However, it is interesting to discover that ICAI is being reviewed by the Cabinet Office, which it has asked DfID to undertake, so the very body to which the recommendations of ICAI are meant to go is assessing whether it would like the commission to continue. That seems to me to be a significant potential conflict of interest. It is obvious that if ICAI can make 85 independent recommendations which had not previously been seen and have 70 of them accepted, there is a real and genuine need to maintain the independence of the independent commission and strengthen its role, not just for the remaining two years of its life, but beyond.

For my last point I want to declare another interest as a member of Trade Out of Poverty, a group chaired by Peter Lilley from another place. As we all know, there is continuing pressure on trade negotiations to be completed by the end of this year. Should trade opportunity be better liberalised as markets would require, it would release new energy into the market system, boosting the potential of poor communities, particularly agricultural communities, by an estimated further trillion dollars of income that would go to the poorest people. Solving trade issues will be up to the big decision-makers and the G8 must play its part. The group firmly believes that it is necessary to open up rich country markets unconditionally to the poorest countries of all, and that it is time to end the ridiculous subsidies, such as $2 per cow per day in the EU and $3 billion spent in the US to subsidise cotton and then dump it, which undermines the jobs of 25,000 cotton growers in the poor world, particularly in Africa. It is time to stop protecting our own agricultural base through subsidy and let the rest of the world have access to markets and thus generate jobs. It is time to let trade be what delivers the economic future necessary for the world’s poorest.

9.23 pm

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I had to smile a little as I listened to my noble friend Lord Lawson talking about the case for leaving the European Union. In areas further east there is a strong desire to join the Union. Perhaps that desire has something to do with the prospect of handouts, but far be it from me to delve into their motives.

Over the past three years I have paid three visits to the western Balkans, first to Bosnia-Herzegovina, moving on to Republika Srpska and Banja Luka further north. The second visit was made at the end of last year to Serbia and Kosovo, and we also visited the Serb-dominated area north of the Ibar river. Finally, just a few weeks ago we went to Macedonia. All these countries share very strong aspirations to join the European Union and, to a lesser extent, NATO as well. All are very anxious to open negotiations as soon as possible. The response of the European Union has, correctly of course, been to say to all of them that they still have a great deal to do to qualify for membership. Indeed, there is a vast amount that needs to be done before they can join.

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The fact is that, in so many of these countries, they find it extremely hard to live together in harmony. There is a degree of malevolence which is scarcely below the surface and, too frequently, pops up above the surface. In Bosnia, development is bedevilled by the existence of Republika Srpska in the north and its connections with Serbia and Belgrade. Kosovo, too, is a country divided, with a Serbian enclave to the north and suffering from a lack of recognition. Macedonia is a country in limbo, facing non-recognition by Greece and other states, with added confusion and doubt raised by the recent remarks of the Albanian leadership about aspirations for a Greater Albania.

There is much to be done before we can contemplate European Union membership for these states. My guess is that, if they were to join prematurely, they would be nothing but trouble until they can put their house in order. We must insist that they learn to live amicably with each other before European Union membership is a reality for them. I know of course that recent steps and meetings between them have made an important start to this essential progress and I certainly would welcome real progress when it can be made. Cathy Ashton—the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton—of course has, within the past few weeks, quite rightly prided herself that the recent so-called agreement between Serbia and Kosovo could lead to a breakthrough and to the beginning of negotiations for EU membership for them. However, to be honest, the agreement that she negotiated and worked on is only paper-thin. Serbia still refuses to recognise Kosovo and still funds Kosovan municipalities, particularly those north of the Ibar river.

Turning to Bosnia, again we hear of progress in the past few days in the talks between Belgrade and Sarajevo. However, the truth is that there is no love lost between the two, in spite of the Dayton agreement. Perhaps I am being cynical, but I cannot help wondering whether these recent, rather cosmetic, so-called agreements and understandings are, in reality, examples of what I would describe as them going through the motions in order to get accession negotiations for European membership started while, at the same time, not really intending to put their differences behind them.

Frankly, the European Union and its entire membership holds the whip hand here and can use that power to offer the carrot of European Union membership. We must make it clear—and stick to it—that unless the west Balkan states learn to drop their antagonisms, and are seen genuinely to do so, we really do not have a place for them in either the European Union or NATO. It is essential that the Government and the Foreign Office insist on the European Union—the Commission or whoever it is that does the negotiating—using very strong negotiating positions in insisting that we can welcome these countries into the European Union and NATO only if their relationship with their neighbours and their own citizens is one of peacefulness and tolerance.

9.30 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, the gracious Speech referred to the Government bringing forward measures,

“to improve the way this country procures defence equipment”.

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The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, has covered to some degree the number of questions that that raises. It is shorthand for government-owned contractor-operated, although for some time the MoD, rightly, was considering various models.

My concern is that we seem to have slipped into the one model—GOCO—on which the MoD is now concentrating its resources and time, in an area that, as has already been said, receives £14.5 billion a year expenditure, with 16,500 people working in it. My concern is that such a large decision should have the proper processes, which must include a debate in the other place and indeed this House. I ask the Minister: is that going to be possible before the Government move to a decision in principle to go out to the OEJU process for inviting bidders, or decide to appoint a preferred bidder; in other words, that we are not faced with a foregone conclusion on which no influence at all will be able to be brought to bear by this House or the other place?

There has been quite a public debate, although there has not been much in Parliament. I initiated a debate in the Moses Room a short while ago but I think the Minister would readily agree that he was not in a position to give answers of any substance to the questions that were asked. The Financial Times has followed this very closely. As recently as last week, on 7 May, it reported that officials in the US Department of Defense were expressing concerns about how a GOCO scheme could affect our close and special relationship with the United States on defence. So it is an important matter and I would welcome whatever information the Minister can give in his winding-up.

There are two other issues I would like to touch on that were not covered in the gracious Speech, although one has been covered in this debate, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown: the interpreters in Afghanistan. We have a real and moral responsibility there. We accepted that principle when we reached arrangements for the interpreters in Iraq and we cannot walk away from the duty of care that we have to the interpreters in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister has not given a definitive answer on this. He says that the Government are looking at it. He said a short while ago that money would be available but in the majority of cases money is not necessarily the issue; it is their future safety and that of their families. I would welcome an answer from the Minister on that.

The third area I would like to cover has not been covered at all in this debate. I have just mentioned our moral duty to the interpreters in Afghanistan. We have an overall moral duty to our Armed Forces. Indeed, in this debate, rightly, due respect and credit have been given to the service they give this country day in and day out, many of them paying with their lives. As a country, we have a contract with our Armed Forces, the Armed Forces covenant. It covers a number of areas. One relates to members of our Armed Forces not being allowed to join a trade union or federation to represent them, the argument being that their officers in the rank system represent them. The previous Government, under some duress—they did not want to do it—set up a Service Complaints Commissioner. She took office in 2008 and since then has published

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an annual report. Her report stated quite clearly, and backed it up with facts, that the number of complaints was increasing. That may be a good thing—it may be that, because people know that the service is there, they are making complaints—but I would have thought that the fact that 48% more cases were dealt with last year than in the previous year, with 46% of complaints still not resolved at unit level, is something to be concerned about. The Select Committee on Defence in another place is also concerned.

The commissioner has said, “I’m not really as effective as I could and should be in meeting the responsibility to the Armed Forces”. The Armed Forces should have an ombudsman, who would step in almost as a last resort. The concern within the services is, understandably, the rank system—the belief that the officer rank system is what maintains discipline and looks after service personnel. I only wish that that were the case; all too often, that falls down. The Navy has certainly improved its complaints system by saying, “What is reasonable? Let’s not just stick to the rules. Let us sometimes put those on one side and deal with the complaint”. Its list of complaints has gone down. That is not true of the Army, where the number has gone up. There is certainly great resistance within the services to the idea of an ombudsman. I gather that the service chiefs said that they did not understand what an ombudsman did, but they were sure that they did not want one. I think that many of us could picture them saying that.

Earlier this year, the Select Committee on Defence in another place published a report which said that it, too, felt that there needed to be an ombudsman. Like the Service Complaints Commissioner, it did not define what the remit should be; it was something that needed to be discussed between the MoD—taking into account the concerns about rank—and the Service Complaints Commissioner. Although the deadline has passed, the Government have not yet responded to that report but have in any statements that they have made said that they are not in favour of an ombudsman.

I believe that this is an integral part of the Armed Forces covenant. The Armed Forces are entitled to it; we have a responsibility to them. Many of them are leaving the services without their complaint having been dealt with. This may appear a small matter—if the decision was the right one, it would be—but we have a complaints system which is not meeting the needs of our service personnel. If that is part of the Armed Forces covenant—and it is—we are falling down on our responsibility to our own service personnel. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some assurances in response to the questions that have been put on this matter.

9.38 pm

Lord Hussain: My Lords, I strongly believe in the United Kingdom Government’s overseas development budget, which is making a huge difference to the lives of millions of people around the world. It helps in reducing poverty, addressing dire medical needs, providing nutrition, combating deadly diseases such as TB, malaria and AIDS, empowering women and tackling radicalisation in many parts of the world. In the past 12 months, I have had the opportunity of visiting South Sudan and Ethiopia and have witnessed how our aid is helping

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to build the lives of some of the neediest people in the world. While I fully understand the economic situation at home and the hardship that some of our own citizens have to go through, I fully support our commitment to DfID. Can the Minister assure the House that we will continue that commitment?

On the diplomatic front, the world’s focus has been on developments in the Middle East, Africa and the Far East. However, I have watched the Indian subcontinent more closely. India is steadily making its place in the emerging economies of the world but the gap between rich and poor in that country is not decreasing. Hence more people suffer from hunger and poverty in India than anywhere else in the region. Yet, according to Russia Today, India is stepping up its space programme with a higher budget, the launch of a new satellite and a proposed mission to Mars. The country’s space agency will attempt 10 space missions by November 2013, bringing its total budget to $1.3 billion.

In Pakistan, at the end of the elected Government’s tenure, elections have been held despite many threats and deadly attacks by extremists. The new Government face many challenges including terrorism, law and order, corruption, an energy crisis and the country’s relations with its neighbours, particularly with its historic rival, India. The good news is that Indian Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh and Mr Nawaz Sharif have exchanged warm greetings. Let us hope that they are able to resolve their disputes, including the Kashmir issue according to the wishes of its people. If that happens, it will ultimately save both countries millions of pounds from their defence budgets that they need to spend on their publics.

Bangladesh is generally known as a progressive, multi-party democracy and a growing economy in south-east Asia. It has strong political and economic ties with the United Kingdom. Our bilateral trade has steadily grown over the years, largely in favour of Bangladesh. Bangladesh also receives £250 million in aid from the United Kingdom every year—at least until 2015. In the past few years, reports of corruption, torture, extrajudicial killings and the sudden disappearance of journalists and political activists from opposition parties have risen significantly. It is over a year now since Mr Ilias Ali, one of the prominent leaders of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, was kidnapped along with his driver. He has not been found since. I had the opportunity of meeting Mr Ali on his visit to the United Kingdom a few months before he was kidnapped. He is one out of thousands of such victims considered by many to have been abducted by government agencies and who have not been seen since—some have been found dead.

According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2013, the overall human rights situation in Bangladesh has worsened in 2012,

“as the government narrowed political and civil society space, continued to shield abusive security forces from accountability, and flatly ignored calls by Human Rights Watch to reform laws and procedures in flawed war crimes and mutiny trials”.

In February 2013, the United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns, expressed concern at aspects of non-compliance with fair trial and due process reported

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during proceedings before Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, including the pronouncement of death sentences.

Another deadly fire in a Bangladeshi garments factory this time killed over 1,200 people—one of the deadliest industrial disasters in history. The disaster has created worldwide concern for the factory workers who provide, through their sweat and blood, cheap clothes for the developed world. However, before all the victims of the factory collapse were buried, another human tragedy visited Bangladesh with the killings of unknown numbers of opposition protestors by the Government in the early hours of 6 May. This was after a massive anti-government rally. The exact number of casualties in the darkness of the night is still unknown, but the Asian Human Rights Commission calls it “a massacre of demonstrators”. In the absence of any reliable information, the Economist states that what happened in Dakar and beyond in the early hours of 6 May looks like a massacre. Bangladesh police say that 22 people died, but the Opposition claim that the figure could be as high as 2,000.

Bangladesh has been known as a land of religious moderation and the Bangladeshi diaspora are generally recognised as such. About half a million British Bangladeshis in the UK are troubled by the recent events in Bangladesh. On behalf of many of them, I ask the Minister to urge the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to use its good offices to ascertain the truth behind the 6 May massacre in Dakar. The world’s microfinance guru and practitioner Professor Muhammad Yunus commented on the state of Bangladesh:

“The collapse of the building is just a precursor to the imminent collapse of all our state institutions. If we don't face up to the cracks in our state systems, then we as a nation will get lost in the debris of the collapse ... We will have to find ways to fix the institutions to protect them from complete collapse”.

The situation in Bangladesh is showing all signs of anarchy and civil war that could derail democracy and drag the country back into the dark ages. It is time for the influential friendly countries such as the United Kingdom to help Bangladesh to bring back peace, tolerance and reconciliation to the country. I ask the Minister to ask the Foreign Secretary to raise those issues with his counterpart or indeed with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, at the earliest opportunity.

9.46 pm

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, the gracious Speech referred to the importance of ensuring security, good governance and development. There was no reference to the important role that our Government continue to play in the economic, social and political developments in Africa. In her opening speech, the noble Baroness spoke about the successful elections in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as the positive developments in Somalia—all very encouraging. She did not speak about the recent election in Kenya, which thankfully was peaceful and where President Kenyatta has given a commitment to the devolution of government and the promotion of growth as well as much needed infrastructure development.

In my short allotted time, I shall touch briefly on three challenges facing southern Africa: the forthcoming general election in Zimbabwe, which is likely to be in

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September; the millennium development goals, more specifically food insecurity and the need for more support infrastructure, particularly by the Commonwealth Development Corporation; and, finally, an issue close to my heart, as I wear the tie, the poaching crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.

The recent successful referendum on the constitution in Zimbabwe should be the first step towards democratic reforms leading to the general election scheduled for September. So far, so good. Although over the past five years there has been considerable economic progress in the country, with the so-called unity Government of the MDC and ZANU-PF, the army, the police and the dreaded CIO are all still controlled by President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, which raises the threat that the forthcoming elections may be marred by intimidation.

To ensure that the elections are free and fair, transparent, non-violent and sustainable, it is essential that international observers are allowed to monitor the general election. Unfortunately, not much progress has been achieved in getting that consent from ZANU-PF. That is certainly a cause of concern. Can the Minister assure us that we will put pressure on SADC as the guarantor of democracy in Zimbabwe to ensure that that essential check and balance is put in place? The dividends of a free and fair election in Zimbabwe would be a huge boost not just to the country but to the entire region. It would lead to the lifting of the remaining economic sanctions and, I hope, pave the way to Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, referred to the millennium development goals and the fact that many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have made major progress towards achieving them, while my noble friend Lord Hastings referred to the wealth divide in Africa. While there has been steady economic growth with improvements in poverty reduction, universal primary education, gender parity and healthcare on the continent, the lack of efficient farming, inadequate storage and, in particular, poor infrastructure and transportation have added to the threat of a major and escalating food insecurity crisis.

The lack of adequate infrastructure in Africa has been identified as one of the major impediments to development and economic growth. Increasing the power supply is a key driver of sustainable growth. Most countries in Africa have chronic power supply problems. The Commonwealth Development Corporation, which is controlled by DfID, has played a major role in investing in African infrastructure but could, in my opinion, play a much bigger role in stemming the rise of China’s influence across the continent, in which it has already carved out a substantial role.

Finally, in speaking of the Chinese impact on Africa, while China has in many ways played an important role in the economic transformation of sub-Saharan Africa, by importing its own labour force it has been responsible for the worst wildlife poaching crisis in the continent for several decades, particularly of elephants for the ivory trade and in rhino horn. According to an official recent CITES report, up to 11.7% of Africa’s elephants were illegally killed in 2011, which equates to almost 25,000 elephants in a single year, to supply ivory to the illegal markets in China and the Far East.

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If this continues, elephants in many countries in Africa will be facing extinction within a decade. The poaching crisis in rhinos is equally stark. What measures can our Government take to draw attention to this crisis and to put pressure, particularly on the Chinese Government, to tackle it?

In conclusion, we have been a leader in international development and have played a pivotal role in ensuring progress in Africa. I hope that the Minister, in winding up this debate, can either write to me or give me some assurances that we are taking a proactive approach to tackling some of these issues.

9.53 pm

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I must admit to finding myself a little emotionally confused. I have suddenly realised that this is my 50th Queen’s Speech. I have spoken on most of them. One year, I was minding my own business when the Leader of the House asked if I would see him. He asked, “Would you be kind enough to agree to reply to the Queen’s Speech?”. So I put my name down to vote, but I did not know that I would be grabbed and taken off to a dinner where the Chief Whip guarded the door. They then read the speech and I was meant to sit on a Bench and say something.

I was also told that I should wear naval uniform. Having been a sub-lieutenant, I had grown a bit. It was quite difficult to find one to fit, so we had to borrow an admiral’s and take a couple of stripes off it. Then I was given a sword, but I had never had a sword before and did not know what to do. I was seconding the reply to Lady Macleod, who was Iain Macleod’s widow. She was slightly disabled and had a walking stick, and as I stood up to speak I picked up her walking stick by mistake. I remember I was given a wonderful brief by bright young people in the Foreign Office who were twice my age. Everything was provided for me. I was told what to say and that I should possibly deliver some historic joke, so I looked something up and said that I remembered the words of that great admiral Jacky Fisher that the role of Army should be that of a projectile to be fired by the British Navy.

I shall try to work out why all the bits that used to be in the Queen’s Speech are not there. I shall treat the Speech like a Bill. There are 37 clauses. The first states that,

“my Government’s legislative programme will continue to focus on building a stronger economy so that the United Kingdom can compete and succeed in the world”.

As my noble friend Lord Howell mentioned, there is hardly anything in it about defence or anything at all.

We come to foreign affairs. Is the EU a foreign affair? Are members of the continent of Europe foreigners? Of course they are foreigners in the eyes of British subjects. They are not Europeans, and nor are we. I was told that I would be treasurer of the Conservative group for Europe to raise a lot of money and go around the country to persuade people to vote yes in the referendum. In that House, we had a great debate on entering the EU—the EEC as it was then called—and had the biggest majority, other than for the abolition of hanging. There was an enormous majority in the House of Commons, but suddenly people became anti something. I was asked and it was my job. I would go

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around the country, speak and raise money. I drove all around the country, not realising that the party was sufficiently intelligent to believe that I was young enough to be able to take the strain.

I was told that I was going at the last moment to Manchester and that it was a dinner jacket do. I did not really have a dinner jacket that fitted, but I put it on on the train and when I got there, a dinner-jacket chap came up to me and said, “Oh, thank goodness you’ve arrived. We thought you’d forgotten or you couldn’t get back in time”. I went to the dinner and sat there waiting to make the standard speech I had, slightly nervous, I am afraid, as I am now. The head man turned to me and said, “Well, Professor, if you’re ready, please deliver your address”. I said, “Excuse me?”. He said, “You are Professor McCluskey? You’ve just come back from Antarctica haven’t you?”, and I suddenly realised that I was at the wrong dinner.

People like me became known as the Snopake speakers. If the Minister was too tired to go, they would send a young blade who could hang himself. You would go and scratch the menu and the Snopake would come off and you would try to see what was underneath. It might say “law”, and you knew it was probably Willie Whitelaw.

I went round this great country of ours and realised to my surprise that there was a great opportunity. At that time, we coined the phrase: “Britain in Europe; it’s our business to be there”. It was business related, not politics related. I believe that is one of the problems at the moment: how do we divide it into two? How does the Labour Party, which flatly refused to send a delegation to the European Parliament in the beginning and we then had to fund Peter Kirk going, change around? If we look to moving towards a referendum, is there suddenly going to be a switch of attitude?

The world is a wonderfully large place. I have been privileged in recent months to have some remarkable briefs by bright people in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office and genuinely believe that we have a worldwide role. My noble friend Lord Howell pointed out that the Commonwealth has not been quite so widely mentioned, but if you look at the opportunities that exist, you must go back to why we went to places in the beginning. We went because they had raw materials and the ability to produce things.

I was put on to go to the francophone territories. I did not know what “phone” meant. I knew gramophone. When I was on the Council of Europe, I was in Paris and I was asked whether I would go and meet the Foreign Minister of Mauritania. I thought Mauritania was a ship; I did not know it was a country or that it was one of the biggest iron producers in the world. Until I went round all the French territories, I did not know that the sole reason why people had gone to them was to create added value for the natural resources, whether they were labour, water, agriculture or sun.

I really believe in the potential that we have with the Commonwealth these days, if we just get out our historical atlases and look at what we used to go there for. Then we look at the sea. Naturally, and I have raised this before, we look at the economic exclusion zones. You find the United Kingdom, her overseas territories and the Commonwealth occupy the biggest

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slot of the sea in the whole world. If you then, by chance, look at some other countries, such as France and its territories, you realise that the maritime world is the most important of all and you have a great opportunity.

I have spoken before on all aspects of trade, but I get quite excited now as I look at the potential that exists for alliances that we can pool. I really believe that foreign policy is one of the most important issues that we can address today, and who is going to decide with whom we are going to do what and when.

10 pm

Lord Loomba: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The topic of my speech is international development.

British aid to India will end officially in 2015, a decision that has caused controversy among politicians and charity organisations alike. Some people say that if India is able to afford a multi-million pound space programme, then she has reached a position of development where aid is no longer needed. Others rightly point to the grim reality that for many people in pockets of India it is in fact one of the worst places in the world to live today.

It cannot be denied that both points are true, but where does that leave Britain? Personally, I take the same stance as the right honourable William Hague, that since we can and should recognise India’s position as a growing superpower, there must be a shift from simply providing aid to fostering skills and training. This is true of many other countries around the world. It will ensure sustainable development for the future of developing countries, as opposed to dependent growth.

It is also important to note that the term “development” is not restricted to economic prosperity. India is an example of a country seemingly rich with its booming economy, but desperately poor given its dismal living standards. When we look at a country’s development, we need to look not only at its economy but its health standards, literacy rates, social progress and promotion of fundamental human rights.

Living standards are often far worse for women, and in India the issues faced by widows can make their lives barely worth living. This is particularly important, since although women make up just over 50% of the world’s population, they account for 70% of the world’s poor. Through a transition from giving financial aid to delivering skills and training, we can try to address this gap. I declare an interest as the founder of the Loomba Foundation, and I have seen this gap myself through my foundation’s most recent sewing-machine project in my home state of Punjab and in Andhra Pradesh. At present, we are in the process of empowering 10,000 widows in India by providing each with a sewing machine and skilled training to make garments. This offers them much more than a lifelong skill. It gives a widow the opportunity to generate her own income. It gives her back her dignity, independence and the real chance of a future.

These effects are not limited to a widow as an individual, but extend to her children who no longer need to sacrifice their education, and to her family who no longer need to live from hand to mouth. She has, in essence, lifted herself and her family out of poverty—and that is one less family to add to the

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statistics. The principle goes back to the age-old saying: teach a man to fish and he will never go hungry. The same can be said in the case of development and a woman’s place in its process. Educate and empower a woman and you save a family, eliminate poverty and develop a country.

My noble friend Lord Hussain just spoke about the political situation in Bangladesh. However, if we look at its economic situation we can get a better understanding of the vital role that women play in development. Bangladesh was once dismissed as having no hope of a future, but today it is hailed as a model of development. In the past decade, Bangladesh has slashed its poverty by half, ensured that 90% of its girl children are enrolled in school, moderated population growth, limited child mortality, increased life expectancy and ensured overall social progress for all. This success has, in large part, been due to the empowerment of women, not only through education and family planning but also through microcredit schemes aimed at giving out tiny loans to the destitute, thanks to Muhammad Yunus.

What has emerged as a result is a picture of growing prosperity. By no means is Bangladesh developed in every sense, but grass-roots development is taking place, which is important in signalling sustainability. Therefore, as we go back to the issue of aid and international development, I feel that the solution lies in investment in women’s empowerment through skill training and education. I hope that the Minister agrees with me, and that he will push for the vocational skill training and empowerment of women as an integral part of international development.

10.07 pm

Lord Weidenfeld: My Lords, just as Syrian territory has become a mosaic of every brand of political and religious extremism and operational terrain for barbarous practices, neither the USA nor Europe is in the mood to intervene decisively on the ground or in the air—shades of Iraq and Afghanistan. So in parentheses, the tragedy of at least one of the Iraq campaigns lies not so much in its moral deficit but in its inadequate preparation and execution. Frankly, can the overthrow of that most savage and inhuman regime in Baghdad, fielding one of the largest armies in the world, be held to be a deep moral error?

In the case of Syria it may well be that by now the choice between the brutal Assad regime and some heinous elements from the terror scene must be extremely difficult, but had the West reacted much earlier, before Islamic fanatics crossed the porous borders of Syria, we might have avoided the present, most distressing, situation.

I fully agree with the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, that this war in Syria is a war of religious sects within the larger frame of the great faith of Islam—probably one of the bitterest fights between the sects. However, it is even more complicated than that, because both the Sunnis and the Shia are not united. The Sunnis are divided into those who take their cue from the House of Saud and from some of the emirates, and the Wahhabis; the others, such as al-Qaeda and other splinter groups, are much more radical, and indeed hate the guardians of the holy places.

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Among the Shia are the Alawites and the pro-Assad faction, and the much more powerful and decisively important followers and liegemen of Iran, which of course wishes to become the great power in the Middle East.

When aspects of existential threat to a peaceful neighbour are implicit in the present situation in Syria, the civilised world must understand and not decry the initiatives of a seriously threatened country. I refer to the Israeli air strikes on a research institute, storage facilities and convoys of the most sophisticated, up-to-date rockets on their way from Iran through Syria to Lebanon and destined for Hezbollah, a movement which, in word and deed, stands for the elimination of the State of Israel.

One of the grim leitmotifs of the political and religious wars on Syrian soil is the ambition of Iran to thwart an international campaign of economic boycott and possible military action by establishing a second front in Lebanon by raining tens of thousands of rockets on Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and in the mean time amassing an arsenal of 60,000 rockets that are meant to have a harassing and demoralising effect on Israel’s citizens. When the stakes are so high, sniping criticism of the Israeli Government from the outside world, some of it full of bile and bias, is at best unfair and at worst irresponsible. Israel’s intervention renders a signal service to the cause of peace by weakening Assad’s strongest partner and arms procurer, Iran.

The recent visits of President Obama’s Secretaries of State and Defence to the region may hold out a flicker of hope and faith in the resumption of bilateral talks between Palestinians and Israelis. Enemies of a two-state solution in the Arab world have gained ground since the Arab spring because neither the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Egyptian Government, with their links to Hamas, nor restive forces on the West Bank reluctant to drop sweeping preconditions make compromise easy. However, there is a more realistic outlook in the Gulf emirates and above all in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. On the other side, recent Israeli elections have brought new forces to the fore which consider a two-state solution the only desirable outcome. If Obama were able to rival President Clinton’s solid personal engagement, and if Europe seconded him, the chances of success would grow exponentially. In parentheses, ironically and sadly, the possibility of Europe playing a part comes at a time when we are discussing whether we should be in or out of the European Union.

For peace talks to succeed we could now have spokesmen on both sides who are filled with good faith. In Mr Netanyahu’s Government, Mrs Livni and Mr Lapid, a rising star, are passionately committed to an honourable agreement. The Palestinian Authority should make use of that remarkable man, former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who with President Abbas’s help could be reinstated. The Arab League, Saudis and Jordanians can be trusted to opt for peace, but it is a challenge for all of us throughout the world to work for reconciliation and to avoid offensive and provocative initiatives.

In conclusion, I will express my deep regret that the great scientist and humanist, Stephen Hawking, felt that he should boycott a scientific conference in Israel

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under the auspices of the one man who has always stood for peace and close co-operation between Israel and all her Arab neighbours: President Shimon Peres. Academic boycott strengthens the enemies of free speech and, in its radical forms, one must classify these associations of academics, certain human rights groups, trade unions and professional organisations as either innocent “useful idiots” or intentional handmaidens to the enemies of freedom.

10.15 pm

Lord Bates: My Lords, many noble Lords have highlighted the essential work being done by our courageous servicemen and servicewomen around the world in protecting us at home from the global terrorist threat. I join in paying tribute to their service and what they are doing for us. But there is another global war—the war against poverty. Many British NGOs and people who work for them are putting themselves in harm’s way in very difficult countries and situations to provide healthcare, sanitation and education to the world’s poorest—organisations such as Save the Children, Christian Aid, Oxfam, CAFOD and the British Red Cross. We can be equally proud of their work in the name of this country and what they do to represent our interests.

According to the most recent global terrorism index, there were 4,564 terrorist incidents, resulting in 7,473 deaths, in the past year. Most of those incidents have been clustered in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. In the global war against poverty, we live in a world in which 11 million children die each year from preventable diseases. In the six hours so far of this debate, more children have died from preventable diseases around the world than have died in the entire previous year through terrorist attacks. That is not to minimise one and emphasise the other, but it is very important that we remember that.

When I say that those diseases are preventable, research shows that 6 million of those 11 million children who die each year could be saved by low-tech, evidence-based and cost-effective measures, such as vaccines, antibiotics, micronutrient supplementation, insecticides and bed nets. They could make a profound difference to people’s lives. Supplements of vitamin A taken every four to six months can reduce child mortality from all causes by as much as 23%, measles deaths by 50% and deaths from diarrhoea by 33%.

Bill and Melinda Gates have done so much in this area. In fact, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has already dispensed £21 billion, which is three times the level of the entire British aid budget, as existed last year. It has given that money to seek to eradicate certain diseases. Bill Gates said:

“All you need is over 90% of children to have the vaccine drop three times and the disease stops spreading. The number of cases eventually goes to zero. The great thing about finishing polio is that we’ll have resources to get going on malaria and measles”.

There is a realistic possibility, presented by Bill and Melinda Gates, of the eradication of those diseases that kill so many children in our world. That is not surprising, given that I regard this Government’s commitment to achieving 0.7% of GNI and their realisation of that as perhaps their most significant political decision, and one of the most courageous political decisions that I have ever witnessed. To raise

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it to that level, to increase over the past year, at a time of acute economic hardship, the budget for overseas aid by almost £3 billion, is something that required real leadership. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to capitulate on that and pander to some of the populist press, which would prefer that the money was spent elsewhere. But David Cameron has shown immense leadership and courage in standing firm on that, which is something for which he deserves credit and in which we can all take great pride. While Britain is increasing its aid budget in the current year, other countries in Europe such as Germany and France are cutting their aid budgets. Even Sweden is cutting its aid budget this year by 3.3%. It is a tragedy that this should be the situation when the war on poverty was beginning to be won and victory was getting closer. However, we wish the Prime Minister well in trying to bring people to the table.

Some people have made the point that what we actually needed in the gracious Speech was a piece of legislation to tell us to do what was morally right. Personally, I do not think that we need a piece of legislation. We have had endless promises from the UN. The 0.7% commitment goes back to the Pearson commission in 1969. It has come up through the OECD, it was raised at the UN Security Council and at the Gleneagles summit and still has not been honoured. However, today, it is being honoured. There ought to be an annual debate about the world’s poor. We ought to see that as a conscious moral choice and an obligation. I would not want to see a piece of legislation take that away and be almost like a direct debit. I would like it to be seen as a constant ongoing debate in which we remember the world’s poorest.

In conclusion, there is a wonderful campaign at present called the “If” campaign. Sometimes charities and NGOs can compete with each other for resources and projects. However, they have all come together around the simple concept that there is enough food for everyone and yet 2.3 million children die each year because of malnutrition. The Prime Minister, who organised a hunger summit during the Olympic Games on 12 August last year, made a pledge to reach 25 million children under the age of five by the time of the Rio Olympics in 2016. There will be a follow-up hunger summit on 8 June in advance of the G8 summit. It is critical that the Prime Minister uses all his considerable diplomatic skills to encourage other members of the G8 to step up to the plate this time. Things are extraordinarily tough for us economically but nowhere near as tough as they are for the bottom billion and the poorest in our world.

10.22 pm

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, when I noted that my name was in the 50th position on the speakers list, I was minded to dig out an old after-dinner speech and seek to entertain your Lordships for a few minutes. However, I am very happy to note that the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in his inimitable way, has pre-empted me on that.

With your Lordships’ indulgence, I would like to say a few words by way of preface to my main remarks on the way in which we conduct these debates on the gracious Speech. I have always found the structure

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bizarre. Why can we not segment each daily debate and group the speakers so that those who wish to address one topic can follow each other, permitting the Minister or Whip speaking for the appropriate department to answer speeches focusing on that topic before we go on to the next topic, which in turn would be answered by the Minister or Whip answering for the relevant department, and so on? I pity the poor Ministers who have to wind up at the end of an eight-hour debate which has covered issues in the remit of as many as five different departments. Capable as they are, it is an unreasonable burden. It is cruel and unusual punishment. I believe that a sequenced, segmented debate would bring greater coherence and maybe even greater interaction among speakers addressing the same topic. In my humble view, both Front and Back Benches would benefit. I should say that I am not expecting the Minister to react to this because it is a matter for the House, not the Government.

I now come to the substance of my brief remarks. I need hardly remind the House that the word “Europe” is nowhere to be found in the gracious Speech. The Prime Minister’s staff seem to have obeyed the instruction to eschew the “E” word with even more zeal than did the staff of “Fawlty Towers” when instructed not to mention the war, but it has not done the Government any good. Within hours they were embroiled, yet again, in their own internal war over an in/out referendum.

In a debate on the humble Address, custom allows us to comment on matters related to, but conspicuously absent from, the list of measures that the Government have just announced in the gracious Speech. That is just as well, for otherwise this year’s four-day debate would be remembered as the one in which never had so much been said by so many about so little. Therefore, I, like others who have spoken before me, will dare to use the “E” word, but in relation only to the question of a referendum. I do this within the framework of today’s debate because the shape of our future relations with not only Europe but the wider world will be determined by the outcome of any referendum.

Let me at the outset lay my cards on the table. My right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition is absolutely right when he says that Labour will not commit to an in/out referendum by a set date, and he is equally right not to rule out a referendum when the time is judged to be ripe. Therefore, when Tory spokespersons and some of the media tell us that Labour has once again made clear that it will never trust the British people to have their say and opposes a referendum, they have, to put it charitably, either misread what the leader of the Opposition said in his address to the annual conference of Progress last Saturday, or they are deliberately making a misleading statement. What is at stake is the national interest. My right honourable friend said in his speech that,

“our national interest lies in staying in the European Union and working for the changes that will make it work better for Britain”.

That is the logical approach. Europhile though I am, I am not blind to the huge shortcomings in the structure and functioning of the European Union. There is deep thinking and massive work to be done to make the Union fit for purpose—to serve the

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peoples of all its member states, with their full participation in that process of reform and their consent to its outcome.

Those looking for an early exit are in reality saying, “It’s broke, it can’t be fixed, and we want nothing more to do with it”. Any idea that Britain might offer its wisdom and skills to help to design a better Union is alien to them. They are the defeatists. Others, such as the Prime Minister, say, “Let’s negotiate a few concessions from our fellow member states and then see if the British people will buy them”. As the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, has correctly observed, such concessions are bound to be inconsequential. At least I can agree with him on that.

The case for staying in cannot be credibly made, let alone won, on the basis of inconsequential concessions. The people will not be fooled by that. The case for staying in can be credibly made and eventually won only when, with Britain’s help, serious reforms are agreed and put in place to the satisfaction of all its members. It is to this that we should be now turning our minds and applying our best efforts. It is a daunting challenge but, together with our European partners, we can meet it. There are plenty of interesting ideas being discussed here as to how we might best fashion a more flexible two-speed or two-tier European Union, more accountable to national parliaments and people, in which those inside the eurozone and those outside it respect each others’ rights and preferences and work together to each others’ advantage. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, suggested a possible way forward to that end.

The Government should engage fully with other EU Governments to develop these ideas and not simply go whining to them for concessions that irritate them and do little, if anything, for us. For those who accept this approach, it follows logically that you call a referendum when you are able to show the people what a reformed Union looks like. Will we know by 2017? If we do, we could go ahead with a referendum, but it could well take longer than that. Why, therefore, commit to a referendum with an irrevocable deadline, and so far in advance? It makes no sense unless you are determined to invoke Article 50 and embark on a long and complex negotiation to leave the European Union, whatever the reform process might produce.

I should like to see a Government who have the courage to say to the people, “Let us see what we can do to make the Union work for all of us. Give us the time to achieve that”. That will take political courage, and I am convinced that my right honourable friend Ed Miliband has that courage. Political courage has not been much in evidence of late in the European corridors of power. I recall what the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, said five years ago as the great financial crisis unfolded. He said, “We know what needs to be done but we don’t know how to get re-elected when we’ve done it”. Spoken half in jest maybe, but he correctly identified what lies in the back of the minds of too many leaders facing tough decisions. We need more leaders with the courage of the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who in 2003 set out his Agenda 2010 to reform his country’s social system and labour market to improve economic growth and reduce unemployment. It was deeply unpopular in his

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own Social Democratic Party and many thousands of members left the party, but he persevered even though he knew it would cost him the next election, and indeed it did. However, the reforms went through, the eventual effects were what he had hoped for and Germany has benefited from them ever since. That is political courage.

I was therefore heartened last Saturday to hear Ed Miliband once again remind us forcefully that Labour, despite what the Tories claim, will always stand up for the national interest. I take that as a personal pledge, and I trust him not to waver in his stance on the in or out referendum. I trust him not to heed siren voices warning that such a stance, logical as it may be, could nevertheless cost him and his party dearly at the next election. I hope that the party will stand with him in rock-solid support.

Charles de Gaulle once remarked that, since a politician never believes what he is saying, he is always astonished when others believe him. Of course, the general, throughout his life, held a pretty jaundiced view of politicians. And so, it seems, do most of the British people these days. If we are to restore confidence in the political class, we, with our differing political labels and beliefs, have to say what we believe is right and in the true national interest, not, as so often, what we think will gain us short-term political advantage. In discussing our future relationship with the European Union, and in acting in concert with our European partners to fashion a Union fit for purpose for all of us, that must be our guiding principle. We must show that de Gaulle’s perception of politicians does not apply here.

10.31 pm

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, although naturally I speak this evening in a purely individual—perhaps even eccentric—capacity.

Unlike any previous Parliament in the years since 1945, we know when the next defence review will take place. By my calculation, it will be the 12th such review since VE Day and we will receive it in the autumn of 2015, a few months the other side of the May 2015 general election if the coalition does not collapse in the mean time and the House of Commons activates the get-out clause in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

Whitehall, quite rightly, is already gearing up for the next defence review with a series of preparatory papers already commissioned by the Cabinet Office on geographical areas of concern and functional topics of various kinds. As in the autumn of 2010, the 2015 strategic defence and security review will be twinned with a new national security strategy document.

I have considerable sympathy for the framers of the 2010 SDSR and NSS. They had to work at great speed and against a financial backdrop that resulted in the combined exercise possessing the characteristics of a fistful of absolutely desperate spending reviews overlain with the thinnest patina of strategy. The 2010 productions reflected, too, the usual British tussle between what Paul Cornish and Andrew Dorman have aptly described as “smart muddling through” and “grand strategy”.

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There was, however, only one passage in the 2010 national security strategy which, to be a trifle unkind, clings to the velcro of memory. It was written under instruction to be boring and, my Lords, it succeeded. The sentence that stands out is truly in technicolour and it is in the introduction:

“The National Security Council has reached a clear conclusion that Britain’s national interest requires us to reject any notion of the shrinkage of our influence”.

I am a convinced supporter of the idea of a National Security Council. I think that it is an innovation of the Prime Minister that will endure. However, this product of its collective wisdom was a mixture of Tommy Cooper-style “just like that” assertion of the worst political kind and hubris, not least because the very next day the strategic defence and security review revealed that several of our instruments of influence in the world were going to be reduced—indeed, shrivelled —substantially.

The next pairing of NSS and SDSR in 2015 must do better than that. It must not fall into the trap described by the great cosmologist Carl Sagan of confusing hopes with facts, as the unfortunate 2010 NSS declaration plainly did. I respectfully suggest to whoever finds themselves in government in the summer and early autumn of 2015 that they open the next National Security Strategy document with a different kind of introduction. A 2,000-word essay—no more than that is needed—of Britain’s place in the world, the range of resources we can realistically apply to whatever aspirations the following pages display, and why and how we should deploy those resources effectively and successfully when and where we can.

I share the impulse that we should strive to be a force for good in the world, but in 2015 Parliament and the public will need a long, deep, illusion-free look at our country’s appetite to remain a global player given our size, wealth, population and economic capacities. None of the previous 11 post-war defence reviews did this satisfactorily—not one of them. Such a think piece must pass the Sagan hopes and facts test, too.

Allied to such an essay we would benefit from two extras. First, a statement of what the 2015 Government believe are the core musts of British defence provision. My list would be—and it is only a personal list—air defence of the UK; home defence of the UK, not least against cyber attack, and including the capacity of the Armed Forces to bring aid to the civil authorities if required; the sustenance of the UK nuclear deterrent; the security of the eastern Atlantic and the near north; maintaining our NATO commitments; and our duties to the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. After this can come the almost limitless list of “wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to” if we had the kit, the money, the allies and the legal cover.

On the resources front, the drafters of and customers for the 2015 SDSR and NSS will need to remember the lessons of defence reviews past. Full funding for the settlement agreed is rarely forthcoming and unforeseen events usually change the picture, sometimes dramatically, in the periods between reviews.

On that score, horizon scanning is enjoying a welcome revival and boost across Whitehall, and not only in the politico-military departments, thanks to a review

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commissioned by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, last year and carried out under the supervision of Jon Day, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. It was declassified in January.

Finally, that second extra to a possible opening think piece in the 2015 National Security Strategy. We have up until now had three years’ experience of the National Security Council and its supporting apparatus at work. Might this be the time to review how all the inputting departments and agencies have adapted themselves to this new and welcome broader-gauge approach which, in structural terms, is better than any of its predecessor Cabinet Committees since 1945? An audit and a capability review of all these inputs would be of real value and a summary of its findings could be included in the National Security Strategy of 2015.

We can as a country do a great deal of good in the world, but let us not over-reach, let us not over-preach, and let us do in the world what we sensibly can with the skills and the capacities with which our history has endowed us, but no more than that.

10.38 pm

Lord Dobbs: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy—I would follow him almost anywhere—but not on this day his logic and his argument.

I wish to say a few words about Syria and the tragedy that is being played out there. More than 80,000 have already been killed and there will be many more to come. It is only right that we want to help and, as my noble friend Lady Northover indicated earlier, we are doing so. Yet, there is always the law of unintended consequences that dogs our every step in the Middle East. Syria is not a country or a crisis in isolation. It comes with the context of so much that has gone before. Let us take Iraq, for instance. It is almost exactly 10 years since we invaded, and yet all those years and all those lives later, Iraq is a country still beset by religious and ethnic division and consumed by corruption. We invaded the country genuinely committed to supporting democracy, human rights and western values. We left that country with the images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay burnt into our reputation, and into the imaginations of a generation of young Arabs. Those tiny, irritating, unintended consequences have bitten us hard.

Much the same might be said of our involvement in Afghanistan. Earlier, the Minister said that we are “on track”, but we shall see. We have troops on the ground, so I want to be extremely cautious about what I say, and as the president of the Langford and Wylye branch of the Royal British Legion, I want very much to pay tribute to the servicemen of our Armed Forces and the sacrifices that so many of them have made. But there is one question above all others that must be asked when we consider these issues. After all these years and the expenditure of lives and treasure in our war on terror, have we succeeded in making Britain a safer place? Unless we can say that that is clearly the case, that Britain is more secure, we must at least consider the possibility that the policy we have been pursuing has been wrong.

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I want to put this into a little more context before I get to Syria by talking about Libya. We overthrew Gaddafi, a man who we had once armed, just as we had once armed Saddam Hussein, and even Osama bin Laden when he was fighting the Soviets. The law of unintended consequences had a field day with that one. It is still too early to measure the success in Libya. There is still widespread violence and lawlessness, and despite all the support we have given to the new Libyan Government, we seem to be no closer to discovering the truth behind the Lockerbie bombing or bringing to justice the killer of PC Yvonne Fletcher. It is not just truth or justice that have disappeared into the sands, so has Gaddafi’s enormous arsenal of weapons. Some 20,000 surface-to-air missiles, artillery pieces, mortar rounds and much more have flown away and found new homes. Those weapons are now turning up in new hotspots in north Africa and the Middle East—Algeria, Niger, Mali, Somalia and, of course, Gaza, although that is scarcely a new hotspot. These are more unintended consequences.

Some of those weapons have turned up in Syria as well, contributing to the bloodbath and the inhumanity. As a result, it is being argued with increasing passion in some quarters that we must do something, go further, arm the good guys. I understand the deep humanitarian concern that lies behind such suggestions. The Minister herself as good as said something earlier today about amending the EU arms embargo and facilitating a negotiated solution, but putting more weapons into that area might also facilitate an even greater catastrophe. The war in Syria, as we have heard from many speakers in the debate, is not simply a civil war, it is part of a war of sectarianism that is burning across so much of the Middle East. It is a war of opposing ideologies, tribes, cultures and religions; a kaleidoscope of confusion.

That raises a question: if we intervene, just who are we supporting? Simply being an enemy of Assad does not make any group a friend of this country. The Middle East is not a pick-and-mix sweet shop. It is a cauldron of subtle and shifting loyalties that in the past we have had little success in understanding, let alone exploiting. It is being argued in some quarters, possibly even implied in what the Minister said in her remarks earlier, that because Assad’s arsenal is huge, we must give the rebels more and thus level up the playing field—or level up the killing field. It is suggested, for instance, that we supply items such as body armour, which does not kill. No, it does not, but the weapons in the hands of those wearing the body armour will most certainly kill.

I believe that, so far, the Government have got our policy in Syria right. They have provided humanitarian aid and there must be more—much more—of that. We have supported our great ally Turkey, whose interests and frontiers are so directly threatened. The Prime Minister has emphasised the need for an international solution. He has gone to Russia and talked with others in the Middle East in the attempt to find some common ground and to isolate the conflict. We should also talk to the Iranians, if we can, after their elections in a few weeks.

Talking may not find any easy solution, but there may be no solution of any sort in Syria, not for a few years. We lack the ability to make it otherwise.

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Sometimes it is braver and far wiser to resist the siren call to arms and to do less rather than to promise more. We should be providing no military equipment of any sort to the conflict in Syria. We should instead remember that there is no tragedy in Syria that cannot be made far worse by misguided western intervention and by allowing ourselves to be caught, yet again, by that unavoidable law of unintended consequence.

10.46 pm

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords, we have heard excellent speeches today, covering so many areas not included in the gracious Speech. I will focus most of my remarks on the defence reform Bill, which is mentioned in the gracious Speech.

I welcome the Bill as it addresses the fundamental areas of defence that have needed urgent attention for some time. Although the detail is needed, at least it sends the signal that the coalition Government are serious about improving procurement. I trust that no noble Lord in this Chamber is calling for the status quo to be maintained where defence procurement is concerned, but that does not mean that we can leap straight into any particularly new model without careful scrutiny of the proposals, as the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said so eloquently. One lesson from my experience of outsourcing is that a service that is badly run in-house is unlikely to be transformed overnight simply by letting a contract with the private sector for that service. My noble friend Lord Lee has set out many questions about the GOCO alternative and I am sure, in due course, that the Minister will reply to that book of questions, which were, I believe, asked from such a very positive stance that they need to be answered.

The Royal United Services Institute has rejected the GOCO idea as “undemocratic” and said it would put the power in the hands of defence contractors, on the basis that the MoD is not good at negotiating contracts with the private sector. The main question is whether the MoD should negotiate contracts with the private sector to negotiate on its behalf. I do not agree with the rejection of the proposals, but I have some questions. How will the contractors’ fees or commission be calculated? Would it be possible to keep some procurement in-house if the purchases were non-contentious, such as buying off the shelf? Why pay commission if it is so easy to purchase? Can the Minister make clear that the contractor will not itself be a defence contractor in any way? What safeguards will there be to avert conflicts of interest? How would a contractor be picked? Sadly, in this global world, many firms have connections which would make that conflict of interest quite difficult to avoid.

A newspaper has reported that Defence Equipment and Support consists of 16,000 civil servants. A couple of noble Lords have said that today. If this is true, a light-hearted observation at this time of night might be: how many members of MoD staff does it take to change a light-bulb? Sixteen thousand is a lot of people. My noble friend Lord Lee asked if this meant that we could not put our house in order. I am afraid that we do seem to be unable to put our house in order. If we were able to reduce this 16,000 down to, say, 1,000 to deal with the intelligent customer function, as is proposed, that model needs be looked at very

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carefully. There is also a MoD warehouse full of equipment and parts. What is the value of this stock, and should moves be made to sell off the items so as to realise the cash and save costs on the warehousing?

This debate has covered a number of subjects, including the Middle East. I do not want to dwell on it but will make one or two points on the Israel-Palestinian impasse. My noble friend Lord Alderdice very clearly put the case for a regional solution using the Arab peace process. That is certainly a way forward. But my point, which I have often made in this Chamber, is that peace is not possible, a Palestinian state is not possible and a secure Israel is not possible unless both parties come bilaterally to the negotiating table without any preconditions. If that happens, there may possibly be a state of Palestine and a more secure State of Israel, but if it does not, I guarantee that there will be no peace.

My noble friend Lord Ashdown made a very potent case about the treatment of the Afghan interpreters. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take that forward in his answer. My noble friend Lord Ashdown also talked about whether we should lift the Syrian arms embargo, as did the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. I agree with them that we should not supply more arms to Syria.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made an explosive intervention about Trident, which I heartily endorse, and I hope that my right honourable friend in the other place who is dealing with the review of whether there should be a like-for-like replacement for Trident will take those remarks, which were so well put, very much to heart.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey put a very potent case for food security, particularly in Africa, and other noble Lords have said the same. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can address that in his reply.

My noble friend Lord Sharkey and others talked about the 0.7% aid target, and a comment was just made about the fact that there was no need for legislation. We must all take pride that we have got to the 0.7% without any legislation, but I confirm to noble Lords that the Liberal Democrats are committed to putting this into law.

We hear discussion of the Ministry of Defence becoming a more intelligent consumer, but we must hear in concrete terms how this transformation is to take place. It has been promised many times over by different Administrations. Overall, I think many in your Lordships’ House believe that a deep change in MoD culture is needed, particularly in procurement, but we will need to be persuaded—and I hope we will be—that the GOCO proposals really are the answer to our procurement problems. We have heard today from sceptics about GOCO but I wonder what their solution would be. I am convinced that real change is needed and I hope that when my noble friend the Minister replies the fears expressed today can be addressed.

We heard from a number of noble Lords about Europe. During the passage of the defence reform Bill, I hope that we will value the pooling of resources within the European Union. European Union countries spend about €200 billion on defence. In these financially pressurised times, there are strong arguments for looking

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for opportunities for joint procurement. The recent paper

Europe’s Strategic Cacophony


“Europe’s defence ambitions are crippled by the lack of a common strategic outlook”.

There are so many ways in which we must progress the reform of procurement and I hope that we will do that with the defence reform Bill when it comes from the other place.

10.55 pm

Baroness Stern: My Lords, I feel very privileged to have the 54th slot on the speakers list and to be the last Back-Bench speaker in this fascinating debate. I want to concentrate solely on matters relating to the International Criminal Court.

I welcome warmly the support that the UK Government have given to international criminal justice before and since the Rome statute came into effect. I paid a visit to the court last month under the auspices of the parliamentary network, Parliamentarians for Global Action. The officials whom I met at the ICC spoke most warmly of the UK Government’s support for the ICC system and for the co-operation extended to the ICC in its investigations and prosecutions. The UK was one of the few states to condemn the visit of Omar al-Bashir, for whom the ICC has issued an arrest warrant, to Chad. All that is much appreciated.

The court is now at the beginning of its second decade of applying the rule of law to crimes against humanity. The Foreign Secretary said in March:

“I am pleased to hear today that Bosco Ntaganda is on his way to The Hague. This is a hugely significant day for victims of conflict in the region. I hope it will contribute to a resolution of the problems in the eastern DRC along with determined efforts to implement wider peace agreements”.

When he said that, he summed up the huge change that the existence of the court has brought to victims, to helping resolve conflicts and to bringing peace.

The Rome statute represents a leap forward in international criminal justice in a number of respects. First, the court has severe punishments for those who are convicted, but it does not have the death penalty. That sends a message around the world about the proportionality of the use of the death penalty in those countries which retain it. I particularly welcome that, as I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Abolition of the Death Penalty.

Secondly, the court gives victims a right that they never had before to participate in court proceedings by expressing their views and their experiences through their own legal representatives. Victims also have the possibility of reparations. The UK Government’s announcement of a contribution of a further £0.5 million to the criminal court’s trust fund for victims, the third such contribution, is enormously to be welcomed.

Thirdly, the court has the most advanced gender provisions. The Rome statute is the first international treaty to identify crimes against women as crimes against humanity, as war crimes and, in some cases, as genocide. These provisions are all exemplary. The Government’s initiative on sexual violence and the G8 declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict are a great encouragement to all those trying to respond to this particularly terrible aspect of war and conflict.

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Against this background of the Government’s long-term support for the ICC, perhaps I may raise with the Minister just two issues. First, there is the question of the crime of aggression and the Kampala amendments. These are the amendments to the statute agreed in Kampala in 2010 that will enable the court by 2017 to begin a process to exercise jurisdiction with respect to the crime of aggression. Some 30 notifications are needed for the amendments to be activated. The UK played an important role in Kampala in achieving a consensus on the amendments. What is the Government’s thinking now on ratifying the Kampala amendments? Are the Government working with other states’ parties, especially in the European Union and Commonwealth, to encourage ratification? Are the Government proposing to incorporate the definition of the crime of aggression in our domestic legislation?

Secondly, there is the very difficult question of the ICC budget. Clearly there are financial difficulties and the court must seek efficiencies and use its money wisely, but the Minister must be aware of the great concern among a large number of those involved about the approach being taken to the ICC and the imposition of a zero-growth budget. This is happening at a time when more cases are being undertaken and there is wide encouragement to take more action against sexual violence. This approach to the budget could bring the danger that there will only be enough funds for conducting cases before the court, so that all the other work essential for justice to be done will be reduced. In particular there is a fear that work with victims and outreach to affected communities will be seriously impaired. Are these concerns being recognised and addressed? I do not expect the Minister to answer these questions tonight: he has not had very much notice. Perhaps he will be able to write to me sometime in the near future.

11.02 pm

Lord Rosser: My Lords, as I am sure noble Lords anticipated, indeed expected, today’s debate has been wide-ranging and has covered a great many issues, from the Chagos islanders to cybersecurity and attacks. That was inevitable in a debate covering Foreign Office, international development and defence matters. However, that is not in any way a criticism. Particularly in a far from secure and stable world, defence policy, foreign policy and our international development goals should be geared towards agreed, co-ordinated objectives and priorities, with our diplomats and Armed Forces working in tandem alongside our international aid and development programmes to deliver them, recognising the role that the use of soft power can play.

Whether that has been the case, or is likely to be the case over the next two years, is another matter. The 2010 strategic defence and security review was not related to Foreign Office or international development goals. It was a straight exercise in rapidly cutting costs at a time when the economy had been restored to growth over the previous nine months. The consequences of rushed decisions were highlighted by a recent National Audit Office report that was scathing about the double U-turn since 2010—which means we are now back where we started from—on the Joint Strike Fighters for our future aircraft carriers. We now learn from

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Lockheed Martin, the programme’s main contractor, that US Government spending cuts could inflate the overall cost of the F-35 jet fighter, since a reduction in the number of aircraft under construction at any time could drive up unit costs. What is the Government’s assessment of the possible impact of US Government spending cuts on the cost of the Joint Strike Fighter? Has provision been made in the budget for an increase in cost or would such an increase mean that we have to purchase a smaller number of aircraft?

An indication of just how rushed was the 2010 SDSR came when the Government told us it could be some months—up to another seven months from now since the phrase used was “later this year”—before they could make a decision on whether to offer Afghan interpreters, fearful for their lives as our front-line troops withdraw, the same option to move to this country as was offered to Iraqi interpreters who had served our Armed Forces. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde have already spoken on this issue far more eloquently than I could manage.

It seems odd that a Government prepared to make decisions on an SDSR in six months need longer than that to make what is surely a more straightforward single decision on Afghan interpreters. Perhaps it is a case of defence policy being determined by the objectives of others, rather than by co-ordinated Foreign Office, defence and international development objectives. I hope that the Minister will be able to update us on the current situation on Afghan interpreters when he replies and, if he cannot tell us what decision the Government have made, at least explain why it is taking so long to come to a conclusion.

At this point, I refer to the speech made by my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the issue of the Chagos islanders—a matter also referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Avebury. The issue is whether they should be able to return to the outer islands. My noble friend referred to the statement made in 2010 by the now Foreign Secretary that he would,

“work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”.

My noble friend asked what the Government were doing or intending to do in the light of that undertaking. I do not know what that statement by the Foreign Secretary was meant to mean. I hope that the Minister will provide a direct answer to my noble friend’s question when he responds.

It is not easy to ensure that defence, foreign office and international development actions are synchronised towards common policy goals if policy is changed for no clear reason. The Government have previously said more than once that they are committed to legislating for 0.7% of gross national income, in line with the UN target, to be spent on international aid and development. Several noble Lords have expressed concern that there was no mention of such legislation in the gracious Speech. No indication has been given about when such legislation may appear. We are now hearing suggestions emanating from the centre of government that UK aid should be redirected to prop up a defence budget facing further cuts—cuts about which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, expressed such powerful concern, to which I await the Minister’s response.

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The previous Labour Government’s commitment to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid and to legislate on it by 2008 was taken on by the current Government and included in the coalition agreement. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what has happened to the undertaking on that legislation in the coalition agreement and what are the Government’s intentions on the issue, including how they consider that the absence of that previously promised legislation will promote international aid and development objectives.

A further area where policy appears to be shifting is over Europe; a number of your Lordships have spoken on that matter. The vision of the larger party in the coalition appears to be that the European Union should be a free trade area and nothing more. The Prime Minister has plans to try to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership and then hold a referendum in 2017. Large sections of his party want a referendum on our continuing membership as soon as possible, with a view to securing a no vote. What is clear is that the larger party in the coalition will probably spend much of its time between now and the general election contemplating its own navel over Europe. The statute in this country as it stands provides for a referendum if there is a significant transfer of sovereignty from Britain to Brussels. We have no plans to repeal that legislation. We are not in favour of the status quo and will make the case for reform of Europe but reform, not exit, must be the priority.

The gracious Speech indicated that we will be experiencing a relatively unusual event: a defence Bill that is separate and distinct from the five-yearly Armed Forces Bill. The defence Bill is to address the issue of changes that the Government wish to make in defence procurement arrangements and their intentions in respect of the expansion of our Reserve Forces. There have of course already been changes in the working arrangements between the Ministry of Defence and the private sector, following changes progressed under the previous Government by my noble friend Lord Drayson, which are resulting in improved co-operation and shared knowledge and expertise, particularly in fields of advanced technology, that enable better control of costs and enhanced value for money. It is not clear what impact the changes being contemplated by the Government for future procurement will have on these arrangements, and certainly not what improvement they would bring and how.

The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, and my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde asked the Minister a number of questions about the effect and impact of the proposed GOCO. I will not repeat those questions but I am as interested as the noble Lord and my noble friend are in the answers that the Minister gives. We will want to be satisfied that any proposed changes by the Government will improve the present situation. We will want to be satisfied that any new arrangements involving the private sector will be transparent, ensure that there is value for money and, at the very least, not lead to less information about procurement activity and costs being in the public domain than is the case at present.

The Government’s defence Bill is also intended to help strengthen our Reserve Forces in the light of the decision that with the contraction in the size of our

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regular forces, the reserves will have a more prominent role. It would be helpful if the Minister could update the House with the progress being made on this issue. What is the most recent assessment of the willingness of business and industry to employ reservists on the basis of the greater commitment that will be required in future, and what is the feedback from existing and potential reservists on their willingness to be away from their civilian career for longer periods than at present? Are the Government still absolutely confident of finding sufficient reservists of the required quality, in the required timescale, to meet the increased role and level of commitment that will be needed under the Government’s future plans? Is there a plan B if the Government’s expectations are not realised and, if so, what is it?

At the beginning of this debate, some hours ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, paid tribute to our Armed Forces—to their bravery and commitment, and to the sacrifice that all too many of them have made on behalf of our country. On this side, we associate ourselves wholeheartedly with those tributes. We owe our Armed Forces clarity and consistency on their role, through co-ordinated defence, Foreign Office and international aid and development policies and objectives. We also owe them a determination to ensure that the resources we provide in all forms are sufficient, appropriate and relevant to ensure that the demands and objectives we place on our Armed Forces can be delivered.

11.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, today’s excellent debate has reminded us repeatedly of the opening words of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman: that we live in an uncertain and unstable world. We are fortunate to be able to rely on the men and women working across the FCO, DfID, the MoD and the agencies. Their dedication to maintaining our security, protecting our interests and promoting our values means that Britain is able to act as a force for good in the world, defending our own citizens and the citizens of other countries when they, too, need defending.

Within the Ministry of Defence, our vision is to deliver a versatile, agile and battle-winning Armed Forces, working effectively with each other and with people ready to lead, to accept responsibility and to spend wisely to protect our security in a changing world. I, too, pay particular tribute to our Armed Forces. Their bravery and professionalism represent the very best qualities our nation has to offer. We owe them, and the families who support them, an enormous debt of gratitude. Their role is difficult and frequently very dangerous. We must never forget the sacrifices that they make on our behalf.

I will now do my very best to respond to the many questions asked during this excellent debate before I run out of time, but if I cannot I will write to noble Lords.

Many noble Lords mentioned Afghanistan. In the Ministry of Defence, current operations in Afghanistan remain our priority. In the light of the changing nature of the operation, we have looked at how we can

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best deploy what will be declining numbers of troops and smaller amounts of equipment over the next 18 months to deliver the best possible protection to our people while continuing to provide the Afghans with the support they need during this critical transition period.

Brigades deploying to Afghanistan on Operation Herrick have usually done so on a six-monthly basis. This pattern of rotation has worked well for the enduring deployment, but is judged not to be sustainable during the final months of the drawdown period. The Army has therefore decided that the brigade deploying in October—Herrick 19—will deploy for eight months, from October this year until June 2014. The subsequent brigade—Herrick 20—will deploy for six months, from June to December next year when the ISAF campaign concludes, but the deployment could extend up to nine months for a small number of individuals who may be needed to support final redeployment activity post-December 2014. Those eligible will be paid a Herrick drawdown allowance of £50 per day from the seven and a half month point until the end of their tour in addition to their normal allowances.

My noble friend Lord King asked whether we can extract the equipment that we will need. I assure him that we are well on track to withdraw all that we require. We are not putting all our eggs into one basket but are using air, land and sea to bring our kit back.

The delivery of the acquisition and support of defence equipment is one of the key parts of the Armed Forces Bill, as announced in the Queen’s speech. This has been recognised by successive Governments as being in need of reform. There have been attempts to make improvements but, frankly, none has had lasting effect. This Government set up the materiel strategy project to find a radical solution to a persistent problem. The legislation that we are bringing forward will enable us to make the necessary changes should the recently announced assessment phase conclude that a GOCO is the best solution, but we have made no decision as yet. That will follow when we have determined what the marketplace can deliver. The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, asked whether we can have a debate on this issue. I would certainly welcome one and will take it up with the usual channels.

We owe it to the men and women of the armed services to deliver the equipment they need to do the job we ask of them. My noble friend Lord Lee made the point that no other country is currently taking this approach, but that does not mean that we should not. Many are watching with interest, because they too recognise and face the problems that we are trying to solve. I assure my noble friend Lord Palmer that the GOCO contractor will not be a major defence contractor, as potential bidders will have to satisfy us about how they would deal with conflicts of interest. We are not just looking at the market. DE&S+ is the MoD alternative to a GOCO model and is being developed in parallel. The GOCO model will be tested against DE&S+ next year before a final decision is made.

As also mentioned in the Queen’s speech, we are intent on developing the reserves, which were mentioned by a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Freeman, who I thank for his continued support. The reserves are a vital component of our

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Armed Forces. As my noble friend said, 29 have sadly been killed in Afghanistan. The reserves have consistently made and continue to make a significant contribution to the nation’s security at home and overseas. Our plans are challenging, but we are determined to stick with them. Looking forward, reserve forces will be central to our new Future Force 2020 structure, forming a greater proportion of the whole force than in the past. Our future reserves will be a fully integrated component of the Armed Forces.

We recognise the contribution that employers make in supporting their reservist employees. We recognise that they have needs and challenges in a tough economic climate, so we shall work with employers to establish better relationships and to enable them to plan ahead for reservist training and mobilisations. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said, we are looking at financial incentives for those employers to whom it matters: small and medium-sized employers.

We need to increase the size of the reserves, but the numbers that we need are well within historic levels. We are investing an additional £1.8 billion over 10 years to help deliver these changes. The new proposition for the reserves will be set out in the forthcoming White Paper on Future Reserves 2020, to be published by the Summer Recess. The White Paper will set out an extensive programme of measures further to develop and grow the role of the reserves.

The noble and gallant Lords, Lord Craig and Lord Stirrup, were both concerned about the defence budget. In 2012, the MoD announced that it had balanced its budget. We have now set out a fully funded and affordable equipment programme of nearly £160 billion over the next 10 years to meet Future Force 2020, which has recently been audited by the National Audit Office. The Government are fully committed to increasing the equipment budget by 1% a year from 2015, but of course we have a spending review under way for 2015-16 which will cover the rest of the defence budget. As the Defence Secretary has made clear, there are some genuine efficiencies we can make, but any further significant reductions would have an impact upon capabilities.

Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Dobbs, the noble Lord, Lord Eames, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, were deeply concerned about Syria. After more than two years of bloodshed, this conflict has reached catastrophic proportions. Almost 80,000 people have been killed; there are more than 1.4 million refugees in neighbouring countries; more than 4.2 million civilians are displaced within Syria; and more than 6.8 million people are in dire humanitarian need.

The UK’s total humanitarian funding for Syria and the region to date is £141 million, which has all been allocated, including the £50 million pledged at Kuwait. UK aid is already funding food for more than 140,000 people a month, and water for more than 400,000. We have provided more than 100,000 medical consultations. We know our support is reaching people in all 14 governorates of Syria as well as refugees in the neighbouring countries.

Several noble Lords including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells and my noble friend Lord Ashdown were concerned that we might

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be arming the opposition. We have taken no decision to send arms to anyone in Syria. We have always said that the goal of amending the embargo is to create the conditions for a negotiated settlement.

My noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, were concerned that the Commonwealth was not mentioned in the gracious Speech. I assure them both that the Government are strongly committed to strengthening our engagement with and role within the Commonwealth. Because of the importance we attach to the Commonwealth, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have decided to attend this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka.

Many noble Lords, as one would expect, touched on the EU, which was well covered by my noble friend Lady Northover. David Cameron has said that if he is Prime Minister, there will be an in-out referendum in the next Parliament. Yesterday the Conservative Party published a draft Bill to legislate for an in-out referendum by the end of 2017. We are examining all opportunities to bring this Bill before Parliament, including as a Private Member’s Bill. As my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Lawson said, the EU is changing because of the eurozone crisis. As part of these changes we want to negotiate a fresh settlement in the EU that is a better settlement for Britain, and then put the result of those negotiations to the British people. We want to be able to campaign heart and soul for Britain to stay in the EU under that new settlement, and we are confident that we will be able to do so, but the British people must have the final choice.

I was happy to hear that my noble friend Lord Northbrook has had a successful visit to Hong Kong. We want a strong and positive relationship with China, which I believe is of mutual benefit. Our bilateral trade with China is growing faster than that of any other country in Europe, and we welcomed a huge increase in Chinese investment last year. We have more Chinese students than any other foreign nationality, and numbers are still rising healthily. This benefits both countries. When dealing with Tibet this Government’s approach has always been clear and consistent. The Chinese Government are aware of our policy on Tibet.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Bates, Lord Chidgey, Lord Avebury, Lord Sharkey, Lord Hussain, and the noble Lords, Lord McConnell, Lord Collins, Lord Eames, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, spoke about our commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid. The coalition Government are the first UK Government ever to meet this, and we are the first G8 country to do so. I can also assure noble Lords that we remain fully committed to delivering 0.7% of GNI on aid. I can also assure the noble Lords, Lord McConnell and Lord Collins, that only aid which conforms to OECD rules counts as ODA, and we will adhere to that.

We agree with my noble friend Lord Chidgey that good governance should be a core part of new development goals. We also agree with him, and with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, about the importance of

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the development of agriculture to tackle hunger and malnutrition. DfID invests heavily in new farming techniques, and, as my noble friend Lord Bates pointed out, we will host a global Nutrition for Growth event on 8 June as part of the UK’s presidency of the G8. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will be pleased to hear that the priority for the G8 presidency is to push for fairer taxes and transparency.

My noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, flagged up Pakistan. The new Pakistani Government will have an important responsibility to implement urgently needed economic and tax reforms. DfID works extensively on tax reforms in developing countries. In South Sudan, I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that DfID has allocated £40 million to help with humanitarian aid in 2013. In Burma we have provided £2 million for humanitarian support, with a focus on water, sanitation and nutrition. The Foreign Secretary and Aung San Suu Kyi agreed two weeks ago that it was time for the EU to move beyond sanctions.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, was concerned about our continuing commitment to Afghan development. I can reassure the noble Earl that DfID will provide £178 million every year at least until 2017. We are working with the Afghan Government to ensure the protection of women’s rights. In regard to Bangladesh, I can assure my noble friend Lord Avebury that the Chittagong Hill Tracts were raised in the universal periodic review.

My noble friend Lord Eccles and the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, mentioned CDC. A revitalised and reformed CDC is at the heart of the Government’s emphasis on the private sector in development. New investments are made only in the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.

The noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Ramsbotham, my noble friends Lord Ashdown and Lord King, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, were very concerned about the situation of the Afghan interpreters. I will take back the strength of feeling in the House tonight to my department. However, as the Prime Minister restated very recently, people who have laid their life on the line for the United Kingdom will not be abandoned.

My noble friend Lady Nicholson drew attention to the opportunities in Iraq. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out the fragile state of Jordan. My noble friends Lord Northbrook and Lord Sharkey made important points about Cyprus. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, spoke eloquently about southern Africa. I assure him that we will play an active role in ensuring fair elections in Zimbabwe.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for his sympathy for me tonight. I have heard enough amusing stories from him to know that he would be a brilliant after-dinner speaker, and I am sorry that I have never heard him.

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The noble Lord, Lord Reid, made a very thoughtful speech on cybersecurity. I assure noble Lords that this is an area that we take very seriously and in which we invest a great deal of money, as the noble Lord said. We have trained 37,000 personnel and established a joint forces cybergroup, with close links across industry, government and partner nations. As the noble Lord said, we have committed £650 million over four years to the transformative national cybersecurity programme to bolster cybersecurity.

The noble Lord, Lord West, asked whether we were taking a risk with the two carriers. They are on track to be completed on time. More importantly, the aircraft that they will carry, the Lightning, is on track to have a squadron operational by 2016 for training in the United States. As the noble Lord knows, pilots are already flying the aircraft in United States, and we hope that they will be flying off the first carrier around 2020.

The noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Browne, mentioned the Trident replacement. Certainly I would welcome a debate on this issue, which I understand the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has asked for. UK nuclear policy remains one of minimum deterrence. We maintain a minimum level of nuclear weapons to guarantee a credible deterrent against any potential aggressor. The UK is fully committed to working towards a world free from nuclear weapons, is living up to the letter and spirit of its international legal obligations, and has a strong record on fulfilling its disarmament commitments.

My noble friend Lady Wilcox mentioned the recruiting and training of 16 to 18 year-olds. The minimum age for entry into the UK Armed Forces reflects the normal school leaving age of 16. There is no intention to change this policy, which is compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, asked why the Chagos islanders could not return. We regret what happened in the late 1960s and 1970s. The responsibility for decisions taken then has been acknowledged by successive Governments. However, the reasons for not allowing resettlement, namely feasibility and defence security, are clear and compelling. The Government will continue to look at the issues involved and engage with all those with an interest.

The passion and intelligence of today’s debate show that noble Lords understand that the defence of the realm is, as the noble Lord, Lord West, said, the first duty of any Government. In closing, I will say only this: the task of safeguarding our national security, developing stability overseas and promoting our prosperity does not take place in a vacuum. Above all, our efforts must be credible, and it is this Government who are putting the country back on a sustainable footing.

Motion agreed nemine dissentiente, and the Lord Chamberlain was ordered to present the Address to Her Majesty.

House adjourned at 11.34 pm.