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House of Lords

Wednesday, 15 May 2013.

3 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Housing Benefit


3.06 pm

Asked by Baroness Quin

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to make changes in the under-occupancy rule for housing benefit.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, we have no plans to make changes to the removal of the spare room subsidy. As well as conducting a formal evaluation of the policy over a two-year period, we have started an outreach exercise with a number of local authorities to monitor implementation and ensure that sufficient support has been provided to local authorities and claimants.

Baroness Quin: I thank the Minister, but the reply was disappointing. Many people feel that this is by far the worst of the welfare changes that the Government have made. There is mounting evidence not only of financial hardship but of families and individuals coming under severe emotional pressure. A particularly sad case was reported just last week in which there was a tragic outcome. It seems that the warnings of many noble Lords in our earlier debates on this subject have been borne out. I urge the Minister to reconsider this tax and, preferably, to abandon it altogether.

Lord Freud: My Lords, the policy as it stands is designed, first, to save money. We are looking to save £500 million a year here, which is within the context of the overall saving of £2 billion that we are trying to make over two years. The bulk of the burden has been on the private rented sector, on the LHA basis, and that has gone through reasonably safely. We are monitoring this particular change. All these changes have to be looked at very carefully and we need to keep a very close eye on this one, and we are keeping a very close eye on it. The change is designed to make sure that people can respond by trading down, pulling in lodgers or looking for work. People can make a behavioural response here, and clearly we are looking for that response.

Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, a couple were interviewed on television this morning by Eamonn Holmes. The wife had spina bifida and had to be in a special bed, which the viewers were able to see. The husband was therefore required to sleep in a second room. He stated that both of them will lose £60 per month and that they had made representations to the

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Minister’s department. Will the Minister look into this matter, which seems to me and many others to be very unjust indeed?

Lord Freud: My Lords, we are looking to protect people in difficult circumstances by looking to the local authorities to apply the discretionary housing payments, which have gone up enormously. Overall, they are running at £150 million this year, and at £360 million for the SRS. Our expectation is that these hard cases will be looked after locally.

Lord German: My Lords, as my noble friend the Minister has just explained, there are a large number of exemptions which are made through local authority discretion. The Government have, however, insisted on a certain number of exemptions, and one of the most welcome is the recent exemption given to a disabled child who was unable to share a bedroom. Will the Minister extend that commitment to include a disabled adult who is unable to share a bedroom, and so put this matter beyond doubt, rather than leave it to the discretion of local authorities?

Lord Freud:My Lords, we are looking for local authorities to deal with this matter with adults. We think that there is a difference between disabled children and disabled adults in that disabled children cannot know whether they pose a risk to themselves or to another child whereas adults and couples are able to exercise choice in how they run their lives.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I am told that estimates in Hull suggest that some 6,000 people there are affected by the under-occupancy rule and that there are something like 70 flats available for them to be moved to. I hear similar stories from all over the country. Will the Minister tell us just what people are supposed to do when no smaller accommodation can be offered?

Lord Freud: My Lords, there has been a substantial exercise by many local authorities and housing associations around the country to try to juggle people’s requirements. The figures on social-sector housing provision in England show that 31% of the housing has one bedroom, 34% has two bedrooms and the remaining 35% has three or more bedrooms. So there is provision. It is a question of getting people moved into the right accommodation. Let us not forget that 250,000 people are in overcrowded circumstances and 1.8 million people are on the waiting list for social housing.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, the Minister said very clearly that he was monitoring the situation carefully and keeping a close eye on what is happening. Will he tell us how many people have to commit suicide before he recognises that the policy is wrong?

Lord Freud: My Lords, clearly I am aware of the recent very sad case, and I wish to reiterate my condolences to the family. It is not appropriate for me to comment further on that because it is a matter for the relevant authorities to investigate.

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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, what advice would the Minister give to this chair of a housing association? We have a family consisting of a disabled couple who have two children and live in a house that has one double bedroom and two single bedrooms. They cannot move because there is no stock in rural Norfolk for them to move to. They cannot work because of their disability and caring responsibilities. They cannot afford the bills. They are applying for discretionary housing payments but that will run out by about September. At that point they will run into severe arrears. Would the Minister advise me as chair of that housing association to evict that family at that point and to send them into bed-and-breakfast accommodation at a higher cost to us all as well as to them?

Lord Freud: My Lords, the idea of providing discretionary housing payments is twofold. The first is to allow for the costs of making a change and a transition; and the other, in some cases, is to maintain the family in an appropriate home indefinitely. One of the most obvious examples of the latter is specially adapted homes where it does not make sense to move. So there should be a strategy of support for that couple regardless of whether it is in the short term or the longer term.

India: Aid


3.15 pm

Asked by Lord Harries of Pentregarth

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of United Kingdom aid to India being phased out in 2015, and the high proportion of that aid being targeted at the Dalit or Scheduled Caste communities, what information they have about how those aid programmes will be replaced.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, faster and more inclusive development, including for Dalits, remains a priority for the Government of India. India’s own development efforts have lifted 60 million people out of extreme poverty in the past five years. After 2015, we will support India’s poverty reduction efforts through technical assistance and private sector programmes.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I thank the Minister for her reply. As she knows, despite the growing wealth of the Indian middle class, poverty in India still exists on a horrendous scale. It is worse than all the African countries put together, with 500 million people living on less than $2 a day. One of the great advantages of DfID aid, as the Minister knows, is that it was focused on the poorest of the poor. Can she spell out—or, at least ask DfID to spell in more detail and set down on paper—what particular practical arrangements are being made for the continuation of these projects? On a government visit to these projects last year, of which I was a member, we saw the extraordinary and valuable

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work being done. Can we have something in writing about the practical arrangements to ensure that these projects will continue?

Baroness Northover: I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for his tribute to the work conducted by DfID in India. I am happy to write to him with a great deal of detail on what is happening. I think the noble and right reverend Lord saw the Odisha project for girls; boys are also being brought into secondary schools, initially supported by DfID. That is being taken over by the government there. DfID is in talks with both central and local government about how best to take forward the various projects in which it is involved, with the intention of carrying forward looking after the poorest and most vulnerable in India.

Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, to build on what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has just said, we own the only factory and brewery in Bihar. I work closely with the government there, and they appreciate so much the work that DfID does on the ground, helping the state to be more efficient, such as the Right to Public Service Act and the BLISS programme to help teachers learn and teach English. Will this work carry on? It is generally appreciated. This is not just aid, it is goodwill being generated. Do the Government agree?

Baroness Northover: I thank the noble Lord for his tribute. The British Council will continue to be supported in India, and some of the programmes the noble Lord mentioned may well fall under that. DfID will continue to be in India. It will have a hub of expertise there and is working closely with the Indian Government on the nature of that. It will be giving technical support. I remember visiting India and seeing how DfID acted as a lever for access to other funds, such as the Global Fund, and a great deal can happen in that regard.

Lord Avebury: My Lords—

Lord Tugendhat: My Lords, India has one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world—

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords—

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, if I may suggest, my noble friend Lord Avebury was ready to go before, and then the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock. We will have some quick questions, and some quick answers from my noble friend, and we will get them both in.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, further to the Question of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, what discussions has DfID had with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in India, and with the state governments in Bihal, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, about how they might be able to continue after 2015 with the projects that were undertaken by DfID, possibly with some transitional assistance from DfID? If it has not had these discussions, will it do so?

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Baroness Northover: I can assure my noble friend that we are talking to partner state governments about sustaining the benefits of DfID support once UK financial aid ends. DfID projects in these states are already aligned to the large government schemes and in most cases will be taken forward by the Government of India. However, in spelling out the details I am very happy to write to both noble Lords.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, is it not clear that the decision to end aid to India, as well as to South Africa, neglects the reality that three-quarters of the world’s poorest people now live in middle-income countries? Thirty-nine per cent of South Africans live below the poverty line, while India is home to one-third of the world’s poorest people. Is it not time, therefore, to end the simplistic and misleading reliance on national averages, which so severely undermines efforts to eradicate poverty?

Baroness Northover: The noble Baroness needs to bear it in mind that it is through economic development that you lift people out of poverty and that India has lifted 60 million people out of poverty. The changes in the UK’s aid arrangements reflect India’s rapid growth and development process. We will continue to be involved with it in how this is taken forward.

Lord Tugendhat: Does the noble Baroness not agree that as India is one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world, with a very substantial space programme, a foreign aid programme of its own and an ambitious defence programme, the responsibility for dealing with its very considerable social problems rests with the Government of India? The purpose of British aid should be not only to help very poor people but to help very poor people in poor countries that do not have the means at their disposal which the Indian Government have. The Indian Government choose to spend money on space, foreign aid and defence, and that is their right, but it is not the responsibility of Britain to fill the gaps.

Baroness Northover: The two noble Lords may want to have a conversation in the margins of the Chamber. I would point out that the Government of India have been putting an increasing amount of money into education, higher education, access to finance, comprehensive village development, and so on. There is a range of areas where India is taking forward the kind of programmes that both noble Lords would wish to see.

Developing Countries: Budgetary Support


3.21 pm

Asked by Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what criteria they will employ for the allocations of direct budgetary support to developing countries in 2013-14.

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Baroness Northover: My Lords, DfID will continue to provide budget support when it represents the best way of delivering results and value for money compared to other forms of development assistance, and when a Government are committed to the UK’s partnership principles of poverty reduction, human rights, fighting corruption and strengthening accountability to citizens.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale: The Government suspended general budget support to Malawi in July 2011, and to Rwanda in November 2012. Malawi is a long-term ally of this country, with a new president who is changing many of the policies that were of concern to the Government back in 2011, and Rwanda has an excellent reputation on both corruption and spending this money as wisely as possible. Will the Government review both these decisions in 2013?

Baroness Northover: Both those decisions are kept under review. As the noble Lord will know, as regards Malawi, in November 2012 the UK provided emergency budget support, recognising what Joyce Banda had done. We will continue to monitor the situation in Malawi. As regards Rwanda, as he will know, the budget support was suspended because of actions by the Rwandan Government towards the rebel groups in the DRC. The Secretary of State will take a decision during the summer regarding any further disbursements and reprogramming decisions.

Lord Chidgey: Is my noble friend aware that the international development co-operation agreement, reached at the fourth high-level forum in Busan, established parliamentary capacity, accountability and transparency as key indicators for monitoring development progress? Can my noble friend confirm that these criteria for allocating budget support for HM Government will, in fact, follow the Busan international development model?

Baroness Northover: Parliamentarians clearly play a major role, or need to. My noble friend will know that in terms of the UK partnership principles, the third one is:

“Improving public financial management, promoting good governance and transparency and fighting corruption”.

Parliamentarians play a key role in making sure that those things are delivered.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Is the Minister aware that not only is Haiti the poorest country in the new world but that it has suffered from earthquakes and, more recently, hurricanes? Why is there no direct bilateral assistance from the UK Government to Haiti?

Baroness Northover: The United Kingdom cannot assist in every part of the world, and the French have played a leading role in Haiti. The United Kingdom works out where best to focus its aid, as did the noble Lord’s Government, and we assess that through the bilateral review. However, as he will know, through our multilateral obligations and indirectly through multilateral organisations we support work in Haiti.

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The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, it is Christian Aid week and research recently published by Christian Aid shows that in India companies with links to tax havens pay on average 30% less tax, indicating that they are shifting profits to secretive, low-tax jurisdictions, many of which have come under UK rule. Alongside allocation of direct budget support, how are Her Majesty’s Government encouraging poorer countries to have a more effective tax system to ensure that money is kept in the appropriate place?

Baroness Northover: The right reverend Prelate is quite right. He will have noted that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have focused very much on this and are emphasising it at the G8. DfID has a number of programmes assisting in the development of the tax collection regimes in countries in which we work, because we recognise that it is extremely important that those within developing countries, whether they are international companies or prospering citizens, contribute to the country’s development.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, the Minister told us that the Government want value for money in international development—and rightly so. Will the Government therefore consider stopping aid to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and persuading, if not forcing, Israel to pay for its illegal occupation of those territories?

Baroness Northover: My Lords, having visited the West Bank and Gaza, as has the noble Baroness, I would be extremely reluctant to do anything to stop aid to those in Palestine. I am sure that we will come on to a further discussion of the Middle East in the debate that is to follow. We continue to engage very actively in seeking to take forward a Middle East peace process, because that is the key to sorting out the problem.

Lord Collins of Highbury: My Lords, the Minister mentioned that the criteria for budget support included respect for human rights. Why has there been a large decrease in direct budgetary support since 2010?

Baroness Northover: We keep this under constant review, as did the previous Government. The noble Lord will know that the previous Government reduced budget support, particularly when it was reassessed under Hilary Benn. We continue to work out how best to support the poorest in these countries. Sometimes that is best done through supporting the wider Governments and sometimes in other ways. There is no specific policy to reduce this or increase that. We look at the situation in each country and how best to support the poorest within it.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, Ethiopia has come in and out of direct budget support over the past decade. Will the Minister tell us which criteria, and especially which human rights criteria, are being applied to Ethiopia?

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Baroness Northover: I refer the noble Earl to my initial Answer. There are four partnership principles that must apply, including one on human rights, when using budget support.

Emergency Services: Paramedics


3.29 pm

Asked by Baroness Gardner of Parkes

To ask Her Majesty’s Government under what circumstances unsupervised, unqualified paramedics may be sent to respond to an emergency call.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, ambulance trusts have a range of staff with different skill levels who are able to respond to patients depending on the severity of their illness or injury. It is the responsibility of individual ambulance trusts to determine how best to deploy those resources, ensuring that suitably qualified, skilled and experienced staff are sent to respond to calls.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Will the Minister tell me, therefore, whether he thinks that it was just an individual case or whether a general principle was at fault in the case of Sarah Mulenga, which has been widely publicised? The coroner ruled that neglect contributed to her death and found,

“a gross failure to provide basic medical attention”.

That was when two unqualified paramedics went to her call and, apparently, did not take her to hospital or even register her normal condition. How often does that sort of thing happen? Is it necessary to change the training system so that there will be more people qualified and trained?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the London Ambulance Service has advised that the article in the Sunday Times was slightly misleading, in that the two members of staff who attended that particular patient were student paramedics in their third and final year of training and so were sufficiently qualified to work unsupervised. It is inaccurate to call them “unqualified”. The issue in this case was that, despite their qualifications and experience, the crew did not act in accordance with their training or the procedures that were laid down. That has been acknowledged by the London Ambulance Service, which has said that it believes that the failings are not reflective of the hundreds of ambulance staff who provide a high level of patient care to Londoners every day.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, the Minister has suggested that, on the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, it is really down to the management of ambulance trusts to make all those decisions. There is widespread concern around the country about the delays in ambulances reaching emergency cases. For example, I am told that the police now find that they are the first responders and

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end up having to take people to hospital. Is this a problem with the management of ambulance trusts or is it about the level of resources being made available by commissioners for emergency services and ambulance services?

Earl Howe: The noble Lord is quite right that certain areas of the country have seen unacceptable delays in ambulance response times—I am aware of two trusts in that regard. However, this is not an issue around a lack of trained paramedics. Projections by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence show that there is a secure supply of paramedics until 2016. The College of Paramedics has stated that training posts on courses are always filled and, currently, 900 ambulance technicians are training to become paramedics. We are seeing an increase in paramedic numbers, which is encouraging.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that first aid ought to be taught in all schools mandatorily, so that as many people as possible in the community can learn first aid, help when there is an emergency and save lives?

Earl Howe: I agree with the general thesis that the noble Baroness has advanced. As many people as possible should know first aid. That is how we will ensure that we can save more lives, particularly among those who suffer heart attacks in public places.

Lord Davies of Coity: Will the Minister address the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner? It has been said quite clearly that there are circumstances in which unqualified paramedics attend an emergency call. Does he believe that any unqualified paramedic should be responding to an emergency call?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the issue here is that they were not unqualified, as I tried to convey. All ambulance trusts in the UK allow student paramedics to work unsupervised, but only after they have had nine months’ operational experience and have passed both a written exam and a clinical practice observation by a qualified assessor. In this case, the London Ambulance Service accepts that, despite their qualifications and experience, the crew did not act in accordance with their training.

Baroness Jolly: My Lords, there are also volunteer first responders, trained with a minimum skill set and working with ambulance trusts across England. Will my noble friend tell the House who keeps the information about their deployment and how they are monitored for quality outcomes?

Earl Howe: I think that my noble friend is referring to first responders, who should be integrated into the clinical governance structure of all ambulance trusts. The outcomes will be assessed for all calls regardless of who attended the calls in the first instance. A first responder is just that—further ambulance staff would always be sent to a call. In rural areas, these staff can often get there first and provide immediate help, so the use of those people is a matter for local decision.

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Lord Colwyn: My Lords, how often are fully trained paramedics and those in the training process evaluated as being fit to practise?

Earl Howe: My Lords, it is up to the employer—in this case, the ambulance trust—to ensure that it has a body of suitably trained and experienced staff. That depends on regular monitoring and ensuring that training is kept up to date. Equally, it is up to commissioners to ensure that the service that they are receiving is delivered by suitably experienced and qualified people. The CQC will also have a role in this regard.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my health interests in the register. To follow on from the noble Earl’s final comment, is this not an example of staff such as nurses being trained to be practitioners in the health service but finding that they have not been given enough practical training when they come to treat people on the front line? The noble Earl will know that Health Education England is being established as a non-departmental public body in the Care Bill. Can we ensure that that body has much more control over the curriculum of those being trained to fill these very important posts?

Earl Howe: The noble Lord makes a series of very important points about training. The answer to his final question is that, yes, Health Education England will certainly be looking at the degree of training required to fulfil specific professional tasks across the piece in the health service, including the ambulance service. However, I do not think that this case reflects a lack of appropriate training on the part of the individuals involved. They were appropriately trained; they were just incompetent. That is the point.

Medical Innovation Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.37 pm

A Bill to make provision about innovation in medical treatment.

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

Social Care Portability Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.37 pm

A Bill to make provision for the portability of care packages to promote independent living for disabled persons by local authorities in England and Wales; and for connected purposes.

The Bill was introduced by Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

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House of Lords Reform Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.37 pm

A Bill to make provision for permanent leave of absence from the House of Lords; to make provision for the expulsion of Members of the House of Lords in specified circumstances; to make provision for the appointment of a commission to make recommendations to the Crown for the creation of life peerages and to restrict membership of the House of Lords by virtue of hereditary peerages.

The Bill was introduced by Baroness Hayman, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Assisted Dying Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.38 pm

A Bill to make provision to enable competent adults who are terminally ill to be provided at their request with specific assistance to end their own life; and for connected purposes.

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

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.38 pm

A Bill to make provision to repeal the European Communities Act 1972; and to make provision for the Secretary of State to repeal any enactment that has been a consequence of the European Communities Act 1972.

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

Queen’s Speech

Debate (5th Day)

3.40 pm

Moved on Wednesday 8 May by Lord Lang of Monkton

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”.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, we have a long speakers list today. I should be grateful if colleagues who are not staying for the debate will leave the Chamber quietly so that my noble friend the Minister may begin the opening speech shortly.

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Baroness Northover: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Warsi, who had been due to open today’s debate, has been unexpectedly called away from Parliament on an urgent family matter. I am honoured therefore, as government spokesperson for the Department for International Development, to be taking her place. This debate will, I know, range very widely, and there is enormous expertise in this House. I look forward to all contributions and to the response at the close of the debate from my noble friend Lord Astor.

Representing my noble friend Lady Warsi, I wish to spell out our foreign policy priorities. In the next 12 months we will continue to build Britain’s global reach and influence in line with our core priorities—to safeguard our national security, to promote our prosperity and to support British nationals overseas. I want to set out this agenda in four areas, which I will take in turn. These are: first, responding to the immediate foreign policy issues that we face; secondly, our work to promote Britain’s values across the world; thirdly, our efforts to support economic growth; and, fourthly, the steps that the Foreign Office is taking as an institution to ensure that we are fully equipped to take forward this important work.

The most immediate crisis facing us is the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Syria, an issue that has much occupied your Lordships. Over 80,000 people have been killed, and over 6.8 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Evidence of torture, summary executions and the systematic use of rape is widespread. We must achieve a political solution to bring a fast but sustainable end to the conflict. We are therefore pleased that Russia has agreed to encourage the regime to the table. This could represent a step forward. We need now to ensure that it delivers tangible progress towards a transition. However, there is still work to do. That is why we think it is even more important that we amend the EU arms embargo to incentivise the opposition to come to the table and increase the pressure on the Syrian regime. We have always said that an amendment to the embargo is designed to create the conditions for a negotiated solution.

The United Kingdom is playing an important role on Syria, supporting the moderate opposition with £12.1 million of assistance last year, and now contributing £170 million to the humanitarian response. DfID is front and centre in this response, and I am proud of that. We will redouble our efforts to end the violence and achieve a political transition, and will continue to support the UN’s investigation into the use of chemical weapons.

Elsewhere in the region we are maintaining our support for political and economic reform in the wake of the Arab spring. While many of the countries affected are facing challenges, progress has been made. We have seen the first ever democratic presidential election in Egypt, a new and democratic Government in Tunisia, and a new and more open constitution in Morocco.

Through the Arab Partnership we have committed £110 million from 2011-15 to promote political and economic reform, and we are working through the Deauville Partnership to promote open economies

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and inclusive growth. At the height of the Arab spring, the UK played a crucial role in supporting the Libyan people in their struggle for freedom. Effecting long-term change after four decades of dictatorship takes time and there remain significant challenges, but we must not lose sight of the progress made over the past two years. The United Kingdom remains committed to supporting Libya’s transition to a democratic, stable and prosperous country through the provision of advice and capacity building on security, justice and economic reform.

However, lasting peace in the Middle East will be achieved only if a solution is found to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am sure that noble Lords will underline that point in this debate. This is a critical year for the peace process. There is a need to return to credible negotiations, but it will require bold political leadership and both parties to build trust. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have shown a strong commitment to pushing the peace process forward, and we will do all we can to support US efforts.

The Government also remain focused on Afghanistan. We seek an Afghanistan that can maintain its own security and that is not a safe haven for international terrorists. This requires us to help to increase the capability of the Afghan national security forces, to make progress towards a sustainable political settlement, and to build a viable Afghan state with a strengthened economy. The ANSF now leads 80% of all security operations and are on track to assume full responsibility for security by the end of 2014. This will help us to reduce the UK military presence by nearly half this year.

Alongside other international donors, the UK will provide long-term support through a £70 million commitment to sustain the Afghan national security forces after 2014, and a £178 million per year commitment until 2017 to support governance and development. This is crucial. We are not, as some have sought to argue, seeking to cut and run. I know from my work in DfID how committed we are on this front, especially to ensuring that the gains that women have made are not lost.

I pay tribute to the courage and professionalism of our troops. Four hundred and forty-four British service personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2001, and we will never forget the sacrifice that they and their families have made.

Of course, it is not just from Afghanistan that threats to the UK’s security have emanated. The In Amenas attack in Algeria, the attack in Boston and the rising trend in kidnapping for ransom among terrorist groups in north-west Africa highlight the continued threat that we face from terrorism. To counter this effectively, we need to combine creative work from our intelligence agencies and police with intelligent diplomacy. It is crucial that we work with international partners to address the conditions in which terrorism thrives. We will use our G8 presidency to ensure that this issue remains at the very top of the international agenda.

That brings me to the action to halt the military advance in January of al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Mali. UK logistical assistance and intelligence sharing

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supported a swift French and African military operation that radically diminished the threat in northern Mali. We continue to encourage Mali’s transitional authorities to pursue an inclusive reconciliation process that supports long-term stability.

Nuclear proliferation remains a further threat to our security. In Iran, we are determined to prevent the regime developing a nuclear weapon. In the past year, we have intensified our efforts, as part of the E3+3, to find a diplomatic solution, but Iran’s position still falls far short of what is needed to achieve a breakthrough. We will continue to apply pressure in pursuit of a peaceful, negotiated solution.

Further east, North Korea remains a concern, not least following its satellite launch in December and nuclear test in February. We have worked hard to secure two UN Security Council resolutions in response and the strengthening of EU sanctions. We are making it clear to the regime that North Korea’s long-term interests will be promoted only by constructive engagement with the international community.

Our responses to these issues have been guided strongly by our values. There is no time in this speech to go into detail on the huge amount that we do globally to support and defend human rights and democracy, but I want to highlight some specific areas.

The first area is freedom of religion or belief. The past year has seen more religiously motivated attacks and more cases of abuse, imprisonment and discrimination throughout the world. We need to strengthen the global political will to address the underlying causes of this problem. We will be building on this work in the coming year, which will also see us run for election to the UN Human Rights Council in November. We believe we have the experience and commitment to make a strong contribution to the council’s work.

Secondly, we have sought to rally international action on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has shown real leadership on this issue, which is central to conflict prevention and peacebuilding worldwide. We have created a team of experts to help build the capacity of bodies responsible for investigating and prosecuting sexual violence; agreed an historic declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict at last month’s G8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting; and secured commitments from the G8, including support for the development of an international protocol and £23 million in additional funding for this issue. These actions have started to build an international coalition to end impunity for rape and sexual violence as a tactic of war. We will continue the momentum by putting this issue on the agenda of the UN Security Council next month and the UN General Assembly later in the year. We also hope the Foreign Ministers’ declaration will be welcomed by the leaders at the G8 summit in June.

As noble Lords will probably know, DfID is supporting work on this on the ground in Syria and Jordan. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made women and girls a top priority of DfID’s work. I commend my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone, who, within DfID, is taking forward a campaign to tackle female genital mutilation, seeking its end within a generation.

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DfID, of course, looks to support the most vulnerable in the world and, for DfID, women and girls are therefore centre stage.

The third area is that we have helped to bring to a successful conclusion a seven-year, UK-led campaign for a UN international arms trade treaty. I pay tribute to my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Alistair Burt for his work on this. The treaty, adopted on 2 April, will hopefully make the world a safer place by saving lives, aiding development and stopping arms reaching the world’s most vulnerable regions. We will sign the treaty as soon as possible and aim to ratify later this year. We will encourage as many countries as possible to do the same. I pay tribute to the many people in the House of Lords who have played their part in bringing this about.

The fourth area is our leadership in supporting peace and stability in Somalia. Two years ago al-Shabaab controlled large parts of the country, piracy was growing and the threat from terrorism was acute. Today, a co-ordinated international effort has seen African and Somali troops drive al-Shabaab out of its strongholds, the creation of a new legitimate Government and a diminishing threat from piracy. The second London conference held last week was an important further step on the path to a peaceful and stable Somalia. The UK will remain actively engaged in this process.

The fifth area is the UK’s work in Burma, where we continue to shape the reform process. The past two years have seen the release of political prisoners, credible by-elections, initial ceasefire agreements and steps towards increasing humanitarian access to conflict areas. However, Burma needs to bring all ethnic groups into the process. We will continue our important work with Burma, including on inter-faith issues, and we are reviewing how we might assist with police reform.

Sixthly, we supported the agreement of a Commonwealth charter, which has for the first time given the organisation a single statement defining its core values. We debated this in the closing stages of the last Session. Given the importance we attach to the Commonwealth, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary will attend this year’s Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka. It is important that we are involved in the meeting and promote issues that matter to us. However, we continue to have concerns about human rights in Sri Lanka and will use every opportunity to encourage progress.

Seventhly, we are continuing with our work to support the British Overseas Territories. Good governance forms an important part of our work with the territories, together with ensuring their security and encouraging their economic development. We will continue to protect the Falkland Islanders’ and Gibraltarians’ right to determine their political futures.

This year, the United Kingdom honoured our promise to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made clear, we are the first G8 country to do so. This is critical because tackling poverty in the world’s poorest places helps us tackle the root causes of global problems that matter to Britain, from disease and drugs to migration and

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climate change, as well as being the right thing to do. It is an investment that will create a safer and more prosperous world.

Supporting economic growth and prosperity remains a particular focus of our work. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister wants to use our G8 presidency to advance trade, ensure tax compliance and promote greater transparency, all of which are critical for jobs and sustainable development. It is an ambitious, practical and pro-business agenda that benefits everyone, both in the developed and developing worlds. We will tackle barriers to growth such as protectionism and corruption, and work to ensure that global standards on cybersecurity are high enough to protect Governments, businesses and individuals from harm.

We will utilise the networks open to us to promote growth—networks such as the Commonwealth, whose members enjoy shared values and similar legal systems that provide solid foundations for business, trade, investment and development; and, of course, the European Union, with whom we will work to unlock free trade agreements such as the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. We are a trading nation. We do not just want to trade with Europe, we want to have a say over the rules that govern that trade. This is exactly what our EU membership gives us. Membership of the EU is in the UK’s national interest. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it very clear that he wants Britain in the EU, shaping the debate on the things that really matter, such as reducing burdens on business, pushing trade deals with fast-growing economies and preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. We are clear, too, that the EU needs to reform, which is in the interests of all member states.

We are also developing the UK’s diplomatic partnerships with the fastest growing parts of the world, from the Far East and South-East Asia to Latin America, Africa and the Gulf. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced yesterday our decision to support the UAE’s strong bid for Dubai to host Expo 2020. If successful, Dubai would bring Expo to the Middle East for the first time in history. Over 100,000 British citizens live and work in the UAE and we enjoy a broad relationship on issues from education and trade to defence and foreign policy.

The Foreign Office and UKTI are working harder than ever to help British businesses overseas and promote Britain as a destination for foreign investment. In recent months, we have helped to deliver a £7.5 billion deal for BP to develop liquid natural gas in Indonesia and a £2.5 billion contract for BAE Systems to supply Typhoon and Hawk aircraft to Oman, and we have helped to promote the purchase of Battersea power station by a Malaysian consortium in a deal with an eventual value of £8 billion.

Finally, we are strengthening the foundations of the Foreign Office itself to ensure that it is fully able to defend Britain’s national and economic interest and contribute to a peaceful, stable and more just world. Part of this is equipping ourselves to give the best possible support to British nationals abroad, which remains a crucial element of our work. Our upgraded crisis centre helped us to provide a comprehensive response to crises such as those in Algeria, Gaza and

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the Egypt balloon crash; and last month we launched our 2013-16 consular strategy, which should allow us to improve our service still further.

Our foreign service is also about ensuring that we have the right resources in the right places, the most visible element of which is the expansion of our diplomatic network. We are deploying more staff to the fastest growing regions, upgrading existing posts and opening new ones. We have already opened or upgraded 12 posts across four continents, bringing our total number of posts to 267, with more planned over the next year.

We are also improving the skills of our diplomats, in particular in foreign languages and commercial diplomacy, and working to ensure that today’s Foreign Office reflects today’s Britain. We have made real progress in recent years, such as the number of women heads of post has more than doubled in the past decade. However, there is more to be done and we continue to work to ensure that the Foreign Office better reflects the great diversity of this country.

Today I have highlighted some of the Government’s recent foreign policy achievements and set out our priorities for the year ahead. The sheer breadth of issues on which we work, and their geographic spread, shows just how much the United Kingdom does on the international stage. Of course, the FCO works closely with the MoD and DfID in its work. This Government are committed to maintaining our “active and activist” approach, because we believe that Britain can and does make a real difference in the world.

4.01 pm

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I thank the Minister for what she has said and hope to respond against the background of the four guiding principles that she mentioned in her introduction. The debate has 56 listed speakers with extensive knowledge and experience, which, in my view, speaks volumes for the case for a standing committee on foreign relations in your Lordships’ House.

This is a deeply unsettled, uncertain and unstable time. All leading powers are still hauling their way through a profound economic crisis, and United Kingdom policy has left us becalmed, or worse. The crisis makes the formulation of foreign policy all the more difficult—an international challenge in its own right. The state of the wider Middle East is unpredictable and the outcomes of the Arab spring are still far from clear. Progress between Israel and the Palestinians is imperceptible, and the nation with the greatest leverage, the United States, has for a while deployed far too little influence. However, I welcome the new urgency that we have seen in recent weeks, which is an improvement on the mistakes that were made by the Bush Administration in that region. The United Kingdom is largely absent as a force for progress, however much we may advocate it.

Nuclear proliferation continues. Iran is increasingly problematic, North Korea has become a fully fledged problem and south-east Asia a cauldron of tensions. Miscalculation is the present risk. It is a time, as my right honourable friend Douglas Alexander, put it,

“for careful words and wise heads”.

Global terror, now partially contained in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Pakistani tribal areas, has, as we know, sickening ways of growing new viperous heads on western

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streets and elsewhere in the world. Terror directed at religious communities, if anything, grows. Cyberwar and crime require constant attention.

Europe has moved along the spectrum from being seen as a source of enduring Nobel Prize winning peace and prosperity to being the plaything of populist politics. Those afraid of dealing with populism seem to buckle at every perceived blow, and the United Kingdom’s long-term interests are placed at great risk. The extent of cuts in defence expenditure reduces our flexibility so that we have to choose very carefully, within reason and international law, where we respond to threats. Alex Salmond seems intent on unravelling our deterrent capability, undermining Scotland and the United Kingdom in equal measure.

Behind it all, the international institutions appear to be weaker, lacking leadership and often dysfunctional. The institutions where we so often place our hopes, such as the United Nations, the G20, the G8, the EU and the multinational forums of Africa and Asia—the machinery designed to learn the lessons of World War II—increasingly lack authority for any concerted strategy. They often let down the people in the world who are suffering the most. The case for liberal democracy and economics, and for the peaceful norms that we have sought to achieve in the past decade, appears to be weaker than it was a decade ago.

Let us face it: the United Kingdom’s voice in international affairs is less audible and sometimes not regarded as very relevant. I welcome the emphasis on international trade relationships in the FCO, but I cannot welcome the subordination of the other key skills of international diplomacy and statecraft that I think we are witnessing.

The two pieces of legislation in the gracious Speech—defence and some minor housekeeping on Europe—are unlikely to be the focus of today’s debate. The defence Bill will be studied. Its backdrop is a sequence of culls in the 2013 Budget and probable cuts in the 2015 spending review. Long-term commitments to real growth in equipment budgets, particularly the F-35B, mean that apportioning future austerity will determine where we project force in our national interest and through our alliances.

The Bill that ought to have been announced—if the coalition had had the courage of its 2010 convictions—would have enshrined the aid pledge made so volubly at that time. Driven by a “Farage” of populist rhetoric, the Prime Minister has dropped the legislation—how sad. Progress in Africa was central to the previous Government; I believed it was central to this Government. The damage to the millennium development goals creates greater uncertainty, insecurity and violence in Africa. It will impact on us and it is an historic error. Popular it may be in some short-term view; mistaken it certainly is. Better for Mr Cameron to use the G8 presidency to act on aid tax and transparency—perhaps he can move an amendment to the Queen’s Speech in order to do that and be remarkably “relaxed” in doing so.

In identifying and assessing risk in policy, we must be complete realists. The decision on Britain’s membership of the EU can be based—as the noble Baroness did a few minutes ago—only on a judgment of national

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interest. Committing now to an in/out referendum fails that test. I fear that we are not so much sleepwalking to the exit but that our Government have, in some cases, actively embraced exit or are indifferent to the consequences of the process we are now in.

We are three years into the eurozone crisis. The underlying causes remain. Politics and economics are marching in opposite directions. New structures are slow in the making. Failure will be devastating to frail major world economies, and some are now estimating a risk of a 10% decline in global GDP, and EU unemployment, already unsustainable, reaching 20%.

Many issues demand reform in the EU and an astute United Kingdom can contribute massively to that. But there are no credible substitutes for our current trade relations. The prospect of a free trade agreement between the two largest global blocs, the EU and the United States, offers opportunities that are otherwise unavailable. The key is to be at the international table—not outside the door, subject to the decisions within but without a voice or a vote.

What an amazing moment to blight our economic prospects with what will be a four-year campaign over a referendum, the terms of which nobody today can express with certainty. I declare an interest as leading a merchant bank and in that role I now routinely see due diligence risk questions from potential inward investors to the United Kingdom. Global businesses now contemplate the consequences of us fighting for four years and then potentially fracturing the EU by the withdrawal they fear is likely. It has become a due diligence risk. I put it plainly: a robust global economy is in the United Kingdom’s interest; the prosperity of our people should be our only goal. Of course, we will not simply defend the status quo—there are many things to be corrected—because that also hampers the interest and the goal I have expressed.

Advances in reversing proliferation as major powers reduce their arsenals are welcome. Iran and North Korea are not only dangers themselves but encourage other, often not stable nations to create a new balance of terror. Our limited role—and it may be limited—could involve assisting Washington and Beijing, the powers most likely to intervene, in that part of south-east Asia to show that new co-operation is desirable. Shared intelligence on the DPRK’s WMD assets and some information on their own military resources tasked to intervene might reduce risk and build confidence. Co-operation in these ways is always risky, but non-co-operation is riskier still.

Relations with China have wider implications, and I am not clear that we really know what we are doing. We need to grasp what faces Xi Jinping and the new leadership in China’s domestic transformation and foreign policies, which are plainly problematic for them, to foster deeper relationships. All these things pose sharp and deep challenges.

I look to 2014 for an honest debate on our aims and their outcomes in Afghanistan. It is unhelpful to do so with our troops still on the ground. It is better at this moment to pay tribute to their courage and sacrifices. In due course, we will need to take stock of the security position that we leave behind. We will want to

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know whether Afghans regard their Government as legitimate and their economy as sustainable. We need a prospectus where security, good governance, the rule of law, universal rights, pluralism and the engagement of all forces in social reconciliation direct the efforts of the United Nations in that country.

Difficult as the Pakistani elections have obviously been, it is truly significant that an elected Government have been succeeded by another. The UK must engage early, not least in the interests of Afghani security, but we should also try to convince Pakistan, if we can, that India is not its greatest problem—far from it.

I turn briefly to the Middle East, where we surely have a role. We deplore the rocket assaults on Israel and the threats made by Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah to eradicate Israel. We tell our Israeli friends that seizure and construction on Palestinian land and the line of the wall breaches international law and is morally wrong. New life is needed in what is neither peace nor a process. The two-state solution hangs by a thread. As matters stand, it will probably not survive. The immediate consequence could be the collapse of the Palestinian Authority with Hamas filling the vacuum. It might be followed by an Israeli re-occupation of the West Bank and a violent Palestinian response. The Israeli Government and Palestinians need to understand urgently that they are each other’s best prospect for stability and finally peace.

We will work hard to bolster the durability of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty—I hope that it is a priority for the FCO—providing the assistance that President Morsi appears to want.

Syria will continue to pre-occupy this House as a humanitarian and strategic disaster, although I welcome what the Minister said about aid being provided in Syria, which is plainly very important. Each passing week has made it harder to identify and support a secular opposition, although we must surely continue. However, I believe—and I hope that the House will forgive me for saying so—that we are behind the curve. We have failed to learn from Richard Holbrooke’s approach to diplomacy and statecraft in the former Yugoslavia. There was there, of course, American leadership, but there was also aggressive and creative diplomacy and a willingness to use force in the cause of peace, anchored to a resolution where no ethnic or other group was completely denied a living space, a credible state and economic institutions. It was a sort of cantonisation, I know, but it none the less persuaded people that they were not being driven out of their homes permanently and to their continual detriment. For many, it was the least-worst outcome, but, with the exception of criminals such as Mladic, it has survived as a solution and as a diplomatic triumph. John Kerry has obviously learnt much from this approach, and that is why I welcome the discussions that he has had with Russia. We should have done so many months ago.

None of this is said to be disobliging. I simply conclude by saying that we use the skills of the FCO and DfID very well but we can do so to greater effect by responding with dramatic measures when it is right but, for much of the time, working far more consistently on the smaller and more persistent scale. Foreign

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relations are hard to predict but they can never be allowed to be a rollercoaster. We need a new calibration: more solid, patient work and more realism about what works with our allies and when we can work best with them. Upgrading and higher numbers, as we have just heard reported, are excellent and I welcome them but there also needs to be more traditional tasking of that workforce to provide what I fear at the moment is a missing ingredient.

4.15 pm

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, I first thank my noble friend for her overview of the developments in defence, foreign and commonwealth affairs and international development. I will concentrate my remarks on the latter. Within that framework, the UK has, through DfID and the FCO, maintained a reputation over the past decade and more as a world leader in international development. To our great credit, our development programme has been maintained in spite of our straitened economic circumstances. Our overseas development aid is expected to rise to some £11.7 billion this year as we meet the target of investing 0.7% of gross national income—a target agreed by the G8 and others to help global efforts to meet the millennium development goals or MDGs.

However, there is growing concern that the UK has yet to enshrine this target in law as a permanent feature of our international development commitment. The MDGs were set to be achieved by 2015 but that is clearly not going to happen. It is clear that few if any developing countries will achieve all the goals. This must not be painted as failure. In reality, probably in every case, developing countries have made significant progress towards meeting some if not all of the goals, progress that arguably would not have been made without the MDG initiative. The debate is now in full swing over what should be done post-2015.

According to news reports this morning, the Prime Minister will announce at the UN today proposals for 10 new development goals that will be simple to understand and easy to implement. It is not clear whether these are extensions of the current MDGs or the outcomes of the post-Busan Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, which the Prime Minister co-chairs. Also reported this morning were the results of a survey carried out among more than 600 MPs at the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly meeting in Quito. That revealed that MPs overwhelmingly backed democratic governance as a stand-alone objective for the UN post-2015 sustainable development goals—the new SDGs. More than 96% of the MPs surveyed believed that the key elements of democratic governance —participation, transparency and accountability—should be embedded in other SDGs to ensure success. Do the Government agree with that?

For more than a decade, and in parallel with the MDGs programme, there has been a concerted effort to achieve an international partnership in effective development co-operation. The fourth high-level forum in Busan at the end of 2011 saw the establishment of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. Its main functions include maintaining political support for co-operation and monitoring the

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implementation of the Busan commitments, with more than 160 countries and 45 other organisations signed up to endorse the agreement.

The UK was and remains a major player in the Busan process. The Prime Minister is a co-chair of the high-level panel of Ministers and our Secretary of State for DfID serves on the international steering committee developing the indicators for monitoring aid effectiveness. Given that the steering committee’s work is carried out transparently, could my noble friend, either now or later, provide your Lordships with a brief on the progress made by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State since December 2011 on their post-Busan duties, and by the former Working Party on Aid Effectiveness?

With more than 48% of the world’s population now living in democracies, the current western model for development and aid investment assumes that participation of citizens is essential to development. The promotion of democracy underlies much of western development policy and access to aid and investment from the UK, EU and other donors. That western model has been seriously questioned at the World Economic Forum in Addis Ababa. It has prompted the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Africa, of which I am a vice-chairman, to initiate an inquiry into democracy and development in Africa. The inquiry will focus in particular on the implications for UK development policy.

The gracious Speech made strong reference to curbing sexual violence in conflict, which would fall within the remit of Building Security Overseas, and in particular, the right to protect. There is a clear need for the UK to promote the right to protect to help states build the capacity to guard against the risks of genocide and crimes against humanity. The Minister has already given in her opening remarks some indication of where the budget now available through Building Security Overseas has led to improving the tools available to the international community before, during and after conflict, minimising the potential for atrocities. Can she or her colleague provide more detail about that process and the Government’s commitment in due course?

One of the most pressing issues, particularly on the African continent, is the predicted shortfall in the production of enough food to meet the needs of a burgeoning population. According to the Montpellier Panel at Imperial College, more than 200 million people, 23% of Africa’s population, are classified as hungry and 40% of children under five in sub-Saharan Africa are stunted due to malnutrition. Sub-Saharan Africa has a current population of about 875 million, which is expected almost to double by 2050 to close to 2 billion. The Montpellier Panel believes that a new paradigm to tackle food insecurity is urgently needed, through a programme of sustainable intensification. That, it says, will be essential if we are to overcome supply challenges. On present trends, food production will be able to meet only 13% of the continent’s food needs by 2050.

Can my noble friend tell the House whether the Government plan to recognise and act on the new paradigm of sustainable intensification to avert food insecurity and the threat of chronic hunger? Is she also

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aware of the report of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, of which I am a former member, entitled

Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not

, which concludes that at least 30% of all food produced never reaches the intended consumer due to poor practices in harvesting, transportation and storage? Do the Government plan to follow the recommendations of the institution, and work with the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the international engineering community to bring their skills to bear on improving harvesting, transportation and storage practices?

As the ONE campaign pointed out in its latest report on fighting extreme poverty in Africa, the 19 countries that it assesses in the context of meeting the MDGs have together a funding shortfall of some $4.4 billion. It is also the case, apparently, that DFID directs less than 3% of UK aid to agriculture, forestry, fishing and agro-industries—the lowest among the G8 countries. Does my noble friend agree that there is a strong case for that aspect of government policy to be reviewed? It seems counterintuitive that while sub-Saharan Africa is facing an impending food crisis, according to Action Aid, more and more land is being switched from food production to growing crops for biofuels. Action Aid’s research reveals that in sub-Saharan Africa, 6 million hectares of land are now under the control of EU companies engaged in the biofuel industry. It estimates that the amount of food crops consumed as fuel by G8 countries could feed more than 400 million people.

Will the Government take the opportunity, when chairing the G8 summit next month, to follow the advice of the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the UN’s FAO, and press for the removal of biofuel mandates, which are forcing up food prices?

4.23 pm

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, the gracious Speech barely touches on defence. Only “strengthening the Reserve Forces” and improving,

“the way this country procures defence equipment”,

get a mention. There is little else. Why indeed, is “this country” rather than “my Government” or even “my Ministers” given the task of improving procurement? It is tempting to consider, pace the other place, an amendment regretting the poor coverage of defence issues, a principal responsibility of government, in the gracious Speech.

Of course, much depends on what tasks and commitments the Government of the day will expect or wish to undertake. It would be helpful if there were unity of vision on this. Is thought being given to re-energising past attempts to find cross-party consensus on these issues?

Two and a half years have passed since the strategic defence and security review was published. We are approaching a third of the way to the goals set out for Future Force 2020 and the three services. It is timely to take stock of what has gone well, what is worrying and what cannot be achieved in the coming seven years. I expect the Minister to cover what has been going well, so let me highlight a few of my worries as we look towards 2020.

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My principal concern is that the funding required to match the force levels for 2020 is not assured. Indeed, it seems from the trends in defence budget squeezes of the past couple of years that there is no longer any realistic expectation that Future Force 2020 is financially achievable. Added to that are the delays in future equipment delivery with carriers and F-35, for example, the latter now possibly further affected by the sequestration issues in the United States. There is still no provision for the maritime air capability lost when Nimrod mark 4 was abandoned. Combat air was almost halved in 2010, when the Harrier force and some other front-line squadrons were disbanded. The mooted projections of yet more force reductions in combat air further weaken a vital capability mounted with impressive speed and professionalism in the Libyan campaign two years ago, or in the ongoing work of the Tornado force in Afghanistan. The paucity of naval surface ships has created well rehearsed difficulties in meeting global commitments. Army regular force levels are to shrink by 20%. The prospect of relying ever more on the reserves has yet to be achieved or put to the test.

The cumulative effect seriously diminishes the putative scale and endurance of any future expeditionary commitment, but senior Ministers seem to be in denial about this. They still sound minded to strut their military stuff on the world stage. They rightly sing the praises of today’s Armed Forces but mass, too, counts in conflict. Do the Government realise that today they carry more of a sharp twig than the big stick of yesteryear? Moreover, as numbers are scaled down the resilience of the remaining forces is compromised. A favourable air situation and our operational and tactical skills, which have generally outmatched the opposition’s, have been providential but some future operation might not enjoy the benefits of such air and tactical supremacy, and low own-side losses.

There is a variety of the unexpecteds that could also involve serious numerical loss—losses that could be the equivalent of a 20% or 30% cut of the total strength available or even more, not a more manageable 5% or 10% attrition. Unexpected major risks might be: a serious loss of key passengers in an air transport accident; a major hangar fire with maybe six, a dozen or more airframes, engines and other critical kit lost in the bonfire; or even an extreme weather event which, as the Minister will know, can cause major damage to aircraft caught by it. I have not dreamt these risks up. They have happened. Is it not foolhardy to presume that they will never happen again? Is the Minister satisfied that enough allowance is being made for unlikely but catastrophic loss—for the unexpecteds of life—other than in combat operations?

Size is its own insurance. The Royal Air Force was almost 100,000 strong when the first Gulf conflict began in 1991. Today, it is not much more than 30,000. Aircraft numbers have similarly shrunk, and with them the resilience of the force to cope with the unexpected.

As regular personnel numbers reduce, the intention is to make good gaps in skills or shortages by drawing on reservists. We seem stuck in the mindset that they can be mobilised only by means of ministerial authority. We need to look again at an outmoded system which

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does not take account of the new and greater reliance on the reserves, in some cases when only two or three individuals with specialist knowledge or capability may be immediately required. A more flexible system attuned to the new policy for using reservists is now essential.

4.30 pm

The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the debate on the humble Address, particularly in the area of foreign affairs. I welcome the Government’s continued commitment to preventing conflict and reducing terrorism and acknowledge their intention to strengthen the Reserve Forces, although I regret the lack of legislation to enshrine the necessity of consulting Parliament prior to the deployment of military force.

The promised support of countries in transition in the Middle East and north Africa and the opening of the peace process in Afghanistan are also significant. I welcome the various remarks made in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and agree entirely with the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on the urgency of this matter. I declare an interest as the recently appointed chair of Conciliation Resources, whose work is committed to supporting people at the heart of conflicts who are striving to find suitable solutions.

Like many of your Lordships, I am deeply concerned about the situation in Syria. I welcome the recent visit of the Prime Minister to President Obama, but I particularly wish to acknowledge the initiative of US Secretary of State Kerry in his dialogue with the Russians and the proposal to convene an international conference on Syria before the end of the month. Last year, I met the Russian ambassador to gain first hand the Russian perspective on the conflict. I welcome the initiative that looks to be in the process of being taken. That meeting last year followed one with Alistair Burt, who expressed the hope that a tipping point had been reached in Syria. Regrettably, no such tipping point was reached, and the evidence of that is clear in the growing sectarian nature of the conflict. A particularly disturbing piece of evidence lies in the recent kidnapping of two metropolitan bishops from Aleppo and the absence of any ransom demands for their release.

While some evidence exists that the various parties are realising that a negotiated transition is better than a fight to the death, does the Minister agree that in the absence of a political solution, the international community needs to contain the crisis by limiting the flow of arms to Syria and by strengthening the capacity of neighbouring countries to provide for the welfare of refugees? I raise this question because I regret the ongoing intention to seek an amendment to EU sanctions in relation to arms for Syria because if the Americans and Russians are successful in convening a peace conference, is such a strategy over arms provision the wisest thing we could be doing? The recent intervention in Libya offers evidence that the provision of arms without due attention being paid to the potential decommissioning thereof ought to leave us with some anxiety. Providing arms in this increasingly fragmented conflict makes any strategy for decommissioning arms, post conflict, very difficult.

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Further, much as we hope and pray that a peace plan emerges from the diplomatic process, history suggests that such plans have durability only if the plan is owned locally and championed internationally. Rather than seeking the lifting of sanctions on the supply of arms, could Her Majesty’s Government consider how their role might contribute to being a custodian of any settlement? That would include taking steps to ensure that the Syrian National Council plays a constructive role at the peace conference, offering support to any regional or international peacekeeping force and facilitating, ensuring access and co-ordinating the humanitarian response. This would be an entirely appropriate action for our Government to be engaged in. While it is widely accepted that President Assad has no future in Syria, the wider question is whether his departure should be seen as an outcome of a diplomatic process, rather than the precondition of beginning one.

I return briefly to the impact of the sectarian conflict on religious minorities. Can the Minister kindly elaborate on the conversation that Alistair Burt recently had in Lebanon with religious leaders, and will he reassure this House that the Government will continue to take a robust position on the rights of all religious minorities in Syria?

It is now five years since seven Baha’i leaders in Iran were imprisoned. I welcome the remarks of Alistair Burt yesterday on these leaders and the need for freedom of all Baha’is in Iran to worship and practise their faith. I encourage Her Majesty’s Government to continue to pursue this matter with some urgency in the coming months.

While on the subject of religious freedom, I ask finally what consideration is being given to appointing a special envoy on freedom of religion and belief issues, and to foster dialogue and understanding as outlined in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 2012 human rights and democracy report. I welcome the initiative of Her Majesty’s Government in respect of the United Nations humanitarian initiative and hope that it will be successful.

I acknowledge that these are substantive and difficult issues to which there are no easy answers, but Her Majesty’s Government are to be encouraged to see themselves as a custodian of a constructive approach to a diplomatic process, and cautioned against further arming in what is an already dangerously overarmed conflict.

4.36 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I will concentrate on two points. There has been a lot of talk about what was missing from the Queen’s Speech, mostly focusing on aspects of the European debate. However, my concern is with another word that was missing: it is “Commonwealth”. It was mentioned briefly by the Minister when she spoke but it did not appear in the Queen’s Speech, which is a great pity. Last year, we managed to get it in, but I notice that it is not there this year. The Queen is a worldwide figure, respected, with vast influence across the whole planet. She makes a speech before all the high commissioners, covering a vast area of 53 nations and encompassing a third of the human race.

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This is not just sentiment. The Commonwealth network is growing rapidly, at 3.7%. It is the gateway to all the new markets, all the areas in which this country must succeed to survive. I am not saying that it is an alternative to the European Union, but the fact is that the EU is flat-lining and struggling with its unending problems over the euro, which will go on for many years; we need that to be repaired, of course. However, the truth is that all our success, all the statistics and a growing volume of evidence show that all the growth in the next 17 to 20 years will be in Asia, Latin America and, particularly, in Africa. These are the areas that the Commonwealth spreads across and to which it gives us access, along with gateways to the great markets of China, Brazil and so on.

It is a great pity that the word “Commonwealth” did not occur in Her Majesty’s Speech. It should have been there. I know that there are problems over the heads of Government meeting at Colombo, and I am very glad that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary are going, and also that His Royal Highness Prince Charles is going. They will no doubt all speak out very clearly on the causes of human rights and liberty, as they should in Colombo because there are clearly matters to be dealt with there.

However, the links between Commonwealth Governments do not matter so much. It is the vast range of links beneath, the latticework of networks between every profession—education, science, schools at every level, universities, professions, the accountancies, the legal professions—which spread out through the Commonwealth and give this country a legacy which we have so far neglected and yet which provides us with just the access we need precisely to the markets where we have to succeed.

I mentioned that the Commonwealth is growing at 3.7%, which is good by European standards. The Commonwealth countries are not just the old countries in difficulties. It is a vast range of the fastest-growing high-tech economies; the obvious ones are of course India, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Canada and so on. These are leading nations with, in many cases, a higher income per head than us. On top of those is the new range of Commonwealth countries coming into the prosperity league either side of Africa, as they find through the shale gas revolution that they have fantastic raw energy resources and prospects. They are increasingly setting up their own sovereign wealth funds, from which we in this country will be borrowing. Rather than helping them, we will be borrowing from the sovereign wealth funds of the Commonwealth in order to finance our dilapidated infrastructure. Therefore, to leave the Commonwealth out of the story is a big mistake, and the word should have been there in Her Majesty’s speech. That is all I want to say about that.

I turn to the European Union issue. It makes one gasp to think of the naivety of some of my colleagues—some quite senior people—and the oversimplifications they make when they speak about the European Union as though it were a sort of canoe you could pop in and out of. My noble and good friend Lord Heseltine tells us that we will be irrelevant and marginalised if we get out, while my noble and very good friend Lord Lawson,

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sitting here, says the opposite—that we will be irrelevant and marginalised if we stay in. In fact, of course, both of them are gloriously wrong, and I am afraid that they are looking at a world that no longer exists.

The concern of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, about outside isolation is quite wrong. In fact, if we were out of the European Union, we would still not be in an independent state but in an interdependent state. We are totally interdependent and bound up closely with the concerns of almost every other country in the globe, because this is a network world with super, instant, continuous connectivity. That is what changes the whole nature of international relations. There is no question of being independent. Even the rogue states find that they have to bow to international pressures. We would be bound by a thousand treaties; we would not be independent at all but interdependent—so we would not be isolated.

Pro contra, if we stay in—and that that is the route I prefer, contrary to my noble friend—it is not true that we would be irrelevant and powerless, because the European Union is itself in total flux. It is undergoing a complete re-examination of its philosophy of integration, and the eurozone is the place where the divisions lie. People talk about Europe divided as though it were divided between the eurozone core and the countries that are somehow left out, including Britain. That is not where the division lies. The division goes straight through the middle of the eurozone. That is the slice through the middle of the apple. Half of the eurozone is made up of countries with one kind of approach and half of countries with another, and they will continue to be in trouble and to have difficulties for years to come. They have not even succeeded in getting as far as a bankers’ union. Italy has one idea on that, and Spain, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and the other small countries all have other views. There is no combined view, whatever Mr Schäuble says in Berlin, on what a banking union should actually do, let alone a fiscal or a political union. None of these things is going to happen.

Europe needs a vast range of reforms; that will happen, and that, of course, is precisely what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister sought to set in motion with his superb speech back in January at Bloomberg, when he said that we are trying to reform, we need to reform, and that Britain must take an intellectual lead in reforming the whole European structure. That is what he said in the first line of his speech. I know that a lot of the media has said, “No, this is all about party politics; it’s all about grabbing things back for Britain. It is all very narrow”. That is not true. The whole speech was couched in terms of how Europe can be, in a sense, reunited, despite the divisions within the eurozone. That is what he was trying to do.

That is the right course. Frankly, it requires more than speeches. It requires enormous work in gaining allies all over Europe for European reform, because the present chaos throughout the Union has so many unsatisfactory features, and those allies must be worked for. It requires huge intellectual efforts to redesign the kind of united Europe we want to meet the conditions of hyperconnectivity and the cyberworld we now live in, which are quite different from those of the 20th century. That is what we have to get on with.

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The other day, the IMF said that by 2017 the European Union will have shrunk to about 17% of the world’s GNP, and the eurozone will have shrunk to about 11% of the world’s GNP, compared with the Commonwealth, which will be more like 20% to 25%. Of course it is important; it is our neighbourhood and we must be good Europeans. However, we have to settle that matter and move beyond it to where our real interests lie, which is in the Commonwealth network, in the neighbourhood next door to the Commonwealth, and in the developing countries, many of which have huge new resources. That is where our real interests lie. It is a shame that the Commonwealth was not mentioned in Her Majesty’s Speech. The policy machine that puts out these speeches and creates their text needs to wake up and realise where our future and our destiny lie.

4.45 pm

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords:

“It is upon the navy under the good Providence of God that the safety, honour and welfare of this realm do chiefly depend”.

Thus ran the preamble to the Articles of War, written more than 300 years ago. There is no doubt that naval dominance of European waters was the longest, most complex and expensive project ever undertaken by British state society. As a result a small, weak, insignificant offshore island was able to develop into the world’s greatest power. More recently, the prime reason we survived the German wars of the first half of the 20th century was the strength of the Royal Navy.

We remain the sixth wealthiest country in the world; world shipping, which is the sinews of our global village, is run from London; we are responsible for 14 dependencies worldwide; we are the biggest European investor in South Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific Rim, where stability is crucial if we are to get the return we need from our investments; and we are a permanent member of the Security Council. We are, like it or not—and I know that many do not like it—a world power. We are of course an island, but the Government seem sometimes to forget that. The maritime sector was worth more than £10 billion in 2010, and 90% by value and 95% by volume of our imports and exports travel by sea.

How are we safeguarding this today? The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, rightly said that there was hardly any mention of defence in the gracious Speech. The Prime Minister has stated on a number of occasions that defence and security are the first responsibility of government. These are fine words but I fear that they have not been backed up by actions. In the 2010 strategic defence and security review we took measures that severely weakened our ability to project power, yet within months our forces were being committed to action in Libya. There have been further cuts since, and further indications that the Government would be willing to commit British forces if we are not careful.

Similar cuts are being made by our European allies, and the USA is finding itself carrying more and more of the defence burden of looking after the military interests of the western democracies and other nations worldwide. The US, too, is having to find savings and is now looking across the Pacific rather than towards the Euro-Atlantic region. Europe will have to take on

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more responsibility for its own security. The US has consistently supported us in the European, African and near-eastern area. Are we really not going to support them in the Far East and Pacific if the call comes? Those areas are increasingly important to the UK as well as to the US.

None of us can predict the next crisis. It may happen tomorrow, and from my experience of the intelligence world I know that we have a very bad track record of predicting crises. In an increasingly chaotic and dangerous world we must carry our share of the burden. Simply and starkly, we are not carrying our share. I do not have time to list all our shortfalls that impact on the critical mass of the Navy. Manpower has to be one area of concern. We had 75,000 sailors in 1982, some 30 years ago, and have 26,500 today—a cut of two-thirds in naval manpower, with all the effects that that has on flexibility.

I will be fair to the Government and congratulate them on their realisation of the crucial significance of maritime strike, and their aspiration to run both new carriers. Not to run both would be a national disgrace. Let us hope that their gamble of getting rid of “Ark Royal” and the Harriers pays off. So far we have got away with it for three years; we have to get away with it for another four or five. It was a gamble.

I will focus on just one example of our many shortfalls in the maritime sphere. Noble Lords may remember the preamble about the importance of the Navy to our nation that I gave at the beginning of my speech. Do the Government really believe that 19 destroyers and frigates—that means only six deployed—are sufficient for our nation? At the time of the Falklands war, when the Royal Navy saved the Government’s bacon, we had about 60 destroyers and frigates. The difference in capability of our new ships does not make up for the huge lack of numbers; one ship cannot be in two places at once. We have cut to the bone and, in naval parlance, our nation is standing into danger. I have written to the Prime Minister stating that very point.

We can no longer be sure that our Armed Forces are capable of meeting the tasks that our nation and people expect of them. We are at a crisis point, and something has to be done. History has shown how our nation suffers if we forget the crucial importance of our military and, in particular, of the sea and our Navy.

4.50 pm

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, in listening to my noble friend’s speech at the Dispatch Box, I was struck by a lacuna. I hope that she might take this opportunity to clarify the position of the Afghan interpreters. We are in severe danger of committing an act both unwise and discreditable, if not shameful. I cannot understand why my Government have not before now clarified the position of these men, who have placed their lives at the service of our country and stood shoulder to shoulder with our troops in some of their most difficult hours. Without them, those troops could not have acted at all.

These men are different from our troops in this sense: our troops can be sure that their families are home, secure and safe, in Britain, whereas they cannot.

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Their families live, day in and day out, threatened by mortal threat from the Taliban in Afghan society. Our troops come home every six or nine months, whereas they do not. They have served us, day in and day out, month in and month out, year in and year out, yet the Government are havering as to whether they should have the same rights that interpreters had in Iraq. We are not asking much; we are not asking anything new, or for something that the Government have not done before. The precedent is already established.

There are some 400 Afghan interpreters—that is all. So what is holding this up? What is the Government’s position? I am told that the Ministry of Defence is perfectly content to make sure that those same conditions are offered to these brave men—they are all men, of course—who have done such service to our nation and to our troops on the ground. I am told—and it surprised me, because this is where I thought the problem might be coming from—that the Home Office is perfectly content. I am told that it is coming from Downing Street. I do not know whether that is true.

The Prime Minister has certainly said—and I understand where he is coming from—that he wants these men to stay in Afghanistan, because they have something to contribute there. I understand that. I remember very well in Bosnia the damage done by the internal brain drain, when salaries paid to those working for the international community so outweighed those paid by the local community that, for instance, my driver in Afghanistan was getting more than the Prime Minister. I understand that and I understand that the Government may wish to put an economic value on those people, if they wanted to stay and contribute to Afghanistan in peace.

Let us assume a value, plucking one out of thin air. I imagine that it is nowhere near this, but let us say that it is £50,000 for such people to stay in Afghanistan. That is fine—I am glad that the Government are prepared to monetise the value of their continuing in Afghanistan. However, the choice must be theirs to take. It is theirs to decide whether they want to balance their own life and face the risk, under mortal, declared and deliberate threat from the Taliban, against the sum of £50,000. Let us double that. I wonder how many of your Lordships would accept £100,000 to leave themselves at such mortal risk, and leave their family there as well. If the Government wish to come forward and place a sum of money that expresses the value of their staying in Afghanistan, I am entirely for that, provided that the choice is left to them.

It is time that the Government came clean on this and acted in honour. It is time that we did not continue with this shameful delay in clarifying the position of these men. We have paid a very high price for our engagement in Afghanistan. Let us not add to that price now with an act of dishonour by leaving these people in the lurch.

My second point is on Syria. I heard what the noble Baroness said and I welcome what the Prime Minister said. I congratulate him on negotiating with the Russians the possibility of a peace agreement. It appears that there is a chance of that happening. That is good. I do not accept that it will deliver very much; having a

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peace agreement is not the same as delivering a peace, but it is good that we should try to obtain such an agreement. What worries me is the implied threat that lies behind that. I heard it explicitly in Paris, it is also being said in Whitehall and it is certainly being discussed in Washington that we should lift the arms embargo. I have to say that that would be an act of the grossest folly.

I will try to explain why that is the case. What is the reasoning for this argument? Do the rebels need more arms? No, they do not. Some 3,500 tonnes of arms have been delivered, funded by rich Saudi businessmen and Qatar and facilitated by the CIA. By the way, that 3,500 tonne figure is not questioned by American official sources. Arms have also come from Croatia. We are talking not about tanks in that 3,500 tonne figure but about small arms. There is no shortage of weapons at all. By the way, I know where they are coming from: they are coming from Tito’s underground arms manufactories in Bosnia. I have no doubt that that arms trade is also funding their deeply corrupt forces. As I say, there is no shortage of arms. Indeed, the Government admit that there is no shortage of arms. They say, “We will supply arms in order to influence the moderate forces”. However, it is a fundamental fallacy that you influence people by supplying them with arms.

However, the real danger that I worry about is that we have misread the situation. Some in Britain believe that this is somehow Bosnia revisited. No, it is not; almost nothing about the present situation in Syria is comparable with that of Bosnia. It is deeply more complicated. By the way, those of us who knew something of Bosnia during the Bosnian war never recommended that we should lift the arms embargo.

Here is the problem: the law of unintended consequences will come into play again. We believe that we are fighting a rather simplistic battle between a brutal dictator and innocent citizens. Actually, I have to tell noble Lords that behind this a different battle is being fought. It is not a battle for Syria; it is a battle in which Syria is only one front line. What we are now seeing being prepared is funded by Saudi Arabian businessmen—I have to believe with the agreement of the Saudi Arabian Government—and the Qataris: namely, to capture the Sunni Umar and to radicalise it as a preparation for a wider war against the Shi’ites. That is what this is about. Some seek to produce that outcome. The war being fought in Syria is the same as that being fought in Mali, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere. The Salafists and Wahhabists do not love each other very much but they are working with the same aim of capturing the Sunni Umar as a precursor to a wider war. I do not know whether they will succeed, but that is their intent. I think that that would be catastrophic.

It is important that we understand the Russian position on this. It is not just about supporting their last supporter in the Middle East—Assad—but about the fact that they know that the same thing is happening in their Muslim republics, such as Dagestan. We need to understand that there are forces in the Arab world for whom the war is no longer a war against the great Satan; it is the preparation of a war against the great refusant of the Shi’ites. What is at stake here is a wider regional war. Mao Tse-Tung used to say that the First

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and Second World Wars were the European civil wars. Perhaps they were. Perhaps that is a better way of looking at it. It is possible to have a regional war with global consequences. It would be disastrous if we were inadvertently to stoke that up and enable it, with weapons being passed out of the control of those whom we would like to have them into the control of those whom we would not. It would be disastrous if the wider consequence was not that of alleviating the situation in Syria but that of building towards a much wider conflict in which we are instrumentalised on the side of the Sunnis and the Russians are instrumentalised on the side of the Shia. Let us at least understand what is at stake in this. I earnestly hope that we can achieve peace, as innocent people are suffering terribly every day in Syria, but let us not, by lifting the arms embargo, contribute to an even more terrifying and widespread conflict.

4.59 pm

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I declare an interest as I spent a large part of my career in the British public service on European Union affairs and some part of it at the European Commission.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, in her role as “super sub”, for her introduction to the debate, given that the statement on the Government’s international position in the gracious Speech is perhaps rather economical with the truth. There is no reference to the Commonwealth, although the Commonwealth is on the rise; there is no reference to the European Union, although it is the foundation of our international relations; and there is no reference to the serious situation in Syria. The only reference is the intention to “support countries in transition”, which perhaps confuses rather than illuminates the actual situation.

It has recently become more difficult to decide on which day in the debate to speak because in reality some elements of international affairs cover not only the European Union but economic, financial and home affairs. However, that is a consequence of our membership of the European Union. I wish to pick out some significant points in relation to EU affairs, notably how best we should carry through the course on which we have set ourselves—most recently in the Bloomberg speech by the Prime Minister and in the considerable amount of referendum speculation that is now all around us. We have to keep up the competition with the other House. The point of my intervention is that we need to examine the potential for agreement with other member states and the extent of existing flexibility in order to maximise potential improvements. What can be wrong with seeking potential improvements in the European Union, and seeking them soon?

I begin by congratulating the Government on their detailed examination, sector by sector, of the balance of competences. We need a solid base of information and adequate consultation of those directly concerned by the balance of competences between the EU and the member states. This exercise is substantial. The latest programme I have seen for the spring and winter shows that departments are working on nine important sectors of policy such as environment and transport, and on some of the most controversial such as asylum and immigration. We need to establish as efficiently as

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possible what the balance of competences is for future discussion and possible negotiation within the EU. There has been some critical comment that other member states are not participating, but that is hardly surprising because the eurozone member states have important and immediate economic problems on their agenda. It does not change my view that the balance of competences exercise can throw up anomalies and identify unnecessary legislation that some member states in due course may wish to correct.

While looking for improvements, it is important not to exaggerate the impact of the European Union on all our daily lives, although such exaggeration is common. Whole areas of policy such as defence, education, housing and health are only marginally touched by EU action. Further, public opinion in the UK is often more critical of some EU action on smaller issues—“meddling”, to use the word of the anti-EU commentators—and that is fully understandable because there is scope for some cooling off, both of purely national secondary legislation and of some EU-derived secondary legislation. Recent yearly statistics provided by the Library showed that 10,662 pages of secondary legislation went through this House, of which 8.5% was derived from the European Communities Act and 91.5% was our own legislative mountain. The balance is striking and, of course, some EU legislation expires on a regular basis.

I come now to a second element of flexibility within the EU—enhanced co-operation between a limited number of member states. On balance, I think that this is positive, but we need to be very careful to protect our own position. This is what we should be doing in relation to the proposed financial transaction tax, on which the EU Select Committee has urged the Government to consider a legal challenge.

More generally, enhanced co-operation between a number of member states allows those member states to participate but it keeps the initiative in their own hands. Enhanced co-operation derives from the treaties—the treaty of Amsterdam and subject to some change subsequently—but it is clearly not a one-size-fits-all system and is inconsistent with the normal application of legislation to all member states. It sits alongside other actions, such as partial opt-outs of the passport-free area and so on. Since there is frequent criticism in the United Kingdom of EU one-size-fits-all legislation, I take the view that enhanced co-operation could sometimes be of potential value for the UK. Of course, everything depends on the conditions. Those conditions are that it must be a last resort and must not affect the competences, rights, obligations and interests of non-participating member states in particular. However, where it has been, or is likely to be, applied—for example, on patents—it could be of some economic value to us. It would enable an inventor to register a patent once instead of in multiple EU states, and in relation to pharmaceutical patents, which are of considerable economic importance, this would be in London.

We need to make the most of the balance of competences exercise and the potential of enhanced co-operation. We still have before us the decision to be taken by the UK Government on the application to the UK of a large raft of EU law in the area of justice

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and legal affairs, including the European arrest warrant. If, as I assume, the Government will wish, before the Lisbon treaty deadline next year, to opt out, it would be very helpful to know whether they do or do not believe that it would be desirable to seek to opt in on some individual measures. I think that we need to be clear about what the Government are likely to do on this matter—we are talking about a substantial amount of legislation.

I believe strongly that in the possible run-up to a referendum on the European Union it is very important that the British public have the best information rather than the repeated soundbites attributing all evils to the Union. Of course, the current economic problems in the eurozone are serious for us, as they are for the members themselves, and we should not hide criticism if it is justified. However, I hope that we will not lapse into generalised criticism of the finances of Union institutions and their administration, which has happened. In fact, year after year the Court of Auditors has given an unqualified clean bill of health to the EU’s account-keeping and the Commission’s administrative expenditure. It has continued to do so this year, most specifically in relation to administrative expenditure. The latest report of the Court of Auditors states that in its view revenue and payments were,

“free from material error and that the examined supervisory and control systems were effective”.

I always like to finish my speeches within the advisory time and I also like to finish them on a positive note, so that is what I shall do.

5.07 pm

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I shall try to follow suit. This is the third gracious Speech of this Government. It is interesting to carry out a bit of textural comparison of the three Speeches that we have had to date and I take this opportunity to do so.

The first item that I want to refer to was not mentioned in 2010 but it was in 2012. Then, the gracious Speech said:

“The United Kingdom will assume the Presidency of the G8 in 2013: my Government will use this opportunity to promote international security”.

This year, I think that the agenda has got too crowded and international security, which I would not have thought was now an easier subject than it was a year ago, has been dropped. This year, the gracious Speech says:

“In assuming the presidency of the G8, my Government will promote economic growth, support free trade, tackle tax evasion, encourage greater transparency and accountability while continuing to make progress in tackling climate change”.

The second item to appear in each of the Queen’s Speeches deals with Afghanistan. In 2010, it said:

“My Government will work with the Afghan Government, Pakistan and international partners for lasting security and stability in Afghanistan”.

Two years later, it said:

“My Government will work to support a secure and stable Afghanistan”.

This year, it said:

“My Government will … support … the opening of a peace process in Afghanistan”.

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In this regard, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said about interpreters. In particular, I would say that this may not be the only time that we find ourselves in a foreign place where we have an urgent need of local people who speak the language and can help our people. We know, sadly, that the Taliban is not backward in its programme of targeted assassinations, which it has been carrying out for some time, and it would be dishonourable if we did not recognise the contribution that the interpreters have made. It is their judgment. It would be wonderful if they decided to stay and contribute to the ongoing success which we hope there will be in Afghanistan, but it must be their decision. I agree with what the noble Lord said on that.

The third item of interest is that we did not say anything in 2010 about the Middle East situation apart from the peace process, but in 2012 we did. We said:

“In the Middle East and North Africa, my Government will support the extension of political and economic freedom in countries in transition”.

This year we are hanging on to that. We are going to,

“support countries in transition in the Middle East and North Africa”.

My question is: in transition to what? The Minister and my noble friend have referred to the Somalia conference and to the efforts being made there, and I accept that there might also have been some developments in Yemen. However, consider the situation in Libya this year—not only recent events but statements made even in the past week and the serious problems developing there—compared with last year.

In Egypt, senior members of the present Egyptian Government are talking about the possibility of a total collapse of its economy and the problems that that could pose. Were that to happen, the only stable force in Egypt would be the army, and what might that lead to? It is a serious situation. It is also deeply disappointing against all the hopes that one had of what might develop.

On top of all that there is the question of Syria. I shall avoid echoing my agreement too much but I agree with the point made by the noble Lord and by a fellow Somerset man, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells. I am not in favour of lifting the arms embargo: that seems exactly the wrong gesture. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who referred to the use of soft power. I shall say a word about that because I think that it is a much more helpful approach.

Prospects have certainly deteriorated. One of the consequences of the eviction of President Gaddafi and the change in Libya was the departure of a huge number of mercenaries with some fairly sophisticated kit which is now causing chaos in Mali and the neighbouring territories. Some noble Lords may have heard the statement yesterday by the charmingly named President Goodluck Jonathan that some of the more northern parts of Nigeria are now outside government control. We face some really serious situations.

It is against that background that I turn to what our contribution might be. I listened to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, with whom I worked closely a number of times when we had rather more substantial resources than are currently available, and I worry

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now about our capabilities. As for the opportunities now for intervention, we have certainly learnt some lessons about not getting involved in long-term, enduring conflicts.

I made my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House in 2001 when the subject of the debate was Afghanistan. We are now in our 12th year in that country and I hope to goodness that we stick to our plan for withdrawal. However, I have to say that I think it will be an extremely difficult and challenging undertaking. Some of the answers to the questions we have about what our resources will be like going forward will depend partly on how successful we are at extracting some of the very substantial equipment that we currently have in Afghanistan.

There is a general recognition that intervention policy, given our resources and its questionable value in certain areas, is now much less attractive or realistic. Let us consider our own military situation, with the recent PAC report suggesting that there are gaps in our capabilities, whether it be in Sea Kings or in transport aircraft—the noble Lord, Lord West, referred to the seven-year gap in our carrier capability. We face some serious problems in our currently limited capability. Given that difficult situation and the challenge referred to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, we have to consider whether we really can get reservists to fill the gap on quite a different scale of commitment than we have ever had before. The jury is still very much out on that.

It is against that background that I turn to the question of soft power and the need to mobilise the resource of the diplomatic skills of other countries with which we may not normally deal. As has been said, the Russians are important in this. They have a keen interest in the Shia and Sunni conflicts that are arising and the difficulties that they face in all the “-stans”. There is a common interest and I hope that any approaches to the Russians will lead to some progress, because these areas pose great dangers to them. I was also most interested to see the invitation of the Chinese Government to Mr Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas to see whether they can make some contribution to breaking the logjam in that area.

We are dealing with a very dangerous world at a time when it is in a serious economic fix and we do not have the resources we need. We are facing a population explosion, mass unemployment in a number of areas, and issues of climate change. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism poses a challenge to the world. If I end on one note it will be to echo the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells when he said in his contribution that a determined effort should be made to try to rally moderate religious forces. The danger otherwise is that the Shia-Sunni conflict, along with the spread of jihadism and fundamentalism in the dangerous climate that we have at present, will make the next gracious Speech even more challenging than the one that we face at the moment.

5.18 pm

Lord Reid of Cardowan: My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the young men and women of our Armed Forces who, day in and day out, protect us and

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our families, our country and our national interests, often risking life and limb and sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice. We owe all of them a deep debt of gratitude for what they do.

When I ask myself what is the chief characteristic of the modern world, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said earlier, its networked nature. What also strikes me is that it is the predominance of this country in global networks that has led to the United Kingdom becoming known as a great power. It came about originally through exploration, then through the domination of our naval networks around the world, and then through the domination of the financial sector because of the networked nature of international finance. I want to spend a few moments talking about something that receives little attention, but I think it should because it is the central characteristic of today’s networked world, and that is cyberspace. I do this in the full belief that it is essential not only for our growth and our pre-eminence, but for our national security and our defence. I declare my registered interests in the academic and private sectors in this subject.

Cyberspace is an environment characterised by its breadth—it is transnational, across over 192 countries. It is deep, because it diffuses power downwards, now to nearly 4 billion people who have never been able to gain information, to influence or to communicate before. It is ubiquitous and now runs through politics, economics, finance and our social networks, as well as many other aspects of life. It is truly the first environment made by men and women. It is not just an amalgam of technologies anymore or a means of communication, it is an environment like the land, sea, air and space. That has enormous consequences for us in terms of our national security. It means that we now have a fifth domain of warfare potential as well as a source of great opportunity. That makes us very vulnerable if we are not alert to it, both in concept and in practice. Of course, cyberspace has been an amazing gateway of opportunity for billions in the world, but it has also seen an equal growth in virus and malware development; from the first malware inserted by floppy disk back in 1981 to the myriad threats we now see. I will not rehearse them to this House but they are extremely sophisticated.

Suffice it to say that three years ago, when I chose to raise the subject in my maiden speech, the pursuit of the study of cyberspace was regarded as a rather iconoclastic occupation of mine. We now hear of malware attacks every day, on big names such as Microsoft, Apple, Lockheed Martin, ThyssenKrupp and so on. It might astonish your Lordships to know that it is much more widespread than just those headline names. Last year, 93% of companies in the United Kingdom with more than 250 staff suffered a cyberattack on their systems. It is not just the quantity—we now face an increasingly sophisticated array of persistent attacks, sometimes lasting months or years. They are targeted, adaptive and dynamic attacks that can change as they hit the defences that have been installed for them. They can involve compromise of the supply chain and the storage of vulnerabilities—reconnaissance, if you like—in order to probe weaknesses for future use. All this is going on at the moment and that

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vulnerability will increase as we move to consumer technology in our workplaces: smartphones and so on, the movement to the cloud, and the “Internet of Things”, from road charging to pacemakers. All that will become more and more vulnerable.

Why does all this vulnerability from the network world matter to defence and national security? It is because our critical national infrastructure is now more vulnerable than ever before. Software systems and industrial operating systems will protect our water supplies, supply our energy distribution and generation, land our planes, run our trains, heat our homes and underpin our hospitals. They will become the infrastructure on which our lives, livelihood and morale depends. Why use an expensive platform such as a nuclear submarine to launch an expensive weapon such as an intercontinental ballistic missile when we have that platform in all our pockets and in an iPad in most of our bags?

All of them now allow the possibility of enormous damage, as can be seen through the operation of the Stuxnet virus, which, unknown to the Iranian authorities, was effectively running—or mis-running—the centrifuges that were meant to produce their enriched uranium. All that, every passing day, should alert us. I have just learnt today that there has been another wave of attacks on major US corporations, specifically aimed at energy supplies. That is the critical national infrastructure vulnerability that we face. Of course, there has been some response from the Government, for which I give them credit: £650 million has been allocated to cyber, admittedly over three years; there is now a national cybersecurity strategy; research continues at GCHQ; there is improved assistance to the private sector and sharing; and the CPNI, which protects our national infrastructure, has been trying to influence standards. The MoD has played its part: it has set up the Cyber Security Operations Centre and enhanced co-operation with GCHQ.

I welcome all of this but huge challenges and questions remain, especially in the working out of concepts, capabilities, understanding and operations. The idea of active defence is very popular. One anonymous American general, who must be very glad he remains anonymous, said that if the US was hit with a cyberattack, “We will stick a nuke down their smokestack”. That illustrates the absolute ignorance of the nature of cyber. Attribution is a major problem. It is difficult to know the culprits. There is no missile heading for you where you can retrace the route that it has taken. There are legal prohibitions on accessing computer networks without authorisation. There is a patchwork of international laws. There are normative, legal and diplomatic obstacles. There are “what ifs”. What if you pursued an attacker and encountered behind that attacker a foreign Government? What if an obscure digital trail leads to an unrelated system or it has been disguised within a hospital, as some artillery pieces have been in asymmetric warfare in the past?

Our concepts really need to be thought through. In defence, I am afraid that our experience has not helped us because the wars and conflicts in which we have been engaged have been bloody and dangerous, but they have been asymmetric. Our conventional systems

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on sea, in the air and on land, all of which are now based on software, have never really been tested. I warn against complacency in this area.

As I reach my conclusion, there is one point where I would criticise the Government. Historically, our intelligence services and police have depended for counterterrorism and anti-crime activity in defending the people of this country on the ability to match the technology of our enemies, particularly in communications. This capability desperately needs updating. For the third year running, the Government have equivocated and postponed. Their fear of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg, appears to be greater than their fear of the consequences of not acting in updating our intelligence-gathering capacity to include Skype, the internet and texts. God forbid that a terrorist attack should be launched that would have been prevented if we had updated it. God help the Government if that should happen because I know from experience just how dependent we were on that capacity to save the lives of 2,500 people only six years ago in the liquid bomb plot.

I congratulate the Government on what they have done. I hope that they will go further in a number of areas. Above all, I hope that they will remember where I started: the pre-eminence of the United Kingdom over the past few centuries has depended on our dominance of a network world, whether it was exploration, the naval lanes or the financial networks of the world. If we do not capture such a pre-eminence and domination in cyber as a trusted centre of it, I am afraid that we will continue on a very long road of gradual—and perhaps not so gradual—decline.

5.28 pm

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, in opening this debate, my noble friend well set out the objectives of the Government in defence, foreign policy and overseas aid, but I have to say that the Queen’s Speech is remarkably deficient in indicating how these objectives are to be followed. What the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, described as “minor housekeeping” considerations in respect of the European Union scarcely reflect the importance of our integration with the European Union if we are to attain the goals that my noble friend set out. The time seems ripe to consider a new approach to the reform of the European Union, to ensure not only that we speak with a united voice but that we enjoy the support of the 28 member countries—as there will be when Croatia joins—and their populations in pursuing common objectives. There are different stages of development in all these European countries, but our overriding foreign affairs and defence goals are broadly the same. We are all affected by the threats of international terrorism; we are all affected by the growth of the world’s population; we are all affected by climate change; and we are all affected by extremist religious groups penetrating our society—that can be dealt with effectively only as a reflection of international threats.

I want to spend just a few moments considering how best to take forward this process of integration. One of the reasons why we are seeing a backlash against the European Union, not only in our country but in countries that have been committed from the beginning, is that we are not building up a transnational

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democracy within the European Union; we are instead aspiring towards executive federalism, and that does not engage the sympathy or support of the man on the street. Consequently, we have to address the democratic deficit in the European Union to enable it to be even more effective than it has been. It has been immensely effective in pacifying Europe, but it has not been so effective in bringing pressure to bear on those countries that have abandoned the civil objectives expressed within the European Union treaties. For example, nothing effective has been done about the progressive move to the right, towards a kind of neo-fascism, in Hungary, despite the fact that we have substantial financial influence on what is happening in that country.

We should not await a treaty suddenly being produced after a German election in the autumn, saying, “Do this; do that”. There will be 28 countries at that time. If the newly elected Federal Chancellor believes that he or she can lay down the law because of his or her power within the eurozone, there will be a great reaction against it in many countries. We should work towards a system of improvement that draws in the public. I served on the Convention on the Future of Europe as an alternate member. Although that constitutional change was rejected in polls in France and the Netherlands, that approach has merit. It can engage civic society and parties across countries and Governments, and ensure a genuine dialogue. That dialogue is not likely to follow or be present in a weekend Council of the European Union. The Heads of Government rarely get together for more than two or three days at a time. How could they possibly produce answers to all the questions causing such disquiet across the Union? How could they possibly go through a detailed constitutional proposal or a list of the concerns that need to be addressed?

I recommend that we, in association with other member countries of the European Union, now engage in a discussion about the modes of change and recognise that we cannot make that change overnight. We have to take our people with us. I fear that Heads of Government are likely to want to clutch to themselves the full responsibility for changes that come about, but that is not the wise way to strengthen a transnational democracy. I hope that the future of Europe will not be bounced on this or any other country in the European Union. We have an immense possibility to influence global governance if we speak with one voice, with some 500 million people and the strongest economic collectivity. That is the way: coming together to recognise how we can influence trade and all those issues bedevilling our development.

5.37 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, in noting the antics in the other place following the non-inclusion in the gracious Speech of a possible referendum on Europe, I am confident that they will not be repeated in this House if my contribution is devoted to the surprising absence of another issue. Before I come to that, as a vice-chairman of the Chagos Islands all-party group I agree with everything that will be said by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on the Chagossian return. As a former soldier, I express my surprise at the words in the Speech that,

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“my Government ... will support ... the opening of a peace process in Afghanistan”.—[

Official Report

, 8/5/13; col. 3.]

That made me wonder what the Government think our Armed Forces have been doing in that troubled country since 2001. On the subject of Afghanistan, I associate myself completely with the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, about interpreters.

However, the omission that most surprised me was the future of our nuclear deterrent, bearing in mind the alleged imminent publication of the Government’s Trident alternatives study. It is true that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, when summing up my debate on nuclear disarmament on 24 January, told the House that the purpose of that study was to help the Liberal Democrats make the case for alternatives to the current continuous-at-sea deterrent, but I submit that far from merely being a matter of internal coalition politics, the question of whether a weapon system of the potency of Trident is the minimum credible deterrent that the nation requires to maintain ought to be discussed and debated in both Houses. That debate needs to be wide-ranging because of the number of questions about the ability of a system designed to meet yesterday’s criteria to satisfy those of today and tomorrow.

The need for such a debate was confirmed by a recent exchange of letters in the Times following the statement by the Prime Minister on 3 April that, in his judgment, North Korea’s unveiling of a long-range ballistic missile, with a nuclear warhead that it claimed could reach the whole of the United States, affected the whole of Europe, making it foolish to leave Britain defenceless against a continuous and growing nuclear threat. The very mention of the alleged threat from that North Korean missile reminded me of the 45-minute nonsense over Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Immediately, General Sir Hugh Beach, a former Master-General of the Ordnance, wrote that no country on earth was less vulnerable to North Korean nuclear blackmail than the United Kingdom, and that, like it or not, the Trident missile, in British hands but supplied by America, was unusable without American support. His arguments were summarily dismissed by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, on the grounds that the independence of our continuous-at-sea deterrent was not just technical but absolute, and that it would be reckless to abandon our ultimate insurance against threats that cannot be predicted from countries yet to be identified.

That prompted my noble and gallant friend, Lord Bramall, to write that the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord West, reminded him of the senior general who, after World War 1, said that there would always be a place for the horse on the battlefield, particularly if wellbred. Although the nuclear deterrent served both sides well in the Cold War, the reality today is that it does not, and cannot, deter any credible threats likely to be faced by this or any other European country; nor, in a highly globalised and interlocking world, could a weapon with the destructive power of Trident conceivably be used, even in retribution. For us, he said, nuclear weapons are superfluous and now redundant, and the sooner a Trident replacement is removed from the Treasury’s overload, the better.

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My final quotations from that exchange are from two other retired admirals, with whom I fully agree. Vice-Admiral Jungius suggested that,

“whether or not the UK should continue to have a nuclear deterrent is primarily a political decision”.

Rear-Admiral Middleton wrote that,

“in the next few years a combination of smart delivery systems … together with cyberwarfare programmes ... will be able to provide a national deterrent that is demonstrable, effective, selective, non-lethal and cheap”.

In other words, the cost of our nuclear deterrent should not be borne by the defence budget, and our present deterrent is not only unusable but at best obsolescent when set against emerging technologies.

Two other aspects must be considered when determining whether a weapon system with the potency of Trident is the most appropriate minimum credible deterrent. The first is cyber, which presents a far greater threat to the economic, political and social life of a country than Trident, suggesting that cyberdefence should be at the top of any national defence priority list, and, to be credible, any proposed deterrent must be cyberproof, putting a question mark against Trident, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, has advised. Secondly, not least on moral grounds, account must be taken of the devastating effects of the use of nuclear weapons on our climate.

All that is in the context of two other climates, both of which must be considered by those responsible for reaching a conclusion on an issue of such long-term national importance. The first is the continued efforts to achieve international multilateral disarmament, in line with President Obama’s commitment to ultimate zero. There is no time to discuss the present state of negotiations on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, or the continually frustrated attempts to establish a weapons of mass destruction free-zone in the Middle East. Although I am glad that we are contributing to these negotiations, I fear that questions arising from our continued reliance on Cold War logic have unintended consequences on the credibility of that contribution.

First, does our proposed replacement of one unusable system, designed to take out Moscow by another with the same capability, increase or reduce our right to prevent other countries from advancing their nuclear ambitions? Secondly, does not the presumption that war was deterred and peace maintained during the Cold War by uncertainty over whether either side would use their nuclear weapons suggest that if the same logic was applied to the Middle East, war would be better deterred and peace better maintained by allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon to balance Israel’s?

Finally, of course, there is the current economic climate. Here I remind the House of the two definitions of affordability: can you afford something, or can you afford to give up what you have to give up in order to afford something? I submit that the latter must be applied ruthlessly when considering conventional shortfalls such as those mentioned by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig and the noble Lord, Lord West, and

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when considering whether we can afford to buy more well bred nuclear horses, unsuitable for use on post-Cold War battlefields.

Inevitably, in eight minutes, one can only scratch the surface of an issue as important as this. Having expressed my surprise that this was not included in the gracious Speech, I sincerely hope that the Government will make that omission good by allowing noble Lords time to prepare and make their contributions to a full debate, in government time, after the publication of the Trident alternatives study.

5.46 pm

Lord Naseby: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Howell was so right to raise the question of the Commonwealth, particularly with the forthcoming conference in Colombo of the heads of state. Sri Lanka is a proud founder member of the Commonwealth. After nearly 30 years of civil war, it seems absolutely appropriate that the members of the Commonwealth should go to Colombo and see that country. I certainly know that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will have an enormously warm welcome from the people of Sri Lanka.

I place on record my thanks to the present Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for taking the lead in going to Colombo. He is only the second Prime Minister to do so. The late Mrs Thatcher went in 1984, soon after what was probably the worst experience of Sri Lanka since independence, which followed on from the riots in 1983 when six soldiers were killed in Jaffna. Frankly, the Government of the time there reacted too slowly to those riots and many Tamils suffered as a result. Mrs Thatcher made a brave decision to go, and in going she helped that country to move forward and heal some of those wounds. This meeting comes, in my judgment, at a good time. Terrorism has been defeated and our Prime Minister and the other leaders can see for themselves what has happened in the three years following the war. I think many good things have happened, but they should go and have a look for themselves.

It is not news that one of the key issues in Sri Lanka is human rights. I thank the Commonwealth Secretary-General and his staff for taking the initiative in leading a review of what is happening on the ground. There are two signals that I take heart from. First, a large number of Tamils left Sri Lanka through those years of the great difficulty of the civil war. More recently, more than 1,000 have come back from Australia of their own free will and, to the best of my knowledge, only one has had any difficulty. Several hundred have come back from the UK and substantial numbers from New Zealand. The one country where not too many have come back from is Canada. My analysis is that that is basically because a number of Tamils have become MPs in Canada and are deeply involved in Canadian politics. I hope that Canada will think again and come to Colombo.

The second good point that has happened is that President Rajapaksa is the first leader since independence to insist that it must be a trilingual country. There is very real progress in the Civil Service, in teaching, in the schools and in the road signs of a trilingual approach, which brings the Tamil community into becoming real members of Sri Lanka.

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I have just received a letter from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Alistair Burt, and I place on record my thanks to him for his diligence, time and patience and the even-handedness with which he has juggled the varying points of view that have been presented to him on Sri Lanka. His letter raised three points that the Foreign Secretary is going to look at when he goes to Colombo. First, he highlights free and fair provincial council elections in the north on 7 September. The portents are quite good. The electoral register has only just been compiled by Tamil teachers, which is healthy. I pray that those elections go reasonably smoothly. Secondly, he highlights the freedom of the press. We all believe that is important, but we have to reflect a little on Leveson. There is no Leveson problem, or certainly nothing of the scale of Leveson, in Sri Lanka. As someone who knows much of south Asia, in my judgment there is far more freedom of the press in Sri Lanka than in Malaysia or Singapore.

Thirdly, and this is perhaps one of the key points, the Foreign Secretary says he is going to go to the north. I hope by that he means Jaffna. It is the place to go. It is the key part of the Tamil community in the north. I am told he is going to meet civil society, NGOs and political representatives. That is a good start, but he must not exclude the military, in particular the CO at Palali base. Palali defends the northern shores of Sri Lanka and—I am sorry to say this, but it is true—within Tamil Nadu, the Indian state adjacent to Sri Lanka, it appears that the LTTE—the Tamil Tigers—is still welcome today As your Lordships may know, Tamil Nadu is a key component of the coalition in India, which perhaps accounts for some of India’s recent reactions. If it were me, I would also meet the religious leaders—you cannot divorce religion as it is far more powerful there than it is here—the government agent, which is the equivalent of our county councillor, and business leaders, because we want to get that economy going.

The letter also says that the Foreign Secretary is going to meet NGOs. There are some wonderful NGOs across the world. I highlight the International Red Cross as one of the most wonderful. I went out at the time of the tsunami. Much good work was done by many NGOs, but I am afraid that there was also much less good work done by some NGOs. Tragically, some containers came from the UK containing arms for the Tamil Tigers. There are all sorts of NGOs. Some do great work, some do less great work.

Finally, I look at Sri Lankans’ understanding of what happens elsewhere in the world. They look with some amazement at the USA leading this rights issue in the light of Guantanamo Bay, people being kidnapped for 10 years and shootings on campuses. Many in Sri Lanka say, “There’s nothing like that in Sri Lanka. We may have our difficulties and abuses, but there is nothing like that”.

My message is to all leaders in the Commonwealth and, in particular, to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. It is that they should go and see for themselves but should bear in mind that there was nearly 30 years of war. Near the end of World War 2, Herbert Morrison said:

“One of the lessons I hope they”—

that is, people—

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“will have learned is that there are no shorts cut and no easy solutions. Nothing is made better by pronouncing curses on the older generation or the Government, or any other cheap and easy scapegoat”.

What was true of the UK in 1945 is equally true in Sri Lanka today after more than 27 years of civil war.

5.54 pm

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale: My Lords, having led a coalition Government in Scotland for six years, I understand the difficulties of reaching agreement on a legislative programme and on other aspects of a programme for government and then expressing them clearly, but there are disappointments in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech that we need to highlight in this debate.

Through the vehicle of the speech, the Government rightly identify as key priorities for their strategy the need for Britain to compete and succeed in the world; our role in helping with conflict prevention; and some of the key building blocks of development to assist with conflict prevention in different parts of the world. In some of their specific actions not just now but over the past three years, they have been taking the right steps. I strongly welcome the initiative on sexual violence in countries affected by conflict and the objective set out for the G8 in Northern Ireland in June, particularly on tax transparency and trade. We should all welcome the fact that the Government have spent 0.75% of gross national income on overseas development assistance. The FCO’s prioritisation of countries with emerging markets is a helpful, but overdue, reprioritisation of the work of our overseas posts. I also welcome the fact that through the National Security Council the Government have continued and developed the comprehensive approach of the previous Government in bringing together the work of the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

While the Government have the overall aspiration and some of the specifics right, there is a huge gap in the middle that is damaging the strategy working towards those aspirations, and I shall highlight three aspects of it. The first is immigration. We will compete and succeed in the world only if we are open, flexible and welcoming. The Government’s rhetoric on immigration is damaging Britain’s international standing and our ability to be entrepreneurial and competitive. The way in which the visa regime is being applied by the FCO is deeply damaging to our relationships, particularly in the Commonwealth, about which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, spoke so eloquently about earlier. The way in which the visa regime is being used to turn away or delay the entry into this country of people who have a perfectly legitimate right to be here and to contribute to our debates, discussions and economic progress is causing us all sorts of difficulties, and I urge the Government to address that issue and look again at their rhetoric on immigration.

The second area in which the gracious Speech was disappointing was the absence of legislation to commit to 0.7% of gross national income. This target is now agreed by all parties—the previous Government and the current Government—and was implemented by the current Government. That decision has been welcomed following the recent Budget. The way to take the

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politics out of it and to take the quantity of aid out of the debate to start to focus on the quality of overseas development assistance is to enshrine that in law, take the party politics out of the issue for ever and ensure that we focus on the way in which we spend the money rather than on how much we spend. Both coalition parties promised to do so, and they have let down the country and our allies abroad by backing off from that commitment.

In relation to aid, the way in which someone somewhere in the Government, behind the scenes, perhaps a special adviser or somebody of that sort, is hinting occasionally in the press that there will be some use of aid money to assist with security initiatives is also deeply damaging to the credibility we have built up on overseas development assistance. I know what the rules are, and Ministers and officials know what the rules are. The Government will not be using aid money for security purposes. Occasionally to drop hints to voices in the press who are reluctant to see our commitment to international aid implemented is damaging here, because it causes uncertainty, and damaging abroad, because it affects our credibility, and whoever is doing it should stop.

The third area I want to identify is that of the European Union. There can be no doubt that the three big challenges facing the United Kingdom and our strategy for international relations—covering defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development—are the impact of the global economy, our relationship with it and ability to succeed and compete within it, and the framework that exists following the crash of 2008. There are also changes in climate and population, and other aspects of our environment and quality of life in every continent. There are different changes in different places, but they will grow, not diminish, over the next two decades. Thirdly, there are the security issues which have been mentioned by other noble Lords, and their relationship with development and they key objective of trying to secure greater stabilisation in fragile states through development and security measures.

There can be no argument that multilateral action is vital to tackle all of those three challenges. Our engagement, not just in the United Nations but in the Commonwealth and the European Union, is absolutely central to our participation in tackling these challenges at an international level. There might be a debate on the economic benefits or otherwise of being in the European Union. There are views held passionately on either side of that debate in this Chamber; no doubt we will hear them tonight. In addition to the points made earlier about a trade agreement with the United States, some of those who are most concerned about our attitude to the European Union are the Japanese and other economic partners elsewhere, who see Britain’s participation in the EU as vital for us and for the European Union itself.

While some noble Lords in this Chamber and others elsewhere are passionately opposed to the idea of shared sovereignty in principle, the one way in which we can ensure that the world we leave behind us for future generations is more secure, more economically successful, prosperous, fairer and more able to adapt to change in climate, population and other aspects of

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our environment, is to have a strong Britain taking part in a strong European Union, and for that European Union to be contributing to those debates at the international level. It is absolutely time for those of us who believe in that strongly to speak up for those future generations, take action now and stop this damaging move into a referendum that may well conclude by damaging this country and also global affairs.

6.02 pm

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, for the first couple of years of the coalition Government I was much encouraged and, indeed, enthused, by the change in the approach to foreign policy. It seemed that a number of problems had arisen. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman—who is not in his place—and was struck by the fact that he was commending the Government for the improved investment in and development of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; that there was a move away from some of the unfortunate approaches that had been taken during the George W Bush period; and that there were problems with the Government’s addressing of the European question. I found myself agreeing with him, and then thinking, “Wait a minute. The previous Government eviscerated the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that is now being repaired”. It was not just George W Bush during his period as the President, but Blair and Brown who were also in government. Our many problems with Europe were not fundamentally addressed during that time.

I will touch on Europe; on cyberspace, which was spoken about so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Reid, it not being the first time he has focused our minds on it; and on the situation in the Middle East, to which I devote a good deal of my thinking.