I want to say a word or two about humanitarian assistance. The first point to make is that humanitarian agencies in this country are desperate to get access to all parts of Syria and are very anxious that the Government should pursue this with all possible vigour, not least in the Security Council in trying to bring the Russians on board, at least on this. Everyone—rebels and government—should be pressurising all parties to the conflict to make access by humanitarian agencies a possibility. Of course, there is a role for the UN Security Council in that context. Great credit should be given to the British Government for what they have done and the lead they have given, but there is still a tremendous amount to be done in getting the world to face its responsibility of fulfilling the pledges that it has given. It is cruelly cynical to be at conferences at which great amounts of assistance are pledged but do not materialise. The current UN appeal is to last for only for six months, and in June only 28% of the $5.2 billion needed had been subscribed.

In Syria, 6.8 million men, women and children are in desperate need of assistance. Since the conflict erupted, more than 1.5 million people have fled to neighbouring countries. One has only to think of Jordan, where I was last week. There is a huge burden on Jordan. In one camp alone, the Zaatari refugee camp, there are 150,000 newly arrived Syrians. That is on top of the 550,000 refugees from Syria in Jordan as a whole and the 600,000 Syrians who were already living in Jordan. If one needed an illustration of the destabilisation within the Ashdown analysis, as part of the Ashdown scenario being played out, we should think of that.

We like to feel that whatever our profound reservations about human rights in Jordan, it is a relatively stable country. But for how long will Jordan remain stable? Some have estimated that within a very short number of years, 25% of the population of Jordan will be refugees. How does one sustain stability and security in that context? Perhaps I may add that it also puts our own preoccupations about the movement of people, immigration and refugees in a very different light when one sees what the Jordanian people are absorbing and carrying, the burden on them and the effect on their economy and well-being.

All this makes a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian issue more urgent than ever, and not less. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bates, that lasting, enduring solutions have to belong to the people in whose name they are being reached. They cannot be imposed on the people because they would not last. A settlement has to be rooted in a conviction across a wide cross-section of the population that it is something that they want and believe in. Last week, I had conversations with the Speaker of the Knesset, Mr Edelstein, and others. I also had a very good conversation with President Abbas of the Palestinians.

I do not belong to the ranks of those who despair of any movement in the situation. Tantalisingly, there is some chance of progress but if there is to be progress one thing is absolutely clear. We have to increase the number of Palestinians and Israelis being exposed to each other not as a problem, as analysis or in a stigmatised sort of way, but as people who are

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encountering each other, who are hearing each other’s perspectives and sharing each other’s agonies and professionalism. At a very interesting conference in which noble Lords were involved, there were hydrologists from both communities. They were fascinated by the work that they talked about together. That is essential because only in that way will we create the space around the negotiators for them to become more flexible and imaginative. I was very glad to hear that among the Knesset and the Palestinian leadership there was an understanding that this was a useful thing to do. I was there as chairman of the IPU’s Middle East committee and I hope that this is a matter on which the IPU may be able to help.

5.43 pm

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, in the light of many of the interventions made in the House today, including the very powerful arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, I hope that the Minister can assure us that the Government will now urgently reconsider whether it is right, sensible, necessary, safe or effective to supply lethal arms to the Syrian opposition. I have seen, as presumably the Government have also, conclusive evidence that arms supplied to the Free Syrian Army by Saudi Arabia have ended up in the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra, closely allied as it is with al-Qaeda. It is evidence that must call into question the noble Baroness’s claim, in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, last week, that the Government have been,

“incredibly cautious about ensuring that”—

any—

“equipment … does not get into the hands of extremists”.—[

Official Report

, 27/06/13; col. 858.]

The Minister has told us again today that no decision has been made to send weapons to the Syrian opposition. However, a recent meeting in Doha, at which HMG were represented, is reported to have agreed to provide urgently,

“all necessary material and equipment”,

to the Syrian rebels. The Minister has argued that one purpose of arming the rebels would be to put pressure on President Assad to come to the negotiating table. However, President Assad has told his Russian allies that he is ready to negotiate. We may not believe him but he has said that. As far as I know, no single element of the Syrian opposition has agreed to negotiate.

It is an oversimplification to describe this conflict, as I have often, as a Sunni-Shia or Arab-Iranian war. In fact, it started as an uprising, mainly by the majority Sunni population, against a brutal regime dominated by the minority Alawite sect, of which Bashar al-Assad is a member, and exacerbated—this is not often mentioned—by widespread deprivation in Syria caused by five years of drought. It has now become a regional conflict between Sunni and Shia forces, backed on the one side by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and on the other by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. The escalation of this proxy war, increasingly involving non-Syrian fighters on both sides, is a threat to the whole region and beyond. It is not a conflict in which Britain has a direct stake. What we do have is an interest in working energetically—as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has argued—for peace in an unstable area.

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HMG are not alone in having consistently underestimated the extent to which President Assad and his Government can survive this externally fuelled onslaught. The military strength that Bashar al-Assad inherited from his father has also been underestimated. Of perhaps equal importance, so has the degree of support which the regime still enjoys from Syrian minorities and, indeed, from a significant proportion of the Sunni business community. The Prime Minister has claimed that we are trying to help form a transitional Government in Damascus which will respect the rights of Christians and other minorities in Syria. Perhaps I may remind the House of a book by William Dalrymple called From the Holy Mountain, in which he concluded that Christians in Syria in the late 1990s enjoyed greater freedom of worship and absence of discrimination than any other Christian community in the Middle East. We should not underestimate the very real fear of Christians in Syria, now much diminished in number but which until recently included a large number of Syrian exiles from Iraq, of any likely successor Government in Damascus. The same fear must be shared by the Druze and other minorities, including the very small Jewish and Yazidi communities. I am reminded of the couplet by Hilaire Belloc:

“always keep a-hold of NurseFor fear of finding something worse”.

There has been regular, and sometimes strident, criticism of the Russians’ support for President Assad and his Government, both in the Security Council and over their supply of weapons for the Syrian armed forces. However, we should remember that the Russians are scared, as they should be, of the impact which a fundamentalist Sunni Government in Damascus would have on Russia’s own Muslim communities in Chechnya and elsewhere in central Asia, and indeed on the large Russian and Orthodox community in Syria. As the Russian Foreign Minister put it in an interview on 20 June:

“We need to [preserve Syria’s] territorial integrity, sovereignty, multi-ethnicity and multi-religious nature”.

We should also bear in mind the long strategic relationship which Russia has had with President Bashar al-Assad and his father. In the latter case, as I remember well, the Soviet Union had long had a treaty of friendship, dating back to the 1970s.

I would argue that the time has come urgently to reconsider our support for, and recognition of, a deeply divided and dysfunctional Syrian opposition, closely allied with Islamic terrorist movements. I believe that we should now try, with our European and American partners, to resume contact with what I have previously described in this House—I do not expect my noble friend and former colleague Lord Hannay to agree—as the legitimate Government in Damascus.

At its meeting on 22 June, the Friends of Syria Core Group, in which the Foreign Secretary took part, said that it,

“supported reaching a political solution … and affirmed their prior commitments … in favour of negotiations”.

I hope that the Minister can assure us that the Government still support the efforts of Ambassador Brahimi and will concentrate now on encouraging and supporting attempts by the Russians and the Americans to convene

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an international conference at which some end can be negotiated to this tragic and appalling conflict.

Whatever its effectiveness on the political track, we must also hope that a conference can help to raise desperately needed assistance for the refugees on a much more sustained and monitored basis. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s assessment of the current prospects for such a conference. I hope that we can also use our diplomacy to persuade our friends in the Gulf to think likewise, since it is they who will be more influential than any of us in dictating what happens in Syria in the coming months.

5.52 pm

Lord Risby: It is always a great pleasure to hear from the noble Lord, given his considerable experience of the Middle East and of Syria in particular. I join all those who have spoken today in applauding the Minister for the comprehensive way in which she set out her speech today.

This debate is indeed timely as we grapple with the horrors of Syria, the instability in the Middle East and the Maghreb and a feeling that something must be done. However, in common with the citizens of France, the United States and others, there is a widespread revulsion in this country against any kind of involvement. Young British lives have been lost in Afghanistan and Iraq because of some poor political and logistical judgments that have dismayed the British people, and we have seen an echo of these problems on our streets.

My first visit to Syria was after leaving university in the 1970s. In 2000, President Hafez al-Assad died and the then Foreign Secretary asked me to join him to attend the funeral of the President in Damascus and to meet his son, Bashar, who had become President because of the death of his brother. It is worth remembering that there was a mood of optimism at the time that this young man, who had worked as an ophthalmologist in London, who was secular and married to a British-born wife, could somehow transform and modernise his country. Indeed, there were substantial improvements in the economy and rising prosperity—to a large extent Syria is self-sufficient in food—and, as the noble Lord has just pointed out, there remained the extraordinary and unique ability of the different communities to co-exist happily there, as Gertrude Bell observed 100 years ago. It is worth reminding ourselves of the tragedy of the two archbishops, by contrast, who have been kidnapped—one of whom is a long-standing friend of mine—and the Syrian Catholic priest who, in the most grotesque circumstances, was killed only last week.

I subsequently became a director of the British Syrian Society and so visited the country often and met President Assad many times. However, when the protests there started more than two years ago and the Syrian Government reacted appallingly, I immediately resigned, and I have been active in trying to assist in humanitarian efforts to that tragic country ever since.

Put simply, we have a weak man trying to be tough. His father, who really was a tough man, would never have landed the country in this tragic situation. Unless the situation in Syria is contained, the consequences are potentially horrendous for other countries.

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Let me deal with some of the external aspects, which have been touched on a number of times today. The stability of our good friend Jordan is now clearly at risk; it is fragile at the best of times. There are perhaps more than 1 million Syrian refugees out of a population of 13.2 million. It is a small country lacking in resources, notably water. Most refugees are concentrated in the north. Syrians are competing—this is very difficult—with Jordanians for low-paid jobs, school places and healthcare. Rents have gone up but tourism has collapsed. The financial and humanitarian situation is dire for Jordan and its very existence is under pressure. It would be a great loss to the stability of the region.

As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, so graphically pointed out, the situation in Lebanon is, if anything, worse, with perhaps 1 million refugees comprising a sizeable proportion of the population. There will be no traditional Arab tourism this summer. The country has suffered in living memory, as we all recall, from a grotesque civil war, an Israeli invasion and in effect a Syrian occupation. Having gone through all this, intercommunal tensions and violence are now tearing at the country’s delicate social fabric. Turkey, of course, has a huge problem too with numbers, and that grows every day.

However, over-reaching this, as the noble Lords, Lord Ashdown and Lord Sheikh, said, are the daily eruptions of violence and murder between Sunni and Shi’ite—as spillover in part from what is happening in Syria—in Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon. The social fabric of Lebanon and Jordan directly, and the coherence of other countries in the region, are now at risk because of these splits of a ferocious religious variety.

I simply pose this question: whatever the difficulties, are the risks of supplying selected weaponry and training to chosen anti-Assad rebel groups greater than the potential immolation of the entire region—because that is what we are seeing? One hundred thousand have already been killed, millions have been displaced, either internally or externally, and Iran and Russia continue to supply sophisticated weaponry. My right honourable friend William Hague and my honourable friend Alistair Burt have worked tirelessly to find a way forward, as has the Prime Minister. We have been energetic in humanitarian relief and other support. However, we have the obvious situation—there is no point in being in denial about this—that again and again President Assad has simply refused to consider a political track, whether it has been initiated by the United Nations or the Arab League. For him it is quite simply regime and personal survival. That will not change if he thinks his superior weaponry will prevail.

We all hope for a Geneva II—our Government are certainly helping actively in this pursuit—and that it can provide an opportunity for the new Iranian President to be road tested. However, what really needs to emerge is a blueprint—at least in embryonic form at first—that gives some assurance to the Syrian people that their rights, and particularly their minority rights, will be constitutionally protected as part of this process of dialogue, and that if necessary there will be an international force to oversee this. I perfectly accept

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that it is counterproductive to call for President Assad to go now, ahead of any possible dialogue, whatever the justification—and there certainly is a great deal of that.

In a totally imperfect situation, the risks of declining to consider the supply of sophisticated weaponry and even additional basic equipment such as body armour will actually make the dialogue less likely, and some sort of declaration of constitutional intent should be formulated. The alternative that is now evolving before our eyes risks the collapse of at least two of the neighbouring countries right next door to Syria and a religious war of medieval proportions.

6 pm

Lord Desai: My Lords, we are having a very rich debate. My noble friend Lord Wood started by mentioning the collapse of the Ottoman empire. We were then treated to very good historical accounts by the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Ashdown, while the noble Lord, Lord Bates, gave us a flavour of what he has been reading. I could have spared him the trouble had he read my book, Rethinking Islamism, where I do it in 100 pages.

Let me put it this way. I see the Syrian civil war as just one chapter in a 40 year-old crisis of Islamic society in the Middle East. It started in 1973 after the third defeat of the Arab armies by Israel and of course the quadrupling of the price of oil. The secular socialist alternative in all the countries of the Middle East lost its prestige and a lot of people in the region turned to religion as the answer to their problems. If we follow that trail—we could go back to the Sykes-Picot affair, but let me stick to past 40 years—in country after country, and between countries, there has been a revival of religion, a hardening of Sunni and Shia identities, and among the Sunnis the revival of Wahhabism and Salafism, which has been encouraged partly because the Saudis got lots of money from the rise in oil prices.

The Iran-Iraq war lasted for eight years. It was one of the biggest wars in the Middle East, but none of us intervened. We may have supplied arms, but we did not intervene. Saddam proceeded to destroy as much as he could all the Shias’ means of livelihood in Iraq. I supported the Iraq intervention, not because of weapons of mass destruction but because I considered Saddam to be a danger to his own people. We have to think further along those lines. We now have a much more explicit chapter in the Shia-Sunni conflict in the Middle East and it is not going to stop. Whether we intervene, whether we have a Geneva II or a Geneva VI, the conflict will break out in another location, because this is a deep crisis in the Muslim society of the Middle East that has not yet been resolved as it has to confront modernity and its own weak position in the Middle East and to reconcile religion and civic life. We have here something that we ought to take a much broader view of.

If we do not intervene now, we will intervene later. I assume that it is going to go on and I do not think that we have the choice of not intervening. Sooner or later we shall intervene because this war is not going to come to an end any time soon. If we consider this to be a long-running Shia-Sunni conflict, we have to ask

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what the dangers are. In this case, and for the first time in 40 years, there is a serious danger of this war becoming much more general across the Middle East than any previous war has done, such as that between Iran and Iraq.

Noble Lords have already mentioned that Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have been affected. Very soon, Israel will be affected. Given the strategic weapons that the Russians are giving the Syrians, it will not be much longer before there is a general war in the Middle East. It has nothing to do with whether we intervene or not; the dynamic of the war is such that there will end up being a general war across the Middle East. Whether we do or do not give any weapons, we will end up with Sunni terrorist groups or Shia terrorist groups. It is true to say that we are watching a general conflagration in the Middle East, and unless we understand its full dimensions we will be too preoccupied with our own particular, narrow and local role in this conflict to see the more general picture.

We ought to be thinking about this in the following terms. Would an intervention on our part now bring about all the unintended consequences that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, told us about? There are always unintended consequences following any action, so that is nothing new. Obviously we will do some things wrong, we will get into a mess and it will take a long time, but eventually some good may come out of it. There is one good thing that we would like to come out of any intervention, whether an armed intervention or a diplomatic one: a lessening of the probability of this crisis continuing for another 40 years. It would have to be a general confluence of all the Middle Eastern countries, not just Syria. The Israel-Palestine question would have to be a part of it. Unless we take a view on the very comprehensive nature of what is going on here, we will not be effective in our intervention. Obviously if there is an armed intervention, it would be better if we had friends to come along with us, but it is more important that we get along with them and take a comprehensive view of where we can intervene so that the next chapter is not even bloodier than this one already is.

Let me make a couple of points that are perhaps more controversial. The two subsequent big questions are going to be Iran and the problem of Israel-Palestine. I have not actually understood why Iran cannot have nuclear weapons. If India, Pakistan and Israel can have them, why cannot the Iranians? Pakistan is a very unstable democracy; or rather, not even a democracy at all. The more countries that have acquired nuclear weapons since 1945, the less the probability that anyone will use them. Indeed, nuclear weapons are among the few weapons that have not been used since their invention, unlike gunpowder. We ought to take a much broader view of what we object to in the Iranian plan for nuclear weapons. Obviously there is the fear that if Iran has nuclear weapons, the existence of Israel will be threatened. Therefore, any general and comprehensive dialogue on the Middle East has to include Iran’s ability to have nuclear weapons while at the same time guaranteeing that the Israeli nation will survive and is not threatened by anyone in the Middle East.

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That leads to the Israel-Palestine problem, which a number of noble Lords have talked about. I do not believe that the two-state solution has any future, but I am old enough, and I have been a member of the Labour Party for 40 years, to recall that a long time ago the party had a one-state solution: a single, secular, multifaith state in which Muslim Arabs, Jews and Christians could live together. That will not happen and we will never be at peace.

6.09 pm

Baroness Afshar: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for this very timely debate. We all seem to have heard different things in the Minister’s statement. I got the impression that the Government were intent on negotiations and that the idea was that there should be quiet diplomacy before any kind of action. If I have heard right, I would applaud that and am very grateful because that was what I was going to suggest at the end of my speech.

The most important consideration about intervention in the Middle East is whether it would help yet another “fundamentalist” group of religious people. In my experience—both as a teacher of Islamic law and of courses on the Middle East, and as someone born and raised in Iran—it is when religion rather than citizenship becomes the badge of identity that death, destruction and the complete misuse of faith become evident.

I do not recognise the presentation of these borderless countries in the Middle East where people do not know their identity and they wonder about modernity. I had the good fortune to be born and raised in Iran in the century when modernisation and secularism were very much part of people’s experience. Not only was I raised as a secular person, with my religion accepted, but so were my mother and grandfather. In our family there are at least three generations, going back to the very beginning of the century, of accepting secularism without undermining faith. I grew up as a Muslim and used to fast with my one non-secular grandmother, who was very religious, but at the same time I was sent to a Catholic school run by the sisters of St Vincent de Paul. I was then sent to a Protestant school in the UK and subsequently went to a secular university at York. At no time did I ever feel defensive about my religion or the lack of it. When I was growing up, our life was patterned by Islamic feast days and fast days but, at the same time, by the Persian new year, which dates back 6,000 years to the Zoroastrian era. Muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians—people of any religion and none—lived, worked and intermarried. They had no problems—so much so that I learnt a great deal about Christianity through my aunt’s sister, who is a nun in the UK and has headed a convent. It seems to me that celebrating diversity, at least in Iran, goes a very long way back.

I also fear that I will have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who I admire greatly. It seems to me that the Iran-Iraq war was not about religion but was very much about borders and fear of religion. That fear of religion is exactly what we are seeing right now in Egypt. Egyptians are beginning to realise what fundamentalism, or any “ism”, means. I would suggest that Islamism, as experienced in Saudi Arabia, Iran and elsewhere, and Zionism, as experienced in Israel

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and elsewhere, have nothing to do with the teachings of the holy books. They have everything to do with grasping an identity, misinterpreting the texts and imposing a climate of fear, including fear of the other—those who do not have our religion. I had no idea who was a Shia or a Sunni and I still do not among all the Muslims with whom I work, and work very effectively, in a country where—thank heaven—Muslim women can sit in the House of Lords and be Ministers. I would like to wish very much the same thing for much of the Middle East.

That is where any intervention on the part of the Government that would advantage any religious group—Sunni, Shia or whatever—is going to be highly counterproductive and would actually cause more damage than not intervening at all. It seems to me that much of the Middle East is waking up to the fear of Islam and of what it can do. That is why the Turks are in the streets and why the Egyptians are in the streets. There is a real uprising from among the people themselves. They do not need to be told and certainly do not need intervention that would help a particular religious group and give it any kind of advantage. The situation in the Middle East is tumultuous enough and things are going from bad to worse. The very last thing that we need as Middle Easterners is for any Government to help one group rather than another. Of course negotiations are difficult and of course it is not easy to be peacemakers but, in my experience, what the British are fantastically good at is quiet diplomacy. That is where they are sans pareil. There is no other group I know who can work so effectively under the radar.

The experience of Afghanistan shows that, after years of war, we finally have to sit down with the Taliban and talk to it at a time when it seems impossible. There is no such thing as impossible in diplomacy. What is needed is quiet undercurrents of help, assistance and conversations. Please do not arm yet another group of fundamentalists. That, I think, would be a mistake.

6.17 pm

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, and I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Warsi for giving us this opportunity to debate this important and timely issue. There have been some exceptional and powerful speeches, which will merit rereading, I suspect, for some time to come.

It is now two and a half years since the tragic death of a street vendor in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi, which triggered the astonishing train of events across the Arab world. These past 31 months have witnessed uprisings, the overthrow of regimes, the death of dictators and the election of new Governments; quickly followed by disillusion with those Governments as they failed to meet the expectations of their citizens. These months have also witnessed the deaths of tens of thousands of men, women and children in Syria. What started in Syria as a political uprising in March 2011, as many noble Lords have said, is now increasingly religious. As the conflict enters its third year, Syria’s tragedy is that sectarian divisions and religious hatred are fuelling the conflict, pitting Syrian against Syrian.

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We can be certain when we say that Bashar al-Assad is a brutal dictator but we must also acknowledge, and condemn, the barbarous acts of cruelty perpetrated by some of the rebel groups; the kidnap of Christians, the wanton killing of Shia and the gruesome and public murder last month of 15 year-old Mohammad Qataa in Aleppo by Islamic jihadists. These factors should inform our judgment when we consider arming the rebels, some of whom are only one or two steps away from al-Qaeda. Syria, like whole swathes of the Middle East, is awash with weapons, as my noble friends Lord Ashdown and Lord Alderdice have explained. If we add to these weapons, we can have no guarantee that they would not be exchanged, stolen or fall into the hands of extremists. I fear the belief that the weapons would somehow stay in the hands of secular, pro-western forces, or that they can be tracked, simply would not hold true in the fog of war, with the utter unpredictability and fast changing dynamism of events on the ground.

Having said all that, I completely understand and am in no way critical of those who call for the arming of the rebels, and my noble friend Lord Risby is persuasive in his argument. The natural reaction of anyone observing such appalling bloodshed, with the death toll approaching 100,000, is to want to do something. However, I question that arming the rebels is the something that we should do.

We cannot just sit on our hands and do nothing. Our actions should be guided by what we can do—energetically, as my noble friend Lord Alderdice said—and not what we would like to be able to do. We can and must continue to intervene with humanitarian assistance. UNICEF reports that 1.6 million refugees have now fled Syria to neighbouring countries; as we have already heard, half of these terrified, displaced refugees are children.

I need to declare a number of interests: I am a former trustee of UNICEF UK; I chair the Conservative Middle East Council; I am president of Medical Aid for Palestinians; and I am the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Jordan and the Palestinian Territories.

Last year, on a visit to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, I met and spent some time with families who had fled Syria. They were Turkmen, but had ended up in the Palestinian camp of Ain el-Hilweh. Their new homes comprised a tin roof and walls made from the cardboard packaging that protects washing machines and fridges. These walls might have afforded some protection in September 2012 but as I witnessed one of the coldest winters in the Levant on my television screen, I often wondered how those kind, hospitable but bewildered families were surviving.

Across the border, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, with its customary generosity, has once again opened its heart and country to the dispossessed victims of man’s struggle against man. In a recent interview with the al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, His Majesty King Abdullah II said:

“How can we close the border in the face of a woman carrying an infant and fleeing under shelling?”.

But he went on to say that he fears Jordan finding herself in a difficult situation and not being able to provide relief for her Syrian bothers and sisters seeking a safe haven.

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The international community must not for one minute underestimate the situation the neighbours of Syria find themselves in. I am proud that Britain has already spent £348 million on providing critical assistance to Syria’s refugees, making this the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian disaster. But there is much more to do. As the intensity of the crisis increases, 53% of all the Syrian refugees in Jordan have entered since the beginning of 2013. As of 15 June, there were 545,694 Syrian refugees in Jordan. That is 9% of the total population of Jordan. Translated into UK terms, it is as if a refugee population equivalent to the number of people living in Scotland had arrived in our country and become our responsibility. That would be massively destabilising to us—just imagine, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, invited us to do, the impact on the Jordanian economy and public services, not to mention the scarce resource of water. We must do all that we can to support Jordan and all the other countries that have so generously and selflessly opened their borders to the dispossessed, and we must strive with all our diplomatic strength for sanity to prevail.

Before I finish, I wish to turn to another conflicted area where sanity also needs to prevail: Palestine. While the world, rightly, concentrates on the savagery of events in Syria, we must never forget, nor diminish our efforts to find a solution to the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinian people. The time is rapidly running out for a viable two-state solution, and with it Palestinian hope for the normality of life that we all take for granted and which is a vital component of the stability of Israel. There is much good work going on to build up civil society and encourage trade but all efforts now should be on a political solution and I am very pleased that Secretary of State John Kerry is seized of this. I hope that the British Government are employing some of the “quiet diplomacy” of which the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, spoke.

Palestine and Syria both need the determined will of the international community. As in all conflicts, there cannot—and will not—be any outright victor, only a just solution that isolates the most extreme and works to ensure that everyone feels they have a stake in the future.

6.25 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the subject today is the situation in Syria and the Middle East. Naturally, the focus has been on the tragedy of Syria but in the Middle East itself the foundations are shaking and all is connected.

There was apparent stability five years ago, with long-existing autocratic regimes in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. Today, only the monarchies are relatively untouched: Morocco is certainly untouched; Jordan is still relatively stable, although I refer to what the noble Baroness said about the very generous reception of the refugees by the King and people of Jordan. However, the long-suffering Palestinians in the camps in Syria will find the door closed in Jordan because of the fear of destabilising further the kingdom.

Of course, in most countries the human rights of minorities—particularly but not only Christians—are more threatened than before. Our view of recent events

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in the Middle East has changed radically. Today it is less fashionable to refer to the Arab spring. The mood of euphoria in Tahrir Square a year or two ago has been replaced by the demonstrations of yesterday against President Morsi, the new pharaoh. His supporters can counter only that he won the election, as if winning elections is sufficient for any democracy. The dilemma, as one experienced analyst wrote of Egypt, is that:

“With the Muslim Brotherhood the transition will be difficult: without them it will be impossible”.

The term “Arab uprising” is now more frequently used—although I understand that the US State Department is known to refer to “the Arab thing”—but all these terms suggest some uniformity in the several countries, when, as we know, one cannot attach one label to so many different national events. However, constant themes are the search for dignity, the loss of deference and the readiness to challenge authority. We refer to the current phase as transition but are puzzled as to what. This search for dignity, this loss of deference, refers not only to the Middle East but to adjoining countries such as Turkey and even, as we have seen, to Brazil.

Honest horizon-scanners should recognise that they cannot see beyond the first curve and that they failed to see the turbulence rising prior to 2008. Yes, there were fine analyses of the problems in the Arab world, such as the search for modernity; for example, successive UNDP reports on human development in the Arab world in the mid-2000s. However, the forecasters did not see the speed of events, just as they failed to see the Iranian revolution prior to 1979. This suggests that our policy planners should proceed in a spirit of humility and that we should have a certain scepticism about the likely scene in the Middle East in, say, five years’ time.

Middle East borders have become more fluid. I enjoyed the article by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Baglan, in a recent World Today about the fluidity of those borders, which are perhaps even more artificial and certainly more recent than the borders in Africa after the Berlin Conference. But are we creating a new Turkish sphere of influence in the region? We think of the position of the Kurds, dealt a bad hand by history and now with a new dynamic not only from the Kurdistan regional government in Erbil in northern Iraq but from Turkey’s opening to the PKK. Perhaps this will ultimately be an attempt to recreate the old Ottoman Empire. Even in the previously stable Syria there is talk about an ultimate split with the Alawites perhaps retreating to their former, short-lived, post-First World War entity.

There is a danger also that conflagration may spread over national boundaries and engulf the whole region. The obvious example is Hezbollah’s incursion into Syria as a potential game-changer there and its impact on an already unstable Lebanon. There are skirmishes around the Golan Heights. President Assad may ultimately, in desperation, try to involve Israel in the conflict, but Israel has, so far, shown a masterly restraint.

It was the received wisdom up to, let us say, five years ago that Israel and Palestine were at the heart of all conflicts in the Middle East, but that dispute is surely hardly related to the current turmoil. No Israeli

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flags were burnt in Tahrir Square. Perhaps this is a good time, therefore, to attempt to restart negotiations. Secretary Kerry has been extremely active in his pre-negotiation phase and there are rumours of an Israeli settlement freeze—again—and the freeing of some Palestinian prisoners, but Palestinian divisions remain, as do the giant obstacles of refugees and, above all, Jerusalem. It would be interesting to have the judgment of the Government on the current prospects for the peace process.

I have said that forward planning is generally difficult; it is nowhere more so than in Syria. Commentators refer to a sea change having taken place over the past year. A year ago, the rebels were largely nationalists, secular and DIY. They have been replaced by more professional and more hard-line force, including international jihadists—hence the problem of arms supply, which so many noble Lords have touched on. It is rumoured that the US may begin to supply lethal arms within a month. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary give the impression of wanting to follow and are edging in that direction.

The blunt truth is surely this: the readiness to intervene for humanitarian purposes is cyclical. It arose after the Chicago speech of Prime Minister Blair in 1999 and followed through with some successes in Sierra Leone and Libya, but then we had Afghanistan and Iraq and, as a result, there is no appetite now in our Parliament or in the country for such intervention. I concede, however, that the mood could change if there were a major use of chemical weapons by the regime. If we arm the rebels, we will do so by proxy and, of course, it is most unlikely that arms supply would necessarily shorten the conflict, as the Russians and Iranians would possibly only step up their own supply in response.

Amid the swirling uncertainties, what is the appropriate response of the UK and the West, with paralysis at the UN Security Council and a relative stalemate on the battlefield? The starting point is surely recognition that we have a limited influence on events. No longer can we intervene and redraw boundaries as we did under the Sykes-Picot accord. It is, I concede, hardly a moral stand to stand on the sidelines with one’s arms folded, but we must have a more cautious agenda and search for ways where we can positively help at the margins.

It is of course the humanitarian crisis which is of most immediate concern. Jordan, as has been said, is in danger of being overwhelmed by refugees. My understanding is that the UK Government have responded most impressively. It would be helpful to have an update on the extent to which other countries have failed to live up to the obligations which they undertook at Kuwait and afterwards. In the short term, the refugee crisis is likely to worsen, as the government forces appear to have a new momentum after Qusair.

Consistent with our values, we must help in democracy-building and in the protection of minorities—Christians are clearly the major losers in this conflict. Finally, at the political end, we should seek to mediate in a region where a spirit of “winner takes all” prevails; it is an existential threat for President Assad. We must recognise the interest of, and work with, both Russia

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and Iran, and reject the French attempt to exclude Iran from Geneva II. The latest news from Geneva is disappointing in the extreme, as Assad perhaps seeks to improve his negotiating position on the battlefield. I accept that extreme dilemmas face us in responding. I have an awful feeling that the situation will get worse before it gets better; that the Syria that emerges will, even if it is united, be more unstable; and, overall, that the Middle East will pose a greater risk to ourselves and to the interests of the West.

6.36 pm

Lord Luce: My Lords, I cannot quite make up my mind whether it is an advantage or disadvantage to speak at this stage in the debate—I shall probably discover by the time I sit down—particularly after so many remarkable speeches. I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who has a great feel for foreign policy, not least in the Middle East, and always has something distinctive to say on these matters.

It was 66 years ago when, aged 10, I first went to the Middle East. I landed on the Nile by flying boat and went down the river by steamer to my parents in Khartoum. I had always hoped, when I had the privilege of being sent here, to be able to use the title “Luce of Khartoum” but Gordon unfortunately beat me to it.

In those 66 years, we all know how the Middle East has been a theatre of continual conflict—the Arab-Israel wars, the western interventions in countries such as Iraq and the civil wars of many of those countries. Today, however, we face a highly toxic cocktail of very dangerous proportions. One might almost think, in terms of Syria, of a poisonous Molotov cocktail—a great cross-fertilisation of several developments, starting in 2011. The Arab spring-type uprising started the challenge to the Assad dictatorship and was followed by repression, civil war and challenge to the secular regime. This developed into, as we have heard so often in this debate, a sectarian, religious conflict, principally but not wholly between Sunni and Shia, exacerbating the Sunni-Shia tensions in the region as a whole. Take Bahrain, for example, where tensions were already very strong between the Shia and the Sunni; this conflict has exacerbated the tensions there.

Those who are historians will know better than me that, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire and the Iranian Safavid Empire, one Sunni and the other Shia, fought each other for a long time and it had an extremely debilitating effect on both those areas, just as religious wars in Europe had done the same; for example, the Roman Catholic and Protestant feuds in Northern Ireland and so on.

On top of that, we have exploitation by proxy support, as we have heard today, with Russia and Iran, supported by Hezbollah, in favour of Assad—here, I pose a question: have we rather underestimated the determination of Russia and Iran to give their backing to Assad?—and, by contrast, Saudi Arabia and Qatar supporting the official, and not just the official, Syrian opposition.

Thus, as we have heard again so often today, Syria, with more than 100,000 deaths, is awash with arms. Goodness, we do not need to talk about arms in the Middle East; it is flooded with arms. There is the

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danger of fragmentation of that country and exploitation by extremist offshoots of al-Qaeda, producing in turn a massive humanitarian crisis, with more than 7 million people in desperate need, following from that to the destabilising of the neighbouring regimes, particularly Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon and Turkey.

Then, on top of that, there are the ambitions of the Iranian theocracy, which is flexing its muscles, trying to establish itself as a big power in the region and to have more influence—dreaming, perhaps, of former great Persian empires—and with very deep mistrust of the United States and the United Kingdom, developing nuclear capability as a symbol of its virility and seen, quite understandably, by Israel as a serious threat. That is balanced, however, by the one positive sign, which has been spoken about today: the election of Rouhani as president. He is, of course, a solid supporter of the Supreme Leader but, we hope, a little more flexible. Encouragingly, he said the other day:

“I have a key, not an axe”.

We have to live in hope.

Then we add to that, in the Middle East as a whole, the important Arab nations such as Egypt, which is struggling to find its way towards some kind of democracy, with serious tensions between the secular political leaders and the Muslim Brotherhood and with the army sitting in the background. Meanwhile, Palestine-Israel simmers and stagnates. There is no will or leadership on either side to find a solution. It is becoming more and more potentially explosive, with Palestinians failing to unite and Israelis settling on more Palestinian land, making the two-state solution more and more difficult.

To add one more issue in the region, there is a rapidly changing influence of outside powers. Obama is now understandably reluctant to get involved in any more Middle Eastern quagmires. The European Union is divided. The United Kingdom wants to punch above its weight against its gradual loss of weight. In Russia, there is a Putin who is under threat, flexing his muscles both metaphorically and actually, wanting to demonstrate Russia’s power and to protect its interests in Syria and its energy interests in the Mediterranean. Finally, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, put across so strongly, there is China, becoming more and more dependent on Middle Eastern oil and, therefore, more and more an important power in the Middle East.

In those circumstances, what should we be doing? We must start by accepting that we can play a role, but that it is more modest and selective than it has been in the past. Like almost every other speaker, I am not convinced that sending arms to the official Syrian opposition would do anything other than help to escalate the conflict and the fighting. I believe that there is no military solution whatever to this Syrian problem. Therefore, we should concentrate on one thing which I believe that the Government are doing extremely well, which is humanitarian support on a large scale. Secondly, where we can, with our allies, we should shore up and stabilise the neighbouring countries, especially Jordan and Lebanon. Thirdly, like others, I agree that we should give strong support to a political negotiation leading to a transition and what we hope

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will be an achievable and realistic post-conflict political resolution, learning, if we can, the lessons of Iraq and using all our skills in diplomacy and our experience.

We should engage fully and strongly with our friends in the Gulf, whom we will need, and we should engage if we can with Iran. We cannot ignore Iran. It has an important role to play in the Middle East; it is better that it should be constructive. I hope that Iran will take part in Geneva. Therefore, we should use our soft power and skills as well as possible to engage with Iran, as the Prime Minister is doing with Russia, and much more fully with China to try to find a way forward.

Finally, I agree with my noble friend Lord Hannay: we should do what we can to support Mr Kerry, the Secretary of State, in his efforts in Palestine and Israel to move towards a two-state solution and find a more secure future for the Palestinians and the Israelis. That is becoming all the more important because of the crisis in Syria. I take the view that we must play our part, draw on all our experience in the Middle East but be realistic about our post-imperial role in the region.

6.45 pm

Lord Dobbs: My Lords, it is a privilege but also a little daunting to be the Back-Bench tail-end charlie in this debate, particularly as I lack the colourful upbringing of the noble Lord, Lord Luce.

The first thing to say is that doing nothing in Syria is simply not an option—not with so many dead and with so much at stake. We have a humanitarian interest in seeking a solution and we have a very great self-interest in a solution. We also have a responsibility. We played a direct role in so many of the emerging problems of the region, where the frontiers were drawn with a remarkably unbending ruler in London and Paris. We used to pursue a policy of divide and rule and, in recent years under Prime Minister Blair, we seem to have pursued a policy of meddle and muddle. We armed Saddam Hussain; then we deposed him. We even armed Osama bin Laden, when he was fighting the Soviets. We were great friends once with the Iranians and then we became great enemies. So it went on.

We have a pretty awful track record of picking winners, and we have no more prospect of being able to pick a winner from among the maelstrom of opposition groups in Syria than monkeys have of writing Shakespeare. That is why arming rebels on our own or as part of an exclusively Western coalition is hopeless: blind optimism of an order worthy of Mr Blair. We need a broader coalition with vision broad enough to recognise that although many of us distance ourselves from the former Prime Minister’s fixation with remodelling the Middle East, much of the rest of the world sees no such distinction and simply sees an old imperialist country still up to its wicked tricks, as my noble friend Lord Bates so colourfully illustrated earlier.

We keep drawing lines in the sand—and what do we find when we cross them? Nothing but more sand. Yet past failures—and there have been so many—do not mean that we should do nothing. If there is no solution to be found by entering the lottery of Syrian opposition groups, neither is there any solution in simply washing our hands.

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Syria is not an isolated case. This debate is right to set it in the context of the wider Middle East, which inevitably brings us to the issue of Israel and Palestine. Here, I take a slightly different view from the noble Lords, Lord Turnberg and Lord Anderson. That conflict is connected in as much as it helps to ignite extremism throughout the Middle East and hugely inflames the distrust of the West.

Future generations will look in bewilderment at how we allowed that situation to continue. Let me take just one small example: the Gaza Strip, a territory so small that my noble friend the Minister and I could walk around it in a day. It is 25 miles long and, for most of its length, only three and a half miles wide. We could make every inhabitant rich beyond their wildest dreams for a fraction of the treasure that we have wasted in trying to resolve this problem. However, the situation still grows worse, deliberately made worse by men of evil intent.

On the other side of that equation, Israel is our friend—we support it. However, we watch as Palestinians are beaten and kicked from their homes to enable Israeli settlers illegally to occupy further stretches of Palestinian territory. I read that the new American Secretary of State is optimistic about moving forward on a settlement on that issue, yet I also read that hopes for a two-state settlement are rapidly fading. We shall see—nothing is simple.

We have a right to be involved in such issues. After all, we had a role in causing the problems in the first place. Therefore, while again supporting the absolute and inherent right of Israel to security and peace, can my noble friend in her response assure us that if Israel were to retreat from a two-state to a one-state solution, the British Government would deem it absurd and unacceptable if that solution was sought on any other basis than one man, one vote?

If we are to push for stability and moderation in the Middle East, we must expect our friends in Israel to listen to us, too. We have a right to be involved in such issues, so while once again supporting that inherent right of Israel, we must also expect common sense and balance from her. We will need to talk, not only to Israel but to our other friends in the Middle East and to those who are not our friends—those we dislike and those we openly distrust. We must talk not only to our friends in the Gulf states and elsewhere, to Arab League nations, to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Russia and China—there is such a long list of them—but also to the extremists, and even to some who we regard as terrorists; even, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, suggested, to Assad himself. After all, if we can talk to the Taliban, is anyone off limits?

In these exceptionally challenging circumstances, the Prime Minister is doing an exceptional job. He is clearly cautious about sending arms to Syria, and should remain so. He is increasing our humanitarian aid, travelling far and wide in search of common ground, and I am sure that he will keep a very close eye on developments in Iran. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, suggested in his fascinating remarks, it is time to bring Russia and China in from the cold. I am sure that the Prime Minister will take great note of what the noble Lord said. Most of all, I trust that the Prime

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Minister will look at security at home in the sobering knowledge that although past Governments’ policy in the Middle East was built on the overriding objective of making this country safe, so far it appears to have failed.

There is so much to say and so little time in which to say it, and I do not want to stretch the patience of the House. I will, therefore, make a closing plea. Syria must not be more of the same. It should mark a new and more mature understanding of what we in this country might achieve. There is no exclusively western solution to this crisis. There might be a regional solution, but that would require the support and understanding of a variety of powers from around the world—a multipolar solution in a multipolar world. In that we might just find not only a formidable and daunting challenge but a liberating opportunity.

6.54 pm

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for facilitating this very timely debate. Her strong statement on humanitarian aid was particularly welcome, although like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro I am concerned about the effectiveness of such aid and want to ensure that it is completely effective—a point that was also emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton.

The extent of the geography and the differences of analysis were always going to make this a diffuse debate, in which it is perhaps hard to find a focus save for the inevitable focus on Syria. I will start by endorsing in straightforward terms the words of my noble friend Lord Wood at the beginning of this debate about arms to rebels. That topic was analysed in some detail and with great insight by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown; I will say for simplicity’s sake how strongly I agree with him, even if that causes him discomfort. As my noble friend Lord Wood also said, we need to understand the history of the region. I share the sense of urgency of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Baglan, and the view of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we are not in a position to do nothing—a view that was repeated a moment ago by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. I also encourage the Minister to respond to the comments made by my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon on some of the legalities, which should be addressed tonight. However, I am in the same position as my noble friend Lord Anderson: I aim for perhaps a wider regional appraisal. I apologise in advance to my noble friend Lord Turnberg if I do not focus tonight on Israel and Palestine. This is a similar starting point to the one taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar.

It is striking that across Syria, through Lebanon, in Iran and still more in Iraq, through several of the Gulf states on both sides of the Horn of Africa, across north Africa, deep into the Sahara, and north of and in Mali we are witnessing a harsh sectarian war within Islam—or fronts in a war, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, described it a short while ago. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has also focused on this, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, quite rightly focused on how these events have demonstrated some of the United Nations’ failures in getting a proper grip on it

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in the Security Council. Of course, the great paradox is that historically Islam was a religion marked by greater pluralist tolerance than a great many others were. However, now we see on many fronts a widespread war between Sunnis and Shia and subsects within each of those great traditions.

Tragically, the sectarian divide in some places now takes the form of sectarian barbarism. In Syria the Shia Alawites target Sunnis, with the undeniable help of the Iranian Shia, including the Revolutionary Guard and Lebanese Hezbollah. In Egypt, Sunnis launch lynch mobs against small Shia communities, encouraged by Salafist clerics, and attack Shia people as infidels. Extreme Salafists have entered Syria. The Syrian opposition ranges in a bewildering way from secular groups to al-Qaeda affiliates. Similar confrontational fronts can be seen right across the region. However, surely it is not adequate to see this as just a series of theological clashes—a point that was made earlier.

It is also clear that in several states minority clans have exercised or exercise power to the exclusion of the social, economic and religious rights of majority clans. Assad, Saddam and the Bahraini al-Khalifas oppress whoever constitutes the majority. In some cases, such as with the Egyptian and Saudi majority Sunnis, they oppress smaller Shia minorities. Almost all now also oppress Christians and members of other religions, across the Middle East, in north and west Africa and in some senses as far away as Pakistan. However, lest this is thought simply to be something happening within Islam, there seem to be similarities with the Buddhist oppression of Muslims and other minorities in south-east Asia.

This cannot be a contest over obscure or ancient disputes of religious legitimacy. For venal leaders, holding on to power is about holding on to power. For wider populations blighted by poverty, illiteracy and untreated disease, struggling for scarce power and resources and for a sustainable existence, religious difference becomes a symbolic sheen to legitimise brutal struggle. The enemy is far more easily stereotyped as the other. It is a dreadful but handy way of designating people, even neighbours, as enemies in life’s harshest competition, treating them as subhumans who get in the way of the fulfilment of particular groups’ aspirations—modern aspirations in some cases, but even the aspirations of some people to go back to premodernity.

How do we make sense of it, and what should we aim to do about it? Perhaps we should start with an unashamed question for us in the United Kingdom, and in effect the Minister opened with this proposition: what is the United Kingdom’s interest? Like the noble Lord, Lord Luce, I am keen to understand whether we are confident in answering that question, particularly in our assessment of Russian positions. The answer for the United Kingdom should never be cynical or neglect the interests of people where we share an explicit United Nations duty to protect, a duty that we share with others but where we have the highest expectation of ourselves and our allies. Our first interest, the precondition for the best, is assisting countries to become stable, making them less likely to morph into failed states harbouring people who in turn mean us

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harm. The analysis by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, of the extent of the instability is one that I share.

Of course we prefer the fully fledged path to democracy, social inclusion and the rule of law, however tortuous those paths. Today Egypt comes back to the top of our agenda, or certainly should do. At 4.07 pm today, while we were debating, the Egyptian army announced that it will sort things out within 48 hours, confirmed at 4.53 pm as an ultimatum. In a previous debate in your Lordships’ House, I started by saying that it was risky to speak at all or to guess what would happen even in the duration of the speech. I was given a note halfway through that debate saying that Mubarak had gone. Who knows what the rest of today holds for that important and complex country—huge demonstrations, deaths at the storming of the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, the prospects that I have just related of what might be a coup?

First, it is clear that steps towards economic regeneration have not been taken as promised. Unemployed youth, an underemployed middle class and a poor risk profile for investment are signals of failure. Things take time, but there needs to be evidence of a route map and milestones. Secondly, while few may want democratic elections to be routinely overturned, as may be happening at the moment, President Morsi surely has to grasp that he cannot rule exclusively for the Muslim Brotherhood and generate viable economic conditions if he does so.

Thirdly, he cannot aim to dominate all state and many non-state institutions. I shall give the House what I think is a non-trivial but strange example: Mr Morsi ruled in the past few days that he would field, and if necessary impose, Muslim Brotherhood candidates for the boards of all the major football clubs, starting with those in Cairo, snuffing out even the most elementary pluralism. That has resulted in a petition for his resignation attracting 15 million signatures, 2 million more people than voted for him a year ago. We are seeing perhaps a return of Mubarak’s authoritarianism with an anti-secular twist.

With the exception of a few organisations, I fear that there is little attempt to encourage civic participation and strength and civic society. Economically, no investment is going to come in, according to the World Bank, which states baldly that the ease of doing business in Egypt is that it is a bad place to start any business, as tax reform, protectionism and state control shackle all prospects. This is in sharp contrast in many ways with Tunisia, which has begun to develop those economic prospects in a serious way. Do the Government plan to host or participate in any conferences to create the right economic conditions that might stimulate the prospects of those countries?

It would be futile in the course of a debate today to range over Libya, where there may be rather more promise, or indeed Mali, which for several days was the absolute focus of attention in this House but has scarcely been mentioned ever since. We see in every one of these cases the need for an economic platform to be developed and for the opportunities for pluralism to go alongside it. Briefly, of course, I have to return to Syria against the backdrop of the huge caution that has been expressed in this House about what to do,

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given the complexities. The prospect is simply of a failed state on the borders of the United Kingdom’s closest allies in the region—Turkey, Israel, Jordan and, potentially, Palestine, at the very heart of the Middle East. Strategically, we need a stable transition from Assad’s dictatorship, and so do the Syrian people. I fully acknowledge the long-term reflections on this by the noble Lord, Lord Risby, and his analysis of Mr Assad’s present position.

The risks, so far as we have judged them until now, have outweighed intervention. We have responded with caution. We recognise that the fragmented opposition is exclusively a Sunni club, and not one that is capable of a balanced Syrian settlement. We are witnessing a death spiral into chaos; uncontrolled fragmentation means unending civil war, and of course that is unsustainable for everyone. It has already spilt over, as many noble Lords have said, into its neighbours; it knows no borders. It emboldens Iran, which may or may not be in a state of change—I share the hopes of the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Luce, but who knows?—and Hezbollah, to everyone’s strategic detriment. Lebanon is now absolutely and directly involved in the war. Al-Qaeda has one of its most potent fighting machines embedded in the region.

This is not Bosnia—of course it is not—but there are some comparisons. President Clinton finally intervened when 100,000 Bosnian men, women and children had died, more or less the figure that we see in Syria today. UN and Arab League forecasts are now that 100,000 deaths are likely to occur just in 2013 if Assad proceeds with impunity. A more active policy is therefore inevitable, and doing too little will simply grow the crisis to too great a proportion. President Putin, plainly unimpressed by what the Canadian Prime Minister called the G7+1 summit, must surely work urgently with Secretary Kerry to create a national platform, bringing together all the legitimate ethnic and religious leaders. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that a common global response was what was needed, and that is plainly what they must work for. The process needs Russia, China, Turkey and the key Arab and European states, and consideration, as my noble friend Lord Wood suggested, is needed about whether Iranian involvement would help.

We must consider first how to protect civilians, minorities, the vulnerable and the country’s neighbours. We must get control of the chemical and other unacceptable weapons. We must design transitional governance and justice, and safeguard humanitarian work.

I doubt that preconditions, even about a tyrant like Assad, are likely to appeal to President Putin. His help is crucial. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, was right: it is not a risk worth running to exclude Russia or to suggest to the Russians that we have taken no account of them, particularly, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said, given the preoccupations that they will have with their own southern borders and the character of the struggles there.

To me, success would look like security sector reform, disarmament, the reintegration of combatants, improved governance, a date for elections, economic recovery and reconstruction scheduled to start. In this, I draw on Richard Holbrooke’s experience before and during

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Dayton: the least worst outcomes, even if they artificially create within the country smaller but secure and economically viable entities, may be the only solution with which people can live with some prospects. The opposition may indeed have indulged in terrible violence—I believe it has—but that can no longer be any kind of excuse for anyone, including for President Assad. A murderous regime has to understand that there is no victory that is followed that way by impunity, no freedom to bomb civilians to extinction.

The Security Council, or certainly its permanent members, should provide no further means to fly or to protect flights until Geneva II has been called, has negotiated and has concluded. There should be no long-term recognition of any regime that simply proceeds by violence. I say this because priority must be given to the negotiations, and no negotiation is an unthinkable course of action. That means that there can be no one-sided flow of weapons, and even with credible monitoring I suspect that that would be a huge difficulty. We might as well be candid about that, because I suspect that there is no control over events on the ground in a way that would be tolerable for us.

The priority for the United Kingdom Government, our allies and our interests is how we can promote Geneva II urgently. How can we add to the pressure not just for Geneva II but for the background work that is essential to make it successful? What process do we envisage as the urgent consequence of the G8 at the United Nations and elsewhere? Country by country, it is measurable goals of political and vital economic progress that will build the United Kingdom’s security in that region.

7.10 pm

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I am grateful to the House for hosting this timely and important debate on the situation in Syria and the Middle East, and I will try to answer the many questions in a timely way. I am grateful for the insightful and moving contributions made over the course of our discussions, including those from the opposition Front Bench, but especially for the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, and my noble friends Lord Risby and Lord Dobbs, and the broader contributions on faith, identity and international impacts from the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar. My noble friend Lady Morris is right that many interventions merit a reread, and I will certainly be encouraging those of us at the Foreign Office dealing with Syria and the wider region to do that. It is important that this House continues to consider the deteriorating situation in Syria, its wider regional impact and how the UK has responded. We are privileged in being able to draw on the extensive experience of so many noble Lords here today, and we have enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion on the Motion.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, asked whether the House would have a say before any decision was made about arming the opposition. Let me repeat what the Foreign Secretary said in a Statement in the Commons on 18 June:

“We certainly would not want to pursue any aspect of our policy on this issue against the will of the House of Commons. That is neither feasible nor desirable, so of course we have made

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clear that there would be a vote. I have also made it clear that we would expect it to be before any such decision was put into action”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 18/6/2013; col. 746.]

I can tell my noble friend Lord Alderdice that I have asked officials for options in the event that this House is in recess. I will ensure that his comments are considered in that process and, as ever, I am grateful for his clarity on this issue. I will report back to the House in writing or at the Dispatch Box when a decision is taken.

As the Minister with responsibility for Foreign Office business in this House, I have been particularly focused on these issues, and I felt it was important to gauge your Lordships’ views and to keep the House informed. I thank noble Lords. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, for his wide and in-depth contribution and my noble friend Lord Bates for his kind comments. It is amazing how coffee can keep you going, even after Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I shall take a few moments to recap the Government’s policy towards the complex situation in Syria and the Middle East, and the types of assistance that we are already providing to the Syrian people. Syria remains at the top of the Government’s foreign policy agenda. We are firm in our belief that the conflict and the suffering of the Syrian people will come to an end only through a negotiated settlement. We have therefore continued to escalate our assistance in order to achieve that goal.

In response to the dire humanitarian situation faced by Syrians displaced inside Syria and as refugees in neighbouring countries, we have set out our largest ever funding commitment for a humanitarian disaster. I can assure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro that we will remain committed. Our total contribution now stands at £348 million, which sends a clear signal to the Syrian people that they can count on the UK’s continuing support. At the same time, we have used our platform as host of the recent G8 summit to urge our international partners to commit to humanitarian assistance on a similar scale and to pay funds that are committed. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, asked about countries failing to make a contribution. The UN humanitarian appeal is for £5.2 billion. It is its largest appeal in history. The UK, US and the EU have been the largest contributors to that appeal, but we agree that others need to do more. That is why the Foreign Secretary urged Ministers at the Friends of Syria meeting on 22 June to increase their contributions to the UN appeal, including lobbying Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.

We have also committed large amounts of assistance to Syria’s neighbours, who are experiencing great economic strains and political tensions due to the conflict spilling over. Regional peace and security are important in containing the conflict, reducing the threat of extremism and ultimately helping to bring the conflict to a close. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Wood, that Jordan and Lebanon are playing a vital humanitarian role and we are providing assistance to help alleviate not only the humanitarian crisis but the side effects too. We are supporting projects to help maintain stability in the region.

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A political solution to the crisis would allow millions of civilians who have fled across the border to escape the conflict to return to their homes safely. However, the Syrian regime continues to block humanitarian agencies seeking access to deliver relief in government-controlled areas as well as to prevent the UN commission of inquiry investigating the human rights situation on the ground. Alongside our international partners, we will continue to call upon the Syrian regime to allow humanitarian agencies and investigative bodies immediate and unfettered access.

My noble friend Lord Ashdown gave us the benefit of his extensive experience. He focused on arms and diplomacy. I can assure him that the UK is fully committed to a political process. We are putting all our weight behind the US/Russia/UN-convened Geneva II conference. He and the noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield, asked what efforts are being put in place. I can assure noble Lords that huge efforts are being put in place to bring people to the negotiating table, to get a coherent and representative opposition, to ensure that we work with an opposition that abides by international human rights standards and to get like-minded people around that table to move this process further. We believe that a political solution is the best—indeed, the only—way forward. This matter will not be resolved on the battlefield.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: I thank the Minister for that answer, which was extremely helpful—not that I thought it would not be. I asked a specific question about Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Is anything being done, either bilaterally or multilaterally through the EU and with our American friends, to try to persuade them to desist arming the jihadists?

Baroness Warsi: I have made notes further down and will come to that in a few moments.

My noble friend Lady Falkner, the noble Lord, Lord Wood, and my noble friend Lord Ashdown spoke about considerations in relation to arming the opposition. Our practical assistance so far as been entirely non-lethal, and we will continue to support the moderate opposition and Syrian civil society wherever possible as they develop into what we believe is a credible alternative to the Assad regime. However, the lifting of the EU arms embargo gives us greater flexibility to act if action is needed. Noble Lords can rest assured that any decision will be put to a vote in the other place, and we would not want to pursue any aspect of this policy against the will of the House. Our policy sends a clear signal to the Assad regime that it must negotiate seriously and that we will do all we can to ensure that the forthcoming Geneva II conference is successful in trying to bring the conflict to an end.

In relation to the conditions if we were to consider sending arms to the opposition, when the Foreign Affairs Council agreed to end the EU arms embargo and return decisions on arms provision to member states on 27 May, Ministers also agreed a framework of safeguards to guide those member states that might decide to provide arms. Arms can be sent to the national coalition only; they should be intended for the protection of civilians; there should be safeguards to ensure delivery to the right hands; and existing

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obligations under the EU common practice for arms exports remain in place. Legal constraints, such as the United Nations Security Council resolutions in relation to, for example, al-Qaeda, remain in place, preventing the supply of equipment to known terrorist organisations.

I repeat that the Government’s position remains that the only way to achieve a solution is via a negotiated political settlement. However, it is for the Syrian people to negotiate how that transition happens and to agree the make-up of a transitional Government who can win the consent of all Syrians. We are therefore working closely with the opposition and urging them to commit to and prepare for Geneva II as a way of pursuing their goals and achieving political transition. It is a bold and difficult decision for the opposition to make, but one that merits that risk.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Baglan, spoke about representation in the opposition. We have recognised the Syrian national coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The coalition is committed to expanding its membership. This was recently discussed, with representation from all groups within Syria. I welcome the noble Lord’s expertise, and will ensure that officials feed into planning his concerns about Lebanon and a potential evacuation.

A number of noble Lords raised the issue of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, China and Russia. I will try to address these. My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford asked about bringing Russia and China to a more constructive position. It is no secret that China and Russia have differing views on how best to handle the situation in Syria. We all share fundamental aims: to end the conflict, to stop Syria fragmenting, to let the Syrian people decide who governs them and to prevent the growth of violent extremism. We are intensifying our diplomatic efforts with all members of the UN Security Council. As the conflict escalates, the threat to regional and international security increases. As the Prime Minister and President Putin discussed at the G8, we and Russia are on the same page on the need to end the conflict. However, as we near a peace conference in Geneva, we will step up our engagement with Russia and China to ensure that the process stands the best chance of a successful outcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Wright, asked whether the differences were insurmountable and about the prospects for success at the conference. Intensive efforts are ongoing on the details of what could be decided at that conference. There will inevitably be challenges, but the UN Secretary-General has stressed that the three parties are committed to convening the conference as soon as possible. We continue to engage actively and support the efforts of Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League peace envoy. The Foreign Secretary spoke to Mr Brahimi last month about preparations for the Geneva conference and reiterated our strong support for him and for his office.

My noble friend Lord Ashdown and the noble Lord, Lord Wright, asked about countries that could be providing funds that could get into the hands of extremists. We are working alongside the US and the allies through the Friends of Syria core group, which includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. At the most recent meeting, attended by the Foreign Secretary in Doha on 22 June, core group Ministers expressed

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concerns over the growing sectarian nature of the conflict in Syria and the radicalising risks that accompany such developments in regional and international security. Ministers from all those countries agreed at that meeting the urgent need to support and build the capacity of the moderate Syrian opposition, including supporting the national coalition and its supreme military council in efforts to save the lives of ordinary citizens.

Noble Lords may be aware that the Friends of Syria group was created in response to the Russian and Chinese veto on the Security Council resolution. Its first meeting took place in Tunisia last year in February. At various times, 114 nations have now attended the Friends of Syria meetings, but the core group of 11—including the UK, the US, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE—meet on a much more regular basis. The concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and others are discussed there.

The noble Lords, Lord Wood and Lord Luce, and others asked about Iran’s participation in negotiations. It was anticipated that those who participated in Geneva I would participate in Geneva II. Of course, Iran did not. However, no decision has been made and we are still working through the details of the Geneva II conference with international partners.

My noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised the change of President in Iran. The Government of course hope that, following Dr Rouhani’s election, Iran will take up the opportunity of a new relationship with the international community by making every effort, for example, to reach a negotiated settlement on the nuclear issue; and, of course, to adopt a more constructive position on Syria. We will keep an open mind, but we will judge Iran by its actions, not its words.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro asked about Assad’s departure. As the Foreign Secretary has said, Assad’s departure is not a precondition for the Geneva talks. However, when considering a transitional Government that could win the consent of all Syrians, it is hard to imagine how Assad could be part of that. The UK position on Assad is that he has lost legitimacy and must therefore step aside if we are to get a solution into which the Syrian people can buy. However, it is ultimately for the Syrian people to negotiate how transition happens and agree the make-up of a transitional Government that can win their consent.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and my noble friend Lord Risby had concerns about the national coalition. We have those concerns, too, which is why we raised them. On 20 April, the national coalition declared its commitment to democracy, to ethnic and religious pluralism and to the rule of law, as well as its concerns about discrimination and extremism. It also declared that it would guard against the proliferation of any supplied lethal equipment and would return such equipment at the end of the conflict, and confirmed that the supreme military council operates under the civilian authority of the coalition. Allowing supply of equipment to an organised body that adheres to acceptable values lowers the risk of diversion and misuse in comparison to a more general lifting of the arms embargo. Clearly, however, we must ensure that the national coalition makes good on its commitments.

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The noble Lords, Lord Turnberg and Lord Anderson, raised the Middle East peace process. We welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas’s clear commitment to a two-state solution, and to working to achieve peace for the Israeli and Palestinian people. We believe that both leaders are genuine partners for peace and we have seen no evidence that the Syrian conflict has affected President Abbas’s commitment to peace. It is vital that both show the bold, decisive leadership that allows the efforts of the United States to succeed. The events of the Arab spring, particularly the threat posed by the conflict in Syria, make the need for progress even more pressing. The consequences of the current efforts not succeeding, for Israelis, Palestinians and the wider region, could be severe. Of course, we continue to support the efforts of Secretary Kerry.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, asked a question that was repeated many times: are we confident that any action that we take is right, and is a step towards peace? I assure noble Lords that all our efforts are focused on reaching a political solution. There are no easy decisions, but the international community cannot stand still in the face of what is happening in Syria. Our policy must move forward to prevent loss of life there. This is not a choice between diplomacy and practical assistance to the opposition. The two efforts are interlinked, in order to bring about a political transition. As we move towards more active efforts to save lives, we will co-ordinate our response with international partners and will consider the risks of all options before moving forward.

In conclusion, our priority must be proactively to pursue a political solution to bring this terrible conflict to a close. The millions of Syrians who are now refugees as a result of the conflict constitute an urgent humanitarian crisis. A negotiated settlement would help to alleviate this crisis, which continues to deteriorate. We must be proactive in responding to an increasingly desperate humanitarian situation by continuing to push a political settlement that would allow millions of refugees to return home, reduce the growing threat of extremism to the UK and stem the tide of spreading regional instability. We will work in every way we can to ensure that the perpetrators of human rights violations and war crimes are held to account.

It is clear that there are no risk-free options ahead from which to choose. However, I strongly believe that an inclusive Syrian-led political process is the best way to bring an end to the bloodshed and minimise the threat to peace and security in the wider region.

Syria, and our response, is an issue with which we grapple every day in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We take each step with much consideration, looking at all potential options. On a personal level, my own historic anti-war positions are no secret. However, every day, I learn that holding a “Stop the war” banner and shouting from outside King Charles Street is much easier than sitting inside, grappling with decisions over the least worst option. I thank noble Lords for informing my thinking.

Motion agreed.

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Europol Regulation: European Union Opt-In

Motion to Agree

7.28 pm

Moved by Lord Hannay of Chiswick

That this House agrees the recommendation of the European Union Committee that Her Majesty’s Government should exercise their right, in accordance with the Protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice, to take part in the adoption and application of the Proposal for a Regulation on the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation and Training (Europol) and repealing Decisions 2009/371/JHA and 2005/681/JHA (document 8229/13) (2nd Report, HL Paper 16).

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper in my capacity as chairman of the European Union Committee’s Sub-Committee on Home Affairs, Health and Education, which prepared the report now before your Lordships for endorsement. As the House will know, when we consider reports of the EU Committee, this is normally on a Motion that the House simply takes note of the report. In the case of this report, the Motion invites the House to agree with the committee’s recommendation that the Government should opt in to the negotiations on the Commission’s recently proposed Europol regulation. The reason is that the report deals with a draft measure falling within the area of justice and home affairs, which will apply to the United Kingdom only if the Government exercise their right under a protocol to the EU treaties to participate in its negotiation, adoption and implementation—in other words, to opt into it. They have to do this within three months of the proposal being presented to the Council, which in this case means before 30 July. The committee believes that the Government should opt in, and the Motion invites the House to endorse that view.

In 2011, the Government repeated an undertaking given by the previous Government that time would be found to debate opt-in reports well before the expiry of the three-month period. I am most grateful that they have honoured the undertaking on this occasion by making time available for the debate early enough for them to be able to take into account the views of the House when reaching a decision on whether to opt in.

As many of your Lordships will know from earlier EU committee reports, most recently from the joint report of Sub-Committees E and F on the block opt-out under Protocol 36 to the Lisbon treaty, Europol—the European Police Office—is a vital weapon for co-ordinating the European fight against serious organised crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, cybercrime and terrorism. It was originally established in 1995 as an intergovernmental body, and became an EU agency in 2009, following the adoption of a Council decision to that effect. Europol has no executive or coercive powers to conduct investigations or make arrests in the member states, and the Commission’s proposal

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before your Lordships does not seek to change this. Europol supports the work of member states’ law-enforcement authorities by gathering, analysing and sharing information and by co-ordinating operations.

CEPOL, the European Police College, aims to encourage cross-border police co-operation by bringing together senior police officers from across the EU in training and exchange programmes, among other things. It was established as an EU agency in 2005, following the adoption of a separate Council decision. It is currently based at Bramshill in the United Kingdom, alongside the English and Welsh College of Policing.

The draft regulation we are debating would supersede both the pre-Lisbon Council decisions: the one dealing with Europol and the one dealing with CEPOL. It proposes to merge CEPOL with Europol in the latter’s existing headquarters in The Hague. The new regulation would also enhance some of Europol’s existing powers, in particular regarding the collection of data from member states and its ability to analyse the data more effectively. The Government have expressed concerns in their Explanatory Memorandum about the introduction of a stricter obligation on member states to provide data to Europol. I understand that in fact—this is a point of some interest—law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom already share, voluntarily, a greater volume of information with Europol than do the agencies of other member states.

Doubts could also arise about Europol’s ability to cope with large volumes of information if it were to be copied in to all bilateral exchanges, as the regulation seeks to make mandatory. I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on how the Government would address these concerns during the negotiations if they were to opt in to the proposal. The committee’s view, which we expressed in our report, was that the Government would be most effective in pursuing these concerns by participating in the negotiations. In doing so, I would hope that they would bear in mind, in dealing with our own concerns, our clear interest in other member states providing more information to Europol than they do at present. As always, there are two sides to the coin.

With regard to the proposed merger of Europol and CEPOL, your Lordships are probably aware that it has generated a degree of opposition, not least from both the agencies concerned. While the committee accepts, in general terms, the desirability of merging EU agencies if this will produce cost savings without a loss of effectiveness, it did not believe that the Commission had yet made a sufficiently convincing case for the merger in terms of reducing duplication, achieving efficiency savings and increasing effectiveness.

While the Government also appear to have concerns about the proposed merger, they somewhat counterintuitively appear to be unconcerned about the possible relocation of CEPOL to The Hague, following their announcement that the agency’s lease at Bramshill will come to an end in March 2014. I will ask the Minister for further information about the possible relocation of CEPOL, including whether any efforts have been made to retain the location of this agency in the United Kingdom. It now looks more likely that the two agencies will be kept apart, because there is strong opposition not only from the agencies but from quite a

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number of member states, as expressed in the recent Justice and Home Affairs Council and also in the European Parliament, where the LIBE Committee, which is a kind of opposite number to my sub-committee, is strongly opposed to the merger. Therefore, the likelihood is that CEPOL will be looking for a new home.

Concerns have been raised in the past about the limited parliamentary oversight of Europol. This has been addressed to a degree by the increased scrutiny of the non-operational functions of this agency, as well as of CEPOL, by the European Parliament since the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty in December 2009. In 2010, the Commission instigated discussions about how national Parliaments could be involved in the process of scrutiny and oversight in order at the same time to increase accountability at member state level, thus recognising the shared competences in the justice and home affairs field. I will explain that point. I think that everyone understands that this will be an area of mixed competence as far as the eye can see. It is not even conceivable that member states will hand all that over to the European Union. It is certainly not desirable that they should do so—and it is not going to happen. That means that in an area like this, where there is mixed competence and the issue of parliamentary scrutiny and oversight arises, the only sensible way to proceed is to try to avoid a food fight between the European Parliament and national Parliaments, and to see whether we can get some sort of system in which they operate together on the basis of equality.

My committee and I have played an active role in those discussions from the outset, and have pushed for the development of existing structures to this end, rather than for the establishment of new ones. There are regular meetings of the European Parliament LIBE Committee and the national Parliament Home Affairs Committee. If we build on them, we will avoid the potential costs and duplication that a more freestanding structure could entail. Other national Parliaments have tended to follow our lead in taking this view, and I will continue to state the case in Brussels and elsewhere. In that respect, we find the provisions in the draft regulation extremely welcome. They would increase parliamentary scrutiny of Europol, and its accountability both to the European Parliament and to national Parliaments, and would do so with a light touch, as we have recommended.

Our position on a number of other provisions in the regulation is set out in the report. Some are technical, and I will not weary the House with them. However, there is one to which I should draw attention. It arises in the context of the committee’s recent consideration of the Government’s 2014 block opt-out decision under Protocol 36 to the Lisbon treaty—about which I fear your Lordships will hear a lot in the coming months when we come to debate the committee’s report on this matter, which came out at the end of the previous Session, and when we receive the Government’s response to that report, which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, stated was coming “shortly”. “How short is a piece of string?” is perhaps the same question as, “How long is a piece of string?”. We will find out in due course.

Our witnesses for the Protocol 36 inquiry, the Home Secretary included, were almost unanimously positive

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about Europol’s role, including the significant benefits it provided for the United Kingdom’s law-enforcement agencies in terms of access to information, analysis, intelligence, co-ordination and support, as well as the efficient and cost-effective arrangement of having access to 40 countries in one place rather than co-operating through a network of bilateral arrangements.

The potential value of Europol has recently been enhanced by the establishment of a Cybercrime Centre within it, in response to the real challenges that cybercrime presents to all of us. If the Government choose to opt in to the regulation that we are debating today, the two Council decisions establishing Europol and CEPOL will simply drop off the list of measures that will be caught if the Government decide to trigger the block opt-out decision. However, four other measures on that list, which Europol informed the committee were “directly connected” with the Council’s Europol decision, will remain on the list. Do not ask me why this has happened or whether it is sensible that it has happened—but it has happened. Can the Minister clarify which of the existing measures are subject to repeal by the new regulation and how would handling any other relevant decision affect handling the block opt-out decision? Are the Government mindful of the need to opt back in to any Europol measures not so repealed, so that no question of lack of coherence arises? Of course, that will occur only if the Government agree to opt in to the Europol regulation, but it is worth going over that ground because there is a potential trap there, which it would be unwise for us to fall into.

My sub-committee plans to keep the present draft regulation under scrutiny. At this stage, only one matter is for decision by the House—whether or not the Government are recommended to exercise the United Kingdom’s opt-in by the end of July. For the reasons I have given, the committee is firmly of the opinion that the Government should do so, in part so that they can play a full and effective role in addressing the concerns that they have expressed, some of which we share, during the negotiations. It would be good to hear from the Minister at the conclusion of the debate whether it is the Government’s intention to opt in to the new Europol regulation. I understand that a parallel debate on this issue in another place has been postponed from the scheduled date of 3 July. Can the Minister say why that has happened and when the debate will be reinstated, presumably before the other place rises on 18 July? Can he assure the House that when a decision is taken on the opt-in, it will be communicated to this House? I beg to move.

Lord Sharkey: My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for the way in which he chaired the committee in the production of the report which forms the basis of this evening’s debate. I also thank the committee’s clerk, Michael Torrance, for his invaluable input into the report.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has set out forcefully the case for agreeing to our committee’s recommendation that the Government should opt in to the new Europol regulation. They have four weeks to do that. I shall not repeat the noble Lord’s arguments in detail, but I want

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to re-enforce the argument about Europol’s importance to this country’s national security and crime-fighting efforts and to speak about where the clear balance of advantage lies in this debate.

Europol, with its outstanding British director, is a success story for the United Kingdom. In 2010, Operation Golf, a joint operation between Europol and the Met, led to the arrest of seven individuals in the UK and 126 individuals in total for trafficking children; 28 children in the UK were released as a result and 181 children in total. Operation Rescue, a three-year operation launched by the Met and co-ordinated by Europol across 30 countries, led to the discovery of the world’s largest online paedophile network; 670 suspects were identified, 184 arrests were made and 230 sexually exploited children were protected. Operation Veto, an investigation led by Europol across 13 European countries, uncovered an extensive criminal football match-fixing network. A total of 425 match officials, club officials, players and serious criminals from 15 countries are suspected of involvement.

There are other successful case histories. However, Europol’s critical role in helping the UK can be summed up in the words of ACPO, which said:

“Much of our international crime and transient criminals come from Europe and membership of these organisations”—

Europol and CEPOL—

“makes it easier to target them. Removing ourselves from these measures and putting ourselves in the position of having to re-negotiate 26”—

it will now, presumably, be 28—

“treaties on each and every topic, would be a massive step back for UK policing that would benefit no one”.

7.45 pm

As I understand it, the Government are currently minded not to exercise the opt-in to the new Europol regulation, and I believe that they have three areas of concern. The first is the merger of Europol and CEPOL. The committee, too, had concerns about this and considered the case not made. The fact is that this merger seems entirely to be the Commission’s idea. Neither Europol nor CEPOL supports it, and 19 member states have already voiced their opposition. The proposal will almost certainly be removed from the text at an early stage in negotiations.

The second government concern is over data, and they are not alone here. Half a dozen other member states have already expressed concerns about data-sharing. The worry is over the compulsion to supply data, which exists in the draft text. I think there are good UK reasons for wanting to beef up data supply to Europol, where we already lead, but I agree that it is not desirable for Europol to be able to direct data supply by UK agencies. However, this is not a problem in negotiation. We can stop this if we want to; we already have enough allies on this to form a blocking minority.

The third area of concern for the Government, as I understand it, is over what they see as a power to compel investigations—that is, a power for Europol to compel national forces to undertake criminal investigations. There is no such explicit power in the draft text. Europol can ask member states to initiate a

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criminal investigation but cannot force them to do so. However, as the Minister may point out, the draft text obliges the member states to give a reason for refusal to initiate a criminal investigation, and it is just possible that these reasons would be justiciable by the ECJ, which would be undesirable. However, it is worth pointing out that, so far, this has not been raised as a problem by any other member state.

I do not think that any of those three concerns presents a strong argument for not opting in to the new Europol regulation. In fact, the UK would clearly lose out by not opting in. We would lose reputation and leadership. The UK leads Europol, and the director and many of his senior staff are British. We exercise disproportionate influence over the agency. If we choose not to sit at the table while the future of the agency is determined, we will have forfeited that leadership role. We would also lose influence more generally. If we start negotiations by announcing our concerns then withdrawing until the text is finalised in 2015, it would go down very badly with our partners. We would lose our seat at the table and have no right to vote on the text. We should remind ourselves that Europol is critical to our security and our ability to fight crime, and it is a success, led by us.

We need Europol. The Government’s reservations are eminently addressable in negotiations. We can do that effectively only if we opt in, and I hope that is what the Government decide to do. I support the Motion.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, as a member of your Lordships’ European Union Select Committee, I rise to support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Hannay and to follow the eloquent and powerful arguments put forward by him and the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. They are experts in this area.

I wish to start by reading one of the committee’s recommendations on page 10, which states:

“If the Government were to opt in to the draft Europol Regulation and also exercise the block opt-out we urge them to opt back in to the Council Decisions which fall within the scope of the opt-out and which are connected with Europol’s continued operations, should this prove necessary”.

I do not quote that to criticise the committee, quite the reverse. However, this process of opting in, opting out and opting in again is like hokey-cokey politics in which the Government are indulging. They are dancing to the tune of UKIP and the Eurosceptic right in their party and putting our national security and the fight against crime in jeopardy as a result.

The Europol matter that we are discussing is complicated by the threatened block opt-out, as I said at Question Time today and as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, was rather coy earlier when speaking about the differences of view between the two sides of the coalition in the discussions on this matter. We have a Conservative Minister replying to this debate and it will be interesting to hear his response. However, we get a very clear view of the position from the documents that were leaked to the Daily Telegraph, and I wish to quote briefly from one or two of them. A number of measures were binned, where we agreed not to seek to rejoin, which must cause concern.

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I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, that one of the documents refers to,

“37 measures identified by DPM”—

that is, the Deputy Prime Minister—

“as being of less importance”.

One of the measures that Mr Clegg identified as being of less importance was:

“Joint Action … on cooperation between customs authorities and business organizations in combating drug trafficking”.

How can that be identified as being of less importance? Then we come to measures that are undecided. The document states:

“48 measures for Immediate Discussion (Differing Views in the Coalition on Rejoining)”.

There were differing views on whether it should rejoin those measures, having exercised a block opt-out on 133. Should we rejoin the measure on combating child pornography on the internet? Is there any doubt about that? Why is there any discussion about it? Why does one side of the coalition think that we should opt in and another that we should opt out?

Another measure mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, concerns,

“security in connection with football matches with an international dimension”,

where we have seen that police forces acting together have been very effective in passing on information about known troublemakers so that they can be dealt with on the spot. British police officers can go out to matches abroad and offer their help and police officers from other countries can come here and help with identifying troublemakers. However, all this is being put in jeopardy by what the coalition is considering doing because of the pressure of the 133 opt-outs. It is dancing to the tune of UKIP and the Eurosceptic right, which I know the Minister is not part of. I hope that he will take the opportunity to make that clear again today.

I now wish to consider the measures in detail. We are told—the noble Lord, Lord McNally, used this excuse earlier today—that each of them is being looked at and the reason the Government have taken so long to consider the other report of our Select Committee on the opt-out is that the measures are all very complicated. He also said that each one has to be looked at in the national interest. I always get a wee bit worried when the coalition talks about the national interest. It seems to me that it is often a case of what is in the best interests of keeping the coalition in power rather than what is in the national interest. When pressed to explain their thinking, Ministers have said that they look at the measures on a case-by-case basis as far as the national interest is concerned.

There are two key problems with the Government’s plan of action. The first is the cost to the United Kingdom of permanently opting out of some of the measures, with Europol a particular concern, as the report rightly says. The report expresses the view that,

“none of the concerns expressed by the Government … outweigh the benefits to the UK of Europol’s assistance to national police and law enforcement agencies in the fight against cross-border threats (including terrorism) and serious organised crime”.

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Therefore, we are putting the fight against terrorism and serious organised crime in jeopardy through this opt-out. Rarely has an all-party report, unanimously agreed by all the members of the sub-committee and the committee, been so damning of the government line.

The second problem is the cost of what the Government hope to retain. Opting back in is not a straightforward process. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, having been secretary of the European Commission, will know only too well exactly what has to be done. There is no guarantee that negotiations to opt back in would be successful. We might find ourselves locked out permanently of key crime-fighting tools. Ensuring that this does not happen will require a large and wholly avoidable expenditure of diplomatic capital. Our experienced diplomats would have to spend their time persuading the other 27 countries of Europe, now that Croatia has joined, that we should be allowed back in.

The rewards that the Government hope to win by such a policy are largely intangible. The measures they hope to scrap are mostly technical points relating to the definition of certain crimes. What is really driving this agenda is the streak of destructive Euroscepticism that runs through some of the Tory Back Benches. In this instance, it is clear what they mean by the national interest. As I said, the national interest is the interest of a small, bullying minority. David Cameron is trying to paint himself as a national champion, but in fact he is having his arm twisted. It is a clever piece of political spin but it is a disastrous piece of policy that could leave all of us in the United Kingdom dangerously exposed to crime and terror. I hope that the Minister will indicate that the Government will have second thoughts in light of the unanimous report from our Select Committee.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I am very glad indeed to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, as I find myself in a great deal of sympathy with the argument that he has put forward.

It always seems to me that if one set out to design a nation that was dependent on its relationships with the world in almost every sphere of our significant life in Britain, it would be difficult to think of a better example than the United Kingdom. We live in a totally interdependent world. I believe strongly that the test of political leadership in our country is to demonstrate that we are determined to look to the well-being of the people of these islands of the United Kingdom, but that that can best be done only if we are in a network of international co-operative relationships, of which the European Union is one. It is not a romantic debate about whether one is a European or a Briton; it is hard-headed practical common sense about how we look to the well-being of the British people. Certainly, as far as I am concerned, any thought that we should retreat into being a sort of free-floating raft off the mainland of Europe in the turbulent world in which we live, and that we will somehow then look better to the interests of our people, is a betrayal of the British people and should be dismissed as such.

These matters of security and international crime and the rest are paramount examples of this. We all know that crime is now internationalised on an almost

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unimaginable scale. We all know that security and terrorism and threats of this kind operate on an international basis. All the new technology at the disposal of the human race makes all this more acute. There is no way in which we can look to the security of the British people without the maximum co-operation of those who are seeking the same objectives for their people in Europe as a whole. Indeed, that should always be a stepping stone to maximum international global co-operation, because that is ultimately the indispensible solution that we must find.

8 pm

We are indeed fortunate to have the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, as Chairman of Sub-Committee F, on which I am privileged to serve. He has, as usual, made a masterful presentation of how we feel and the conclusions that we have reached. We have worked hard at reaching those conclusions, we have listened to a lot of witnesses and a lot of evidence has been submitted to us. I sometimes wish that the most hot-headed journalists would occasionally do their homework and read the evidence on which a conclusion is based. It is there to be read, and what is impressive is that all those who operate in this sphere see Europol as absolutely indispensable. I did not hear any witness say that Europol was perfect, but they all said that the way to improve it and make it more effective—they think that it is very useful and increasingly effective—is by being undoubted and committed members of the organisation that is arguing for the changes that are needed in everyone’s interests.

I support the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in the proposition that he has put to the House. I can say clearly—we have heard it from the other Benches—that on a cross-party basis Sub-Committee F is fully behind the noble Lord, and we hope that the House will respond accordingly.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, this has been a short but interesting and illuminating debate. Perhaps I may say at the outset how grateful I am to the committee. I found this report and the previous report on the opt-out to be extremely useful, and it should have a much wider audience than only Members of your Lordships’ House. Any debate around European issues is often led by emotion and those with strong views. It often becomes one of those public debates whereby those with strong views seek to persuade others why they are right and it becomes difficult to make a balanced and dispassionate contribution. I have thought for some time that what many people want is for politicians to stop telling them what they should think and why they should agree with them but be given hard facts in a reasoned way and be allowed to make their own judgments. What are the benefits and problems, as well as the potential benefits and potential problems? Both reports are excellent and need a wider audience because they address just those issues in a dispassionate and thoughtful way. Certainly when preparing for today’s debate I found both reports hugely valuable.

It feels slightly odd to be debating an opt-in when so much of the debate and political discussion between now and next May, when the final decision has to be made, is all about the Government’s proposed block

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opt-out. That will be a much wider opt-out than the decisions on Europol before us today. I have to agree with my noble friend Lord Foulkes that when I was looking at this, “political hokey-cokey” were exactly the words that came into my mind. As he indicated, it is a very expensive hokey-cokey and there is no guarantee that once you have been in and come out you can go in again. For that reason, this is a slightly confused debate to which the reports bring a great deal of clarity.

I have a few questions for the Minister, which developed as I prepared for the debate. I should be interested to know how many other measures are awaiting an opt-in decision by the Government and whether any have been delayed because of the discussions regarding the opt-out. In our discussion on the first report last week on the opt-out, there was some suggestion that there were other opt-in measures that would address some of the concerns that the Government have raised around issues such as the European arrest warrant, but no action has been taken. Because there is an opt-out decision to be taken, proper consideration is not being given to potential opt-ins.

Perhaps I may restate the valid point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, on the other issues connected to Europol that would remain on the Government’s opt-out list, even if the Government opted in. It sounds more like the hokey-cokey all the time, does it not? Even if the Government opt in on the Europol measures, other connected measures would be on the opt-out list. I feel like a character in a play, somewhere between Alice Through the Looking Glass and “Yes Minister”. However, it would be helpful to have some clarity from the Minister on those points. These reports help to make sense of the decision to be made this month and set the issue in a wider context.

The first duty of any Government is the safety and well-being of the public and national security. Over the past decade, we have seen an increase in serious and organised crime that can and has caused severe harm, poses great risk to victims and causes inevitable economic damage. I take note of Europol’s Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment made earlier this year, which stated:

“Serious and organised crime is an increasingly dynamic and complex phenomenon, and remains a significant threat to the safety and prosperity of the EU”.

The assessment goes on to state that as society and business become more global, so do the nature of the threat and the risk, particularly regarding the use of new and emerging technology.

The value of Europol as described by other noble Lords is widely accepted. The value of the range of EU police and criminal justice measures is also widely accepted as being of huge benefit in the fight against organised and serious cross-border crime, which is made more dangerous and more complex by its cross-border nature. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, illustrated some of that in the cases he mentioned. Dealing with drug trafficking, people trafficking, abduction, money laundering, cybercrime and of course national security and terrorism relies on co-operation, both Europe-wide and nationally.

We have already heard about the main changes proposed by the draft regulation that the UK is being asked to opt into. I do not wish to repeat the detail but

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in summary, first, are the new commitments around data sharing and enhancing the role of Europol as a hub for information exchange. Second are the proposals for a more robust data protection regime, alongside structural changes in data management and processing, to make better use of the data that are held. Third is improved governance and increased parliamentary scrutiny by national Parliaments and the European Parliament, and proposals for greater accountability. Fourth are the changes to the existing structures by merging Europol and CEPOL; although my reading of the proposed regulation is that it is more of a takeover than a merger.

On the first issue, data sharing is essential. There is little point in co-operation between states if information is not up to date and relevant. However, we understand the concerns that have been raised by the new wording. I should be interested to hear from the Minister the exact reasons for the Government’s concerns on this. The Government consider that information should be shared on a voluntary basis, if I understand their position correctly. That is not unreasonable but is there likely to be an imbalance in information supplied from different countries? The Government have responded that they have concerns about the feasibility. Can the Minister be more specific about what he means by “feasibility”? Perhaps we can have some more detail on that. The committee’s recommendation on this issue seems eminently sensible, given that there are concerns, but I am keen to understand exactly what they are. The committee’s recommendation on negotiation is helpful but I wonder how effective we as a country can be in negotiations, given the Government’s commitment to a block opt-out. That must be a real worry for those negotiating on our behalf in addressing any concerns that the Government have. Obviously, if others around the table think that we are likely to opt out, it is harder to reach agreement. The Government will need to convince them that we are serious about real engagement. That might be a challenge for any negotiators. Paragraph 20 of the report is helpful in seeking to tread through this minefield and makes a very robust recommendation on the course of action that the Government should take in respect of Europol if they decide to exercise the block opt-out.

On the second matter of data protection and better analysis of data, both proposals are welcome but I agree that there is a lack of clarity about the data protection provisions, and that uncertainty will remain until later this month when the directive is to be agreed. The Commission’s document refers to the current legislative set-up preventing Europol being fully effective and equipping member states with the necessary, complete and up-to-date tools. From the report, this appears to be in relation to forensic and operational support and criminal analysis. It also seems that this regulation is needed to tackle the remaining barriers to full co-operation. I certainly welcome the proposals to strengthen the current data protection regime, including those intended strictly to limit the holding of personal information, as well as proposals on the individual’s right to access information held and the availability of compensation for unlawful data processing. It would be helpful to know the Minister’s views on this and whether the Government are satisfied with those proposals.

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However, it is the merger of Europol and CEPOL that is perhaps most contentious. Listening to comments from noble Lords around the House this evening, there seems to be little confidence that this will go ahead in the proposed form. As I have already said, it seems to be more of a takeover than a merger, and I am not surprised that both directors have opposed it. That, in itself, would not be the sole basis on which to oppose change but they have raised strong issues of concern. I share the concerns about the financial implications and effectiveness. The Government are wise to be sceptical about the prediction of savings. They themselves know from their mergers of quangos and cuts in organisations that the savings realised on paper are often not so evident in the real world.

We have previously made points in debates in your Lordships’ House about the creation of the National Crime Agency and the dangers that the Government face in not providing transitional costs. We often hear that changes in administration or bureaucracy are going to realise great savings. Obviously savings can be made, but when the rationale for structural change is just to save money, too often there then follows a hunt for cuts to realise the savings that have been promised, while at the same time the process of change swallows up money that could be used to provide services.

The Government’s Explanatory Memorandum provides an assessment of the benefits. It certainly appears that there are good reasons for greater co-operation between the two bodies, although it is worth noting Appendix 2 of the committee’s report, in which the director of CEPOL states that the synergies and co-operation between the two agencies are already excellent. He takes the strong view, with some evidence, that money is not being wasted by duplication. The directors of both agencies raise concerns about the supposed financial savings and the implications of a merger in terms of efficiency.

The second area that the Commission identifies as being made more effective is that of identifying and responding to training needs. Having read the report, the Explanatory Memorandum and the regulations, I share some of the concerns that have been raised about training, not just in terms of the budget but in terms of guaranteeing the quality of training and the priority given to training. This is a dangerous area in which to risk losing effectiveness. I know that the Government have some concerns but I hope that they will not be used as a way to try to derail progress. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that the Government will enter into negotiations on this and report back to your Lordships’ House as those negotiations progress.

One aspect on which I should like to understand the Government’s position is the development of EU centres and the provision of training to fight specific crimes. Looking through the regulations and the other material, I wonder whether the Government have considered or explored with the Commission the possibility of a specialist centre being based in the UK. I would have hoped that the Government would enthusiastically embrace the opportunity of having one of these EU centres in the UK—we already have CEPOL at Bramshill—to further develop and share high-level expertise. Bramshill is a former police college

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and it has had international respect but it is being sold off. I hope that that does not blind the Government to what could be a real opportunity to extend our influence and share our expertise in policing Europe-wide.

Again, the Minister will have to consider that any negotiations to seek changes in the details of the memorandum and regulations could be damaged by the Government’s intention to seek an opt-out in 2014. I appreciate that having to look at this issue in the shadow of the block opt-out makes such discussions very difficult for the Government, but I would hope—and other noble Lords have echoed this in their comments this evening—that the importance of this issue would focus the Government’s attention on the opportunities of sharing and improving UK law enforcement and policing. There are also some very welcome comments on scrutiny, accountability and good governance.

At the beginning of this debate, I said that a Government’s first duty is to the security and well-being of their citizens. Crime does not stop at Calais. The policing methods of “Dixon of Dock Green” are no longer enough to tackle the complex and intelligent web of serious and organised crime, where the benefits of, and skills derived from, modern technology sit alongside the old-fashioned criminal masterminds. Police officers today are highly trained and they will have to co-operate across borders if we are to be effective in bringing to justice the drug dealers, money launderers, child abusers and all those who traffic in human misery, as well as fighting terrorism and protecting national security.

The decision before the Government is whether to opt in to the new Europol regulations. A very interesting aspect of tonight’s debate has been that there is real support from noble Lords across the House for European and national co-operation to effectively tackle these issues. However, not a single voice has been raised this evening in support of the Government’s proposed block opt-out. I should have thought that, if there were to be such a contribution on this issue, it would have been heard this evening.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, indicated, it is impossible to see this debate in a vacuum. We have to set it against the announcement that the Government want to opt out of all policing and criminal justice measures and then, in the hokey-cokey, try to opt back in to some of them, but we do not know which ones and how many or what the priorities are, and we do not know what the costs will be. As I have made clear, there are very real concerns about the Government’s position and perhaps, more importantly, the way that they have handled this issue. It undermines confidence and weakens our negotiating position when there are very real and serious issues that have to be addressed.

I look forward to the Minister’s response and hope that he can give us some clarity and reassurance on the issue. However, I greatly welcome this debate and, again, pay tribute to the whole committee for its thoughtful, insightful and very readable report.

8.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the

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European Union Committee for calling this debate. I am pleased that we have had such a wide-ranging discussion, although some noble Lords have made a little bit of fun with expressions such as “hokey-cokey”. At bottom, the debate has been firmly rooted in the issues that the Government are having to consider and deliberate on. I think that noble Lords have taken their cue from the report and I am therefore extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and his committee for the clarity with which the report presents the issues before the Government.

I must say right now that the Government have not decided whether to opt in to the measure at this stage. The arguments are finely balanced. I do not feel that this decision has been overshadowed by any other decision which is also before the Government at this time. The point made in the committee’s report is that Europol and its future is an entirely separate issue. The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Foulkes, referred to the importance of Europol in the fight against cross-border crime.

We also need to protect the independence of our own law enforcement agencies and there are elements in the draft measure which cause us concern. We therefore need to decide whether it would be better to opt in at this stage and use our vote in the negotiations to try to improve the proposal or to stay out for now and reconsider our position once the final text is agreed. Both options are open to us.

In saying that, I want to be clear that we strongly support Europol as it currently operates. As noble Lords have pointed out, we work very closely with it in tackling many serious offences, such as people smuggling and online child abuse. My noble friend Lord Sharkey gave some detailed examples of where Europol has been important in tackling cross-border crime affecting this country. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, also recognised that point of view. Europol provides real benefits to our law enforcement agencies. It is an effective and well run organisation with strong leadership. Indeed, as noble Lords have pointed out, with a Briton as its director, the UK plays an important part.

However, we are worried that some aspects of the new proposals may risk making our law enforcement agencies accountable to Europol, which would be a different thing. Policing is a core function of a sovereign country and must remain a member state responsibility. Perhaps I may illustrate this with an example. I refer to the proposals on police training. I am pleased that the European Union Committee shares our concerns about the proposed merger between the European Police College and Europol. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, confirmed that in his opening speech. However, the Commission’s proposals go beyond the merger. They would give the Europol academy a much broader role than CEPOL currently has in police training, significantly expanding the EU’s responsibilities in an area that really should be left to member states.

We also have concerns about the stronger obligation to give Europol data, to which I shall perhaps return later in response to contributions. We accept of course that Europol needs good-quality intelligence from member states if it is to do its job properly. This country has a good record in that respect. But the new regulation goes far beyond specifying exactly what must be shared

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and in what circumstances. It does not allow us to withhold information that would threaten national security or harm an ongoing investigation. That worries us because it seems to undermine the control of member states over their law enforcement intelligence. Another factor we perhaps need to bear in mind is that it also risks overwhelming Europol with data provided by member states without regard to its quality simply to avoid being taken to the European Court of Justice.

Another concern is the provision that allows Europol to ask member states’ law enforcement agencies to carry out investigations. Europol already has some powers in this area but the new regulations strengthen them, which suggests a presumption that a member state will comply with Europol’s request. Any reason for not complying could be subject to challenge before the ECJ. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Sharkey acknowledged that this was a risk. We would have real concerns if that led to the European courts judging our policing priorities.

The committee has argued that we should opt into the text and negotiate out these provisions. That is an option, especially as opting in before 30 July would give us a vote in the negotiations. However, the proposal is subject to qualified majority voting, so if we did opt in we could still be out-voted. We would then be bound by the outcome even if we did not get the changes we were seeking.

It is right to bear in mind that the decision to stay out at this stage will not necessarily exclude us from Europol for ever. We would remain involved in the negotiations and would have another chance to take part once the measure had been adopted. That would give us the advantage of knowing exactly what the regulation would require of us before we signed up to it but with the offset of having no vote in the negotiations.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, while the Minister is going through these arguments, perhaps he could explain why he has had no support from his own Back-Benchers and why none of the people who gave evidence to the sub-committee supported his point of view? Why has he not been able to persuade anyone inside or outside this House?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am seeking to explain this particular case solely to those who are listening to me at the moment. As I have said, we are not coming to this debate with a set point of view. We are here to listen. We have had the opportunity of considering the report and we will continue to do so. The noble Lord will know that this debate will be looked at and the points made in it will be considered as part and parcel of the Government’s decision on whether to opt-in to the proposal or leave the decision and let the negotiations take their course. That is the Government’s position at this stage: that is what we are considering. This debate is very important because it will help to inform the Government’s decision. I have not come here with a point of view that will determine the outcome of those considerations.

Lord Judd: I am rather confused by what the Minister is saying. Do the Government agree that we best look to our interests on international crime and terrorism by being in an arrangement which ensures maximum

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European operational effectiveness? If they do agree that that is the case, how will we make sure that the regulation is what it should be if we sit on the sidelines, wait until others have decided and then make up our minds as to whether or not we want to join?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I have clearly said that we are not determining whether we will be in the negotiations or sitting and observing them. We are not likely to be passive—this Government are not inclined to be passive—and we shall certainly not be passive on an issue in which this country plays an important part, such as the future of Europol.

I am trying to be even handed on the issue. The Government have not made up their mind. We recognise that there are differences. That is why I have made clear that there are advantages in being a party to the negotiations having opted in, but I also pointed out the disadvantages that we might not achieve what we want to achieve through those negotiations and we would not have the freedom to negotiate from outside if we did not opt in. That is a reasonable position to present and I hope that noble Lords will accept it. There are strong arguments either way and the Government have not yet decided which option they will take.

Let me now deal with some of the points raised by the committee in its report. We agree that the data protection provisions in the regulation should take full account of the draft data protection directive and regulation. We also support appropriate scrutiny of Europol by the European Parliament and national Parliaments, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. However, we would need to know how the proposals to disclose classified information to the European Parliament might work.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that US information is higher than other member states. I can confirm that the UK is currently in the top three countries that provide data. As I have indicated to noble Lords, whether or not we opt in, we will fully participate in negotiations and work closely with member states to seek the necessary amendments to these draft proposals. In response to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on retaining CEPOL, following the announcement of the closure of the Bramshill site, the Government’s priority is now to relocate the College of Policing so that it will be put on as strong a footing as possible to support policing in the UK. Other member states have expressed an interest in accommodating CEPOL, and there seems little point in insisting that it should stay in the UK just for the sake of it. We expect that the new proposal will repeal and replace the existing Europol Council decisions, although this does remain subject to negotiation. No final decisions have been made as to whether the Government will seek to rejoin as part of the wider 2014 opt-out decision. That decision has not been determined.

The noble Lord also asked why the debate scheduled for 3 July in another place was postponed and whether it will be reinstated. In truth, the debate was postponed to give the Government more time to consider the important voice of the opt-in and to reach a final view

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on it. The noble Lord will be aware that opt-in debates in another place are held on a Motion setting out the Government’s position. As I said earlier, we have not yet reached a decision on what that position will be. However, the Government are clear about their intention to hold a debate on this matter in another place, and such a debate will take place.

8.30 pm

Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord because he has been generous in giving way. He has said that time will be made for the other place to debate this issue once the government decision has been made. The decision has to be taken by 30 July, which is the last sitting day in your Lordships’ House before the Summer Recess. However, the other place will finish around two weeks earlier. Can I have an assurance that, if the decision is taken between the other place rising and 30 July when this House rises, the noble Lord will make an Oral Statement so that we can debate the issue on the basis of the decision that is made, not the theory of the decision?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I imagine that I will be able to tell noble Lords that it is highly probable that a decision will be made before the other place rises, rather than before 30 July. The business of this House is a matter for the usual channels and I place myself in their hands. However, I would want to communicate any decision of this importance to the House and, indeed, to Parliament. I am sure that that will be acknowledged by my noble friends who occupy the usual channels.

My noble friend Lord Sharkey is correct to say that there are numerous examples of good co-operation. He illustrated the virtues of Europol and why, notwithstanding the discussions on whether to opt in or to let it run and then negotiate, it is such an important institution and we support it. I am aware that we share common ground with other member states on some issues, but there are no guarantees. The issues are subject to qualified majority voting and there have not been any detailed negotiations that have allowed us to gain a clear idea of how much support we have for our concerns. Should we not succeed in amending it, we would be bound by the final text, and that is a matter of concern to the Government.

Perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. I should like to highlight that there are two separate issues here: the block opt-out and the Europol negotiations. The two issues are not being confused and this debate is about the Europol regulation, not the opt-out.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords—

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: If the noble Lord will forgive me, I am going to run out of time.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My notice said that the House would rise at 10 pm, so we have an hour and a half. I wonder if the Minister will think again because the two issues are related. The recommendation I read out indicates that they are related. If you opt in and

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there is a block opt-out, and then you have to opt in again, there must be a relationship between the two.

The Minister and I know a little about another member state of the European Union, la belle France. The French are just as concerned about their national interest, their policing and the other concerns that he has expressed. Why does he think that they do not have the same anxiety that this Government seem to be expressing?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: That is exactly the point that I have been trying to lay before the House and why the Government are deliberating carefully on this. It is a matter of common interest across European countries and of measuring that common interest. This is all a worthwhile endeavour but it requires the national interest to be taken into account. That is the background against which the Government are making this decision. Of course, there is a big issue about the general opt-out but this decision stands alone and is being considered by the committee and by the Government on its own merits. I have tried to demonstrate that this is an even-handed consideration of the issue.

I say to the noble Baroness that, whatever our decision, negotiations are important for us in ensuring the operational independence of law enforcement agencies and the security of our citizens. We expect there to be some common ground among member states, such as la belle France, if the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was referring to the interests that a number of noble Lords in the Chamber at the moment have. We are committed to ensuring the best possible outcome from these negotiations. We will need to consider the proposals in detail as the negotiations progress but we agree that strong data protection, for example, is important. The regulations here will need to reflect the data protection provisions being negotiated elsewhere. None is likely to change during the negotiating position. The noble Baroness asked how many other measures are awaiting an opt-in. I know of no others but will seek to find out and let her know if there are any.

This good-natured and deep-thinking debate, despite the hokey-cokey allusions, has considered the seriousness of this issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, the security of the country requires us to make sure that law enforcement agencies have the co-operation they need from other European countries. I stress that the Government still have an open mind on the issue. We will of course consider the view of your Lordships’ House and the arguments made by noble Lords here tonight very carefully before we make our decision. I assure the House that the Government will ensure that this House, and Parliament are kept informed about that decision.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, this has been a relatively brief debate, and I hasten to assure those faithful few still here that I do not intend to apply Professor Parkinson’s law and use all the time available to wind it up. I think that the common point among all noble Lords who participated was the recognition that serious crime is an international problem now and that we need a great deal of co-operation to deal with it. That really was agreed by everyone. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said that crime

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does not stop at Calais. I sometimes think that some of the Government’s supporters believe that crime starts at Calais, but we can leave that on one side. The fact is that it occurs on both sides of the Channel and the perpetrators are more and more imaginative about their use of technology and very rapid and easy travel, and all the other tricks of the trade, and that is why we need this sort of co-operation to deal with it.

I thank the faithful members of the sub-committee that I chair, the noble Lords, Lord Sharkey and Lord Judd, for having participated in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, very helpfully drew our attention to some of the practical consequences of Europol co-operation. Sometimes our debates must seem a bit theoretical, but he brought us firmly back to earth. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who is on the EU Select Committee, was also very convincing.

Even I find this opt-in and opt-out business pretty confusing sometimes. We should remember, if we find it infuriatingly confusing, that it is entirely of our own making. No other member state goes through these agonies. This is an exercise in sadomasochism. I am not contesting it because I know how it came about. The various previous Governments who negotiated these rather complex arrangements were justified in doing so, in my view, but the complications are of our own making, so we should not get too irritated by them even though they are difficult to understand.

To answer a question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith—the noble Lord did not answer it—first, there is the directive on the proceeds of crime, which your Lordships’ committee recommended the Government should opt into. The Government did not opt in, but they have not excluded opting in at the adoption stage. That is the position which the noble Lord described in relation to Europol. Rather more seriously, there is the European surveillance order, in which the Government do not have an opt-in or an opt-out; they have simply failed to implement a piece of European legislation which they agreed to. It came into force throughout the European Union in December last year.

The European surveillance order is actually rather important for British citizens because it provides the possibility for someone who is subject to a European arrest warrant to be bailed in their own country: that is, to stay in this country and avoid being taken to, say, some insalubrious jail in Greece where they are kept while awaiting trial. My own view, and that of everybody who participated last week in the very good seminar in which the noble Lord’s colleague, James Brokenshire, participated very positively, is that it is unconscionable that we have not opted into this. Apparently the reason is that the Government did not wish to pre-empt the view they were going to take on the European arrest warrant, but as a result of that decision there are British citizens who are not able to make use of the European surveillance order and be bailed in this country. That number will grow as the delay grows.

Turning to the purpose of the debate—the Europol regulation—I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for his habitually calm and friendly presentation of his position. I think I understand the complexities of the timing in the other place. The window of opportunity is rather modest, since the

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other place goes away on 18 July. It is the normal practice to give it one week’s notice of a government Motion, which takes us to 11 or 12 July, but after all that will be after 5 July, and we all know what is happening on 5 July in the other place on matters European.

I thank the noble Lord for his very helpful response about how he would keep the House informed of a decision by the Government. I am sure that it can be done in a light and easy way. Of course, there is no question of another debate of this sort, but if he could find a way of doing that, it would be really helpful, and I accept his undertakings on that with great thanks.

8.45 pm

As to the Minister’s not being able to say whether the Government will opt in at this stage, that does not shock me nor does it surprise me—I rather feared that it might be like that—but I find myself a little baffled by his remark that the decision is finely balanced. It certainly has not been finely balanced in this House this evening; it was not finely balanced in the views of our various witnesses who talked to us about Europol’s activities. They were not Europol officials but British officials—people from ACPO and from the prosecutorial parts of the Government’s law enforcement wing. They do not seem to me to feel that membership of Europol is in any circumstances finely balanced.

I was going to give some reassurance to the Minister by saying that I agreed firmly with his view that the

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Europol decision which we are debating tonight is completely separate from the block opt-out, until he started to brandish the possibility that we would not opt into the Europol regulation but would seek to influence it from the outside at the same time as we were triggering the block opt-out. I have to say that I think that the Government will cause a great deal of bad blood if they do that. It will damage their negotiating position both on Europol and on the block opt-out for the simple reason that nobody will have the slightest idea what they really intend to do. Do they really value Europol or do they not? If they do value it, why can they not negotiate about Europol like everyone else? There are real risks if they take their intended approach and I hope that they will not.

There will be great complexities, too. If the Government trigger the block opt-out and then ask to be reinserted into Europol under the old regulation, one country will be negotiating to join the old regulation and 27 countries will be negotiating the new regulation, with the one country saying that it might eventually join the new regulation. Well, if everyone has found this debate a little confusing, they ain’t seen nothing yet, because that situation will be absolutely incomprehensible to our partners. I hope that the Government do not get themselves further entangled in that sort of complexity. On that note, I commend the Motion.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 8.47 pm.