that the country was facing and was less than a fair appraisal of the Government’s strategic perceptions. The vision—no more than that—of a new defence capability to be achieved around 2020 was projected, but without certainty, until after the next SDSR in 2015, that the additional forward funding required to match these aspirations is going to be provided. Last Monday's defence budget Statement said that the proposals for planning round 12, which will take the programme as far as 2021 were,

“reflecting the planning assumption agreed with the Treasury of a 1% per annum real increase in the equipment and support budget from 2015”.—[

Official Report

, 14/5/12; col. 141.]

Note, please, that that is not the same as an increase in the overall defence budget. Will that 1% have to be found from elsewhere in the defence programme? Perhaps the Minister can elucidate on that point.

Given the great unease and uncertainty about the economic situation, I wonder whether even a modest increase in the equipment spend of 1% will be achievable come the day. Meanwhile, today our Armed Forces are involved in considerably more expeditionary activity than they were to expect or to plan for, and at the same time all three services are embarked on redundancies and redeployments of major proportions.

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An essential part of any defence programme must strive to ensure that commitments and capabilities are matched. If they are not, sooner or later the overstretched equipment has to be replaced or refurbished far more quickly than planned for and at additional budget cost. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House more about the next stages in the coalition’s defence thinking, not just about the gradually more imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan. Do they, for example, accept that for what are termed wars of choice there has to be a protracted period of disengagement or an absolute minimum of new operational commitments? That is particularly so for the Army, which seems likely to have to rely on the safe recovery of much of its equipment that is now deployed in Afghanistan, although if press reports at the weekend are to be believed, £2 billion worth of this army kit is to be left behind and handed over to the Afghan Army.

For the rest, if the problems over logistics access through Pakistan persist, and with no credible alternative route to shipment home by sea, the long and tortuous overland route north and west from Afghanistan will be even more of a challenge. Perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the Government have contingency funds earmarked to replace army equipment handed over to the Afghans or that does not make it successfully back to this country from Afghanistan.

One of the most unsatisfactory decisions announced at the time of the strategic and security defence review was the scrapping of the maritime patrol aircraft Nimrod mark 4. I set out my reasons when your Lordships debated the review back in November 2010 and I do not intend to dwell on them again in detail. But since that debate, I was concerned to learn that the public line being taken by the then Defence Secretary, Dr Fox, had been inaccurate and misleading. What really took so many by surprise was the decision not only not to proceed with Nimrod, but to cut all the airframes up immediately for scrap.

That caused a great deal of disquiet. Attempts were made by the Government to explain away this crass decision. For example, in a BBC TV broadcast on 27 January last year, Dr Fox said that the Nimrod had not passed its flight tests. The story was being put about that the Nimrod was 10 years late, was unsafe, that there were doubts that some of the technical difficulties could be resolved and even that the aircraft had not flown. If those were the points being briefed privately by the Secretary of State to the Prime Minister during discussions of that defence review, then he was being seriously misled about the true state of the programme. While I accept that rightly or wrongly the financial pressures faced by the Government forced the decision not to bring the Nimrod into service, it does nothing for the credit of those taking these decisions to attempt to mask it with such misleading statements.

The true state of the programme, admittedly after years of difficulty, was, by autumn 2010, well advanced. Five airframes had been flying, the first getting airborne in August 2004. The second, which first flew in December 2004, was used extensively for missions system testing and had completed more than 230 flights. Three further

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aircraft with mission systems had been flying by 2010. Apart from the first airframe that did not have a mission system fitted, four aircraft could have been ready for operational use by last year or this one. The first aircraft was in fact delivered to and accepted by the RAF in March 2010.

None of that suggests that the aircraft was unsafe or that any teething technical problems could not have been dealt in the normal way when a new type enters service. Apart from its primary role in maritime operations, the earlier variants of Nimrod demonstrated the versatility, variety and flexibility of such air platforms fitted with state-of-the-art electronic aids and weapons. Nimrods proved their worth hundreds of miles inland over Afghanistan as much as they did providing security cover for our deterrent force submarines or co-ordinating search and rescue missions far out over the Atlantic. In last Monday’s Statement there was no mention of a plan to meet this particular role. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that the roles abandoned when Nimrod was scrapped have not been forgotten.

Are there plans for a new maritime patrol aircraft with the range, endurance and sophisticated mission systems associated with its predecessor roles well to the fore in the future equipment programme? The cost of providing new platforms and mission systems for this role will probably far exceed that of putting the nine Nimrods into storage until the funds to bring them into service could have been found—a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision if ever there was one. Indeed, there seems to have been a waste of resources on this programme and on the “will we, won’t we, will we, yes we will have” the F35 STOVL-variant and the £100 million additional nugatory cost of preparing for the now redundant cats and traps system on the carrier.

The current reliance for critical maritime surveillance tasks on a mix of Merlin helicopters, surface ships and a Hercules aircraft can do little to match the reach and variety of roles of a maritime specialist aircraft. The sooner their more modest capabilities are replaced and enhanced, the better for our national security. I hope that the Minister can reassure the House.

1.41 pm

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, Ascension Day is a good time to focus on international development because the Ascension marks the moment when Christ’s command to care for our neighbour becomes universal, crossing all geographical and tribal boundaries.

For some years, the millennium development goals have eluded our grasp. Successive Governments have discovered that without a financial commitment these goals, though widely welcomed, could prove unreachable. It was one of Gordon Brown’s great achievements to commit the then Government to 0.7% of our gross national income in aid by 2013. At the last general election, all three parties made the commitment to enshrine this international target in law. The Government reaffirmed this commitment in the March Budget, meaning that the UK will meet this long-standing international commitment for the first time in 2013. The UK will be the first G8 country to have achieved this target. Given the current state of the economy, this is a remarkable achievement.

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Naturally there has been some lobbying from the development agencies. They are worried that the lack of draft legislation might mean uncertainty for the poor throughout the next parliamentary timetable. However, the Government’s commitment is clear and to be welcomed. In April, the Secretary of State for International Development wrote to the heads of UK aid agencies, saying:

“The Coalition Government’s ‘Programme for Government’ also made clear that it would enshrine the 0.7% in law”.

So why the lack of any draft legislation?

The Economic Affairs Committee of your Lordships’ House recommended in March that the Government should drop their commitment to 0.7% being spent on overseas aid from 2013. Its report warned of the risk of skimping on value for money and accountability. We all have horror stories of money that has been given and then misused. A friend of mine runs a charity called Operation Sunshine that takes container-loads of useful goods to people in one of the poorest spots in the world. At present all the containers are being held up by bureaucratic customs officers in the receiving country and no one seems able to shift them. I also remember contributing to a fund seeking to buy a bike for every pastor in an extremely poor diocese. All went well until we heard that the bishop had absconded to the US with all the proceeds.

However, for every occasion like that, most of us have dozens or even scores of stories of wonderfully creative ways in which aid has been used to transform lives. A Lent project in my Midlands diocese has produced enough money to enable young people in a very poor African township to go for higher education. All of us who go out there from Lichfield reckon that we in the still-rich West are the ones who gain the most from these twinnings. If that is so in our small church-led projects, surely it can also be so in the use of much larger intergovernmental schemes.

Next year the UK takes over the chair of the G8. With the UK in the international spotlight, 2013 is a vital year for Britain to demonstrate leadership in the fight against extreme poverty. Perhaps it is as well to recognise that aid is only one dimension of our struggle to prevent famine, infant death and all the other millennium targets. The parable of Dives and Lazarus reminds us that when the difference between rich and poor gets to a certain point it makes God angry and that poverty arising from injustice is structural and cannot be rectified by charitable giving alone.

The churches have been cautious about legislating for what are essentially moral commitments, but in recent years they have found themselves moving beyond the aid debate to look at the broader question of tax justice. For example, Christian Aid estimates that developing countries lose approximately $160 billion a year to tax avoidance by multinationals. It is exciting that the Government’s decision to meet the 0.7% spending commitment next year means that a modest proportion, about a penny ha’penny, of every pound the Government spend will be on aid. This has the potential to put nearly 16 million children in school, provide more

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than 80 million children with vaccines, save the lives of 50,000 mothers and provide better nutrition for nearly 10 million people.

It is therefore a little disappointing that parliamentary time has not been made available to do what has been promised, and it would be good to hear why from the Minister. I am sure that there are many noble Lords who would welcome reassurance that parliamentary time will be made available before the next election. To enshrine this commitment in law would create an excellent platform for the Government when it comes to talking about trade, immigration, environmental protection, corruption, peacekeeping and global security. It has been well said that we dare not build our own economic recovery on the backs of the global poor.

1.47 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield and to support everything he has just said—although I think we were all horrified to hear about the absconding bishop and we pray that it may not happen again.

The level of the aid budget may not seem as compelling as some issues of foreign policy but it affects millions of people’s lives as well as our own. It is in the coalition agreement and all parties are signed up to it. “We will legislate when parliamentary time allows”, say Ministers. Where have we heard this before? The Bill to enshrine the United Nations 0.7% target in law is a bit further down the list than Lords reform but it is one that already commands consensus and will need very little parliamentary time. Indeed, if the Bill is already being drafted, as I hear, it would be a good candidate for pre-legislative scrutiny. Can the Minister say when he thinks it may come forward?

We know from the Secretary of State’s interview last month that he is personally behind the Bill and that his party will support him, judging by a show of hands in the 1922 Committee. Politicians of all hues know that there is massive public support for the aid target, and aid agencies are pressing for the Bill. Thanks to Ministers like our own noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, who was here earlier, poverty eradication is now firmly Conservative philosophy these days and one of the keystones of the coalition. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mention Africa and my noble friend Lord Cameron explaining what actually works in Africa, and we need to hear more about that. Plenty of things work.

However, as we have heard, there are critics of the legislative route, including some close to home. The Economic Affairs Committee’s report does not accept that meeting the UN target by 2013 should be a plank of aid policy and gives four reasons: it prioritises the amount rather than the results of aid; it makes spending more important than effectiveness; speed reduces quality, value for money and accountability; and there is an increased risk of a corrosive effect on local political systems. The report claims that it deprives future Governments of the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances. I do not agree with these points, which are rather academic, and I will be happy to respond on them when we have a full debate on the report. I suspect

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that the then Minister will dispose of them fairly quickly, saying that legislation will in no way alter the quality of aid or impact on other Governments and that it gives the givers and receivers of aid more stability and confidence in the aid process.

Meanwhile, the Lords report has been ferociously attacked by the Bond group, which represents all the leading aid agencies. It argues that aid is already making a difference, saving millions of lives and ensuring growth and good governance. It says that we need targets such as the millennium development goals to halve poverty and reduce infant mortality by at least one-third. These and some other targets have already been met, thanks partly to an international campaign but mainly because of the efforts of certain Governments and of the poor themselves.

The 0.7% target was set by the UN more than 40 years ago. Although progress has been slow, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have now reached it. The UK stands high in the esteem of other countries and was commended by the OECD only two years ago for an outstanding aid programme. It will certainly be expected to be one of the next countries to attain the 0.7% target. I was especially impressed by Christian Aid’s recent comment that Britain had the largest share of aid through the Marshall Plan after the war and that we now had the opportunity to “pay it forward” to others, finding a new role as a “development superpower”, as the Minister put it earlier.

Finally, the aid agencies remind us that world recession has hit the poorest in all countries hardest through rising food and energy prices. In countries suffering from conflict, the internally displaced can expect no future without the assistance of the international community. In South Sudan, we are hovering on the edge of another humanitarian disaster, as we heard earlier. In Kosovo, we have helped another new nation emerge beyond those disasters. We have high hopes for Afghanistan. I spoke to a delegation of Members of Parliament from Afghanistan yesterday, who gave me much confidence about what we are achieving there. In other words, we already have a moral duty, as we have heard from the right reverend Prelate, to maintain our aid programme and this should be turned into a legal requirement. It is also in our own self-interest that we keep up our international obligations, many of which also bring us greater security as well as political, diplomatic and trading advantages. We heard some of these arguments from the Labour Front Bench, too.

At the same time, we need to reconsider our aid targets such as the MDGs, which are coming to the end of their time. The Prime Minister is due to co-chair the post-2015 review, which will build on their successes and look forward to a new set of sustainable development goals.

The advocates of these SDGs, as they will be called, will have to tread carefully if they are not to founder, as Rio is foundering, on one basic paradox: developed countries are trying to reduce world consumption and carbon emissions while developing countries, led by middle-income countries, are going for growth and trying to increase them. The climate change agenda is getting bogged down in this paradox, and it would be

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better for the world if we stuck to people-based poverty reduction as our primary development goal. Churches and aid agencies have focused correctly for years on integrated development and the relationships, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Cameron, between soil and water, between nutrition and healthcare, between small farmers—most of them women—and entrepreneurs, following attainable projects. Good governance and human rights are also important. I know that DfID is very good at these, but in every programme we must look first at the participation of the people, because they will ensure their own success.

1.55 pm

Lord Luke: My Lords, I am honoured to be able to contribute to the defence part of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. I am becoming much more positive about the direction in which British defence is going. Far too much money was wasted under the previous Administration, and I am pleased to see the coalition taking a common-sense approach to procurement and making sure that the defence of our country and protection of our brave service men and women are always our first priority.

I applaud the MoD’s recent decision to carry on building both aircraft carriers for the Navy. We never know what the threats of the future may be and, as we know from the past, warfare is changing all the time. Ensuring that we have the capability to fend off any situation thrown in our direction is imperative. Therefore, having two carriers is a must. No matter how sophisticated the weapon, all such apparatus requires maintenance and, eventually, major refits.

In the case of a carrier, it is vital that maintenance is thorough and not rushed. Great care must always be taken, and while one carrier is out of action, there must another one to plug the gap. Will the Government confirm that both carriers will come into commission more or less simultaneously? I know that it is hard to be precise, but can the Minister tell us the latest estimated cost of these carriers up to date and what the eventual total might be?

Can my noble friend say a little more about the interoperability of these carriers with the French and, indeed, with the Americans? Can he confirm that the initial three Joint Strike Fighters scheduled to be delivered to us will all be the STOVL versions? The right honourable Secretary of State, in his Statement on the 10 May, said that the relatively short range of the STOVL JSF would be less important because of the use of air-to-air refuelling. Where will the tanker aircraft fly from? And what tanker aircraft will we have in eight years’ time, when we should be able to start using the carriers?

How many JSF fighters do we have on order and how many will we eventually be able to deploy? How many will be usually stationed on each carrier? How are we going about training personnel for all this new equipment, so that as soon as the carriers and the JSFs are ready, time is not wasted with training? Have we indeed started, as I think I have read, sending key personnel to America to begin to learn the ropes on the American carriers?

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Can my noble friend tell me the latest estimated date for the first JSF fighter being delivered and, therefore, when training can begin in the United Kingdom? What thought has the Minister had for the future of these carriers and the types of equipment that we may have to accommodate as warfare changes? I imagine that, as the years pass, warfare is bound to become even more technical and space on these carriers will be needed to accommodate new and developing technology over their 50-year life expectancy. Will the Minister ensure that there is spare room available to accommodate extra gear if required? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

2 pm

Lord Liddle: My Lords, I follow on from the excellent speech by my noble friend Lord Wood of Anfield on our Front Bench to ask what this Government’s vision is of Britain’s place in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, spoke eloquently earlier about Britain as a network. Fair enough, that is essential in a multipolar world but being a good networker is not the foundation stone of an effective foreign policy. That depends on firm alliances in a world where our position is that we will soon represent only about 2% of global GDP.

The transatlantic relationship has been the central plank of our foreign policy for my lifetime. It is what I grew up to believe in. To what extent will that still be the case in the decades of the Asian century now unfolding? What will be the impact of the coming US debt crunch on its defence budget, commitment to Europe and vital ability to help us, as it did in the recent Libyan operation? Alongside America’s reduced resources and increasing shifting focus to the Pacific, there is also every sign of increasing inwardness in the United States. Just look at the defeat of the excellent Senator Lugar in the Indiana primary last week—a man who contributed a lot to internationalism and Atlanticism in his distinguished career.

Yet, at the very moment that America’s Atlanticist commitment is visibly diminishing, the present Government appear to have set a deliberate course of loosening Britain’s ties with the European Union. Last December, we had the Prime Minister’s infamous non-veto—a petulant walk-out on our European partners that is already damaging our interests, for example on the recent financial services regulation. I fear that this is not a one-off. Look at the Government’s decision to focus precious Foreign Office time and resources not on the questions of how we strengthen the European Union and its role in world affairs or secure Britain’s role in what is increasingly an inner core/outer core European Union, but on how we weaken those ties. What else is the meaning of all this babble about repatriation of powers and renegotiation of the relationship, or, in coalition speak—the Liberal Democrats still have some power to change the words if not the substance—rebalancing of competences?

Last year, when the European Union Bill made its way through this House, Ministers assured us that the purpose of the referendum lock was to draw a line under the process of European integration as it affected Britain and enable the Government to go

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out on the front foot and make the case for British membership of the European Union. Since then, we have waited with bated breath. I was glad to see the reference in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to membership of the EU as an essential pillar of our foreign policy, but can the Front Bench opposite point to a single speech or newspaper article in which the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Minister for Europe or any other member of this Government has made a substantial and sustained argument—as opposed to a glancing paragraph—in which they argue the case for British membership of the European Union? I will of course apologise if I am wrong and these speeches and articles can be put in the Library of the House, but I would love to see them.

It is almost 65 years since the mighty, magnificent Ernest Bevin, in the wake of the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, declared that “Europe must unite or perish”. I am thankful that we are in a very different world now, but the basic message remains the same. Today, the challenge is of potential decline: decline in Britain and Europe’s relative economic power; decline in our political clout as power shifts to other parts of the world; and decline in what, for all those terrible episodes in Europe’s past, has been the overall civilising influence of European culture and values. Decline may not bother some people if they think that they will be comfortable in their own lifetime and cosseted by our social model and welfare states, but I fear that this sense of comfort is illusory. The economic crisis we are witnessing now—in Britain as much as in the eurozone—may be deeper and more fundamental. It may be the end of the promise of betterment for future generations and the start, particularly for the low skilled and less fortunate, of a long process of squeezed living standards in response to a doubling of the labour pool available to global capitalism.