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Grand Committee

Thursday, 7 November 2013.

Middle East: Situation of Women

Question for Short Debate

1 pm

Asked by Baroness Hussein-Ece

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the situation of women in the Middle East after the events of the Arab Spring.

Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD): My Lords, when Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in December 2010, he became the catalyst for a wave of protests that triggered revolutions against dictatorial regimes that had ruled the Middle East for decades and generations. These protest movements called for social justice for impoverished citizens who faced rising unemployment, reduced living standards and a lack of political freedom and free speech. Men and women all wanted dignity as well as democracy. While each country had its own specific challenges and difficulties, these common themes emerged as calls from the protestors began to echo across the region. The demand for human rights came from both men and women, with women playing an active and unprecedented role in the protests and revolutions.

The changes sweeping countries affected by the events of the Arab uprisings presented opportunities to establish real progressive changes in the attitudes towards and treatment of women across the Arab world. However, in taking a long, hard look, and despite the existence of international resolutions drafted to protect and empower women, the challenges facing women remain overwhelming. In particular, the initial small gains made by women on the front lines of their respective revolutions are in real danger of regression as religious and male-dominated conservatism occupies the power vacuum in some countries.

The Arab uprisings were, it is fair to say, among the most important and powerful events of the past 100 years, some say since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The aftermath of the revolutions has brought a backlash against the rights of citizens, particularly women, when we contrast the current status of women’s rights in these countries with the roles played by women of all ages, ideologies, ethnicities and social backgrounds in the uprisings in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. When dictators began to fall, there was relief and a sense that women would be able to gain political empowerment. The Arab spring signalled many new beginnings, possibilities and, most of all, hope for a better future. On 25 January 2011, as we watched millions of Egyptians demonstrating in Tahrir Square, demanding jobs, freedom, social justice and the removal of the then President Mubarak, the voices of millions of women, Copts, Muslims and Bedouin stood together in a truly historical moment.

Another triumph for women during the Arab spring was their constant presence throughout the social media sphere. Some commentators dubbed it the “social

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media revolution” and debate has continued about the effects and role of social media in the Arab spring. It marked a turning point of instant news and access to what was happening on the ground. I read many tweets from women in real time who were taking part in a revolution. Yet these women found themselves suddenly targeted by the authorities and by factions. We saw the horror of violence against women unfold in Tahrir Square. It was clear that those carrying out gang rapes were organised, well paid and well protected. They were in the hundreds. Did it stop the women? The following days saw the insurgence of women protesters boldly increasing—multiplied, loud and fearless.

The Egyptian experience perhaps brought a sharp focus upon these attacks. During the Tahrir Square protests, most shockingly, there were numerous reports of police sexual attacks on female protestors—and, infamously, the virginity tests. Egyptian military doctors subjected some female demonstrators to invasive virginity tests, following police arrests for demonstrating. A young Egyptian woman, Samira Ibrahim fought to take her case to court, along with other female protestors. While an order was put out demanding an end to the practice, the military court cleared the doctor who had performed the test. These appalling tactics were used to scare off the growing presence of women during the Egyptian protests.

Alongside these reports came stories of the sexual assault of female journalists. CBS reporter Lara Logan came to the attention of western media when she reported her story of having been sexually assaulted by men while she was reporting at the demonstrations. Following this, further stories reported a young British journalist, Natasha Smith, and an American-Egyptian commentator, Mona Eltahawy, were subjected to similar attacks. So when dictators began to fall, there was relief that women would be able to taste what political empowerment felt like. The Arab spring signalled many new beginnings, possibilities and most of all, hope for a better future. However the rise to power of religiously-dominated patriarchal parties in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Libya meant new restrictions imposed on women. The post-revolution regression of female equality has been most acute in Egypt, first and disappointingly under the elected Government of the Muslim Brotherhood, and presently under the transitional Government. Women were not represented at all in the constitutional committee under the Muslim Brotherhood, and though they now make up 5% of the membership under the transitional Government, they remain largely isolated from decision-making positions and structures.

In Morocco, there were eight women in the previous Cabinet; today there is only one. Earlier this year, the Moroccan Parliament adopted a decree lowering the age of marriage for girls from 18 to 16, which is considered a major setback. A first draft of the electoral law in Libya reserved 10% of seats in the constituent assembly for women, but the quota was later abandoned. In Yemen, despite the country’s commitment to international women’s rights conventions, the transitional Government has failed to implement and enforce even existing laws designed to protect women. In Syria, the situation is most acute and declining. The conflict, ongoing since early 2012, has left more than

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100,000 Syrians dead—including 6,000 children—and estimates for Syrian refugees living in Lebanon now top 1 million. Refugees, in particular women, have faced isolation, marginalisation and violence in refugee camps. Many of these women refugees face sexual harassment in public places such as where they obtain their assistance coupons. Those left fighting for democratic choice within Syria face disproportionate punishment for their actions, including detainment, torture and assault. Syrian women leaders have emphasised the urgent need for Geneva II—which has sadly been delayed yet again—and for Syrian women to be part of that political process.

On 29 October, Syrian activists and leaders gathered alongside 80 others in Jordan for the Arab Regional Training on Women, Peace and Security, organised by women’s rights organisation Karama in partnership with the UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality and the UN Development Programme. It was held to build the capacity of civil society leaders to implement international resolutions on women, peace and security, and to lobby for national action plans advocating women’s inclusion in the transition and the peacebuilding process. When we reflect on what the Arab spring did, it would be impossible to provide a full analysis of its effects on the lives of women, primarily because in many instances the Arab spring—or autumn as it has now been dubbed—continues in various forms, as the many countries continue to adjust constantly to new rules of law, governance and uncertainty. However, for the first time in recent Middle Eastern history, women played a crucial role in defining their country’s future. It gave women a platform for their voices to be heard and their stories to be shared, but the news, as I have briefly outlined, is not promising. Many women feel their lives and their rights have deteriorated. Rebeca Grynspan, the UN Under-Secretary-General and associate administrator of the UN Development Programme, stated:

“The character of this century will be determined by our ability to walk towards gender equality. All the studies not only suggest that if you tackle gender equality, you empower women, but you also will be much more effective in fighting poverty and hunger”.

The measure of democratic success is weighed in the treatment of women, their advancements in politics, media and social spaces and the ways in which women’s issues are defined and responded to. I would therefore ask for an assurance from the Minister that, when meeting delegations or when Geneva II is finally convened, the United Kingdom will take a strong lead in ensuring that there will be representation from women and that women’s rights will be on the table and part of that discussion. It surely cannot be right that women’s voices continue to be suppressed by male-dominated talks that affect the lives of 50% of the MENA—Middle East and north Africa—countries. I am grateful for the helpful briefing from Karama, whose founder is Hibaaq Osman. I look forward to hearing from other noble Lords, in particular from my noble friend Lady Hodgson, who will be making her maiden speech.

1.09 pm

Baroness Tonge (Ind LD): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this very important debate. The position of women in the Middle East is a constant

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source of concern for many of us. At first, I thought that the so-called Arab spring was good news for women in those countries but, sadly, the effects are not proving universally beneficial.

Women played a great role in many countries’ demonstrations and protests. As we have heard, they were not afraid to be out on the streets with their men, and they displayed even greater courage than our own sisters in the suffragette movement did at the beginning of the last century. In fact, it is not very long since women in this country had few rights.

The Arab spring started in Tunisia and spread quickly. The leaders of Egypt, Libya and Yemen were overthrown. The protests in Syria have led to a tragic civil war in that most beautiful country. Before the Arab uprisings, women enjoyed some rights—Islam did not mean necessarily that women were oppressed. Although not strictly an Arab country—and I have to put in a plug here—Iran was and is quite remarkable in its encouragement of women’s education and their freedom to use contraception. Iran is often quoted in family planning circles for its amazing 1.9 fertility rate. That is less than the replacement level and it means that women are having fewer children.

Family planning, despite the ayatollahs, is thriving in Islamic Iran. In some countries where Islamists predominantly led the uprisings, there has been a falling back for women’s rights and freedom, but not in Iran. It was beginning to happen in Egypt under the Morsi presidency, where women’s rights were being talked about. However, that was a tragedy for Egypt because, together with other restrictions that we have heard about, it gave a cause célèbre for a coup by the army, which I have to say should have been condemned by our Government. Whether we like them or not, the way for democratically elected Governments in the Middle East—the Hamas-led Government in Palestine was another example in 2006—to be removed is at the ballot box, not at the point of a gun. I do not like the coalition Government very much, as noble Lords may have noticed, but we have to wait until they are dispatched, or not, at the next election. We lose all credibility if we preach democracy and then refuse to recognise the decision of the electorate in other countries.

I want to make a special plea for our Government to recognise what has been going on in Bahrain since the Arab uprisings and to recognise the treatment of women there in particular. Hundreds of women have been sacked for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations, and even those who got their jobs back have had to give up their trade union membership and employment rights. They cannot vote or participate in any way with the political process there. Women have been arrested in their homes in the middle of the night; they have been tortured and sexually abused; and some have gone on hunger strike.

A teacher who led a protest march—I have the details—was arrested, tortured, sentenced and refused permission to work again. A young mother and activist—sick with cancer, as it happened—was made to stand in a doorway while she was sexually abused, all for wearing a political T-shirt. A heavily pregnant woman was jailed with no charge because she objected to her husband’s arrest at a checkpoint. At least 13 women have died in Bahrain, with no one being held accountable.

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There are many other examples—I have a long list—and the men have suffered too, but this is a country that we are friends with. It is our ally and supplier of oil, and we have done nothing about these abuses during the uprisings in Bahrain. We should be ashamed. Sooner or later, this will all come back to haunt us.

Finally, there is some good news. Over the past 10 years, a quiet revolution has been going on in the Middle East. Health services and education have improved in most countries, although sadly not in Yemen. Iraq had very fine health services but they are subject to great strain at the moment. Gender equality has been achieved in education in most Middle Eastern countries, although, as we have heard, opportunities afterwards are still very limited. Maternal mortality has dropped dramatically, although again, not in Yemen. In Yemen 110 women per 100,000 still lose their lives in childbirth, which is very high indeed, but in other countries the rate has come down and the most remarkable thing of all is that over the past 20 years women have been following the example of their sisters in Iran and accessing family planning to limit their families.

The Arab spring, we are told, was led by the explosion in the number of young people wanting a better, different life. The women want a better, different life but a researcher in the USA, Professor Eberstadt, calls it the “youth quake”, which I rather like. However, the drop in family size all over Middle Eastern countries will balance that out eventually and reap a huge benefit for women. Later marriage, which is also occurring, and fewer babies mean better health for women, a longer time in education, a better family income as mothers join the workforce and, I hope, more time to forge their way into the constipated—if noble Lords will excuse the medical term—male politics all over the Middle East. In the future we can expect a “women quake” and good luck to them. We will be here, ready to help.

1.16 pm

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con): My Lords, it is an enormous honour to enter this House. I rise with some trepidation to make my maiden speech and I am delighted to be able to do so on this important subject. I begin by thanking my supporters and all who have made me so incredibly welcome. I am truly grateful to Peers on all sides of the House and to all the staff. Although new to the Palace of Westminster, I am not new to the political world, having worked for many years as a volunteer in the Conservative Party, including chairing the Conservative Women’s Organisation, being an elected member on the board and chairing the Conservative Party conference in 2011.

On a visit to Washington with the Conservative Women’s Organisation in 2006, we met groups of women from Afghanistan and Iraq. Talking to them made me realise how difficult their lives were and encouraged me on my return to set up the Conservative Women’s Muslim Group to promote understanding and dialogue. That meeting awoke in me a very strong interest in international women’s issues, particularly in conflict and post-conflict countries, which I have continued to work on since, including visiting a number of such countries to listen to the women there. I also sit on the

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steering board of the Foreign Secretary’s initiative to prevent sexual violence in conflict countries and I pay him great tribute for his courage and resolve in driving this subject up the global political agenda.

Time is short so I now turn to the subject of our discussion. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for securing this debate about the situation of women after the Arab spring—or rather, the Arab storm, as described by a Tunisian friend—because where regime change has occurred, women’s rights are rolling backwards. I begin by quoting from a Saferworld report entitled It’s Dangerous to be the First:

“Women’s visibility in the 2011 wave of protests that shook the Middle East marked a watershed. Although women’s activism was not new in 2011, their centrality to the uprisings was remarkable. In the political transitions that followed, women appear to have come under increased pressure to ‘leave politics to men’ and ‘return to normalcy’”.

Looking to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, I should like to raise a couple of the most pressing issues. First, all these countries suffer from an enormous lack of security. This affects women disproportionately, making it extremely hard for them to take part in public life. Security and justice in these countries are in the hands of men. A Tunisian lawyer e-mailed me last week, saying:

“We are really suffering and struggling—terrorism now is a part of our living. The radical Islamist groups are out of control and they can act whenever and wherever they want”.

An activist from Women4Libya wrote similarly to me, saying:

“I’ve known many friends and family members who at the very worst are intimidated and are victims to theft, abductions, sexual harassment/attack and violent death”.

Also, we have seen in our media the reports of violence in Egypt, including women being sexually abused and raped in Tahrir Square. It was Jinnah, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, who said:

“No nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men”.

Secondly, the writing of new constitutions is a source of much anxiety. Women’s voices need to be heard to ensure that gender equality is embedded. In September 2012, I participated in a British Council workshop in Tunis on drafting constitutions with Libyan women but I understand that only six seats of the 60-member constitutional drafting committee in Libya will be allocated to women.

Article 11 of the new Egyptian constitution of 2012 mandates the state,

“to guarantee equality between men and women in political, social, economic and cultural fields without breaching the principles of Islamic Sharia”.

However, Islamic Sharia can be interpreted to forbid women to go out unaccompanied, to encourage early marriage and to insist on their being veiled. Following the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood, a 50-member constituent assembly is tasked with amending this constitution, but only five members are women.

In Tunisia, although 27% of parliamentarians are women, nearly all come from the Islamist party, which fielded politically inexperienced women candidates. Thus, I am told that their participation in the writing of the constitution is almost worthless and they only toe the party line.

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Across the whole region has crept a dangerous fundamentalist credo suggesting that women’s rights belong with the ousted dictators and that women in leadership roles is un-Islamic. To achieve true democracy in these countries there has to be peace, security and equality for everyone, not just for half the population. I would ask the Minister to ensure that the British Government exert all the influence that they can to enable women to play their equal and rightful part in helping to take their countries forward.

1.22 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con): My Lords, it is a privilege to welcome my noble friend Lady Hodgson to your Lordships’ House, particularly after such a thoroughly knowledgeable and passionate speech. As a former president of the Conservative Women’s Organisation, she joins an illustrious group of women on the Conservative Benches who have previously held that position: my noble friends Lady Byford, Lady Seccombe and Lady Anelay, who are with us this afternoon. I know that in that role she founded the Conservative Women’s Muslim Group, whose events I have had the privilege of attending. She is also known for her encouragement of many women in the preparatory stages of standing for election to the other place. Among her other roles outside your Lordships’ House, my noble friend Lady Hodgson is patron of the Afghan Connection and a member of the Association of Oxfam. I understand that she not only listens to women’s concerns but has unfortunately got a little too close to the action on occasion in Afghanistan. Of course, she is known for her expertise in gender issues and international development and will make a worthy contribution to your Lordships’ House, but I also know from having worked alongside her in Conservative Campaign Headquarters that she brings with her a natural warmth and kindness to everyone she meets.

For many women in the Middle East, the Arab spring has brought little change in terms of the law but not in terms of courage. The simple act of a woman driving a car in Saudi Arabia is a protest and putting such footage on YouTube is courageous, as every computer is, I believe, traceable by the regime. That shows how much we women sometimes take for granted in the UK but we should not be too complacent as Tunisia’s Parliament now has 27% women and the UK has only 23%. However, all eyes in the Arab world are on Egypt, which is currently writing its new constitution, and it is Egypt that I wish to focus on this afternoon.

The position of women in Egyptian society since the military intervention earlier this year has now arrived at a tipping point. Previously, under President Mubarak, women were sparse in the political arena and were not really visible. The protests in January 2011 included mass protest by women, and it looked as though the tide was turning. However, under the period of rule by SCAF and then President Morsi matters started to decline again.

In my own visit to Egypt in October 2011, I found women in Alexandria scared to go out in public. This was not only because the lack of a police force meant a decline in law and order, but because they felt under

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increased pressure to veil themselves whenever in public. Christian families were reportedly asking their daughters to wear headscarves so they could not be picked out in any way. The radicals were empowered as women were objectified. There were reports of acid attacks and other assaults, and the security forces did nothing.

However, I believe that two factors halted this declining trajectory. The Morsi regime tried to hand power to the Al-Azhar University, but the university refused to take it. Its members did not want to be the ultimate interpreters of the constitution in Egypt, which is what President Morsi offered them. They would not allow him to remove the Grand Imam, and I understand that in future that post will not be appointed by the President. These were key moves towards a theocratic state, and they were thwarted. As the only pan-Sunni institution to have survived the fall of the Caliphate in 1924, Al-Azhar’s influence extends across the Sunni world. I believe women across the region will in future be very grateful for the institutional independence and courage shown by Al-Azhar. I do hope that Her Majesty’s Government have thanked them too.

The second matter is the women themselves, who could see how this trajectory would affect them and their daughters in the future. A fear barrier was broken in 2011 and it was not going to be resurrected. Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, who was in Egypt during the anti-Morsi protests this year, recalled to me that he saw a young veiled woman in Tahrir Square holding a placard of Morsi with a red cross through it. This action would have been unthinkable three years ago, as would the current presence of women in the Egyptian media as talk show hosts and political commentators, and—due to the cost of living in Egypt—as an increasingly vital part of the labour market. Women have been given a platform and have risen to the occasion. Feminism is not being seen as some kind of foreign import but increasingly as an Egyptian value. Egyptian women were not going to allow the revolution of 2011 to be taken from them.

In Parliament last month, it was a privilege to hear from Mrs Mona Zulficar, vice-president of the Egyptian constitutional drafting committee and an international corporate lawyer. The very fact that a woman is in such a prominent and influential position is remarkable in itself, and her passion to ensure the rights of all Egyptians was matched only by her keenly felt responsibility on behalf of women across the Middle East and north Africa. Women’s rights groups from across the region have been contacting the Egyptian constitutional committee to say, “You have to get this right—you are our hope”.

Therefore I believe that the UK and the EU’s efforts for human rights and democracy need to focus urgently on Egypt. The immediate humanitarian crisis is of course Syria, but for the human rights and democracy brief and budget within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Egypt should be the focus. Egypt is pivotal to change in this region.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister can indicate what projects Her Majesty’s Government fund in the democracy and human rights programme, and how these prioritise women’s rights. Television, particularly

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satellite television, has a huge influence in Egypt. Has Her Majesty’s Government considered funding programmes that would reinforce the role of women in society?

Much of UK taxpayer support to Egypt goes through the European Union. The disturbing reports of €0.5 billion of aid being unaccounted for are concerning, not least because this should have included at least £70 million of UK taxpayers’ money. As Karel Pinxten, the European Court of Auditors member responsible for the report into EU aid to Egypt, said:

“In the past, the Commission set forward some conditions for giving aid to the country in terms of human rights, in terms of democracy, in terms of public finance management, in terms of fighting corruption”.

If EU money from female UK taxpayers is to be invested in Egypt, at the moment it should be ploughed into projects that will support the courage of Egyptian women. Respecting the rights of women should be a condition of EU support.

1.29 pm

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I am proud of the Committee today because there is so much change in the tone of our discussion and so much agreement, which was not always the case across the House when I came in 1998. I thank my noble friend—I consider her to be a friend—Lady Hussein-Ece for allowing us to debate this issue, and I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson. We have shared many platforms on gender matters. It is a tribute to her that I never knew that she was such a staunch Tory Party member. I look forward to hearing from her and working with her on many more occasions.

The Arab spring was the people’s revolt against dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, although its impact on women remains unclear. Women stood hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder with their men in Tunis, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere. They protested and led and organised protesters, spending days and months at the coal face of the revolution and making sure that their voices were heard across the globe.

I had the privilege of visiting Tunis following the toppling of the military rule—a couple of days after, in fact—and a few of us stood and talked with protesters on the square and with those occupying the presidential palaces. We witnessed men and women standing together for their country’s future. As a mere observer, I believed, like many others, that women would participate in the development and building of their new nations and Governments. Political parties on the ground acknowledged the importance of including women in governance. A report by UN Women noted that the high presence of women protesters calling for change raised hopes for freedom and equality for men and women in Arab societies, and it said that it was an exciting moment to hear women’s political voices campaigning for democracy. Women were able to express opinions publicly, not only about dictatorship but about their aspirations for a better future, education, employment, justice and peace. Significantly—this is a point on which I want to concentrate—many women reported their experience of violence and sexual assault, particularly at the hands of military personnel, when they took part in protests or were arrested.

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As the revolution has descended into chaos, murder, summary justice, judicial killing and civil war, women and children have suffered mortifying violence, the cruellest conditions and punishment. Vulnerable women protestors were raped, beaten and arrested as a way to deter them from being on the street. Rape has been reported in Egypt, Syria and Libya, as well as in the refugee camps, where women are fleeing persecution and seeking shelter from harm.

In 2010, I raised the matter of rape as a weapon of war and conflict, and I drew your Lordships’ attention to rape being used as a weapon during the war between Pakistan and Bangladesh, when hundreds of thousands of women were raped, tortured or killed. Many have since died without seeing the perpetrators brought before the courts, without having their struggles believed and without seeing justice. We have come far since then and I applaud the Foreign Secretary for his leadership in getting rape on the agenda. I remain concerned, however, that the practicality of implementing our good intentions has yet to be worked out. Rape, including of children, continues to be used widely in today’s global conflicts. Does the Minister believe that measures are in place to ensure that agencies working on the ground can record allegations of rape so that the perpetrators can be identified and brought to justice? More importantly, what resources and medical support are being made available to women who report rape?

The Arab uprising was undoubtedly a crossroads for many women in the Arab world. It opened up dialogue with women in countries and across borders and regional boundaries, aided by technology and the Facebook generation. It gave many more women a platform for their voices to be heard, albeit temporarily. The opinions of women are now extremely divided. Many have argued that the situation of women in the region has worsened post-revolution and that the uprising has eroded many of the legal frameworks that were in place and which provided some protection and some rights for women.

Samira Ibrahim wrote that a revolution has come and gone but done little for Arab women. Domestic violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation are still part of the status quo across a region covering more than 20 countries and 350 million people. Another journalist, Mona Eltahawy, wrote that:

“Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun”.

Whatever the reality on the ground, we can be certain that the uprising has wider implications. While the regimes changed in Egypt and Tunisia, calls to introduce democratic reforms have swept the region, and two of them are notable. In 2011, Moroccans overwhelmingly voted for a new constitution to include pledges to achieve equality and to,

“ban and eliminate discrimination according to gender”.

In Saudi Arabia, where the uprising may or may not have been seen as a contributory factor, however small, towards enfranchising Saudi women, a number of women have been appointed to the Shura Council and are to be given the right to vote and to stand for election in coming years. Of course, we have to

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be cautious and guarded. Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that the world today is a very different place from the world of 20 to 30 years ago. There have been positive steps; namely, that 139 countries and territories now guarantee gender equality in their constitutions. However, we know that none of this means an end to injustice, violence and inequality either in women’s homes or in their working lives, just as we continue our own struggle in the West and elsewhere in the world. The transformation may take generations. Given the volatility in the region, it is difficult to predict the impact of the revolution on the status of Arab women as political, social and economical changes are in transit.

Women were leaders in the uprising, campaigning for democracy, justice and peace, and demanding a say in how their countries and futures are to be shaped. It would be reckless and unwise to conclude that the Arab spring brought equal rights to women and men, but those women made historic efforts which will have defined a generation. I hope that, for our part, we will not abandon them as they march on.

1.36 pm

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, for initiating this debate. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, on her excellent maiden speech. As chair of the advisory board, Gender Action for Peace and Security, she has played a pivotal role on a cross-party basis in ensuring that this issue remains high on the policy agenda. I thank her for that. In particular, I pay tribute to GAPS for its No Women No Peace campaign, calling on the UK Government to honour commitments made to women in conflict.

As we have heard, a key characteristic of the popular uprisings in the Middle East and the north Africa region was the prominent role of women. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, described, there were women who were engaged in protesting, blogging, hunger-striking and organising. They were, in the spring of 2011, and continue to be a powerful force for change. However, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Hussein-Ece and Lady Hodgson, described, they are becoming increasingly sidelined from the future of their nations through a lack of inclusion in peace talks and constitution negotiations.

The report published in September by CARE International, circulated in the briefing for today’s debate, outlined just how much international donor policy needed to adapt in the wake of the Arab spring. It drew on the experiences of more than 300 men and women in Egypt, Morocco, Yemen and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and found that the outlook for women in the region remains uncertain. Nearly all Middle Eastern countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report scored more poorly in 2012 than they did in 2011. At the same time, the uprisings created an explosion of new activism by women, and they are making themselves heard in transition processes such as the National Dialogue Conference in Yemen.

What is clear from the heartfelt accounts in the report is that the international community should invest in longer-term development programmes that

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will change the attitudes and practices that are a barrier to women’s participation in public life. We should support initiatives that will bridge the religious-secular divide that is becoming increasingly polarised. As the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, said, women’s involvement on the front lines of the Arab spring has also been characterised by exclusion and systematic violence. Sexual assault, gang rape and public beatings were used to discourage women from taking part.

The EU meeting with Ministers from the Middle East and north Africa in Paris on 12 September on strengthening the role of women in society coincided with EU negotiations to review and revise aid and trade relations with the countries of the MENA region. While the EU has committed to promoting a “more for more” approach, whereby aid recipient states receive funding if they implement democratic reforms, the approach does not explicitly mention women’s rights. That was a point highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge. How does the Minister think the EU will hold recipient countries to account if they fail to respect the rights of women to take part in decision-making institutions and processes?

Will the Minister indicate what steps the Government will take to factor benchmarks on women’s rights alongside wider benchmarks on good governance and human rights into the UK’s and the EU’s aid, trade and wider economic co-operation with states in the Middle East? How will he ensure that women’s rights organisations are consulted on the development of these benchmarks? An environment should be supported whereby women politicians, women’s rights organisations and women’s rights activists can freely operate and be protected from intimidation. The Government should ensure flexible funding mechanisms for women’s rights organisations so that capacity can be built and improved and communications can be established, and they should ensure that they have the resources to participate in the future direction of their nations.

In the recent debate on Syria, I referred to Oxfam’s report Shifting Sands, which highlighted that many refugee women and girls no longer have access to the resources and services that they used to have in Syria before the conflict began that enabled them to fulfil their traditional gender roles. I once again ask the Minister what assessment the Government have made and what action they are taking to understand and tailor policies to the impact of the crisis on the women affected, including violence against women and girl refugees. What steps will Her Majesty’s Government—both DfID and the FCO—take to work with Jordan, Lebanon and other states that are accepting refugees from Syria to support women refugees in earning a dignified livelihood, recognising the concerns from the local population and national authorities about the uncertain economic impact?

1.43 pm

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece for bringing such an important issue to the Committee, and all noble Lords who have participated in this important debate. It would be remiss of me not to single out my noble friend Lady Hodgson, who I welcome to our Benches in the House of Lords and congratulate on

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her excellent maiden speech. It was both thoughtful and reflective of her great expertise across many areas, but particularly in the international field in relation to women’s rights. I look forward to working with her in the years ahead on this issue and on other matters. I wish her a very warm welcome.

I congratulate all noble Lords on their contributions. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, made a point about there being agreement across the board, and I believe that on this issue we all stand as one.

The UK strives to promote gender equality and to tackle violence against women as a matter of principle. We believe that human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people, regardless of gender. Where women have equal access to education, healthcare and political and economic opportunities, societies, as several noble Lords have mentioned, are healthier, more prosperous and more peaceful.

We all remember the Arab spring in 2011. Those who looked at their television screens and those who tweeted or went on to Facebook would have seen those great flags of hope, as young men and, importantly, young women came out in the hope of a new beginning. They took courageous stands in protests across the region, and enduring symbols of the Arab spring stay with us today. Men, women, youngsters and the old participated together in demonstrations, calling for a realisation of their political and economic aspirations. The noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, highlighted that very well.

Since then, some—I use that word carefully—progress has been made. Many women have participated in democratic elections for the first time, shaping new Governments. In Libya, for example, women’s groups play an important role in civil society, but as my noble friend Lady Hodgson pointed out, many challenges remain in terms of political participation.

In Yemen, women now hold 126 of the 565—that is, 22%—seats in the National Dialogue Conference. I did a bit of a self-test here. I went to our House of Commons, where there are currently 146 women out of the 650 representatives, which I believe is also 22%, so perhaps the focus is not just, as it is today, on the MENA region; there is also much work for us to do elsewhere.

Prominent women are taking the lead in their societies. Let us not forget Tawakkol Karman, who jointly won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peacebuilding work. I have also learnt recently that she has given back the $500,000 that she won to be used in greater fights for freedoms and equality in her country. Earlier this year, my noble friend the Senior Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lady Warsi, met another prominent woman from the region, the United Arab Emirates’ Development Minister, Sheikha Lubna.

However, challenges remain. As my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece highlighted, the future for many women across the region remains uncertain, and there have not been the gains that we had hoped for—and, more importantly, that those in the region had hoped for—in democratic or political participation and opportunity. Let us be clear: women are underrepresented

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at senior levels of government and commerce in the region. Moreover, they often face basic economic inequalities, such as pay gaps.

The challenge is compounded by the political crises affecting parts of the region. Many noble Lords have rightly referred to Syria, where women face the challenges inherent in living in a conflict situation. In Libya, many women have become victims of sexual and domestic violence, as the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, highlighted, and there is weak access to medical services. In Yemen, increased instability since 2011 has seen a major humanitarian crisis. As my noble friend Lady Berridge highlighted, the hopes that we saw in Tahrir Square in Egypt have not been realised in terms of political participation.

So what is the UK doing? Several noble Lords raised questions, and it is right that we highlight the steps that the Government have taken and continue to take. We recognise that increasing women’s participation is a vital part of supporting transitions and building stability in the region. As such, the UK is taking strong action to support women’s empowerment through a number of approaches.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and my noble friend Lady Berridge raised the issue of the EU fund and the donor policy. We have set up the Arab Partnership Fund, which was created in 2011 to support positive long-term reform in the region, and more than £110 million has been allocated between 2011 and 2015. Last year, approximately £2.6 million of that fund was allocated to projects that specifically benefited women. In Egypt, for example, we have provided assistance to women candidates in local elections. In Libya, we have funded work to strengthen women’s participation in the General National Congress. In Morocco, we are working to establish a women’s affairs committee in Parliament.

We have supported women’s economic empowerment in the region through our presidency of the G8 Deauville partnership. As part of that, we hosted a two-day conference in June on women’s economic empowerment, focused on creating business links between female entrepreneurs in the G8 and the region.

The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, spoke with great clarity about some of the challenges faced by women and raised the issue of Bahrain and the Government’s position. Let me assure her that Her Majesty’s Government continue to work on supporting the process of national dialogue and political reform in Bahrain, including promoting international human rights standards and political reform. Those are key parts of the dialogue and in all our representations at ministerial level, we remind the Bahraini Government of that.

During the recent event, the DfID Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Justine Greening, announced the creation of an Arab women in business challenge fund. The UK has contributed £10 million to this fund, which will co-finance initiatives with the private sector to deliver new job opportunities for women in the region. The UK has also been working with several major law firms to establish a legal task force to recommend ways to address legal barriers to women’s economic participation. Additionally, we have selected women’s empowerment as one of the three

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themes of our work as co-chair of the G8-BMENA process. The aim of that work is to bring civil society and Governments in the region closer together.

I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lady Hodgson on the steering board currently advising the Foreign Secretary on his initiative to prevent sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict countries. The Foreign Secretary has made clear the priority he gives that issue, and it provides a further opportunity to engage with Governments in the region on women’s rights. The declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict that the Foreign Secretary launched at the United Nations on 24 September has so far been endorsed by 134 countries, including almost all countries in the region. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, also spoke about that issue. I assure her that in all our discussions, whenever we meet Governments from across the MENA region, we raise the issue with them and the instances of human rights abuses, particularly sexual violence against women.

On Syria, we are undertaking gender-focused aid as part of our broader £500 million humanitarian relief effort to Syria and its neighbours. We are encouraging greater women’s participation in and around the Geneva II peace talks on Syria. Under the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, we are also focusing on improving advocacy for women’s rights. We are training doctors and human rights defenders to document human rights abuses, including sexual violence, with a view to assisting future transitional justice efforts.

Picking up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, health services have shown improvement in those countries, but more needs to be done, particularly on sensitivity to some of the issues surrounding women.

As I said, through Geneva II, we recognise the Syrian National Council as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. As part of our efforts with international partners, we seek to ensure that the coalition is able to reflect and meet the aspirations of all Syrian people and reflect the representation of women in its membership.

On Egypt, I assure my noble friend Lady Berridge that FCO Ministers have made clear in their contacts with the Egyptian authorities that women’s participation is a key part of supporting transition and building stability. We will continue to raise the issue.

My noble friend Lady Hodgson raised the issue of low female representation—six seats out of 60—in Libya. We continue to urge the Libyan Government to ensure that women’s rights are fully protected under the new constitution.

I have given just some of the initiatives we are taking but the UK is working hard to strengthen the role of women across the MENA region. I fully accept that many challenges remain and the opportunities afforded by the transitions in the region have yet to lead to widespread concrete and sustainable gains for women. Now is not the time to draw back our efforts, and we shall not, but rather to maintain and strengthen them. The potential gains are huge. For example, research has shown that if female employment rates in Egypt matched those of men, GDP would increase by 34% by 2020.

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In conclusion, women played a key role in the demonstrations of the Arab spring and there is an absolute need to ensure that they continue to take a central and pivotal role as we build the democracies and new constitutions of the region. This Government remain committed to backing those aspirations and to turning that hope into reality. We stood with many of the protesters in these countries—men, women, the elderly and children—as they sought to bring change, and we will stand with them in their transitional progress. We heard about the vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the formation of Pakistan but perhaps many of the countries that put Islam at their centre need to reflect on the origins of Islam, where women played a pivotal and central role in the empowerment and progression of the faith. I end with a quote from another lady who inspired many. Those who wish to give up hope should remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s words:

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”.

Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very comprehensive and informative reply. I think it was very well made.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Baroness but I fear she does not have the right to reply on this occasion.

1.56 pm

Sitting suspended.

OSCE: Helsinki+40 Process

Question for Short Debate

2 pm

Asked by Lord Bowness

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their priorities for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Helsinki+40 discussions; and what progress has been made.

Lord Bowness (Con):My Lords, I will endeavour to comply with the rubric to limit this debate to 60 minutes. I note that the second rubric, however, limits me and all other speakers except the Minister to 10 minutes. Should I err, I will rely on the former rather than the latter.

My Lords, 2015 is the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act in which the participating states agreed principles to govern relations between member states and to work through three security dimensions or pillars: political and military; economic and environmental; and human aspects. I, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and 10 Members from the other place form the United Kingdom delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

In January 2012 I asked what the Government’s assessment was of the role of the OSCE and whether they had any plans to increase awareness of it. On that occasion, the Minister made clear the Government’s

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support for the organisation and noted the difficulties under which it worked, especially the need for consensus. That is understood.

The Question before the Committee this afternoon was on the Order Paper for debate on a Thursday in late June, but since it attracted no more speakers than are due to participate today, I withdrew the same. Of course, today’s tabling now clashes with major debates on China and the Armed Forces. Nevertheless, it is perhaps surprising that in general there is so little interest in the affairs of the OSCE, which should be of some concern to Her Majesty’s Government if they still believe in the organisation.

I know that the noble Lord responding for the Opposition and my noble friend the Minister will be familiar with the OSCE and all its works, and for that reason I will not go into its role at great length. However, I should like to point out for the record that the OSCE’s own website tells the inquirer that there are 57 participating states. Its membership stretches from Vancouver to Vladivostok. All the largest and smallest countries in Europe and Eurasia are members. Mongolia has recently joined.

The OSCE addresses subjects as important and varied as arms control, confidence and security-building measures, human rights, national minorities, the democratic process, policing, counterterrorism and environmental activities. There is a ministerial council, which normally meets once a year. There is a permanent council and a Forum for Security and Co-Operation, which meet weekly in Vienna. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights works on the commitment to democracy and human rights and plays a particular role in monitoring elections. Other offices deal with freedom of the media, national minorities and conflict prevention. That is not a comprehensive list.

Important work is done in field missions, which are located in what is a roll call of areas of concern to this country and our European partners. The tasks undertaken include the training of police, judiciary and border control staff.

The OSCE’s website tells me that it employs 550 people in the various institutions and 2,330 in the field operations. The 2013 budget is nearly €145 million, of which the UK pays 9.3%. Excluding expenditure on field missions, the EU member states together contribute some 70%. I suggest that the organisation has a potentially important role, which I accept is made more difficult by the need for consensus and the fact that decisions, even if taken, are binding only politically and not legally. It is against that background that I formally ask the Question on the Order Paper this afternoon.

At the ministerial council in December 2012, the then chairman in office, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, said:

“I am delighted that we have agreed to launch the Helsinki+40 process, setting out a clear path from now until 2015 for work which will significantly strengthen the Organization”.

The ministerial decision issued by the organisation, in language rather more opaque than that, welcomed,

“the initiative to launch the ‘Helsinki+40’ process as an inclusive effort by all participating States to provide strong and continuous political impetus to advancing work towards a security community, and further strengthening our co-operation in the OSCE on the way towards 2015”.

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In that decision, forthcoming chairmanships were tasked with,

“establishing an open-ended informal Helsinki+40 Working Group at the level of … participating states”.

It requested,

“the current and incoming members of the Troika”—

the past, present and immediate future chairmen—

“and forthcoming Chairmanships”,

which means Ukraine, Ireland, Switzerland and Serbia,

“to propose the agenda of meetings of the …Working Group”.

It tasked the forthcoming chairmanships and the Secretary-General,

“to regularly take stock of progress made under the Helsinki+40 process, and report to the participating States twice a year, before the summer recess”—

I presume a report was made before the summer recess—

“and before the meeting of the … Ministerial Council”,

which will be in Kiev in December.

The enthusiasm for the whole process was shared by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, who said:

“A key outcome was agreement on a new initiative designed to inject a fresh dynamic into the OSCE as we approach the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act”.

Indeed, the American Permanent Representative, speaking to a working group meeting, said that,

“it is essential that civil society has a voice and prominent role in Helsinki+40 discussions”.

I ask Her Majesty’s Government what has been achieved in the light of that ambitious decision. What are the goals that Her Majesty’s Government are hoping to achieve within the process? What indicatives are they supporting in connection with reform of OSCE? What initiatives have been put forward by others? What initiatives are we taking as the UK within OSCE to try to resolve some of the outstanding so-called frozen conflicts? I cite Moldova/Transnistria, which according to the December ministerial council was a priority, Nagorno-Karabakh and the issues in Georgia.

What is our vision for the scope and role of OSCE? We welcomed Mongolia as a participating state in the past 12 months, but do we as the United Kingdom have a view about which other states might become participating states? What about Afghanistan and Pakistan? I do not expect an answer from my noble friend this afternoon, merely an assurance that issues about expansion are being considered—and not on a purely ad hoc basis.

In discussions about OSCE at Helsinki +40, do Her Majesty’s Government see a role for the Parliamentary Assembly? Do they agree that greater involvement for the Parliamentary Assembly would assist in supporting participating states in raising awareness of OSCE’s work? The Parliamentary Assembly spends considerable time on election monitoring. While in my opinion that is a valuable and important part of its work, I believe that it could have a wider political role. If Governments wanted the work of OSCE to have a higher profile, this could be a way of achieving that.

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The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, reminded me this week that at the annual meeting in July he proposed a resolution on Guantanamo Bay, which was adopted and formed part of the 2013 declaration of the Parliamentary Assembly. Since then, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has visited the camp, but strangely enough the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, as a member of a national delegation, has not been able to obtain a copy of the report—the Parliamentary Assembly apparently does not have a copy. Can the Minister tell us how the UK delegation and indeed Parliament are to be informed about such matters? Will he please look into that problem and in due course advise how the information may be obtained?

In its 2012 declaration, the Parliamentary Assembly requested that at the end of every chairmanship in office, the OSCE should submit to the Parliamentary Assembly and its national delegations a concise report of the work of the organisation in time for debate at the winter meeting in Vienna in February. This seemed a fairly modest and reasonable proposal, if only because it was included as the result of an amendment submitted by me. I ask the Minister whether the Ministerial Council expressed a view and whether it is going to happen. What is the United Kingdom view? Lastly, I am grateful to the Minister and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on behalf of the Front Bench, for tolerating, listening to and having to respond to my monologue. I am sorry there is no one else to add to it.

2.10 pm

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, certainly does not have to apologise to me or, I suspect, the Minister. Indeed, we ought to congratulate him on securing this debate. He is right—it deserves a wider turnout because this is an important subject and I am delighted that he has persisted with the debate. Whether it is a small or large number of speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, has done the subject justice in his impressive and knowledgeable speech. I am delighted that the Minister is responding, because I understand that he has a deep knowledge of international relations, particularly the sort of organisation we are speaking of today.

The only problem with the noble Lord’s speech is that it does not leave me very much to say, let alone disagree with. The case for Helsinki +40 is good and it is clear-cut, as was the case for OSCE and its predecessors by name some four decades ago. My party has supported OSCE whether in government or in opposition, both as a forum for high-level political dialogue on security issues and as a platform for practical—and that is an important word—work to improve lives and communities. We believe as OSCE does, that the three dimensions of security, namely politico-military, economic and environmental and, thirdly, human, differences can be bridged and trust can be built through co-operation. From the Helsinki Final Act in 1975 to today is not only a long period in history, but it is obviously a time that has seen fundamental changes to Europe. The creation of CSCE served an important role, as I understand it, during the Cold War, and in 1994 it became OSCE. Now, nearly 20 years later, we believe it continues to play a significant role in today’s very different but still very difficult world.

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I am delighted the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, mentioned the figures. It is impressive that of the roughly 2,700 staff, 2,100 or more are actually involved in field operations in south-east Europe, eastern Europe, the south Caucasus and central Asia. I would argue that it is this practical, on-the-ground work that is so crucial, whether it be observing elections, which is important in itself; restoring trust among communities post-conflict; or initiatives to support law enforcement and the rule of law, whether minority rights or legislative reform; or dealing with those protracted conflicts that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, talked about a few minutes ago. All of it helps in building trust and working towards, in the words of the framework document,

“a free, democratic, common and indivisible Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security community”.

We are a little way from that, I must confess, even in my most optimistic moments. We must not hide our eyes from the obvious tensions and disagreements, even disagreements about the role of the OSCE itself. It is hardly surprising in a body with 57 participating nations, all of which have their self-interest as well as a common interest. Looking at some of the comments made by Foreign Ministers at the Dublin ministerial, one gets a sense of that. Foreign Minister Lavrov complained about three-quarters of the activity concentrating on the human dimension and the emphasis, as he saw it, of all operations and projects in the Balkans and the territories of the former Soviet Union.

However, it is important to listen to the words of our colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, in her role as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who wrote on the same occasion:

“The OSCE should continue to play an important role in Europe’s security architecture based on its comprehensive security concept and the principles and commitments enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris. It should continue making best use of its field operations and autonomous institutions, which provide support to the participating States in putting their commitments into practice. These are valuable assets which no other security Organization possesses … After almost 40 years as an Organization, it would be worth looking at how to further enhance the efficiency of the OSCE, including its budgetary processes”.

We agree. That seems to be the real rationale for Helsinki +40, and we continue to support it.

I have two questions for the Minister. When we were in government, the UK provided up to 10% of observers to all OSCE election observation missions on an ad hoc basis. Is that still happening under the present Government; is their policy still to provide up to 10%? The second question comes back to something that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, talked about. It is about parliamentarians, and Afghanistan in particular. The Lithuanian rapporteur’s report prepared for the OSCE Parliamentary Association’s annual session in June and July this year for the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security included a section on challenges facing the organisation in the wake of the ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan next year. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s view of the role that the OSCE, particularly parliamentarians, might play in the next two years in Afghanistan where, as the Committee knows, elections are due in both 2014 and 2015? What

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role might the OSCE itself play in wider security issues? I would be grateful if the noble Lord could answer, if not today, in due course. I look forward to his reply.

2.18 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, very much for his insistence on having this debate. Like him, I am very disappointed that we have so few participants in it. The OSCE is an important organisation with an interesting history and which links the countries of the European Union, the United States and Canada to all the countries of the former Soviet Union. As such, it provides an opportunity for dialogue among Members of Parliament and Governments in those various countries across a range of issues, which we value.

We are all old enough to have been in at the beginning. I remember the negotiations in Helsinki in 1972 to 1974, which led to the final act of what became the conference on security and co-operation in Europe. The co-operation baskets which were negotiated were in effect a trade-off between an emphasis on security and arms control, confidence-building measures and the economic co-operation which the Soviet Union, as it then was, very much hoped for, including in particular a degree of technological transfer, and the human rights basket which the West wanted in return.

As a lot of us well remember, that led to the establishment of Helsinki groups in a number of eastern European countries. In the 1980s, when I was the British secretary of the UK-Soviet round table it certainly led to some very interesting conversations, in which our Soviet counterparts recognised that if they wanted to be accepted as a European country there were European standards, as expressed in the Helsinki Final Act, to which they had to pay some attention. That is still there in the background of what has become the post-Cold War OSCE. All the countries which emerged from the Soviet Union are of course members of the OSCE, some more enthusiastic than others.

With my London School of Economics hat on, the last time I was involved in the OSCE was in helping to train Kazakh officials in 2008-09 to become part of the presidency of the OSCE. I must say that they started off with slightly overambitious thoughts about how important the OSCE would be as an international organisation. However, we all recognise that it remains a useful organisation, although a very difficult one to work within, because it operates by consensus. That means that we move at the pace of the slowest or most awkward partner, and I think we all understand who the most awkward partner can very often be.

The agenda contains different emphases, including economic co-operation, which also now includes environmental and energy co-operation. These are not easy subjects when we are dealing with one of the world’s largest oil and gas exporters as a member of the OSCE. The whole question of conventional arms reduction across the area covered, which has proved more and more difficult, includes confidence-building measures, in which we are supposed to observe each other’s manoeuvres and inform each other in advance of major troop movements. Then of course there is the human rights dimension, with the OSCE special

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representative for the media, and that extremely valuable agency of the OSCE, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

We value those and we value the field missions that the OSCE has had and continues to have in a number of countries. We may regret that the office in Georgia— which I once visited—was closed in 2008, and that the Belarusians insisted on the office in Minsk being closed in 2011. We also regret that the conflicts with which the OSCE is institutionally engaged in Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are stuck and so little progress has been made. The Minsk Group continues to meet over Nagorno-Karabakh in particular. In some ways it is the most potentially dangerous of these three conflicts, with the possibility of active conflict breaking out again. Not enough progress is being made.

We continue to support the OSCE, and it is an organisation in which a certain amount of plain speaking can continue. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, also feels that the Parliamentary Assembly is an organisation in which a good deal of plain speaking can take place. In that organisation we involve parliamentarians from a number of countries that have not had very much contact with European perceptions of how democratic political systems should operate. That in itself, although no doubt sometimes rather painful and occasionally rather unproductive, is nevertheless a useful activity. As I was explaining to a group of students some time ago, a great deal of diplomacy does not lead to a definite result. Nevertheless, in many ways the conversations are productive and much of what the OSCE does outside its extremely valuable election monitoring is of that character rather than, unfortunately, producing the results that we would like to see.

The noble Lord asked a number of questions about the attitude of the British Government towards further enlargement, in particular with regard to Afghanistan. I have to admit that I am not briefed on that and I shall have to write to the noble Lord. It is an interesting question. After all, this is an organisation that has the word “Europe” in its name; it is the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The great expansion was to bring in the countries of the south Caucuses and central Asia when the Soviet Union broke up, which has been very valuable. Mongolia has come in on top of that. As the new countries of central Asia have developed—some of them rather more democratic than others, or perhaps I should say some rather less democratic than others—we have been able to engage at more levels than we would otherwise have been able to. That is not an easy thing to do but we have the standing to be able to do so. The OSCE continues to do that and in many ways it is a worthwhile activity to have Kazakhstan as chair; it did help to bring the Kazakh Government and a number of officials and parliamentarians into a wider view of their place in the world.

The noble Lord asked what role we have in mind for the Parliamentary Assembly. All international parliamentary assemblies are unavoidably talking shops but they help to exchange a large number of messages. I still treasure my memory of a bilateral meeting when a delegation from the British Parliament went to Moscow

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and we had a stand-up row with the foreign affairs committee of the Russian Parliament. I certainly felt that we were exchanging fairly vigorous messages on both sides on that occasion. All of these exchanges help, at the margin, to shift attitudes. The work that members of the Parliamentary Assembly at the OSCE and the Council of Europe do on election monitoring is extremely valuable and we support its continuation.

The noble Lord asked about the Guantanamo Bay visit and what had happened to the reports on that. Let me discover the answer and write to him. Similarly, on the question of what happened to the proposal that there should be a report from the chair at the end of the chairmanship, which sounds like a constructive proposal, I will investigate. I do not know the proportion of personnel in these various things that is provided by the British Government. I will check and perhaps write collectively to all others who have participated in this debate, so to speak.

The potential role in Afghanistan is an interesting question, which perhaps we all need to explore further as Afghanistan comes out from under the ISAF influence.

I hope that has answered many of the questions. Of course, Russia is the most important partner that we have within the OSCE, but the central Asian countries and the countries between Russia and the European Union remain of considerable importance. At present, we are struggling with the issue of whether Ukraine will sign an association agreement with the European Union at Vilnius at the end of this month. The Russian Government are extremely unhappy with the proposal that Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova should sign an association agreement with the European Union. That is very high on our current foreign policy agenda. We are struggling with the enormous problem of how to relate to Belarus, a country where an authoritarian regime has survived on playing off Russia and its western neighbours and hoping to be subsidised by both sides. We struggle to cope with the problems of the south Caucasus and to contribute to development there. We have an active interest in Azerbaijan, which, as we all know, is not one of the world’s most open or democratic countries. Indeed, the IHR concluded that the recent elections were not entirely fair, but we have substantial economic interests in that country. We also have interests in Georgia. I visited Georgia and Armenia just before the summer and got a very good impression of the semi-democratic dimensions in both countries. In Tbilisi I had lunch with opposition and government MPs and they had an extremely vigorous argument in front of me, which I thought was a good sign of how they are moving towards development. I could cover the other central Asian countries but I think we all understand the many difficulties there.

I end by saying that Her Majesty’s Government continue to value the role of the OSCE. We accept that it will continue to be limited because it is a consensus-based organisation. We recognise that the Parliamentary Assembly plays a valuable role in that and that the agencies, in particular the ODIHR, play a very valuable role. We regret that the security and conflict prevention dimension is stuck in so many ways and we wish to reinsert progress into the frozen conflicts which are so much part of the problem, but

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we continue to be committed. We are sorry that we have not raised more interest for this debate. We are extremely grateful for those Members of the British Parliament who participate in the Parliamentary Assembly and we look forward to further reports from them and further questions and calls for debates to keep us all interested.

2.31 pm

Sitting suspended.

Commencement Orders

Question for Short Debate

3 pm

Asked by Lord Norton of Louth

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to reform the use of commencement orders.

Lord Norton of Louth (Con): My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to raise this Question and I am delighted that my noble friends Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville and Lord Cormack are contributing.

Commencement orders may seem a dry and obscure subject—one little understood by the public or indeed by Members. When I mentioned to a colleague that I had this Question for Short Debate, I had to explain what commencement orders were. However, they are extremely important, and the fact that they are little understood is a major problem, bearing on public confidence in the political system. Commencement orders are essentially what stand between what Parliament has said can be the law and what is the law.

Unless an Act states otherwise, it takes effect upon Royal Assent. However, it is common to provide for provisions to take effect on dates stipulated by Ministers. Were provisions of Acts of Parliament brought into effect as a matter of course relatively soon after Royal Assent, allowing time for whatever administrative arrangements needed to be made, there would not be a problem. However, that is not what happens. There is a plethora of legislative provisions—agreed by Parliament and embodied in Acts of Parliament—which have never been brought into effect. These provisions are substantial, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The Easter Act 1928 is frequently offered as an example of an Act that was never brought into force. However, there are modern-day equivalents. The statute book is littered with substantial parts of Acts which have never been given effect.

Some noble Lords have tabled Questions to the Government to find out how extensive this practice is of not bringing legislation into force. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, in June 2010, asked which sections of, or schedules to, Acts passed since 1997 had not been commenced. On my count, the list encompassed no fewer than 147 Acts of Parliament that had sections or schedules that had never been commenced—147 Acts since 1997. They include one Act that is unimplemented in its entirety. The Acts were not minor pieces of legislation, with just one section or schedule unimplemented, although there were a number of those. They included

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major pieces of legislation with several sections or schedules unimplemented. One Act, for example, had, on my count, 45 sections and seven schedules unimplemented wholly or in part.

For Parliament to pass legislation that is not then given effect is an inefficient use of Parliament’s time—indeed, a waste of time. We spend time discussing the merits of provisions that we expect to become law but which then simply lay on the face of the Act without being brought into effect. Perhaps more importantly, it confuses the public. People think that when Parliament passes an Act the Act is then law and takes effect. They do not realise that its provisions may not take effect until an order is made to bring them into effect and that Ministers may not actually make such orders.

Some provisions are not commenced until the necessary administrative work is completed. I understand that. I know that there are now common commencement dates and departments are expected to comply with those. However, the Government may need to consider how they explain to those affected by a measure the reasons for any delay in giving effect to their provisions.

However, my principal concern is with legislative provisions never given effect at all. I should be interested to hear from my noble friend the justification for government not giving effect to that which Parliament has passed and how he would explain that to the public.

I appreciate that the responsibility for the current situation rests as much with Parliament as with government. The two Houses approve Bills that give power to Ministers to make orders to bring particular provisions into effect. We discuss the substantive provisions of Bills, but rarely give much attention, if any at all, to the supplementary provisions. We see the headings under the supplementary provisions—commencement, transitional provision, extent and Short Title—and tend to see them as standard provisions requiring little consideration. By that stage, Members tend to think that their work is done.

There is a case for Parliament to be more vigilant in future in checking such provisions and perhaps limiting their scope. Why allow Ministers an open-ended power to bring provisions of an Act into effect? Why not be more prescriptive or set a time period within which such orders may be made? My comments are addressed as much to colleagues in the House as they are to the Government. I wanted to get them on the record as a basis for pursuing the issue.

This is not the first time that I have addressed the issue. I chaired the Commission to Strengthen Parliament, which was set up by William Hague as Leader of the Opposition in 1999 and reported in 2000. My noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville was a member of the commission. We included commencement orders in our remit, and in our section on legislative scrutiny we concluded:

“Finally, we wish to see one particular change to existing practice. The commencement clauses normally give power for the Secretary of State to bring provisions in on dates set by the minister. Parliament could, of course, ensure that commencement clauses do not provide excessive latitude. We think there is a case for a more systematic constraint. In the Parliamentary Government Bill that he introduced in 1999, Lord Cranborne included a clause to provide that any provision of an enactment which is not commenced within five years of the passing of the Act shall cease

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to have effect. We find the argument for such a provision persuasive. We therefore recommend that there be a statutory provision that any sections of an Act which are not brought into effect within five years of Royal Assent shall cease to have effect”.

In other words, provisions of Acts that have not been brought into effect will be repealed. That will tidy up, and indeed shorten, the statute book. Introducing such a provision would also have a salutary effect on Ministers.

William Hague said that the report of the commission would be a road map for a future Conservative Government. Perhaps my noble friend will confirm that the Government have not lost their sense of direction and will now address the issue. In particular, it will be helpful if my noble friend will put on the record the Government’s position on commencement orders and what they will be doing to ensure that in future the statute book is not littered with provisions that occupy the confusing position of being law but not law.

3.07 pm

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville (Con): My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth in speaking to his admirable choice of subject for this short debate and to congratulate him on the speech with which he introduced it.

He has described our mutual participation in the Commission to Strengthen Parliament. It was set up in 1999 by the then Leader of the Conservative Party, my right honourable friend the present Foreign Secretary. It was chaired with characteristic scholarship by my noble friend, who was already in the Lords by that time. It contained three other former Conservative MPs, of whom two were by then Members of your Lordships’ House, the third being Matthew Parris, as well as a distinguished woman Oxford academic to counterbalance my noble friend, and finally me, as the only sitting MP.

By a remarkable coincidence, which occurred while I was sorting out books at home over the past fortnight, I came across our final report, which I had not seen for years—my library policy is one of accumulation rather than specific acquisition or ambition. I immediately rescued it from any potential cull, particularly one made by my wife. By a further remarkable coincidence, I received a letter from my noble friend drawing my attention to this debate and reminding me that our report had included the recommendation which underlies this debate and which he has just quoted. I have to confess that I had forgotten the recommendation. Since this debate may become a modest quarry for future students of the subject, I remark that that recommendation appears on page 43 of our report. It is the last major paragraph in a section headed, “Legislative Scrutiny”, and on page 63 it is the final item in a list of seven recommendations entitled “Legislative Scrutiny: Primary Legislation”. Its provenance was in the text of a Bill introduced also in 1999 by Viscount Cranborne, from whom we had taken oral evidence. His Bill was entitled Parliamentary Government.

On rereading our report this week, I was agreeably surprised by its universal good sense and also by how many of the issues that we raised have been taken up since. Nor am I in any way receding from the particular recommendation that we are debating. Its text runs, as

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my noble friend has demonstrated, to less than 150 words, so there is no great substance to disembowel, and it possesses a logic that invites agreement without provoking disagreement. The five years that we allocated as the fallow period during which the sections of an Act could survive untrammelled following Royal Assent without commencement orders have the additional virtue of being at a sufficient distance in time from Royal Assent for everyone to have forgotten who the Minister was who had fruitlessly introduced these now lapsed and neglected propositions and invited parliamentarians to use parliamentary time to dissect them. Moreover, those five years were a good test of any continuing relevance or any circumstance that made the sections less relevant after all. In a world where parliamentarians and commentators regret the sheer amount of legislation passed, their removal from availability as law may be a salutary prophylactic.

Of course, it is not as easy as that. There is a school of thought that does not want to throw anything out of Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, but parliamentarians have never hesitated to set limits for local authorities to monitor the duration of planning permissions being granted before the permission lapses, and these constraints are a notable stimulus to timely action. Overall, there would be a bonus in parliamentary time saved and intelligent scrutiny and courage.

As ever, I have been helped and my horizons extended by the excellent briefing provided by our Library. In this instance I particularly enjoyed the guidance for co-ordinators and policymakers and appreciated the statistics on Acts passed, especially when reinforced by subjects. The statistics show the volume of Acts passed in given calendar years and the subject breakdown in sessional years, which makes comparison less than totally accurate, but over a period of 30 years that prevents false or distorted impressions. My own computation was that over the period from 1983 to 2012 almost exactly 20% have been devoted to constitutional Acts and those embracing criminal justice.

Finally, there is a moral to be derived from the coincidence of the debates today in which my noble friend Lord Cormack is taking part. Here in the Moses Room, 50 of us have been given 60 minutes on a narrow but important issue, while elsewhere 30 Peers are going to be debating the monumental Magna Carta over 90 minutes and Back-Benchers will have 60% of the time that is allocated to us here to debate that massive subject. Of course it concentrates the mind and of course there is no way to adjust the imbalance but it does cast a searchlight on securing productive returns from the parliamentary time that we invest.

3.13 pm

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, it is both a pleasure and an honour to follow my two noble friends. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth has performed many signal services to our parliamentary democracy in this country and his introducing this subject today with such concise and crisp logic was but another example of the services that he has rendered. Of course, my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville has also been a marvellous public servant who has

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done so much to enhance the reputation of Parliament, which is more than can be said for many Ministers over the time that he served.

I was provoked into taking part in this debate by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth and I was delighted to respond to that provocation. We devote an enormous amount of time in the two Houses to debating legislation. Frequently, the cry goes up from your Lordships’ House that ill digested, ill considered legislation has been placed before us, whole chunks of which have never been debated, or have been debated only very briefly, in the House of Commons. That is bad enough.

Another thing that we complain about, as I did on many occasions in another place, is the number of Henry VIII clauses, as they are called, which give almost untrammelled powers to Ministers to do things within the general purview and ambit of the Act. I deplore both those things. Of course, when we are then brought up sharp by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, as we were by the commission that he chaired all those years ago, and have it pointed out to us that many of the Acts over which we slave and to which we devote many parliamentary hours, either never come into force at all or whole chunks of them never come into force, we face what is no less than a parliamentary scandal. It is incumbent on us to address this subject at last with some vigorous action.

I entirely endorse the clinching recommendation based on the Marquess of Salisbury’s Private Member’s Bill, but I would go further than that and make one or two suggestions to your Lordships this afternoon. No Bill or Act should be introduced or passed by Parliament unless it is the specific and stated intention of the Government of the day to bring it into force within the lifetime of the Parliament in which it is passed. If any law passed by Parliament has not been brought into force by the end of that Parliament, it should disappear from the statute books. That is a sharpening- up of what I would call the Salisbury/Norton recommendation and something that the Government should take exceptionally seriously.

I am also a great believer in the efficacy of Joint Committees of both Houses and I think that there should be a Joint Committee of both Houses on commencement orders. We talk often about the necessity for pre-legislative scrutiny; we talk about the desirability of post-legislative scrutiny; but we have not, as far as I remember, talked in any detail on the Floor of either Chamber in the 43 years that I have been here about commencement orders. If we had a Joint Committee of both Houses, which had as its remit the constant examination of this subject, surely it could only sharpen the minds of Ministers and make them consider: is this law truly necessary?

We pass far too many laws in this country. The extent to which the statute books have been increased during the time I have been a Member of one House or another is, frankly, horrifying. We should be concentrating our minds on trying to improve the quality of legislation, and the first question before introducing any Bill in either House should be: is this necessary and will it improve things? If the answer to both those questions is in the affirmative, it is indeed incumbent on those who have the ultimate control to ensure that the law in question comes into force.

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At the root of all this is the whole question of the balance between the legislature and the Executive. I am often minded to quote Dunning’s famous Motion in 1780 that,

“the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished”,

and apply it to the present moment—whether it is a Government of my party, a coalition Government or a Government of the noble Baroness’s party—and say that the power of the Executive has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. One way we could diminish that is to ensure that ministerial minds are more concentrated on the need for the legislation that they place before us.

When he was talking about the report produced by the commission of which he was such a distinguished chairman, my noble friend Lord Norton said that our right honourable friend William Hague, who was then the leader of the party, defined it as being a road map. Being Foreign Secretary, Mr Hague knows all about maps now, and I hope that the present leadership of the Government will recognise that this was indeed a road map and that it is about time that it was looked at again and that its suggestions or refinements, such as I have put before your Lordships this afternoon, are thought about seriously and, much more importantly, implemented.

3.20 pm

Lord Skelmersdale (Con): My Lords, there is very rarely an opportunity in a debate such as this for someone to leap into the gap but I am afraid that I am going to sin this afternoon.

I was absolutely horrified by the figures given by my noble friend Lord Norton of 147 Bills since 1977 not being enacted in full and one not implemented at all, and I wondered if there were some very good reasons for this. The first that occurred to me was that Bills that are not fully enacted or commenced straightaway might well suffer from a change of government, with the new Government not wanting a particular section to become law. The other thing that occurs to me is that it may well be a parliamentary accident that a Private Member’s Bill is not enacted at all or is enacted only in part.

Some 20 years ago, as Under-Secretary of State in the Department of the Environment, I had responsibility for defending at Question Time the fact that a particular section of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 had not been brought into effect. I have not looked up what I said on that occasion nor to what extent I was criticised by Members of your Lordships’ House, but subsequent to that I became involved in the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, on which I served for nine years. That also prompted me to look at this particular subject and at statutory instruments in general, not least the terms in which they were couched.

I had always understood that the right body to look at Acts of Parliament and the current state of the statute book was the Law Society, which does such an amazing job at doing just that. The trouble with my noble friend Lord Norton’s proposal is that it would have to be done within departments. Civil servants are naturally cautious about changing what

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they or their colleagues have drafted with such immaculate care so I do not think that this is a job for civil servants, even in the Cabinet Office. I would leave it to the Law Society with the proviso that the Government then act thereupon.

3.23 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for this interesting short debate about the statute book, which is indeed littered with legislation that has never been commenced. I was delighted to learn—for the first time, to my shame—of the important commission and the forthcoming report.

I think that this commission was set up by the Conservative Party but this is very much a non-political point and I would probably sign up to everything in the report—I do not know but I will certainly take a closer look now. As has been noted, Governments of all persuasions are equally culpable. It is an issue that I have thought about in the past in relation to our citizens’ trust and the relationship that we have with them because in Parliament we quite rightly spend a lot of time debating legislation and sometimes we incite the interest and concern of the public. The public know about these things going through Parliament and, understandably, they automatically assume that the Acts will be implemented but, as has been pointed out, far too many of them are not. Were the public to know this, they would be deeply concerned. This is one of the many things that we have to do in order to restore confidence with the public.

Interesting things have been said about the time that we as parliamentarians take in scrutinising legislation and, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, there is a contrast between what we are doing here today—having a very leisurely, enjoyable debate—and what is happening in the Chamber, and we really have to do something about that. Interestingly, someone told me that they overheard a colleague in the other place talking about a part of a piece of legislation that had not been implemented. It was said that this particular section of the legislation was introduced via an amendment in your Lordships’ House and the person down the other end of the Corridor was heard to say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter because they won’t implement it anyway”. That is an interesting view of what can happen and we really must do something about it.

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, suggested that there should be a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at the issue, which is potentially interesting, but I happen to think that there are two ways forward: first, if every piece of legislation, especially every constitutional piece of legislation, was subject to proper pre-legislative scrutiny, that should obviate the need for that sort of committee; secondly, noble Lords may recall that the Leader’s Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, who is not in his place today, recommended that there should be a committee on standards in legislation. If that sort of committee were to come into force, it could deal with some of these issues.

As I said, I probably would sign up to many of the recommendations of the report that has been mentioned and I think I would personally favour the

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recommendation made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that today. But I would like to take this slightly further. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, mentioned statutory instruments and spoke of his experience on what used to be called the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Of course, I well understand that not every statutory instrument deals with enactment or commencement orders but, having looked at the tables that were helpfully produced by the Library, they clearly demonstrate not only that there are far too many SIs but that they have become much more complex over the years. For example, in 1975 there were 1,340 SIs, which amounted to only 8,379 pages, whereas in 2009 there were slightly more SIs—1,420—but there were 11,414 pages. They have become a lot more complex and Governments of all persuasions these days are relying far too much on statutory instruments as a consequence of framework legislation.

I go back to the need that is clearly demonstrated so often for pre-legislative scrutiny and well drafted legislation that knows what it is doing and why it is there. There is much to be done in improving our system of government and the laws that come before us. We also have a duty as parliamentarians to ensure that the structures and systems that we follow are more effective in ensuring that we really can deliver what citizens think we are delivering and, therefore, regain their trust.

3.29 pm

Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate. I am particularly conscious of his long-standing interest in this issue and his experience in matters of constitutional law and practice. I am aware of the work he undertook for the commission for the Conservative Party. If I may say so, I was conscious that, should we achieve government, we should adhere to many aspects of that piece of work.

I also remark on the long and formidable experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and my noble friends Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, Lord Cormack and Lord Skelmersdale. It is a daunting prospect to reply when your Lordships have the experience that you all have, but I am glad your Lordships were all, if I may use the word, provoked to speak in this debate. I hope that it is helpful to set out the Government’s current policy and practice on the use of commencement orders.

The Government undoubtedly have responsibility for the maintenance of the statute book. I agree with noble Lords that it is not in principle desirable for there to be parts of enacted legislation on the statute book which remain uncommenced for long periods. In briefing myself on the debate, I became aware of the Easter Act—I must say that I was not before—which is of very long standing. I agree with the noble Baroness that that would undoubtedly cause confusion, indeed, probably bewilderment, among the public if they were to hear about that.

Again from study, I am conscious of the amount of legislation. I should say that in a different life, I have been a strong supporter of less legislation rather than more, and of higher quality legislation. My noble

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friend Lord Cormack was rightly strong on that point. Given the amount of legislation we have, actually a very small proportion of it is not brought into force within, at most, two to three years of it being passed, although I in no way downgrade the point made by my noble friend Lord Norton.

It has been a long-standing practice of all Governments to treat commencement of legislation on a case-by-case basis. Noble Lords will have seen a wide range of provisions relating to the commencement of legislation in their scrutiny of Bills. That reflects the fact that it is usually necessary to provide a certain amount of notice to those affected by the legislation before it takes effect and that the notice period required will depend on the nature and complexity of the Act concerned. I understand my noble friend Lord Cormack’s proposal about the end of a Parliament. The problem would be that in the last part of the Parliament, it would be particularly difficult to transact any sort of legislative programme.

Lord Cormack: That is very good.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: That might bear out some of my earlier comments, but I believe that the truth is that all Governments seek to have legislation that is in the public interest, so there is a problem with my noble friend’s proposal, albeit that it is well meaning.

Sometimes, where legislation is relatively limited in effect or otherwise straightforward, it is possible for that notice period to be stated in the Act. A two-month period is often regarded as the minimum, but sometimes it may be appropriate for Acts to take effect immediately. Commencement orders are used to provide the Government with a degree of flexibility in the timing of implementation; I think that my noble friend Lord Norton agreed with that. That may be necessary to allow time for the establishment of new organisations, for industry to adjust to any new regulatory requirements or for consultation on the detail of implementation, which is often undertaken via secondary legislation—I am conscious of what my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale said about statutory instruments. Sometimes, a commencement order may be required to commence different parts of an Act on different days or for the Act to apply first in specific areas or to specific people or situations. It is also sensible for Ministers to retain the ability to ensure that everyone is fully prepared for implementation before legislation is brought into force.

It would perhaps be unduly restrictive or possibly counterproductive for Ministers to be held to an arbitrary time period fixed in the original legislation. This would not allow Ministers to take into account any changes in circumstance which might quite reasonably delay implementation. Conversely, it would not be wise to risk legislation being lost on account of a failure to agree the details of implementation by a specified time period. This is the potential consequence of certain sorts of sunset provision.

I accept entirely that in the vast majority of cases one should expect legislation to be fully brought into force within a year or two of Royal Assent. However, there may be exceptional circumstances in which it may not be possible to make progress within that timescale, but it is none the less desirable to keep open the possibility of implementation at a future date. However, that is not to say that sunset clauses should

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never be used; on the contrary, they may well be justified, but perhaps act to provide a degree of certainty to businesses that new regulations will not be introduced once a period of time has expired, or as a legislative backstop to be used if required.

I was particularly struck by the Electronic Communications Act 2000, which contained a statutory regulatory scheme that would be brought in if self-regulation by industry failed. The statutory scheme was subject to a five-year sunset clause if it was not needed. In the event, self-regulation worked and the provisions were accordingly repealed. I think that is a good example of what all of your Lordships are seeking. My point is that the desirability or otherwise of a sunset clause of this nature should be considered on its merits and on a case-by-case basis. In seeking to answer directly the question posed by my noble friend, I hope I will not shock your Lordships by saying that the Government do not have precise plans to reform the use of commencement orders. But if my noble friend is making the case that very careful consideration should be given to the use of commencement orders and to sunset clauses, I entirely agree and that is what the Government seek to do. I think it is, in good faith, what all Governments should seek and have sought to do.

I now turn to some of the additional ways in which the concerns expressed by your Lordships could be addressed. First, the Government believe that post-legislative scrutiny, which my noble friend Lord Cormack referred to, has a very important part to play in ensuring that the statute book is kept under review and up to date. For the benefit of Parliament and others, the Government publish a post-legislative assessment of every Act between three and five years after enactment. These assessments include an explanation for any provisions that have not been commenced. Indeed, your Lordships are already contributing to this scrutiny process. In the previous Session, the Select Committee on Adoption Legislation examined previous and forthcoming legislation on this subject. There are currently two committees of your Lordships’ House undertaking post-legislative scrutiny in respect of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the Inquiries Act 2005. Departmental Select Committees in the other place carry out similar inquiries from time to time, particularly in respect of Acts that have not been implemented fully or satisfactorily, so I believe that this scrutiny is entirely welcome.

Secondly, there is the work of the Law Commission—I am not sure whether my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale meant the Law Commission rather than the Law Society.

Lord Skelmersdale: I did.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: The work of the Law Commission is extremely valuable. It undertakes periodic reviews of particular areas of legislation and does the detailed preparatory work on what we know as Statute Law (Repeals) Bills. These are valuable, if somewhat unsung, exercises which help to tidy up the statute book, by repealing unnecessary and uncommenced legislation. Noble Lords may recall one such Act, the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 2013, which received Royal Assent recently.

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I hope, but I am not sure, that all noble Lords are aware of the good law project that is currently being led by the Cabinet Office, in particular by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. It is designed to improve the quality of legislation by identifying ways to further improve its drafting and reduce complexity. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness: I have looked at some legislation and found it extremely difficult to understand. To reduce that complexity and make the law more accessible must be a good principle to hold. Among other things, the project is also considering how the law in both printed and digital form can be made more easily understood; for example, it may be possible to examine how information about whether provisions are in force is presented to online users of legislation. Although I am very conscious that many do not use online facilities, I think it is increasingly the case that many do. We should try to facilitate that.

I should have said at the outset that all suggestions from your Lordships are welcome in this project. This is a project of good will and it is in good faith that many of the points that your Lordships made today are understood. We need to find a resolution to how we can best ensure the quality to which my noble friend Lord Cormack referred. The quality of the statute book is important to us all, because we are its creators. If we are not happy with our work, we have not done particularly good work.

This has been an illuminating debate and briefing, and seeking to answer it has certainly been illuminating for me. I believe that your Lordships and my noble friend are right to hold the Government to account to maintain the statute book properly and uphold good legislative practice. I have mentioned post-legislative scrutiny, and I believe that pre-legislative scrutiny is a desirable thing as well. I expect that it is the case that all Governments have had moments—I freely admit it—when pre-legislative scrutiny would have been extremely desirable. I suspect that it is a note of caution to all Governments that pre-legislative scrutiny is a sound thing to do.

I have taken on all the comments made by your Lordships. I freely admit that it is daunting to be up before your Lordships’ great experience, but my role is to pass on the comments that have been made today. I will make sure that the good law project officials have a copy of Hansard, so that all the points that have been made can be reinforced. They are all good points, and they are all soundly based. I am grateful to all of your Lordships.

3.42 pm

Sitting suspended.

Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan

Question for Short Debate

4 pm

Asked by Baroness Cox

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the situation in Sudan, and the implications for citizens of the Republic of South Sudan.

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Baroness Cox (CB): My Lords, I am very grateful to every noble Lord contributing to the debate as the grave situation in Sudan and South Sudan is largely off the radar screen of the media and a forgotten crisis.

The republic of Sudan is still in the grip of President al-Bashir, who continues to perpetrate crimes for which he was indicted by the International Criminal Court. He has declared his intention to turn Sudan into a “unified, Arabic, Islamic nation” and is putting it into practice with an attempted ethnic and religious cleansing of the predominantly African peoples in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile state.

I have visited these states and seen the horrendous suffering inflicted by ruthless aerial bombardment and attacks by long-range missiles on civilians and targets such as schools, clinics and markets. Half a million civilians are hiding in caves with deadly snakes, in river banks or under trees. A quarter of a million have fled into exile in overcrowded camps in South Sudan or Ethiopia. With constant aerial bombardment, people cannot plant or harvest crops and are scavenging for roots and leaves—anything to quell the pangs of hunger. Many hundreds have died of starvation or malnutrition-related illnesses.

We visited a village in Blue Nile state where 450 people had already died of starvation. The remnant had fled their homes because they had been bombed recently. We saw the fresh bomb craters. We followed the sound of voices and found survivors hiding under the trees.

My small NGO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, works with courageous partners who risk their lives to take life-saving aid to victims of oppression trapped behind closed borders. We managed to raise funds for food aid in Blue Nile and the money reached these people, enabling them to survive. Poignantly grateful, they said that they now had food and would not have to flee into exile to refugee camps in South Sudan. They said:

“We prefer to stay in our own land, even if we die from bombs. Now we have food, we don't have to flee from our own homes”.

The people in these states are in desperate need of food and medical aid. SPLM-N has agreed to allow access to international aid organisations, but the regime in Khartoum continues to deny this. What more can Her Majesty’s Government do to put pressure on Khartoum to stop this genocide and allow access for life-saving food and medical supplies? How much longer will the international community allow Khartoum to continue its brutal policies with impunity?

In Khartoum itself, the Government have been ruthlessly suppressing legitimate protest and freedom of speech. Journalists have been arrested and reputable NGOs have been expelled. Therefore, brutality has gone largely unreported. More than 200 protesters were killed by security forces and, in some cases, relatives were forced to sign forged death certificates reporting that their relatives had died from natural causes instead of live munitions.

Turning briefly to the problems of Abyei, earlier this year the Ngok Dinka paramount chief was murdered by Khartoum's forces while travelling with UN officials—again with impunity. Having given up on the referendum promised by the African Union, the Ngok Dinka

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conducted their own referendum in spite of intimidation and boycott by the Khartoum Government, which attempted to bomb bridges to prevent people from returning home to vote. Despite these attempts to sabotage the referendum, it took place with an overwhelming mandate for unification with South Sudan.

The republic of South Sudan, just two years after achieving independence, faces many inevitable problems. As President Salva Kiir said at the time of the birth of a new nation, his people were not rebuilding: there had been nothing left to rebuild. Many problems need to be addressed urgently, including provision of essential services such as immunisation—a critical issue reflected in the return of polio, which had been virtually eradicated.

Of course, there have been serious and well reported problems including corruption and inefficiency. The radical changes in government were undertaken to address some of these issues. However, the situation is clearly not helped by the aggressive and subversive policies of the Government in Khartoum, including exacerbation of intertribal conflicts, especially in Jonglei region. There is evidence that Iran-made, Sudan-origin weapons and ammunition have been made available to David Yau Yau's and other insurgent forces.

Now, there are very disturbing reports of a massive Sudanese military build-up with sophisticated equipment, including strike aircraft, helicopter gunships, tanks and heavy artillery, in the southern parts of Sudan, particularly in the El Obeid complex and along the border with South Sudan, leading to fears that this is preparation for a new, large-scale dry season offensive that might escalate into a major clash with South Sudan over Abyei.

The Government of Sudan’s continuing aerial bombardment of their own people has forced a quarter of a million to flee into refugee camps in South Sudan and many thousands to flee from Abyei, where the local Ngok Dinka have been subjected to killings, torture and loss of homes and property. Thousands of those poured into Bahr el Ghazal, where they faced hunger and homelessness. Many died.

The suffering inflicted on the innocent civilians in these lands has been allowed to continue for far too long. Again and again, I and many others have urged Her Majesty’s Government to initiate action to end the impunity with which al-Bashir and his Government continue to kill their own people. Again and again, we receive the same answer: “We must continue to talk to Khartoum”. But Khartoum continues to kill while it talks, and has been doing so for more than 20 years. Alternatively, we are told that it is for the UN to act, in the knowledge that it will be highly improbable to attain consensus to do anything effective. This is not good enough. The UK has a special responsibility as one of the three nations mandated to support the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement.

Therefore, I ask the Minister—again—if Her Majesty’s Government will consider the imposition of targeted sanctions on the Government of Sudan, such as denial of visas, which would at least end the culture of impunity. People in Sudan and South Sudan frequently say to me: “The British Government intervened in Libya, where the suffering was nowhere on the same scale as here. Why do they not intervene to help us? Is

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it because we are black and African?”. They fear we are being racist. Can the Minister advise me on how to answer my Sudanese friends?

I hope that the Minister is not going to imply moral equivalence between the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan. We all recognise the widely reported fallibilities of the leaders of South Sudan. But the Government of South Sudan do not attack and kill their own people, whereas the Government of Sudan continue to engage in genocidal warfare against their own people in Darfur and the southern states.

I conclude with two requests, reflecting the passionate wishes of the citizens of Sudan and South Sudan. First, local people are pleading for the African Union or UN to send fact-finding missions to investigate and report on the situation in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, and to Khartoum to investigate human rights abuses there.

Secondly, will Her Majesty’s Government engage constructively with democratic opposition parties in Sudan? During the Cold War, western nations helped opposition groups behind the Iron Curtain, both to resist totalitarian oppression and to prepare for the day when freedom and democracy would come. There are respected opposition parties in Sudan that are working to promote human rights and develop the essentials of civil society. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider some support for democratic initiatives; for example, those promoted by the opposition movement led by Yasir Arman and Malik Agar, who have demonstrated genuine democratic political leadership? Malik Agar was the democratically elected Governor of Blue Nile State before he was ruthlessly deposed by al-Bashir. Any analysis of the writings and policies of these opposition leaders demonstrates their genuine commitment to democratic reform.

I hope that the peoples of Sudan and South Sudan who will read this debate will be reassured that, at last, Her Majesty’s Government will take a lead in calling the Government of Sudan to account and in promoting initiatives to bring justice and genuine peace to all the citizens of these two nations, who currently see the United Kingdom apparently condoning oppression instead of fulfilling our historic and contemporary obligation to call a halt to aggression, bring perpetrators to account and promote justice for all the peoples of Sudan and South Sudan.

4.08 pm

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for her commitment and dedication to the people of Sudan and South Sudan, for initiating this debate and for her excellent speech, which covered all the ground that I think we need to hear.

Ten years ago, few of us imagined we would still be discussing the suffering of the people of Sudan. Yet the misery of Darfur has once again intensified, Khartoum’s campaign of aerial bombardment and systematic ethnic cleansing has spread to Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and after last week’s referendum it is clear that the permanent residents of Abyei wish to be free of a regime that is hostile to their very existence.

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Despite all that, the international community has chosen to focus on the low-level conflict that rumbles on between Sudan and South Sudan. That has always been the intention of the Sudanese Government. They know that the world lacks the knowledge and the vigilance needed to see what Bashir is up to in Sudan. There is now no UN special representative after the departure of Robin Gwynn, and the capacity of the FCO’s Sudan unit has been diminished by the exit of staff who have not been replaced. Also, as the excellent Rosalind Marsden departs from her EU role, her replacement, Alexander Rondos, is expected to take on responsibility for the whole of the Horn of Africa. The message that all that conveys to those in power in Khartoum is that the world community is unable or unwilling to focus on Sudan while Syria and Somalia preoccupy security interest. The need for concerted international action to deal with the crisis continues, but international engagement shrinks.

For years, there have been calls for Khartoum to give unhindered humanitarian access to the starving and displaced people sheltering from the Sudanese bombing raids in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Khartoum knows that it can carry on killing its own citizens with impunity because there is absolutely no response other than media statements and ministerial condemnation. For years, we have expressed concern about Khartoum’s brutal repression of free speech, the disappearance and torture of intellectuals and the sexual abuse of thousands of young women guilty of no greater sin than wanting to go to school or to college.

Symptomatic of the failure to grasp the reality on the ground has been the dogged attempt to impose the Doha peace agreement on Darfur. Officials continue to negotiate debt relief with the very governing regime whose leaders have been indicted on counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC. Meanwhile, assistance is given to British trade missions and British links when we should be warning British companies that Sudan is rated among the worst in the world for corruption, high inflation, opaque banking and dubious overseas payment systems. In addition, DfID still channels aid through a Government run by those indicted war criminals, surely knowing that it reaches only projects and people acceptable to them.

We should be turning the tap off and challenging Khartoum on every occasion when an aid agency travel permit is withheld, an aid shipment delayed due to some fatuous new regulation, a new restriction is invented to stop humanitarian aid reaching needy people or a patrol of peacekeepers is attacked or intimidated by the regime or its proxies.

Can the Minister comment on an analysis that has suggested that our security services and Washington’s apparently count as their partners in the war on terror this regime that has such a terrible, criminal reputation? Does he agree that in view of the evidence against the current regime in Sudan, current debt relief negotiations should immediately be cancelled until such time as the regime, first, abides by its multiple promises under the CPA, and secondly, stops the aerial bombardment of its civilians and allows unfettered access for international humanitarian aid groups in areas of Sudanese aggression?

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Anything less will, tragically, guarantee that we will be debating the misery of Sudanese suffering in another 10 years.

4.13 pm

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Cox and Lady Kinnock, pointed out, Sudan is governed by an alleged war criminal charged at the International Criminal Court on five counts of crimes against humanity, two of war crimes and three of genocide. He and the Sudanese armed forces, of which he is supreme commander, continue to commit war crimes in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The Satellite Sentinel project reported last week on the repositioning of SAF military units threatening new attacks on the civilian populations of Abeyi and South Kordofan, which have been subjected to more than two years of relentless bombardment.

Might the UN ask member states with satellites that pass over the conflict areas in Sudan to make their own images and analyses available to the Security Council to reinforce the excellent work being done by the Satellite Sentinel Project?

Has my noble friend seen the Rapid Food Security and Nutrition assessment published by the Enough project on South Kordofan? It concludes that the bombardment of civilians, together with the bar on international humanitarian aid, has resulted in severe malnutrition and dire food security outlooks. The authors say that the condition of refugees from Blue Nile state indicates that the conditions there may be comparable with those in South Kordofan. These are further war crimes and the Minister may want to say something about the possibility of further indictments at the ICC.

Another group of victims in a desperate state are the 40,000 South Sudanese who were left behind in Khartoum at the time of independence three years ago. Their camp was flooded and latrines are overflowing, spreading disease to these homeless and stateless people, weakened by malnutrition. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $5.5 million for emergency shelter, healthcare, education and public health initiatives for the victims of flooding, including the South Sudanese, but for the latter it is a short-term solution only. The International Organisation for Migration has a plan to airlift 20,000 of the most vulnerable to South Sudan at a cost of $20 million. Can this plan be expanded so that the IOM repatriated all the people to their homeland with the help of donors such as the UN Central Emergency Response Fund?

Meanwhile, UNHCR is already having to cope with 220,000 refugees in South Sudan and another 40,000 in Ethiopia. Can my noble friend say what the budget for these operations in 2013 is and whether it is being met? These people were mostly bombed out of their homes in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and their plight is the direct result of Bashir’s military campaigns against civilians. Now the ground attack is being reinforced by the acquisition of Sukhoi Su-25 aircraft and Mi-24 ground attack helicopters. My noble friend says that these breaches of the UN sanctions will be dealt with by the panel of experts’ report in January 2014, but surely where there is credible evidence,

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such as we have from Radio Dubanga—a reliable witness in the past—and from the Satellite Sentinel project already mentioned, the Security Council should take prompt action to call Khartoum to account over its breaches of its international obligations.

At the same time, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights should investigate the wave of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions as proposed by 11 international and African organisations last week. At least 170 people have been killed and more than 800 detained following widespread protests against the ending of fuel subsidies. Newspapers and broadcasters have been shut down, editors have been told what they are to say about the protests and the head of the Sudanese Doctors’ Union was detained when he spoke on BBC Arabic about the number of casualties admitted to his hospital. The UN rapporteur on extrajudicial executions and the working party on arbitrary detention should collect evidence and report on those events, preferably after visiting Sudan, but in the absence of an invitation, based on witness statements collected in response to a public appeal. I know that that is not the normal method of working by UN special procedures, but their hesitant approach accounts for their lack of effectiveness in stopping these human rights abuses.

How can the international community secure an improvement in Khartoum’s behaviour? The IMF persuaded the regime to cancel fuel subsidies in an attempt to control its rocketing external debt, scheduled to reach $46 billion this year. But the US special envoy to South Sudan and Sudan, Donald Booth, said last month that Khartoum is spending the same on military operations in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile as it did on the fuel subsidies. If the IMF made the ending of these conflicts and of purchases of sophisticated foreign military equipment a condition of debt relief, there would be a double benefit to the Sudanese economy and to the hundreds of thousands of victims of Khartoum’s aggression.

4.19 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Cox for once again focusing our attention on the suffering peoples of Sudan. I begin by expressing sadness and some shock that, despite all the debates and all the attempts to create a climate for peaceful development, the suffering in that war-torn country continues unabated. My first visit to South Sudan was during the civil war, which claimed 2 million lives, and, in 2004, I went to Darfur and saw first hand a conflict which had claimed between 200,000 and 300,000 lives. While the world looked on, 90% of Darfur’s villages were razed to the ground. At the time, I published a report entitled, If This Isn’t Genocide, What Is? Throughout 2011 and 2012, I tabled questions and spoke in your Lordships’ House about the new genocide unravelling, as we have heard, in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which was described by Dr Mukesh Kapila, a former high-ranking British and United Nations official, as,

“the second genocide of the 21st century”—

Darfur being the first. Those who unleashed this torrent of unconscionable violence on their own people are undoubtedly mass murderers and fugitives from

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justice, having been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, more than 1 million are now displaced, and the perpetrators are attempting to repeat what happened in Darfur, but this time by closing borders and refusing access without witnesses.

Two years ago, Ministers told me that they were urgently seeking access to the affected areas:

“Reports of such atrocities will be investigated and, if they prove true, those responsible will need to be brought to account”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. WA 294.]

Three months later, Ministers said that,

“we continue … to seek urgent access to those most affected by the conflict”.—[

Official Report

, 9/11/11; col.

WA 66


However, we have lamentably failed to do either, failing both systematically to collect evidence from fleeing refugees and to gain access to the areas on which bombs have been raining down. I hope that the Minister will update us on both of those questions.

Yesterday I attended a briefing of the Associate Parliamentary Group for the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan, of which I am an officer, along with the noble Baronesses, Lady Kinnock and Lady Cox. What I heard did not just leave me saddened and shocked, it also left me angry.

We heard that in Darfur, where 2.3 million people are already displaced, a further 350,000 people have been displaced since January and 1.3 million people are now in temporary camps; that aerial bombardment is a regular occurrence; that there is a climate of fear and terrorisation and a rapid downward trend in security; and that the situation is getting worse. We heard that there may be another 50,000 people displaced in Adela but no one, including a UNAMID force of more than 20,000 personnel, has access, so no one really knows. For INGOs, the situation is fraught with danger following the killing of two of World Vision’s staff in July. There is now virtually no humanitarian access to areas that are not held by the Government.

Yesterday we were told that it is five years since DfID officials have been able to get beyond the state capitals in Darfur to visit projects run by NGOs. I hope that we will hear from the Minister that our commitment to Darfur and the rest of Sudan remains a priority for the UK, that DfID staff are fully informed of the situation, and that we are finally getting to grips with the fact that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said, the Doha document for peace in Darfur is on its last legs. I hope that the Minister will tell us when we last raised Darfur and the situation in South Kordofan in the Security Council. The Security Council resolutions banning military flights over Darfur are, we heard yesterday, regularly being broken and those who issue their genocidal orders do so with total impunity.

As I prepared for today’s debate, it was with a genuine sense of sadness. It is more than 10 years ago that, on the eve of a breakthrough in negotiations between the Government of Sudan and SPLA rebels, I welcomed the new atmosphere of hope, but also warned that a ceasefire would be no guarantee of democracy or justice for all. More than 10 years later, it is clear that the CPA that followed has failed to bring change, democracy, or justice to the Sudanese peoples of Sudan

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or South Sudan. That remains today a distant dream in many of those places. I also feel shock because, despite the ongoing and mounting tragedy of a further decade of war, the attention of the world appears to have turned away from the region.

It is not only Darfur and South Kordofan; consider for a moment the peoples of central and northern Sudan, who flocked to the streets in September of this year and were brutally massacred by the Government of Sudan’s security services. More than 200 protesters were shot dead. The awfulness speaks for itself. Consider also the situation in Jonglei, where it is thought that militias loyal to the Government in Khartoum have also been trying to destabilise the situation.

More than 10 years ago, I said to the House that Sudan’s modern history is littered with temporary peace agreements which were eventually broken. The CPA has been broken for the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and it has been broken for the people of Abyei. The various Darfur peace processes were flawed and have not been honoured. The eastern Sudan peace agreement does not work for the eastern Sudanese.

It is past time to think strategically. Are we prepared simply to sit back and watch protesters be killed on the streets of Khartoum, or will we get behind calls for fundamental change in Sudan? What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to help the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan? The panel is tasked with mediating Sudan’s internal conflicts and its conflict with South Sudan, but can it really have the necessary capacity required for all the immense tasks which it has been given?

Finally, I wonder if the Minister has seen the report launched by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, just two weeks ago on behalf of Aid to the Church in Need. The report details the specific persecution of Christians in many parts of the Republic of the Sudan. This is a really troubling phenomenon which is now occurring on a systematic basis. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

4.26 pm

The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I completely endorse what has been said so far in this discussion. I want to raise a rather different point, but equally I want to express my distress—and, indeed, my shared anger—about the humanitarian, agrarian and political disaster about which we have been speaking.

My rather different point is a question about the implications of further destabilisation of Sudan for the country’s international neighbours. I think that that is an important point. I visit Nigeria regularly, and I am due to fly out to Abuja on Sunday. Four years ago, I was able to go to the province of Maiduguri up in the north-east. I cannot go there now, at the moment anyway, because of the political situation. Maiduguri is a long, long way from Sudan—many miles away. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a connection.

When I was there four years ago I visited some of the townships on Lake Chad itself, and was asked by a small Christian community to go on the lake in a little fishing boat with an outboard motor. I heard of the troubles and the difficulties there—not least the difficult political jurisdictions around Lake Chad, on which I will not elaborate—and of the problem of a receding

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lake and what that will do to those communities. When I got back I was told that the relationship between the small minority Christian communities in one of those townships and the majority Muslim population was very good until people came from Sudan through Chad, over Lake Chad. Then the trouble started.

There is a real question about the escalation of ethnic and religious violence, and its spread from east Africa to west Africa. That is anecdotal, but my intuition is that it is probably right, although at the moment in relatively small scale. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, could say more about that, as she is very aware of the situation in Nigeria. I therefore ask the Minister perhaps to touch on the risk of a more general destabilisation of east and west Africa spreading from Sudan, as the situation there continues seriously to deteriorate.

4.28 pm

Lord Hussain (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate. Her hard work in that region is always appreciated by the House, and by me as well. I have had the opportunity to visit both South Sudan and Sudan in the past year or two, but what I am going to say today is largely not part of my findings or experience.

Many of us around the world thought that the conflict in Sudan would be resolved once the partition of Sudan took place and South Sudan became an independent country. Unfortunately, even after two years of South Sudan’s independence, the conflict does not seem to be coming to an end. There are many reasons for that. I am glad that the African Union is taking more interest in helping to resolve the outstanding issues between Khartoum and Juba, and the presidents of both countries have met and are talking to each other, which is a good sign. Sitting around and resolving issues by negotiation rather than by taking up arms is good.

However, today I want to concentrate on something that is not helping the population and that is the role of the new country’s armed forces, which have not yet adapted to their new role and are still acting very much like a militant organisation. According to the latest report of Human Rights Watch, dated September 2013, since December 2012 the Sudan People’s Liberation Army—the SPLA, South Sudan’s army—locked in conflict with the ethnic Murle rebels from the South Sudan Democratic Movement, has committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. SPLA soldiers have unlawfully killed at least 96 people, mostly civilians, from the Murle ethnic group during the conflict, and they have engaged in the widespread looting of homes, clinics, schools and churches. The abuses by SPLA soldiers have had a devastating and potentially long-lasting impact on this marginalised minority ethnic group from Pibor county and have caused widespread fear and displacement, contributing to a strongly held perception of persecution among the Murle civilian population.

The abuses have taken place against a background of ethnic conflict. Dinka Bor, Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic groups, all in Jonglei State, have been locked in

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a cycle of cattle-raiding attacks and increasingly brutal revenge attacks for several years. The rebellion and the SPLA counter-offensive have further aggravated pre-existing ethnic tensions in the area, which, in the case of anti-Murle sentiments, may have played into the extent of the abuses and slow government response. The potential for further grave violations and violence is very high, in part because the SPLA, an army still in transition, faces significant command, control and discipline challenges and also because ethnic tensions are so high in Jonglei, especially anti-Murle sentiment.

Inter-ethnic violence between the Lou Nuer, Dinka and Murle communities has killed thousands of people in recent years. The Government of South Sudan have failed to prevent this violence, despite frequent warnings of impending attacks, to protect civilians or to hold accountable those responsible for these attacks. In early July 2013, according to the report, thousands of Lou Nuer fighters massed and attacked Murle areas. The full extent of the attack is still not known. Murle who were displaced by the conflict and by SPLA abuses may have been especially vulnerable to the attack. Allegations of government support, including the provision of ammunition to the Lou Nuer, reported by credible sources heard by Human Rights Watch, have further deepened Murle perceptions of government persecution.

The Government’s failure meaningfully to redress the abuses by the SPLA during the disarmament paved the way for further abuses by soldiers in late 2012 and 2013. This report documents the extent of the SPLA’s violations against Murle civilians between December 2012 and July 2013, causing the majority of the Murle population to flee to remote areas of the bush, many of them believed to be cut off from access to emergency food and medical aid. Tens of thousands of Murle are now displaced and too frightened to return, including most of the civilians from all six main population areas in Pibor county, which is now little more than barracks.

SPLA soldiers approached a group of civilians in a village where men were playing a traditional board game. They demanded that the men hand over their guns. The men gave the SPLA two rifles. The SPLA then tied up the men into two groups of seven. The soldiers executed the men in one group at the site and took the men in the other group some distance away and shot them. One man who was shot in the shoulder and left for dead survived the shooting and was later found by other community members.

In conclusion, has the Foreign Secretary raised the issue with his South Sudanese counterpart and will he consider reporting South Sudan to the International Court of Justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the South Sudanese army against its own people?

4.35 pm

Lord Triesman (Lab): My Lords, in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, not least on her tenacity, and other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, I hope that they will forgive me if I wince and say, “Yet another debate on Sudan”. Those of us who have been there often will feel it the most acutely. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, used the word “anger”, to

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which I subscribe. There have been more years of conflict and more than 1 million additional people have been affected in the past two years. There are 190,000 more Sudanese refugees in South Sudan. There is further conflict and differences between different groups on political objectives, including between the herders and other farmers. There is, I suppose, conflict between settled communities and those who see very little relevance in being settled because they move with their herds and because borders are not particularly relevant to them.

Two months ago, mass demonstrations about the cost of living and the economy of the country were met by a brutal regime with live ammunition and tear gas, and with mass imprisonment. Negotiations on the safe demilitarised border zone have gone into reverse. Nothing is safe. Nothing is demilitarised. No border zone has been agreed. An African Union peace initiative, through the African Union Peace and Security Council, was twice rescheduled amid sharp African Union criticism once again of the Government of Sudan, and was not responded to by that Government. There was a rather better report on the Government of South Sudan, but none of it yet is making a difference.

It has to be said that South Sudan is both a source of and a destination country for men, women and children who have been subjected in some cases to forced labour and sex trafficking, including women and girls from Uganda, Kenya and the DRC. Inter-ethnic abductions continue but at least the South Sudanese Government have recognised the issues and are trying to intervene. The economies of South Sudan and Sudan, with their high level of interdependency, are continuously disrupted by border disputes and oil transmission fees. I understand that oil reserves are set to halve within 10 years if no new fields come on stream. Exploration of new fields is of course almost impossible amid the military clashes.

War crimes are committed with virtual impunity. There has been no action to enforce international criminal arrest warrants. A large United Nations operation, with at least 4,000 troops in Abyei and 7,500 in South Sudan, has had far too little impact. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said, instability is spreading right through the region—through the DRC, and to a lesser extent in Uganda, and the Central African Republic. Uganda’s help for South Sudan historically has been the basis for the Sudanese Government’s sponsorship of murderous groups, including the monstrous Lord’s Resistance Army and now other groups which have taken its place.

I suppose that, with a feeling of some desperation, we are tempted to ask what is new. There is little point in demanding a great deal more intervention from the UK Government, much as I would wish to. I think that the Government lack the means or the local alliances to do much, and I fear that they lack the will. Of course there will be protests and those protests are important. There will be realism about humanitarian aid. I urge the Government to find alternative routes for aid rather than those through Khartoum. That will not do any longer. Is there more that could be done? Are we destined to return to this debate again and again, to these issues with no real answers? I am one of

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life’s optimists but this would be a dismal prospect for all of us and I ask if there is new ground we could break. Let me make a modest attempt.

First, of course African issues will be resolved ultimately in Africa for the most part, and by Africans. That must make us focus on the African Union and its machinery and on the sub-continental regional bodies. The issue of capacity in those bodies is critical. It has been for years. The problem is not just money or a lack of outstanding individuals, because there are some outstanding individuals, and it is not just the presence of a mass murderer at the head of the Government of Sudan. Would the Government consider, as a European initiative, a joint EU-AU review of the financial and skills needs of the African Union, carried out routinely at intervals of not more than three years, with a report on the outcome of those discussions and an annual report on the milestones? Then we at least could see some machinery and assess whether it works.

Secondly, would the Government, through the Security Council, advance the case for a standing arrangement—I am not saying a standing force—that can call into existence a peacekeeping force much more rapidly, rather than with the delays during which many more people die? Will the Government, through our multinational treaties, alliances and membership organisations, seek the full commitment of everyone in those bodies to act on the arrest warrants in all the jurisdictions that they cover? Al-Bashir is a wanted mass murderer. Will Her Majesty’s Government introduce targeted sanctions? The response in the Chamber to a question just a few days ago was that we had talked to the Nigerians about this without any indication of what happened next—that truly will not do now. It will not do.

Thirdly, will the Government, through its aid programme in the multi-national infrastructure initiatives, look for economic developments which would make a much greater difference? There has been a wider discovery of oil far from ports and from infrastructure. Most of it would be transformational but the countries involved need to co-operate in order to make any difference. Will we assist them to make a difference and give some economic hope?

Finally, on occasions I have heard the aspiration to join the Commonwealth expressed in Juba. I do not know whether that is a workable concept—it may not be yet—but it would certainly provide skilled resources in training, including in health and in the treatment of polio. It would provide links to trade and expertise in all Commonwealth countries. It would provide local trade links, for example in Uganda, Kenya and the region, which might be fundamentally helpful in the development of South Sudan. It would provide a secretariat able to assess the capacity needs and the choreography for the provision of greater capacity; and it would tell the enemies of democracy that they face a worldwide community of democratic nations who will not let this pass.

4.43 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, it has been an impassioned debate. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for pursuing this issue as she has done so vigorously over many years, and

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I know that the work of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan also continues to do that.

The right reverend Prelate pointed out that what we see happening across the border between Sudan and South Sudan is also happening across Sudan and South Sudan’s borders with their neighbouring states. This is part of a set of regional conflicts which now sadly flow across the Sahel and central and east Africa. The Lord’s Resistance Army has just made another cross-border attack. As we know, it operates from Uganda, through South Sudan into eastern Congo. Recent events in the Central African Republic, where the Government have been overthrown, have reportedly been supported by groups from Darfur; groups in Darfur have very often obtained their weapons from Libya, Chad or the Central African Republic. Some of these groups move very easily across frontiers. We recognise that part of this is tribal, part of this is ethnic, part of this is racial, and part of this now, sadly, is also the militant Islamic ideology which attracts youths from across those countries. It brings in foreign fighters and foreign ideas of the sort that the right reverend Prelate commented on, breaking up what had been relatively peaceful relations between different communities and different faiths and raising severe problems for all of us, across Africa. I am happy that we will be debating the dreadful situation in eastern Congo in the not too distant future.

Within Sudan, neither the Government in Khartoum nor the Government in Juba control their entire territory. The Government in Khartoum have the advantage of armed forces and external arms supplies and, as we all know, are misusing them in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. There are linked conflicts across the border, with each Government claiming that the other continues to support the rebels within what they regard as their territories; and the border, as established under the comprehensive peace agreement, is not yet accepted by either side. We must recognise that the SPLM in the north refuses to recognise the borders as established.

We have heard a lot about events surrounding the demonstrations in Sudan, which Ministers have condemned both publicly and privately. We certainly want a more democratic space to open up in Sudan. We deeply regret that the Government of Sudan continue to get arms supplies from outside. We are not entirely sure which countries they are coming from, but they are clearly from the forces in what we used to call the Eastern Bloc. We have a fairly good idea where some of them come from. We meet regularly with opposition groups both within and outside the country. That includes meeting the leadership of the SPLM-North, although we do not support its stated aim of overthrowing the regime by force. We also recognise that the Sudan Revolutionary Front is itself a loose coalition of different bodies and not entirely cohesive in its operation.

I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, that we do not channel aid through the Government. We are co-operating with technical preparations for debt relief, but we have made it abundantly clear that debt relief will not be possible until the conflicts are resolved and that the benefits must flow to promoting development in Sudan.

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On Darfur, we continue to look with horror at what is happening, while increasingly understanding that some of the militias are not entirely under the control of the central Government in Khartoum. We regret that the Doha document has not in any sense been adopted and that the situation in many ways continues to deteriorate. The question of what we can do about it on our own is difficult.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about the comparison with Libya. It is much easier to enforce a no-fly zone, or even to intervene, in a country where almost the entire population lives within 50 miles of the coast than it is to enforce a no-fly zone a very long way from the coast—across the borders between South Sudan and northern Sudan—let alone over Darfur. We continue to work with others on the situation in Darfur. We continue to ask within the UN for an effective review of the not very effective UN force in Darfur.

We are doing what we can, but we recognise that it is not enough. Restrictions on access to Darfur are part of the problem. We all understand how appalling what is going on in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is. Local organisations, with support from international partners, are gathering evidence of abuses. We do not have access to those areas to gather evidence first-hand. Noble Lords will know that the two Presidents have met on a number of occasions. We hope that the recent improvement in relations between Sudan and South Sudan will help to resolve the conflict, but we all recognise that the conflict has a dynamic of its own.

Within South Sudan, there are also problems of internal conflict. The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, talked about the conflict in Jonglei, which the South Sudanese Government claim is being supported by the Khartoum Government. We have to recognise that these have aspects of ethnic conflict between tribes. I am tempted to say that some of these are cattle raiding with AK-47s. Unfortunately, with AK-47s you can kill an awful lot more people than you could with spears. There are elements there where government as such—the idea of a settled state—has not developed. In Abyei, as we all understand, the conflict between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka has elements of Cain and Abel about it. We are talking about settled tribes versus nomadic tribes. There again, once the weapons are freely available, the challenge is very clear.

On Abyei, we do not recognise the outcome of the unilateral referendum held by the Ngok Dinka community held last week. However, we understand the frustrations that led to it taking place and the extent to which external forces and pressures imposed an extra layer on what were traditional local rivalries and conflicts. Almost three years have elapsed since the referendum should have taken place simultaneously with the wider referendum for South Sudan, but we have seen, as we all know, repeated failure to move forward by honouring existing agreements.

What are the UK Government doing about that? We are no longer an imperial power within the region. We have to work with others. We are working as closely as we can with the African Union and the high-level panel. We are certainly providing the support that we feel will help in the circumstances. We are also, of course, working through and with the United Nations.

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We are doing our best to make the EU a more active player than it has been. The United Kingdom and France are pushing our EU partners to be more engaged across the whole of northern, eastern and central Africa. It is not a message that all our EU partners are yet willing to hear. The British and the French continue to be by far the most actively engaged. We have to recognise that, as people like me go round other capitals, we have to try to explain to them why our interests are engaged in some of these areas because the problem of refugee migration across the Mediterranean is not entirely disengaged from what is happening across the Sahel and elsewhere.

We wish that the Arab League was more active—the Arab League of which Sudan is a member. The Doha agreement was after all moderated by the Qataris, but we would like to see stronger Arab League involvement. We would like to see more active Chinese involvement. The Chinese have real interests at stake in the supply of oil from South Sudan through Sudan. I am told that the Chinese have now become something of a moderating influence, but I think we all understand that the Chinese Government are reluctant to get too heavily involved in outside intervention.

DfID has a major commitment to South Sudan. I have not been to Juba or Khartoum but I have talked to a number of people working in the aid field in Abyei, Darfur and Juba itself. We are working to try to build the capacities of that very new and undeveloped Government. We saw the change in the Cabinet as being a positive development, and we continue to support them in every way that we can.

The two Permanent Secretaries of DfID and the Foreign Office visited the two capitals in October, and my honourable friend Mark Simmonds is going to Juba at the end of this month, so we are and remain actively engaged. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, asked for a joint EU-AU review. That is a highly desirable development and I will take that back. As I said, we have to work hard to make sure that all our 27 partners in the EU are committed to this and we have to recognise that the AU has some severe limitations on its own capacities. Going towards a standing arrangement of a peacekeeping force may stretch the AU further than it is yet able to go.

We should recognise that there are AU forces in place—Ethiopian forces in Abyei and Ugandan forces in Somalia—and a brigade under UN auspices in eastern Congo. So a number of African countries are now quite heavily committed. They lack transport, intelligence and logistics. The Government in Juba are pretty dependent on UN helicopters for transport around the country.

Lord Triesman: I understand only too well the point that is being made about the AU. My suggestion was that the discussion should happen under the auspices of the Security Council because it is possible for other kinds of forces—for example, as we found with Scandinavian police forces in Darfur—to have a very significant role in peacekeeping.