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House of Lords

Thursday, 27 February 2014.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.

NHS: NICE-appraised Medicines


11.06 am

Asked by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the report of the NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care, Use of NICE appraised medicines in the NHS in England-2012, experimental statistics, which showed extensive variation in patients’ access to new innovative medicines.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and I refer noble Lords to my health interests.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, patients have a right to drugs and treatments that have been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence that their doctor decides are appropriate for them. There can be many reasons for variation in use but we are determined to tackle unjustified variation where it exists.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that response. Does he agree that one of the conclusions of the report is that there can be a tenfold variation in the take-up of innovative new medicines that have been approved under the NICE technology appraisal programme? Given that it is a legal requirement for clinical commissioning groups to fund those treatments, as I understand it, what sanctions can be taken against commissioning groups which do not fund those treatments? What can patients do in each area if they are refused such treatments? Is there a process of appeal that they can take their concerns to?

Earl Howe: My Lords, there is a process of appeal. Patients can go to their clinical commissioning group or, indeed, to NHS England and ask for the matter to be specially looked at. However, it is important to understand what these figures are and what they are not. They are not intended to be, and do not claim to be, a statement of whether certain drugs are being underprescribed or overprescribed in a particular area. One has to drill down into the reasons. In fact, when one does that, for most of the groups of medicines where it was possible to compare observed and predicted use, the report shows that use has increased over time, and we are introducing additional tools to allow the NHS to get to the heart of the reasons for variations in local areas.

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Lord Walton of Detchant (CB): My Lords, can the Minister say what consideration the Government are giving to the availability of the highly expensive so-called orphan and ultra-orphan drugs that are now coming on stream, which are effectively treating many rare diseases?

Earl Howe: My Lords, this important class of drugs will be subject to a special evaluation process by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. That methodology has been worked through and over the coming months we will see NICE evaluating orphan medicines and medicines for highly specialised conditions to inform clinicians in the NHS and, where appropriate, provide a funding direction for those drugs.

Baroness Brinton (LD): My Lords, perhaps I may follow on from the Minister’s answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on clinical commissioning groups. The previous year’s report on appraised medicines provided a very helpful algorithm of biologics for rheumatoid arthritis. Will NICE and other organisations involved in these specialist medicines follow a similar algorithm to make it even clearer to CCGs where they should not step out of line but must follow clinicians’ advice?

Earl Howe: It is important to distinguish between a technology appraisal, where, if favourable, there is a clear funding direction for the NHS—in other words, it must fund the drug if the doctor thinks that it is appropriate for the patient—and a clinical guideline, where NICE issues best practice advice for the NHS. There is no funding direction attached to that. However, clinicians are expected to take account of NICE guidelines in everything that they do.

Lord Kakkar (CB): My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman-elect of University College London Partners, one of the designated academic health science partnerships. Is the noble Earl content that the funding arrangements to be put in place by NHS England for the 15 designated academic health science networks are appropriate and will ensure that they can discharge their substantial obligations under their licence agreement, including the adoption of NICE guidance among the populations for which they are responsible?

Earl Howe: The noble Lord asks a very important question. It is slightly wide of the Question on the Order Paper, which relates to a particular set of statistics. However, I can tell him that I am broadly satisfied with the level of funding for AHSNs, and NHS England has given its commitment to maintain its support for them going forward.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): If the appeal is to NHS England or the commissioning groups, does that mean that they have the right to overrule the decision that has been taken by NICE?

Earl Howe: My Lords, patients have a right under the NHS constitution to access clinically appropriate drugs and treatments recommended by NICE technology appraisals. That is a legal right. If a prescriber has failed to adhere to that, a clinical commissioning

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group is bound to find in the patient’s favour. However, there are clearly individual circumstances for each case that need to be looked at. The key is that the patient is entitled to expect a transparent and fair process where the reasons for a decision are published.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): Given that the noble Earl has just referred to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about access to new, innovative medicines, will he undertake to look at material which I have sent to him today from the Toronto-based mesothelioma research institute, which has developed new, innovative treatments for mesothelioma victims and may hold hope for some of the 2,200 who die of that horrific disease in this country every year?

Earl Howe: Mesothelioma is a devastating disease, and I certainly undertake to look at the material that the noble Lord has sent me.

Lord Aberdare (CB): My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that a new treatment has recently been licensed for advanced pancreatic cancer, offering the greatest improvement in survival of any such treatment in 17 years? Does he share my concern that it needs to be made available to sufferers from the disease as urgently as possible via the Cancer Drugs Fund while awaiting NICE approval?

Earl Howe: My Lords, drugs which have not yet been assessed or approved by NICE are eligible for use under the Cancer Drugs Fund. I am pleased to say that the Government have made a total of £1 billion available under that fund and 44,000 patients have been treated under it. I appreciate the noble Lord bringing that particular drug to my attention and I undertake to look at it.

Baroness Masham of Ilton (CB): My Lords, does the Minister realise the frustration that some clinicians have when there is a drug that gives a better quality of life to patients but they cannot give it to them?

Earl Howe: My Lords, if a drug is licensed in this country, it is open to a clinician to prescribe it as long as their clinical commissioning group will fund it. There are local funding policies for drugs. I understand the noble Baroness’s point, but when a drug is assessed by NICE, it can be assessed for quality-of-life properties—that element will have been included in the assessment. Indeed, that is the reason why we have the process that NICE goes through.

Community Life


11.14 am

Asked by Lord Phillips of Sudbury

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is being done to mitigate the social and cultural consequences of the weakening of community life in the United Kingdom.

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con): My Lords, community life is not weakening. Strong communities are shaping their own destiny across England, and we are supporting people in their efforts. The Government’s localist approach, for example, gives more power to communities and local councils, and communities are seizing the opportunities offered. One of our flagship programmes is the National Citizen Service. This year, 90,000 young people will deliver a community project through this service.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury (LD): I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. Is it not the case, however, that one of the key factors in what is clearly a declining community vitality in this country, is the ever increasing volume of legislation pouring forth from this place, which tends to undermine and confuse the ordinary citizen, and is still running at the rate, after repeals, of about 10,000 pages of new statute law every year? That is more than I have been able to discover in any country in western Europe.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, the Government are fully committed to removing unnecessary bureaucracy. Speaking specifically about DCLG, since 2010 it has enacted legislation which has, as I have already said, empowered citizens and local communities. The Localism Act 2011 is a good example. In January of this year, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that the Government have indeed met the Red Tape Challenge target to find 3,000 regulations to scrap and improve. Already more than 800 of the reforms have been implemented.

Lord Tomlinson (Lab): My Lords, will the noble Lord tell the House how the big society is doing these days? We have not heard very much about it for the past couple of years. Will he give us an update? If the big society is prospering, the noble Lord’s question is redundant.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The big society—and society as a whole—is alive, well and kicking. We need only look around the country to see 5,000 community organisers trained in 2015; Community First; the Centre for Social Action; the Dementia Friends campaign; the Innovation in Giving Fund; the Citizen Service; and indeed the Big Society Awards, with more than 100 winners already announced. The big society is very much alive. Look around your local community and you will see it.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, much as I appreciate and applaud the national citizenship scheme, is it not time for the Government to encourage all young people to undergo community service and to qualify for a citizenship ceremony before they enter the adult world?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My noble friend raises an interesting point. It is important to ensure that the opportunities that are available to young people are shown to them. If we look at the take-up of the National Citizen Service, when it was launched in 2011, there were 8,500 young people involved. In the

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current year, there are 90,000. Next year, it will go up to 120,000. The estimates are that by 2016, 150,000 young people will be part of the National Citizen Service. It shows that when a scheme works for the country and it works for young people, there is a take-up. This scheme reflects that.

Lord Jay of Ewelme (CB): Would the Minister agree that encouraging village shops is an excellent way of strengthening community life in the United Kingdom? I declare an interest as the owner of the Ewelme village store.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: As someone who worked in local government for 10 years as a local councillor, I totally agree with those sentiments. The vitality of local businesses at a local level is something that this Government fully support and encourage.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, will the Minister join me in welcoming this morning’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that the Near Neighbours scheme—a very successful collaboration between faith groups and government—is being extended for a further two years? Does he also agree that the scheme is an excellent example of strengthening social cohesion in ways that are sensitive to local dynamics, and that it could serve as a model for communities up and down the United Kingdom?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The right reverend Prelate is of course right to raise the issue of the Near Neighbours scheme. It is a successful scheme in which the Church of England works with local communities, and it shows how communities and wider faith groups can come together. My noble friend who is sitting to my right famously said, “This Government does do God”. We work with people of all faiths across the country to ensure that communities are vibrant and working well together.

Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, if we believe that rights should be matched by responsibilities, should we not elevate, alongside the expectation that those of working age who are reasonably able to do so should be in gainful employment, a second expectation that those who can reasonably do so should commit themselves to a pattern of caring activity or some other activities useful to the community, on the basis that we do not want to live in a neoliberal society of atomised individuals but in a society founded on an older and better principle: namely, that we are members one of another?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Those are sentiments with which I totally agree. Perhaps I may give a very local example. I referred earlier to my time as a local councillor. I am delighted this week that, through an initiative which this Government have enabled, the community right to bid for community assets, Wimbledon Park Hall, which was shut by a local council, has just been revived. The local community, through local residents and the Wimbledon Park Residents Association,

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is working with the private sector to ensure that a community asset which was of and by the community will now function for the community.

Baroness Seccombe (Con): My Lords—

Lord Shutt of Greetland (LD): My Lords, it appears to me—

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister join me in praising those people from all round the country who have gone to help farmers and others during this time of flooding?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My noble friend, as ever, raises a very important and valid point. I am sure that the sentiment that she expressed resonates with us all. It is a tribute to how, at a time of need in our great country, community spirit works well and is alive.

Vocational Training: Young People


11.21 am

Asked by Baroness Stedman-Scott

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to equip young people with the skills necessary to enter the job market.

Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in so doing, declare an interest as chief executive of Tomorrow’s People.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con): My Lords, perhaps unlike the rest of your Lordships’ House, I had sight of this Question and there is a continuum here. We are reforming vocational education to ensure that young people can get the skills which employers value. We are implementing reforms to qualifications for 14 to 19 year-olds. We have introduced study programmes for 16 to 19 year-olds and traineeships for 16 to 23 year-olds, including work experience and the basic skills in English and maths which employers tell us young people need. These measures, alongside the youth contract, are enabling more young people to move into apprenticeships or indeed employment.

Baroness Stedman-Scott: I thank the Minister for that response and I endorse the fact that these interventions are making a real difference to the lives of our young people. However, while interventions on their own are all good, in most cases it is the magic of the personal support that young people get which glues these things together and makes the real difference. How will the Government make sure that this holistic and seamless approach continues and grows to make the outcomes even more effective than they are?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: First, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s personal experience in this field. She is an example of how people can work at a local level to ensure that young people are given the opportunities that they require and deserve. Our priority is to ensure that students are offered high-quality and meaningful

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work experience as part of their post-16 education, which is both stretching and related to their career paths and realistically based on their prior attainment at age 16. All students aged 16 to 19, whether they are doing academic or vocational studies or a mix of both, are now expected to follow a study programme tailored to their prior attainment by the age of 16 and in line with their future career aspirations.

Lord Monks (Lab): My Lords, as the growth in apprenticeship numbers is largely accounted for in the age range above 25 can the Government use the procurement process, on which many billions of pounds have been spent, to make it a condition of government contracts that apprentices are hired? Can the Government also counter the alarming trend in the number of apprentices not being paid the legal minimum wage?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Apprenticeships are a central part of what this Government seek to do to address some of the challenges that this country faces. We should all acknowledge that 985,000 apprenticeships have been created since the general election. As these apprenticeships evolve, we are working with employers across the country to ensure that they are effective for, and indeed reflective of, the needs of the people who are fulfilling them. The points the noble Lord makes will be taken on board as the way apprenticeships are presented evolves.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, there are four times as many 18 to 24 year-olds looking for work at the moment as there are in the 16 to 17 age group. Yet the Government’s policy on apprenticeships for 19 to 24 year-olds is to ask employers to pay half the costs of the learning framework. Many businesses, especially SMEs, will pause before taking on an apprentice because of this. Does the Minister agree that if this requirement were to be removed, it would hugely encourage many more young people to get into apprenticeships as well as giving them much more of a chance to succeed?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The right reverend Prelate makes an important point, but I am sure many noble Lords are aware that the Government do support local businesses. Indeed, they have made additional funding available to small businesses that are looking to take on both trainees and apprentices.

On the age group that the right reverend Prelate mentioned, particularly 19 to 24 year-olds, in October 2013 the Government announced funding of an additional £20 million to support the expansion of traineeships, which are helping even more young people to get the skills and experience they need to get into full-time work.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford (LD): My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the number of apprentices aged 16 to 18 has been falling, rather than rising, over the past few years? Yet we still have a million people of that age who are NEETs. In addition, the numbers entering into apprenticeships in both construction and engineering, where we have the greatest skills shortages,

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have been falling. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to encourage young people to go into those careers?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I have already mentioned traineeships, but if we look at the figures announced today on NEETs—those young people not in education, employment or training—they reveal that for the 16 to 18 age group this stands at 7.6%, the lowest since Government records began in this area in 2000. If we look at the wider group, the current percentage is 14.2%, which is the lowest since 2008.

My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister today made further announcements on how to encourage young people, how to ensure that career services work well across the country and how schools are an essential part of ensuring that career opportunities are made available. This whole package of reforms is providing the necessary steps for tackling the issue of youth unemployment, but more importantly providing young people with the opportunities they need to get into the employment sector.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab): My Lords—

Lord Touhig (Lab):The number of apprentices who did not receive the legal minimum wage has increased by 45%. This is against the law. What are the Government doing about it?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The Government are adhering to the minimum wage. That has been made clear several times at the ballot box. The minimum wage is there for employers to follow and the Government are supporting it across the country.

Lord Aberdare (CB): My Lords, is the Minister aware of the award-winning Building Lives Training Academy, set up by the founder of Lakehouse plc to provide construction sector apprenticeships for young people, leading to jobs in the sector, and what can the Government do to help such initiatives gain access to the start-up funding they need, which seems to be the greatest obstacle to their expansion?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Perhaps I may come back to the noble Lord on the first part of his question as I missed it. As I have already said, we believe it is important that the careers guidance service is working effectively, whether that is in academies or other schools within the sector. This morning my right honourable friend announced further initiatives in direct response to the Ofsted reports in this area, which demonstrated a need for schools to play a greater part in providing careers advice.



11.30 am

Asked by Baroness Falkner of Margravine

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of current developments in Ukraine.

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The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, further to the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary on Monday, which was repeated in this House by my noble friend Lord Wallace, the Government have continued to follow events closely and have pursued engagement with international partners with a view to supporting Ukraine’s return to stability and sustainable reform. The Ukrainian Government should focus on reconciliation, urgent reforms and preparation for free and fair elections. All parties inside and outside Ukraine should avoid actions and rhetoric that inflame tensions.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does she share my concern about the escalating tensions in the Crimea and, indeed, along the Russian-Ukrainian border? In pursuit of defusing those tensions, will Her Majesty’s Government speak to the United Nations Secretary-General and ask him to appoint a special envoy to Ukraine who might have the confidence of the new Ukrainian Government, as well as the Russians, to help mediate and de-escalate these crises?

Baroness Warsi: As my noble friend will be aware, the situation on the ground is constantly changing. We are receiving almost hourly updates on what is happening. We are concerned about the situation in the Crimea, and are aware of reports of armed men seizing local government buildings. We are watching the situation closely. We are urging all parties both inside and outside Ukraine to exercise restraint, to stop further inflaming tensions and to stop any further impact on Ukraine’s sovereignty. We are in touch with a number of partners on this matter. As the situation on the ground is changing so quickly we are looking to see the best response at this stage.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): Clearly, Russia has legitimate interests in Ukraine and we should strive to avoid being provocative. How do the Government respond to the suggestion that we should urge the new Ukrainian Government to avoid entering into any military alliance which might be considered by Russia to be provocative?

Baroness Warsi: The Government do not believe that this is a zero-sum game. We do not feel that the EU’s relationship with Ukraine is at the expense of its relationship with Russia. We fundamentally believe that it is for the people of Ukraine to choose their future, securing their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Certainly in the discussions that we have had with our Russian colleagues, we have both stressed the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): Did my noble friend and her colleagues notice that Russia is having increasing difficulty in selling its gas to western Europe—it has had to lower its prices—and that 40% of Russian gas exports go out through Ukraine? Does that not suggest that the last thing Russia really wants is a Ukraine broken in two or descending into chaos? Is that not quite an important point of leverage in our discussions with Moscow on what should be done next?

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Baroness Warsi: My noble friend makes an important point. It supports our view that it is not in our interest or in Russia’s interest for there to be instability in Ukraine. It is for that reason that we are urging all parties to act in a way that does not further inflame tensions.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): Further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, does the Minister agree that the situation is now one of extreme peril and sensitivity? Ukraine is not so much the backyard of Russia but, in a sense, the side door, bearing in mind that Sebastopol is the base of the Black Sea fleet and that anything that is done by way of any military suggestion whatever is fraught with peril.

Baroness Warsi: I cannot speculate in response to the noble Lord’s question. This comes back to the fact that Ukraine is an independent country. It is a sovereign nation. It is the right of the people of Ukraine to make a decision for the future that best suits them in accordance with the reforms which are in the best interests of the Ukrainian nation. We need to make sure that we conduct ourselves in a way that means that we focus on reconciliation and stability.

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): My Lords, may I take the previous question a stage further? People have mentioned the Crimea. Sebastopol is in the Crimea geographically but it is Russian sovereign territory. The Russian military is in Sebastopol, which is quite different from the rest of the Crimea, with the Russian Black Sea fleet being there under treaty until 2018.

Baroness Warsi: I am not quite sure what the question is.

Baroness Williams of Crosby (LD): My Lords, further to the suggestion of my noble friend Lady Falkner regarding tensions in Ukraine and a UN special envoy as a way of reducing those tensions, might it not be possible for the European Union, on the suggestion of the United Kingdom, to indicate its strong support for the safety and security of residents in those areas that have substantial numbers of Russians—for example, the Sebastopol region and Crimea—and for the idea of protecting human rights wherever there is a legitimate resident person? I think that that would go some way to easing the understandable fears of Russian pensioners living in the Crimea and Sebastopol regions.

Baroness Warsi: That is certainly the position that has been adopted, as evidenced by the work and the comments made earlier this week by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. In all contacts which the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor have had with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov over the past seven days, as well as with other Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers across Europe, we have made clear that it is in our interest to ensure that the people of Ukraine—all the people of Ukraine, whatever background they come from—feel that they have a stake in Ukraine’s future.

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Lord Newby (LD): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until not before 1 o’clock, to enable those of us who wish to do so to make our way to the Royal Gallery to hear an address from the Chancellor of Germany. All Members of the House are welcome to attend and I encourage them to do so.

11.36 am

Sitting suspended.

Syria and the Middle East

Motion to Take Note

1 pm

Moved by Baroness Warsi

That this House takes note of recent developments in Syria and the Middle East.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con): My Lords, before the Minister opens the debate, it may be helpful if I give a little guidance. This debate is not time-limited. I hope that we may use some of our Thursdays for Government-led debates where the House is not constrained by our normal, rather short time limits. There are 25 speakers today in our Syria and Middle East debate. Were Back-Bench contributions to be kept to around 10 minutes, it would allow debate on our later business to commence at about 6.30 pm.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, the situation in Syria and its impact on neighbouring countries continues to be bleak and disturbing. It is already the greatest humanitarian disaster of the century. Some 5,000 Syrians are dying each month, 2.4 million people have been forced from their homes, 250,000 are trapped under siege and the bombardment of civilian areas continues. Yet finally, we saw on Saturday the first, tentative, steps of progress when the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted the UK co-sponsored Resolution 2139.

As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire informed the House earlier this week, this resolution—the first time the Security Council has come together to act in response to the deteriorating humanitarian situation—demands an immediate end to the violence, the freeing of besieged areas and the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid to the whole of Syria. It rightly condemns terrorist attacks and, in line with Britain’s policy over the past three years, places its weight behind efforts to seek a negotiated political settlement and the implementation of the Geneva communiqué.

Although the passage of Resolution 2139 represents a significant diplomatic success, it will have an impact and relieve the suffering of Syria’s starving people only if it is applied fully and immediately. That is why we are working closely with UN agencies to press ahead quickly with the delivery of aid to hard-to-reach and blockaded areas. In parallel, we call on the Assad regime to comply fully with the resolution. We are clear that we will return to the Security Council and take further steps in the case of non-compliance. Yet it

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saddens me that, in stark contrast to the approach being taken by the national coalition, there remains no sign of the Assad regime having any willingness whatever to allow the political transition demanded by the Security Council. Indeed, the UN and Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, has laid responsibility for the failure of the Geneva II negotiations clearly at the door of the regime.

UK support to the Syrian people within Syria itself and to refugees in surrounding countries now stands at more than £600 million and includes funding for Syrian civil defence teams to help local communities respond to attacks, providing everything from radios and protective firefighting clothing to desperately needed medical kits.

I will now turn to other key countries across the region, starting with Iran. The interim agreement with Iran came into force on 20 January and is being implemented. Meanwhile, the E3+3 and Iran met last week to start negotiations on a comprehensive agreement aimed at ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme is, and always will be, exclusively peaceful. The talks were constructive and will continue in mid-March in Vienna. We continue to expand our bilateral engagement with Iran. Last Thursday, we and Iran brought protecting power arrangements to an end. This is a sign of increasing confidence that we can conduct bilateral business directly between capitals, rather than through intermediaries.

We will continue with these step-by-step improvements in our bilateral relations, providing that they remain reciprocal. We are, for example, working together on ways in which to make it easier for Iranian and British citizens to obtain consular and visa services. However, the House should be under no illusion that the challenges remain considerable and, until a comprehensive solution to address all proliferation concerns related to Iran’s nuclear programme is found, existing sanctions will remain intact and will be enforced robustly.

Syria’s closest neighbours, Lebanon and Jordan in particular, have both been greatly affected by the continuing instability in the region. As a result, almost one in five of Lebanon’s population is a registered refugee, while Jordan has the dubious honour of being home to the second largest refugee camp in the world. The UK is contributing more than £110 million to assist each of these nations with the humanitarian emergencies that it faces. It was a subject that I discussed at length with the Jordanian Foreign Minister on 9 January, and we continue to co-operate closely. However, the worsening humanitarian crisis is compounded by violence not just in Syria but also in Lebanon, where the UK is providing assistance to increase border security, and in Iraq. The Government and, I am sure, all sides of the House, condemn the recent deaths and violence across the region and urge all sides to unite to find political solutions to the challenges being faced.

In Iraq last year, we saw the violent deaths of more than 8,000 civilians, and 300,000 people have been displaced from the west of Iraq since the beginning of this year alone. Here again, it is vital that inclusive political process accompanies counterterrorism operations. The upcoming parliamentary elections will form a key

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part of that, by offering the people of Iraq an opportunity to demonstrate their political will, make their voices heard and set a clear mandate for the new Government. It is therefore vital that the elections are free and fair and held on time.

More broadly, in terms of regional security, we must never lose sight of the importance and centrality of the Middle East peace process to the lives of millions of Israelis and Palestinians and to international peace. In the past month, more than 30 Palestinian protesters were injured by Israeli live ammunition, while two Israeli soldiers were injured. Both Israeli and Palestinian security forces have foiled terrorist attacks on Israel, allegedly planned by individuals in the West Bank. Attacks by settlers on Palestinian property also continued. Progress towards peace and a two-state solution is desperately needed, and the efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to agree a framework for negotiations offers a unique opportunity to secure lasting peace.

In Egypt, the third anniversary of the revolution was marred by the death of 100 protesters, as terrorist groups brought their terror campaign to Cairo. Having seen three Governments in the three short years since we witnessed such scenes of jubilation, the Egyptian people have yet to find the stable, democratic, representative Government for whom they fought, capable of tackling the vast political and economic challenges the country faces. However, the referendum on the draft constitution, held last month, was an important milestone on the political road map. It allowed millions of Egyptians to express their opinion through the ballot box and brought renewed hope for the presidential and parliamentary elections due to be held before the summer.

Similarly, the challenges facing the people and Government of Libya, as they seek to build a secure, prosperous and democratic country after four decades, remain serious, but we are firmly committed to supporting them in whatever way we can, including by helping reform the police force, army and prison service to ensure that they are accountable, comply with basic standards of human rights and tackle corruption. However, while we must not lose sight of the progress that Libya has made over the past two years, we welcome the recent elections for a constitution drafting committee and the recent statement by Libyan Justice Minister Marghani about Libya’s willingness to co-operate with the UK and US on the Lockerbie case. It is still clear that political divisions within Libya continue to hamper progress overall. The conference on Libya in Rome on 6 March offers all Libyans the opportunity to renew their commitment to a single, inclusive political settlement. The UK looks forward to taking part in the conference and will continue to encourage other nations to provide the international support that Libya needs on issues as varied as political transition, governance and arms and ammunition.

I turn to where the Arab spring began. Tunisia continues to overcome significant obstacles and continues its democratic transition. On 26 January, it achieved an important and historic milestone: the adoption of a new constitution that embodies the fundamental freedoms called for by the Tunisian people. The UK

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will continue to offer support to the Tunisian Government, both through our own Arab partnership programme and through the EU and G8, to ensure that Tunisia can sustain and build on its achievements so far, and can continue to be an inspiration to others struggling for freedom across the region.

Let me now turn to the Gulf states. I had the honour of visiting Saudi Arabia and Oman last week, to discuss—among other things—religious tolerance and other regional issues. The UK has an incredibly strong relationship with our Gulf partners. More than 160,000 British nationals live and work there. We work together across a wide range of issues. The Gulf is vital for our energy security and for countering the terrorist threat, and it is one of our largest global export markets.

The Gulf states share our concern at the instability and turbulence in the Middle East. On Syria, we work with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE as part of the London 11 grouping, and Gulf nations contributed generously to the $2.4 billion raised by the recent Syria pledging conference in Kuwait. We work with Gulf countries to enhance regional security, for example by responding to the security situation in Yemen, particularly with Saudi Arabia with whom we co-chair the Friends of Yemen group.

We are delivering aid work in Afghanistan in conjunction with our colleagues from the UAE; supporting Bahrain through its ground-breaking reform process; and have strong defence and commercial ties with our friends in Oman. Gulf countries provide a welcome base for our armed forces, and UK expertise and equipment is contributing to Gulf defence. We also value the contribution Gulf countries make to our security, particularly through our close co-operation on counterterrorism issues.

In a region which has seen huge instability and violence, Yemen’s progress so far has been commendable. The UK welcomes the recent conclusions of the National Dialogue Conference and applauds the spirit of co-operation and compromise that allowed participants to reach a consensus. However, millions of Yemenis are still living without food, shelter or water. The UK is the third largest donor of humanitarian aid and DfID has committed £196 million over three years to support development. However, the security situation in Yemen remains dire. The UK has been working with the Yemeni Government for a number of years to help them disrupt al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula and to help deny al-Qaeda a haven in Yemen for the future. The UK now urges progress on the next stages of Yemen’s transition, which includes the drafting of a new constitution, implementation of the NDC outcomes, timely organisation of a constitutional referendum and transparent elections.

In opening this debate it is clear—and it will become increasingly clear as the debate unfolds—that the situation in the Middle East continues, despite the odd glimmer of hope, to give grave cause for concern. The UK continues to be extremely active across the region—bilaterally and multilaterally through the UN and EU, and with allies—to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance, to bolster security and to provide forums in which all parties can work towards sustainable political settlements.

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I know it is a region of the world about which there is great interest and certainly expertise on all sides of this House, and I look forward to hearing your Lordships’ assessment of the situation.

1.12 pm

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Lab): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for opening this important and very timely debate today, and for doing so with her customary openness and breadth of knowledge on the Middle East. May I direct your Lordships to my entry in the register of interests as chairman of the Arab British Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the British Egyptian Society, among other things?

This is a period of great change and great challenge in the Middle East, right the way across the region from the Maghreb and north Africa across the Levant and into the Gulf states. When I was first a Minister in your Lordships’ House some 17 years ago, many a debate about the region was focused on the hostilities between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the wider potential conflict throughout the Middle East. We then referred to the Middle East peace process because there was only one peace process anybody had in mind. Now of course that spectrum of conflict both within and between the states in the region is so much more complex and widespread and, of course, it is drawing in global players who have their own very significant agendas about their relationships with the Middle East.

The overlay of sectarian conflict within the states of the Arab League, the hugely increased tensions between Iran and its closest neighbours and the growing and seriously deep concerns of the Gulf states about the role of Iran within the region are absolutely apparent to any visitor who goes there. There was, of course, a time when any opening conversation with a Minister in one of the countries of the Arab League was about the Israeli-Arab conflict. Now the issue at the top of its agenda is Syria, and Iran’s role in the Syrian conflict and sustaining the Assad regime through its support for Hezbollah and the spread of sectarian extremism.

At the same time we continue to see growing demands throughout the region for the enfranchisement of civil society, for democracy, and for written constitutions that enshrine the rule of law and human rights, including of course the rights of women. This debate has singled out one country for special concern, and rightly so. Syria is in a dire position, as the Minister illustrated, with 5,000 of its citizens dying every month, 24,000 people under siege and 2.5 million Syrians now refugees in neighbouring countries, particularly Jordan and Lebanon, both of which are showing real stress under the strain of their own resources of food, water, medicines, healthcare and education.

The Statement that the noble Baroness’s colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, repeated in this House earlier this week was of course welcome, marking as it did the unanimous vote on UN Resolution 2139 on Syrian humanitarian assistance. The resolution demands an end to the violence, the lifting of the sieges, and access for aid. It also condemns the terrorist

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attacks. However, the salient sentence of that Statement was to point out that although the resolution was, “an important achievement”, it would,

“make a practical difference only if it is implemented in full”.—[

Official Report

, 24/2/14; col. 752.]

The resolution is not under Chapter 7, so can the noble Baroness, when she winds up, tell the House what is the next step open to the United Nations if Syria fails to comply? Indeed, what is the next step if the Syrian Government fail to meet the deadline for the destruction of its chemical weapons by 30 June this year, as demanded by UN Resolution 2118? So far, the OPCW has said that only 11% of the stockpile of chemical weapons has been destroyed. Does the Minister believe that it is operationally a possibility to destroy the remaining 89% of these terrible chemical weapons within the next four months? If not, what is the next step?

We also need to keep a clear focus on the impact of the Syrian conflict in Lebanon and Jordan—very different as they are politically but which share the same common burden of the huge influx of refugees. The role of Hezbollah, particularly in Lebanon, appears to be increasing and strengthening. In supporting the Assad regime, Hezbollah appears to be locked into an increasingly vicious series of revenge attacks from groups linked to al-Qaeda, which involve innocent bystanders who have been the victims, including many young people and some children. Meanwhile, the Syrian Government are claiming to have killed 175 al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-linked fighters yesterday in the eastern outskirts of Damascus. The response to the Israeli airstrike on Monday night is bound to further complicate and exacerbate the vicious nature of this conflict. Israel’s Prime Minister vowed to prevent Hezbollah obtaining “game-changing weapons” from Syria; and Hezbollah has vowed to respond, warning that it would,

“choose the time and place and proper way to respond”.

So can the Minister shed any light on whether there is any discussion or contact with these terrorist groups who appear to be fighting each other every bit as viciously as they want to fight the Government of Israel?

There was of course a further development in the Middle East this week that needs discussion—the resignation on Monday of the Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi. Developments in Egypt are of real importance, not only in terms of stability in the region but the impact that they have across all the neighbouring countries and, arguably, globally. I understand that we are expecting a new Cabinet to be announced this weekend, under ex-Housing Minister Ibrahim Mahlab as Prime Minister. President Adly Masour, I understand, remains and some 17 Ministers are expected to retain their portfolios, but it would be interesting to know what more the noble Baroness can say on that.

With its population of more than 90 million, Egypt is by far the most populous country in the whole of the area, with its enormous army readily available. Arguably, it is Egypt that has for years held the line within the region on the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Arab countries because of its support for the peace process. Of course, Jordan has also been part of that relationship, but Egypt was the real guarantor.

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The turmoil that followed—the election of Mr Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, his subsequent removal from power by the army and the adoption of a new constitution pending presidential and subsequently parliamentary elections—were all hugely important, not only to Egypt, but across the whole region and, very particularly, to the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia.

Gulf funding of more than $16 billion since July last year is crucial to Egypt’s stability, but with an inflation rate of 13% and a huge underclass of unemployed young people—70% of the population of Egypt are under age 29—Egypt’s economic stability is enormously important. It is not only political reforms that so many Egyptians want to see, but almost as importantly, they want economic reform. The interim Government have said that they wanted to reform the hugely expensive subsidy regime, reduce the budget deficit and stimulate the economy. Will the Minister tell the House how the British Government are supporting those objectives and whether we are contributing to the EBRD investment support of making more than €2.5 billion of investment a year into the countries of the Mediterranean—not only Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, but also Jordan? Those are countries that declare that they are committed to the principles of democracy, pluralism and, of course, market economics.

The great regional powers—Egypt and Saudi Arabia—have crucial roles to play in the stability of the region, but they face enormous challenges internally and those challenges are hugely different from each other. For us, it might be tempting to try to describe the Middle East in terms of broad generalities, but that is neither accurate nor fair. There may be some common aspects, such as the high youth unemployment, the desire for the growth of civil society, the increasing sectarianism, and, in many countries, the thirst for democracy, but there are also differences that are enormous: differences in wealth, in culture, in the rule of law and in human rights.

I believe that this country has a real role to play in engaging with countries of the region—not just as a group, but as individual countries. The Minister and her colleagues did a brilliant job a couple of weeks ago, when we saw Ministers and business people in unprecedented numbers coming over from Saudi Arabia. Next week, there will be many Egyptians—including business people and Ministers—here in London. Our role in supporting change, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and—yes, very much so— investment and trade will continue to be vital in sustaining the stability of the region.

1.23 pm

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): My Lords, I thank the Minister for initiating this debate and giving such a good summary of all the events in the area, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for her passionate and informative contribution. I am sure that many of the speakers will repeat many of the statistics. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do so but I want to put a slant on them.

The Syrian civil war shows no sign of contracting; according to the latest estimates, the number of fatalities has reached 140,000. The conflict has created 2.4 million

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refugees to date, and the UNHCR estimates that the number of refugees could rise to 4 million by the end of 2014. Within that overall crisis, there have been the sub-crises, such as the condition of the 20,000 in Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in south Damascus.

We have heard, and will hear in the debate today, how the West is helping the Syrian people. The UK has given £241 million in aid to support the population of Syria, as well as £263 million to Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. Food is being provided, I am told, to 130,900 people, and the UK has funded 71,500 medical consultations for refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. EU member states have committed a total of €2.6 billion, €1.1 billion of which has come directly from the EU’s budget. The EU represents the biggest single contributor towards humanitarian relief in Syria.

On 15 January 2014, the United States pledged an additional $380 million on top of the $1.76 billion provided since the crisis began. More than $177 million has been spent within Syria, reaching an estimated 4.2 million people. It always seems very complicated when we talk of pounds sterling, euros and dollars, but, as anyone would say, these amounts are “megabucks”.

One source of aid and relief which receives little publicity is from neighbouring Israel—a surprise to many people. Israel has given medical treatment to some 700 Syrians, and the IDF even set up a field hospital specifically for the purpose of treating Syrian refugees. It is estimated that the number of Syrians seeking medical treatment in Israel will rise in the next year. Through liaison with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, the Israeli defence force—the army—organised for food and winter supplies to be distributed to the Syrian population close to the Israeli border. We are also informed that the IDF frequently leaves aid parcels along Israel’s border with Syria.

The Israeli public have mobilised in aid of the Syrian population. More than 20,000 items of winter clothing were donated in response to an appeal by over 30 youth groups and Israeli Flying Aid, an organisation which supplies aid to countries with no diplomatic relations with Israel. Members of the Knesset of varying political parties have supported this campaign. On top of that, Israel has been working in partnership to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring Jordan, where there are thought to be half a million escaping the war—more than Jordan can cope with alone. Israeli NGO IsraAID has been working in partnership with Jordanian NGOs to provide supplies to displaced Syrians living in Jordan.

All that has been done despite the fact that Israel and Syria are still technically at war with one another, although a ceasefire is in place—one is grateful for small mercies. Indeed, UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry warned the UN Security Council in September last that fighting in the Golan could “jeopardise the ceasefire” after shells landed on the Israeli side of the truce line. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, also spoke of the danger of escalation on a number of the borders. I echo her sentiments and fears.

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I should have declared, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, from another angle, that for some years I have been a vice-president of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel.

It is morally right that Israel helps its neighbours, and it should be encouraged to do so more and more. Its actions may also help to boost co-operation, understanding and the peace that has been so elusive throughout the region. Strange stories come out. CNN carried the quote that a fighter, possibly a rebel, to whom Israel provided medical care said:

“The regime used to make us hate it, but it turned out to be the best country”.

That was just one man’s comment but the fact is that you achieve a lot more by helping people than bombing them, from within or without. Israeli organisations go to considerable lengths to ensure that no Israeli labelling or Hebrew writing is on any aid packages so that refugees will not be accused of being collaborators. The same precautions are taken by Israeli hospitals providing medical treatment.

Israel has so far tried to keep a low profile in the Syrian conflict, and I apologise to it if I am raising that profile somewhat today. Given the high level of anti-Israel sentiment in the region, overt Israeli support for any party could be used to discredit it. I echo the Minister’s comments about the work of Secretary of State Kerry. I only hope and ask that the UK Government do all they can to support his efforts to bring both sides to the negotiating table to make big compromises. That is still a chore that we should be helping Secretary of State Kerry to achieve.

The West is faced with equally bad options in Syria of the Assad regime on the one hand and al-Qaeda and Islamist movements on the other. It is clear that no one knows what to do to end this conflict. Therefore the focus has been to try to support moderate elements in the opposition as much as possible and to provide aid to regional allies such as Jordan, which is bearing the brunt of the social, political and economic consequences of Syrian refugees. There are half a million Syrian refugees in Jordan and the UK Government should be concerned not only for these unfortunate refugees but for the undermining of the Hashemite Kingdom, a long-time friend of Britain. The growing threat from radical jihadists who have been drawn to the Syria conflict should create new impetus for co-operation between Israel and the Arab states in the region. The West would do well to develop and encourage regional frameworks for countering the challenge posed by the jihadists.

What I have tried to add in this debate is that everyone is appalled at the humanitarian crisis, even those whom Syria has previously attacked. We hear of assistance given, some of which has been given largely below the radar, but it must continue. The Minister referred to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2139—although it seems long ago, it was passed only on 22 February—which sets out the need for humanitarian assistance to Syria. There are very many people trapped in besieged areas in Syria and there are large numbers of refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Three-quarters of those refugees, we are told,

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are women and children. I hope the Minister will say what the Government are doing to support the need for access to these besieged groups to provide urgent humanitarian relief. Aid must go across borders because it is not going to come from within Syria itself. So my two final questions for the Minister are: how do Her Majesty’s Government hope to assist in the humanitarian effort, and how can the fighting be stopped? Unless there is a ceasefire and cessation of hostilities within Syria, the killings and traumas are going to carry on and the humanitarian disaster that we are witnessing will continue.

1.32 pm

Lord Stirrup (CB): My Lords, as we debate Syria and the Middle East today, it is clear that we have witnessed and continue to witness a significant degree of political and social upheaval across the region. To that extent, the cards are up in the air, but we can have little control and less certainty about where they will eventually fall. This naturally poses some serious challenges to the formulation of a coherent UK policy in the Middle East. If we are to develop and maintain a credible strategic approach to the dynamic and complex challenges of the region, we need first a comprehensive analysis of the context and then a clear focus on those issues that are most important to our own security and prosperity. I do not mean to diminish the importance of moral and humanitarian concerns—we should continue our efforts in this regard—but as a nation we have limited resources and influence. It is therefore crucial that we identify our own policy priorities.

The context is surely an unravelling of the post-1918 settlement that was intended to tidy up the detritus of the Ottoman Empire. Britain and France, of course, have their fingerprints all over this settlement. Consider Syria. The Ottomans ruled it for just over 400 years until 1918. The San Remo conference of 1920 placed Syria-Lebanon under a French mandate while, incidentally, putting Palestine under a British mandate at the same time. Syria became independent in 1946 but had no settled constitutional or political base. Between 1946 and 1956 the country had 20 different Cabinets and four different constitutions. The turmoil in Syria today is only the latest episode in a drawn-out process that has its roots in the end of Ottoman rule in 1918.

We now see long-buried fissures reappearing across many parts of the region. We see tribe pitted against tribe, Muslim against non-Muslim, Arab against non-Arab, authoritarian against libertarian and, perhaps most significantly, Sunni against Shia. Indeed, the last division is one of the most polarising and potentially one of the most dangerous. Overshadowing all this is the regional competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This, of course, encompasses some of the fissures that I have mentioned—Sunni/Shia and Arab/non-Arab—but the degree of national animosity and the pursuit of regional political dominance take the problem to a new level and the competition is increasingly being played out in Syria.

The political upheaval in Syria is different in nature from many of the others that we have seen elsewhere in the region. In places such as Libya and Egypt, the impetus for change came from, or quickly gravitated

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to, those in the cities and centres of population. In Syria it came from those on the periphery, particularly the impoverished and drought-ridden agricultural communities, and was directed against those at the centre. So change was more difficult to achieve, particularly since survival of the military leadership was more closely tied to the survival of the regime. Even so, it looked as if Assad could not last, but the intervention of Hezbollah changed the outlook.

Given the support of Iran and Russia, it is now hard to see how Assad could be removed in the near term. Given the support of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and to some extent at least the United States, it is hard to see how the regime could achieve a decisive military victory over the opposition groups. The most likely outcome in Syria is either degeneration into a Somalia-like failed state or division into a number of warring baronies. Neither outcome is palatable from a wider security perspective and both are likely to perpetuate large-scale human tragedy. Without substantial international intervention, for which there seems little or no appetite, it is hard to see a plausible alternative.

At the same time, two key sets of negotiations continue: on the Middle East peace process and on the Iranian nuclear issue. Both are likely to reach some sort of conclusion, whether satisfactory or not, later this year.

These then, are some of the key features of the regional context. With so many challenges and so little clarity on the likely outcomes, where should the UK place its own policy priorities? I should like to propose three areas. Top of the list, I suggest, should be the Iranian nuclear issue. The consequences of failure on this front for the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and for long-term security within the region are likely to be extremely serious and to have a lasting effect on the UK’s own security. The ongoing negotiations are therefore critical. Of course, we have to negotiate well if we are to achieve the right outcome and, of course, we must take nothing on trust. Any agreement has to be verifiable. There will inevitably be different views on what constitutes a bad deal or a good deal.

I want to focus on two short-term issues that seem to me of fundamental importance in this whole process. The first is the sustainment of the agreed sanctions regime. As negotiations continue and some restrictions are lifted, there is a clear risk that sanctions as a whole will start to unravel. There will be a temptation for some countries or companies to jump the gun in order to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals. That risk cannot be entirely eliminated, so it will have to be managed. It will require strong and obvious resolve on the part of the major economic players to take firm and painful action against transgressors. The UK and the EU more generally will have an important part to play here.

The other issue concerns the question of where we go if negotiations fail. What is plan B? In such situations there is often a reluctance to consider plan B at all in case this is taken as a belief that plan A will not work, but such precautionary thinking does not need to be public. We can and should be discreetly considering what options are open to us if it proves impossible, even with more time, to reach a comprehensive settlement.

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This will involve some difficult decisions, but leaving them to the last minute risks making the difficult impossible. Of course the implicit existence of a plan B could help to focus minds on reaching a satisfactory agreement in the first place.

The second policy priority, I suggest, should be our relationship with Saudi Arabia. This has suffered over recent months, not least because of divergent views over Syria and concerns about the negotiations with Iran. However, Saudi Arabia remains the pivotal country in the Gulf region and is of considerable economic importance to the UK. Given the differences in our societies and cultures, the relationship is never going to be an easy one. It will require hard work, a degree of tolerance on both sides and, above all, constant and clear communication. The relationship is too important to the UK and its interests for us to neglect it. How closely are the Saudis being consulted on the negotiations with Iran? What we might consider a satisfactory outcome might look very different to Saudi eyes. Although we cannot give them a veto over the process, attempting to deal with or mitigate their concerns must be a key policy objective for the international community as well as for us.

The third priority should be to contain, as far as that is possible, the wider regional consequences of a Syrian conflict. Jordan matters to us as an old friend and it matters to Israel because of the latter’s concerns over strategic depth, so it is key to wider regional stability. However, Jordan is being weakened and undermined by the conflict in Syria. As others have mentioned, the large number of refugees is putting great stress on the already weak economy. There is no doubt that the social impact of what is going on in Jordan as a result of the conflict in Syria is having enormous repercussions for the regime there. Therefore, support for Jordan, for its economy and for its political development should be a key part of the UK’s policy in the region.

There are of course other malign international repercussions of the war in Syria. The Lebanon is being seriously affected. Perhaps one of the most worrying consequences is the growth of an ungoverned space straddling the Syria-Iraq border and the implications for radical Islamist terrorist groups. For example, the recent activities of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant demonstrate the risk of such an ungoverned space. The group poses serious dangers to the future of both Iraq and Syria and potentially further afield. Containing this risk will require some sort of governance over the affected area. For this reason, if no other, the feuding baronies outcome in Syria that I described earlier, while unpalatable, would certainly be preferable to a Somalia-like failed state. Another wider consequence of the Syrian situation is the return of radicalised and battle-hardened jihadis from the conflict zone to their home states. Saudi Arabia is increasingly concerned about this issue and the implications for its own security. It also affects us here in the UK. In many ways, this is a challenge for domestic rather than foreign policy, but it is a challenge nevertheless.

There are, of course, other important issues, such as the Middle East peace process, that I do not have time to cover, but many of these, while crucial to the

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UK, are beyond our power to influence directly. As I said at the outset, the proliferation of challenges within the Middle East and the limits on our ability to confront them should force us to a clear-eyed analysis of UK priorities. Naturally, some may disagree with those that I have proposed, but in my view such an analysis is essential if we are to take a coherent and strategically informed approach to the many dangers that we face, rather than simply wringing our hands about them.

1.43 pm

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her characteristically clear introduction to this debate and for setting the context so succinctly.

In December 2002, I was called to 10 Downing Street for a clandestine meeting with the Prime Minister’s appointments secretary to talk about the possibility of my going to the See of Wakefield. When I arrived, I was terrified that my cover might be blown, since television cameras surrounded us and, indeed, I followed Andrew Marr through the security gate. The cameras were, of course, not for us but for President Assad, who was paying an official visit to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Indeed, there was even talk at the time of persuading the Queen to confer a knighthood on the Syrian leader.

I begin there because we now, as they say, find ourselves in a very different place. For some time, the UK, alongside other western countries, has been backing the so-called Syrian national coalition, an association of most unlikely bedfellows whose only cause for unity is opposition to the Assad regime. That is, even with the typical vagaries of international affairs, an extraordinary volte face.

The complexities facing western nations in looking to future policy on Syria are greater still. For since the intervention in Libya, originally styled as a humanitarian crusade, became fairly swiftly a policy aimed at regime change, international relationships have shifted significantly. It was of course that policy change, more than anything else, which assured the West of a more than usually tricky interface with Russia in any attempt to bring the tragic bloodshed in Syria to a swift conclusion. That conflict has already claimed more than 130,000 lives—someone said earlier that it was now 140,000.

Last summer, with the discovery of Syria’s use of chemical weapons, the western nations were faced with another critical decision. Did the enormity of that terrible abuse of human rights and inhumanitarian behaviour deserve a powerful intervention from the USA, the UK and other North Atlantic allies? We all know the denouement of that crisis, and many of us may be proud that this Parliament, by offering us the opportunity to debate the issue, was almost certainly instrumental in making certain that no western nation intervened in that way at that time.

Where does that leave us now, as this tragic war enters its fourth year? First, all analysis of civil wars suggests that wholesale military intervention from outside the country will lengthen the war. Indeed, as we continue to see, even Iraq has still not thrown off the shackles

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of the internecine strife with which both this country and the USA engaged so controversially just over 10 years ago. To answer my question as to where that leaves us is itself fraught. It does not leave us, as some simplistic analyses suggest, with either Assad or al-Qaeda. Nor does it leave us with any clear sense that our support for the Syrian national coalition has done anything to bring closure to the conflict, or even any clear resolution of the situation which continues to claim so many lives. It does, however, leave us with a displacement of people on a terrifying scale. In January 2014, the United Nations published figures showing that within Syria, 6.5 million people are already internally displaced and in desperate need. A further 242,000 are under siege, with more than 2.4 million people in external refugee camps.

With more than 2 million refugees, that indicates that the future of Syria lies to a large degree outside the country. That is true not only because of displaced persons but because of the vested interest of powerful nations from both the East and the West. Russia, China and Iran all have interests outside Syria which need to be included in the equation.

Let me return to my question again: where does that leave us now? It does not point us to a religious conflict—despite the destruction, since the beginning of the conflict, of so many of the ancient Christian Syrian communities: Assyrians, Melkhites and Antiochene Orthodox. Of course, the suffering of Christians pales into insignificance when compared with the suffering of the wider Syrian community as a whole. No, this is not a religious but a political conflict, and the only positive way forward must be a political, humanitarian and diplomatic strategy. As we have already heard, the challenges are immense, but the fact that Syria’s future lies to such a degree outside its own borders puts a great moral responsibility on countries like our own.

With that in mind, where might Her Majesty’s Government find leverage? There is no doubt that leverage within the regime in Syria and, indeed, within the myriad of opposition groups, is very limited. I have already hinted at the problems of unqualified support for the Syrian national coalition. It is almost, by definition, a western-selected coalition and therefore does not represent widespread support on the ground within Syria. So, to take a rather contrasting approach, removing international support both for the regime and for opposition groups is a policy which may lead to more possibilities of leverage from the West. Russia, China and Iran’s external interests were alluded to earlier. Removing international support in both directions—that is for the regime and opposition groups—will, of course, not end the civil war in itself. It may, however, help starve the conflict by reducing the resources which continue to fan the flames.

Alongside this, will Her Majesty’s Government support efforts to bring about reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia in order to offer a new axis of stability in the region? The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, referred to these various tensions, pressures and axes within the region. Will Her Majesty’s Government also, as I have hinted, seek means to maintain Syrian civil society in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region—in Jordan, for example—where vast numbers of displaced persons are living as refugees?

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In asking these questions, let me press the point that we should prescind from further support for a military solution and invest resources—financial and human—in seeking the seeds of a humane and lasting political solution.

1.51 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, it is clearly difficult to comment effectively on all the countries that we are considering in this debate, but I begin by observing that there is a dreadful similarity in almost all of them, where government and authority—sometimes legitimate, sometimes tyrannical—are losing their grip and/or are under intense challenge. Power is fragmenting: it is not being neatly transferred to new dawns and new bodies, but being fragmented into the street. The monopoly of state-armed power by which the authority was hitherto upheld has been fractured. That is what is happening. It is a new pattern and one has to ask why this new force is anything different from revolutions and rebellions in the past.

The answer, of course, lies in technology. It lies in the tsunami of new weapons that are in the hands of minorities and which, with very few people, can inflict enormous damage on traditionally and classically armed formations. I am thinking of the improvised explosive devices which have done so much damage in Afghanistan, of endless decoys, of shoulder-held missiles which can be purchased in the international arms souk. I am thinking even of homemade drones. Hezbollah managed to get a drone aloft which it had put together itself. These are just the beginnings of a massive miniaturisation of weaponry which makes the vast military machines with which the 20th century tried to equip itself increasingly vulnerable. That is one aspect.

Secondly, and even more powerful, is the fact that the street is empowered. The rebels and the rebellions are empowered by an information revolution of an intensity and an organisational capacity impossible to envisage in the past. It is completely new. It gives connectivity through the 7 billion mobile telephones in the world. Half of the entire planet is on the world wide web. This gives an organisational capacity to minorities and to those challenging authority on a scale we have never seen before. We have only to think of what happened when Mohammed Bouazizi immolated himself in Tunis. Within hours, and certainly within days, the entire street population of the whole of Arabia was militant, aggravated and activated.

So this is a new pattern—a completely new pattern of power, distribution of power, dispersal of power and fragmentation of power has emerged. That is what we are seeing in the Middle East at the moment. In all cases, attempts to crush by conventional force by shooting down the enemy—shooting down the rebels and so on—have not worked and are not working. They did not work for Assad, although he may survive. He may just hang on but he certainly will not win and will never get back the country that he began with. It did not work in Egypt and did not really work with the wretched Gaddafi in Libya, which with all his weapons and money he failed to control. It has not worked in Iraq, where the rate of slaughter has got worse and some thousands and thousands are continuing to die. Indeed, although we are not discussing this today, it

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quite obviously has not worked for President Yanukovych in Ukraine. He thought that he could use force to suppress the opposition and the challenges but he soon found, as other dictators and indeed democratic Governments have found, that force does not work any more. The old pattern of crushing and bringing in the tanks is now not the weapon that it was.

We will probably hear more from my noble friend Lord Lamont on Iran, as he is a great expert in that field, but even in Iran the trembling elements in protest are rumbling away. That is the universal pattern so instead of the order that one hoped was going to come with orderly protest and cries for liberty, we have on every side chaos. The old saw is that a revolution devours its children. Of course, in Syria we have seen its children devouring each other in the most horrific ways, with a savagery which is almost unimaginable in times of what we thought was peace.

That question of rebel against rebel brings me to a second point which I want to share with your Lordships, which is the colossal complexity of all the situations with which we are dealing. I will give only two examples. In Syria, al-Qaeda controls the small but important oilfields, which produce about 100,000 barrels a day or probably less. What do they do with that oil? They refine it crudely and sell it to President Assad. Wait a minute—can that be right when he is on the other side and fighting them? Yes, it is right: they are selling refined oil so that he can drive his aeroplanes. The bargain is that he has agreed not to bomb the areas controlled by al-Qaeda. That is just one example of the extraordinarily labyrinthine nature of the situation we are dealing with.

Then there are the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, touched on with great authority regarding Hezbollah in Lebanon. Lebanese politics have always been immensely complicated but now we have an extraordinary situation in which Hezbollah, which used to be the state within a state and seemed to be a challenge to Lebanon’s unity, is itself under attack and being protected by the Lebanese army from suicide bombers, some Sunni extremists and, to some extent, al-Qaeda. They are attacking it because it is backing a different side. It is backing Assad and they, with Saudi and Qatari support and a continuous flow of weapons, are backing the other side. The difficulty of saying, “Let us have priorities. What should we do?” is vastly multiplied by the fact that we do not really know who is on which side in many of these areas. The complexities are far greater than the simplicities which we hoped for when we talked about the Arab spring, and how that would bring new Governments, new liberties and new democracy. I am afraid that it is not going to be like that.

The third point which I want to mention is the energy aspect. Energy issues obviously run throughout the whole Middle East situation but there are some new factors, which I think have not been mentioned. I do not know whether they are recognised in London at all. However, in the east Mediterranean vast new gas reserves have been identified. In the case of Israel, the reserves have been found and are being used. They have a very significant effect on the whole pattern in the area. Cyprus and Israel want to work together to develop them. Lebanon, when it manages to get a

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Government and some kind of laws in place, wants to develop its resource. Turkey is interested in the enormous gas resources around the south of Cyprus. Cyprus itself now has north and south Governments, who are rather readier to talk to each other than they have been for some time.

There is a completely new pattern on the chessboard of the east Mediterranean and I hope the United Kingdom authorities will play a constructive part by supporting Turkey’s aspirations. Turkey is facing instabilities and problems on the street; it still wants to get into the European Union, and it is not feeling very happy about the way things are going. The acquisition of gas resources by Israel is changing its attitude as well to what can be done in the way of supplying gas, certainly to Jordan and Palestine. Indeed, it has already signed contracts, oddly enough, to supply gas back to Egypt—the other way around from the pattern that used to exist five years ago.

The most important thing that my right honourable friend William Hague said when he made the Statement in the other place so skilfully on Monday was:

“I agree that the age of spheres of influence is now over”.—[

Official Report,

Commons, 24/2/14; col. 40.]

John Kerry was saying much the same thing the day after. That is a most profound point. He was talking mainly about the Ukraine, but it applies just as much to the whole Middle East and all the troubled areas we are looking at. We can think in terms of the EU working collectively in some areas very effectively—not always, but sometimes—but the truth is that a much wider coalition of the willing, not just of western powers and the usual suspects of the old NATO world, is needed, embracing the rising powers of Asia and the big players of Africa and Latin America. These areas have just as much say, responsibility for and interests in the Middle East and its stability as we do. It is worth remembering that most of the oil of the Middle East now goes eastwards to Asia and does not come to Europe or the West at all.

Those are the new realities that I wanted to share with your Lordships in my allotted time. There is a completely new international landscape in which we have to operate. We can lay down our priorities, but the question is how do we make those priorities work? How do we implement them? I have the privilege of chairing a Select Committee of your Lordships’ House that is looking at British influence and soft power over the coming years. Of course, we do not produce answers, but I hope we shall clarify a few of the points that we have raised today and that that will be useful for your Lordships.

2.02 pm

Lord Stone of Blackheath (Lab): My Lords, Syria is in the title of this timely debate, but one could have chosen, as has been said, several other epicentres of enormous world-changing transition within the region. For example, I have just returned from Israel and the West Bank, where great efforts are going into the peace talks and, despite the scepticism, movement is happening. Even though the timeframe may need to be extended, a positive process will be agreed by the middle of this year.

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Today I want to concentrate on Egypt, which is also going to be a different country by June this year, and thereby influence the region for the better. Three weeks ago, a cross-party group of Members of both Houses visited Cairo, including the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Marlesford. Here I declare a non-financial interest as governor of the British University in Egypt (the BUE). Its founder, Mohamed Farid Khamis, and his foundation sponsored our visit.

Our objectives were to support the Egyptian people in their aspirations to democracy and stability, to establish a relationship between parliamentarians and promote better relationships between our countries, to keep on their agenda religious freedom, civil liberties, women’s rights, and to encourage some of the positive steps already taken in these fields. This visit was the first of a planned series of visits that will build relationships once the new Administration has been elected.

We had face-to-face individual meetings with the President, the Prime Minister at that time, Field Marshal al-Sisi, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of the Interior, His Holiness the Coptic Pope and the Grand Imam, and we were accompanied by the British Ambassador, James Watt. Our discussions were deep and wide and we developed several themes that we might work on together. For example, on the separation of police and the military, we agreed in talks with Field Marshal al-Sisi from the military, and the Interior Minister for the police, that while Egypt has a strong and effective military, which traditionally has an elevated status, its job now should be to deal with external threats to control the frontier, and it must re-establish order in the Sinai and keep a firm hold on the water sources there.

Egypt is facing unprecedented pressure from within, and the military cannot be the police. In the longer term, this civil unrest requires a police force with a higher status, an entirely different entity from the military, which should become a wide collection of local forces in all towns, villages, cities and communities, with a subtle understanding of local issues and integrated into the community, yet still with strong central governance. In this context, we also discussed the hundreds of detainees. Egypt needs immediately to develop a process to try them in court for recognised crimes or to release them.

We talked about the need, in addition to the presidential and parliamentary elections, for a process of continued national dialogue that could mobilise all the energies within Egypt. Within its 90 million people, there are many groupings that have their own hopes and fears, grievances and aspirations. A Government who want to rule with the will of their people must have a robust, sensitive, patient, long-term system for listening to, hearing and responding to those voices. They are now considering a centre for civic involvement at the British University of Egypt where faculty, students and experts from the UK can facilitate dialogue. We emphasised the need for the involvement of Copts, Nubians, youth, women and so on.

We also met with the wise and experienced Amr Moussa, who has gone to great lengths to work with the Committee of 50, including these groups, which, with enormous patience and understanding, has created

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a new Egyptian constitution. He and all the people we met realise that they are taking on a huge task to restore Egypt to its former glory. The economy needs reviving. Law and order will encourage tourism. Inward investment should be made as easy as possible, and there is a need to increase—as is being done by the BUE—training for work and employment for youth. Healthcare will need to be restructured. Egyptians have great talent and entrepreneurialism and stand at the crux between Africa to the south and Europe to the north; they are part of the east and the west.

We have just heard Angela Merkel talk about the peace and prosperity brought about by post-war united Europe. Were Israel and Palestine and Jordan and Egypt to find their feet in the next few years and begin to work and trade together, they could serve as a light to the nations that surround them. That could be the beginning of a Middle East and north Africa that contribute greatly to the world’s economy, ecology, art, science, medicine and culture.

As a result of this visit, we will form an all-party parliamentary group on Egypt. We will arrange follow-up meetings post Egyptian parliamentary elections for us to go back to Egypt and for them to come to the UK. We hope that noble Lords will help us help them gain the stability they seek and that Her Majesty’s Government will support this work where Britain could help bring a wider stability to the whole region.

I have just noticed that I have spoken for only five minutes. Can I bank the extra five for a future debate when I am limited to three minutes?

2.08 pm

Lord Wright of Richmond (CB): My Lords, I propose to concentrate in this debate on the situation in Syria, though I shall also touch briefly on the continuing disgrace of Israeli settlement policy on the West Bank. I doubt whether under the rules I am required to disclose an interest, but I nevertheless declare, as I have before in this House, that as ambassador to Syria many years ago, I have retained a deep affection for Syria as a country.

On Syria, all sides in the Syrian civil war have been committing unspeakable crimes against the Syrian population, and the resulting humanitarian crisis engulfing not only Syrians but Palestinians in their refugee camps is widely acknowledged to be one of the worst we have seen for some time. The Government’s approach to this, as reflected most recently in the Foreign Secretary’s Statement three days ago, has been to call for a political transition in Syria, which is shorthand for the removal of the Assad leadership from government in Damascus. Is it surprising, in these circumstances, that the Syrian Government’s representative in the latest round of talks should have refused to discuss “transition”?

The international agreement last July that a political transition in Damascus should be the number one priority was reached at a time when it was forecast, however misguidedly, that the Assad Government were about to fall. The situation is now very different. Not only has there been a significant change in the military situation; attempts to put together a moderate rebel group that might take part in any future transitional Government have proved notably unsuccessful, with

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the Syrian national coalition in a state of confusion, if not chaos. The extreme Islamist movements, largely consisting of foreign extremists infiltrated into Syria and financed by our friends in the Gulf, are now proving to be the only effective military opposition to the Assad Government. In these circumstances, should it really be our priority to work for a transition, when the resulting Government might turn out to be considerably more dangerous, both for our interests and for those of the Syrian people, than the present secular Government in Damascus?

The Foreign Secretary has argued that our top priority is a political solution to end the Syrian crisis. Surely we must all say amen to that. But I would argue that the only way to achieve such a political and diplomatic solution is not to keep pressing for a transitional Government in Damascus, with all that entails, but for all of us, including our partners in the European Union, to work with Syria’s friends and supporters, namely the Russians, the Iranians and the Syrians themselves, to achieve an immediate ceasefire, if only to relieve the humanitarian crisis.

A great deal has been said in recent weeks about the involvement of Hezbollah in Syria, and this no doubt explains the reported aggression by the Israeli air force against targets in southern Lebanon earlier this week. But I think that we should distinguish between, on the one hand, attempts by a Shia organisation in neighbouring Lebanon to protect the Shia-backed Government in Damascus against Sunni extremism and the continued external involvement, on the other hand, of the Sunni Gulf states in what I have repeatedly described in this House as a Sunni-Shia, if not Arab-Iranian, war—an involvement which is seriously exacerbating sectarian violence in both Syria and its neighbours.

In that context, I hope the Minister can tell the House what we know of current discussions between the United States and Saudi Arabia on whether to provide further lethal weaponry to what are described, somewhat optimistically, as,

“the more moderate and secular rebels of the Free Syrian Army”.

Should we not be cautioning our friends in the Gulf—with whom, as the noble Baroness has reminded us, we have incredibly strong relationships—against pouring further fuel on the flames in Syria? Is it not inevitable that any further supplies of lethal weapons will quickly fall into the hands of those calling for Syria to become an Islamic theocracy? Our friends in the Gulf should be as worried as Her Majesty's Government no doubt are about the risk of young men and women becoming radicalised in Syrian Islamist training camps and returning to spread terrorist ideology at home.

It is clear that the Foreign Secretary and our European partners are taking great care to involve the Russians in how to deal with the current crisis in Ukraine. I hope that equal care will be taken to involve both the Russians and the Iranians in ways to resolve the Syrian crisis. In that context, I hope that the Minister can tell the House how our attempts to normalise our diplomatic relations with both Iran and Syria are progressing—what the noble Baroness described yesterday, in another context, as “constructive engagement”.

Finally, before I turn to the question of Israeli settlements, I would first like to echo the tribute of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, to the Israeli treatment of

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Syrian refugees in their hospitals. But to turn to the question of Israeli settlements, I hope that the Minister can update us on whether efforts by ourselves and our European partners to stop the continued expansion of these illegal colonies have met with any positive response. What representations have we made about the addition of 35 further settlements as national priority areas, or the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli armed forces in the Jordan valley over the past three months?

I commend the decision of the European Union, as I hope will all Members of this House, to prevent all EU states from co-operating, transferring funds, or giving scholarships or research grants to bodies inside these illegal settlements. Indeed, I hope that the Government will not oppose the idea of any further sanctions if, as appears likely, Mr Netanyahu continues to ignore our representations.

2.15 pm

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Non-Afl): My Lords, I am grateful to whoever suggested that we have this long-overdue general debate on Syria and the Middle East. I have to say that, because it either takes courage or the proverbial brass neck for any Government to expose themselves to an examination of the past five decades of the UK’s inconsistencies and inadequacies in relation to that part of the world.

I suppose that it is unfair of me to start by referring to the hare-brained idea we had a few months ago that we should commit our servicemen to a bombing operation in Syria. One would have hoped that the very idea of becoming militarily involved in a sectarian civil war would have been the last thing upon which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would have encouraged the Prime Minister to embark—or was the idea just the now-not-unusual reflex reaction to hang on the coat-tails of the US?

How will we now react to the UN proposal that we should look at the possibility of opening our doors to 100,000 Syrian refugees? Given that we left 3,400 Iranian refugees at the mercy of the awful Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq after our contrived venture into that country, and that it has taken us almost 10 years to do nothing about 50-plus of those who would have some identification with the UK—although 17 of the cases are proven—one wonders.

Despite the fact that my friends, retired US General David Phillips and Colonel Wesley Martin, gave me a first-hand account of how they were responsible for disarming Camp Ashraf residents more than 10 years ago, and that even the US belatedly agreed with Europe that the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran was not a foreign terrorist organisation, our compassionate Home Office recently claimed that it still has to consider whether those 17 have any terrorist history. So we do nothing.

I have to be cynical about that, not least in a week in which we learnt that around 200 Northern Ireland terrorists who killed our soldiers and civilians were given an arbitrary and secret absolution for their crimes by government. How long would it take us now to process 100,000—or even 1,000—Syrian refugees?

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Meanwhile, we apparently do not concern ourselves with the reality that more than 100 of those unarmed Iranian refugees have been systematically murdered: 52 on 1 September alone. Worse still, the FCO tells us that it does not know who was responsible. What bunkum, at a time when GCHQ, in cahoots with the United States, probably knows what each of us here had for breakfast this morning. How can we stand here and pretend that we have confidence in our own position? In this respect—I know that it is not a Middle Eastern problem, but it illustrates the point—it is ironic that my numerous questions about the status in the UK of Philip Machemedze, a Zimbabwean who has admitted kidnapping and torture, earns the dismissive response:

“For reasons of confidentiality, the Home Office does not routinely comment on the residential status of individuals”.—[Official Report, 29/8/13; col. WA 408.]

What is and has for 31 years been my role at Westminster? What purpose and responsibility has each of us?

Yet this comparatively recent evasion of responsibility for our invasion of Iraq almost pales into insignificance beside the 54-year debacle the UK left in Cyprus after having blackmailed the paedophile Archbishop Makarios into agreeing to the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee; after having seen him rescind much of it, to the detriment of the Turkish Cypriot minority; and after having failed to meet our responsibility as a guarantor power by ignoring the Akritas plan to expunge Turkish Cypriots from the island and the Ifestos plan, which actually detailed the instructions as to where Greek Cypriot forces, including EOKA-B, would dispose of Turkish Cypriot bodies. That attempt to ethnically cleanse Cyprus lasted from Christmas 1963 until the Turkish intervention in 1974. Since then we have for 40 years shamefully vilified Turkey, another guarantor power, for doing what we failed to do. We have abandoned and isolated the Turkish Cypriot community, despite our implied promises that, if they accepted the 2004 Annan plan, injustices would end. To cap it all, we then assented to an EU decision to admit a divided Cyprus as a member.

Did I say, “To cap it all”? If I did, then I retract it. That should have applied to our Prime Minister’s recent aberration when he, without decent or proper consultation, agreed to cede 200 square kilometres of UK sovereign territory to the control and use of the Greek Cypriots. To say now that the UK will consider consultation with Turkish Cypriots is not good enough when we do not even give their politicians or officials the courtesy of recognition. What a hypocritical, arrogant, self-righteous bunch we have become.

I shall conclude by saying that many of us believe that both this and the previous Government do not and did not have a foreign policy worth the paper it is written on and that we have virtually lost touch with reality in the Middle East. Sadly, the increasing lack of practical, hands-on experience in another place over the past 30 years has systematically led the United Kingdom into a bureaucratic quagmire. Worse still, this bureaucratic quagmire has subverted the very basis on which this country has prospered for centuries.

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It is now subverting the very judicial processes of which we were once so proud and once were the world’s exemplars.

Corruption is no longer a foreign disease. It pervades our society. There is now an inevitable and consequential subversion of justice that we must surely recognise if we look back at Matrix Churchill, at the murder of the Canadian Gerald Bull and at the unprecedented use of more than 30 public interest immunity certificates at the alleged fraud trial—yes, I said “alleged” fraud trial—of Asil Nadir.

There has also been the secret court activity during the past few months in respect of the status of those letters of absolution issued to 187 IRA terrorists in 2006. The Middle East cannot be viewed in isolation. I am grateful for this short interlude to touch on the current incompetence in that area. Perhaps next time we can manage a full day’s debate if we are to hope to fully probe the roots of our strategic failures. On a final word of caution, we must never allow our security forces to bolster the ego of any Prime Minister. Nor, with a little more practical nous in another place, need or should they be sacrificed to Governments’ dubious political distortions or judgmental failures.

2.25 pm

Lord Lamont of Lerwick (Con): My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests. I am the chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce and have also been involved with several companies on both sides of the Gulf, including some in the past involved with Iran. It was that country that I wanted particularly to talk about today, having in January gone with the parliamentary delegation led by Jack Straw to Tehran. It was in the first week of January but it seems to be an eternity away, and a considerable amount has gone on since then.

We had very good access within the Iranian Government to Foreign Minister Zarif, Mr Nematzadeh, the organiser of President Rouhani’s campaign, now the Industry Minister, and Mr Nahavandian, the head of the president’s office. Almost everybody we met in the Government was western educated. Indeed, it is said that there are more American PhDs in President Rouhani’s Cabinet than there are in President Obama’s. We also, because this was a parliamentary visit, met quite a number of the members of the Majlis, where we met many more hardliners, so we got a feeling of the spectrum of politics within Iran.

There is a lot of argument about whether President Rouhani is a reformist in the Iranian sense, but it cannot be denied that he has the support of the reformist element. His Cabinet is very similar to that of President Khatami. President Rouhani has certainly unleashed in Iran an enormous feeling of optimism on the part of the population, of expectation and a great rise in business confidence. The Government frequently say—and I know that many people believe—that only sanctions have brought Iran to the negotiating table. I would say that that is only partly true. They have had an effect, but it was public opinion, the election and the election of President Rouhani that changed the policy. If the election had gone the other way and Mr Djalili, the previous nuclear negotiator, had been elected, there would have been no change at all.

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I believe that there is the capacity for change in Iran. The revolutionaries are ageing and it is moving into a post-revolutionary phase. Of course, there are people who want to keep the spirit of the revolution alive, and we have to be very careful that in our dealings with Iran we do not make mistakes that strengthen them. But Iran has the capacity to evolve without violence and further revolution, whereas I could not express that view about all the countries in the Gulf. Some of them do not have the same capacity to evolve peacefully and will not have the same capacity to evolve into something more akin to a western democracy.

Iran is a complex society, and it does have elements of democracy in it, but it is also an authoritarian state whose record on human rights is extremely bad. We did not flinch at every meeting that we went to from raising the issue of human rights, including that of public executions. The West is right to press Iran on human rights, but it is an issue that should be kept separate from the nuclear issue, which is a prize that is worth winning on its own and could yield considerable benefits to the region and the world.

We discussed the nuclear issue with Foreign Minister Zarif and he professed that he was not very optimistic about the outcome of the talks. I think that the greatest difficulty in the talks is going to be over the objective set out in the initial agreement to reach a mutually agreed definition of a nuclear programme—that is to say, what scale of enrichment should be allowed, if it is to be allowed, in Iran. One can see the gulf in thinking when you consider that Iran currently has 20,000 centrifuges, but in a recent article in the Financial Times Mir-Hossein Mousavi, another previous Iranian nuclear negotiator, pointed out that broadly 100,000 centrifuges are needed—it depends what type they are—for one nuclear power station. Iran has 20,000 at the moment. The other day Wendy Sherman said she could not possibly see why Iran needed 20,000 centrifuges. Of course the West is concentrating on reducing the number of those centrifuges, yet paradoxically it looks as though it wants Iran to reduce the number of centrifuges to a limit which would enable it to produce a nuclear weapon but not to actually power a power station. That does not seem a very sensible approach. I think it would be much better if the West did not concentrate on the number of centrifuges but actually concentrated on transparency, inspection, the additional protocol, the right to go throughout the country and to make undeclared visits. That will be the way in which agreement might be possible.

We spent a lot of our time discussing the nuclear issue but we also discussed the Syrian situation. I agree with everybody who has described that as an absolute humanitarian disaster and I do not for one minute defend the position that Iran has taken. However, Foreign Minister Zarif and others repeatedly said to us—they never mentioned Assad—that they felt the only way in which the situation could be resolved would be through a political solution which led to free elections. I regarded that just as a formula which they trotted out but I notice it is a formula that they use on every public occasion. I suggest that we take them at their word. Of course the idea of elections is light years away in the present situation but we ought to be

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trying to create that situation. By involving Iran we would be more likely to do that and create a path in which elections could be the ultimate destination.

I believe that Iran regards Syria in exactly the same way that Saudi Arabia and the United States regard Bahrain. They regard it as a very important and strategic interest. They regard Syria as the route to Hezbollah and recall that Syria was of course the only Arab country that supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. I was in the Middle East when the recent unrest first began in Bahrain and I recall that a very well-known senior American politician made it quite clear to me that there would be no change to the regime or fundamental political change in Bahrain. He just said, “We have interests there,” meaning, of course, the fleet. That is exactly the attitude Iran has towards Syria. I think Iran’s links towards Hezbollah and Hamas, which occupy a very different space on the political Islam spectrum, ought to be looked at in the context of Iran’s own security concerns. It regards its links with Hamas and Hezbollah as assets. Iran has a very weak air force. I think it was General Petraeus who said the other day that the entire Iranian air force could be wiped out by that of the UAE in one afternoon. Therefore, alternative sources of firepower—asymmetric responses—are very much part of the strategic thinking. It was once rather brutally put by Mr Larijani, the speaker of the Majlis, who said that if there is an attack on Iran, expect Israel to be in a wheelchair. In other words, the response will come from south Lebanon.

I want to say a word about sanctions and the way in which they are being applied. I hope that we will be very careful during this interim phase. I cannot for the life of me understand why, when we are moving towards a situation in which we want full diplomatic relations with Iran to be restored, we will not allow the Iranian chargé in London to open a bank account. How is an embassy meant to operate if it cannot have a bank account? Yet the Government simply refuse to give any help on this. The banking boycott is causing a lot of ill will in Iran. One of the concessions made in the interim deal was on humanitarian goods such as medicines. Lots of supplies of medicines, which are in great demand in Iran, are not getting through because, although they are allowed to be supplied, there is no access to banking facilities. The West seems to be giving on the one hand and taking away with the other. All this of course is due to US banking sanctions being imposed informally by the back door on our own banking industry. If we wish to frustrate the supply of humanitarian goods let us do it openly, not with subterfuge and methods that are hitting ordinary people. We always said that we did not want the sanctions to hit ordinary people but that is precisely what they are doing because of the boycott being imposed, largely informally, by American authorities threatening banks in the UK.

I say that because the likelihood of a successful outcome in the talks with Iran is only 50:50. It is in the balance. Anything could upset it. It could be upset in the United States or it could be upset in Iran. It would be a tragedy if, in our handling of the sanctions issue, we gave the Iranians any excuse to withdraw from these talks, which I hope will come to a successful conclusion.

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2.37 pm

Lord Soley (Lab): My Lords, I declare my interest, which is recorded in the register, as director of the Good Governance Foundation, which operates in the region. I thank the Minister, not just for initiating the debate but for the way in which she has handled this incredibly difficult issue over the past few years. I should also put it on record that the Library note on the timeline of events in Syria is particularly useful to this debate. I want to focus my comments because this is such a wide issue that I would not wish to range right over it.

I first want to focus the Minister’s attention on Libya. I have had some talks with representatives of the Libyan Government, and it has been clear to me that it is almost impossible for them to achieve stable government without dealing with the problems of divisions within the security services—the police and the army. As the Minister will know, there is a series of armed groups who claim or try to be the police force or the army for the country. Perhaps our Government have done so but we ought at least to explore the option, possibly with NATO and the European Union, of putting some of our experienced military officers in there to try to help disarm and merge the various groups, and try to create at least one major police force or armed unit. Unless we do that, I cannot see how a stable state is going to emerge. The European Union, ourselves and NATO have some experience in that we know about how to negotiate between competing groups, get them to give up arms and introduce other stabilising forces. I conclude my comments on Libya by saying that unless we do something along those lines, it is hard to see how that country can progress to a more stable state.

I turn now to Syria. It is not with any great pleasure that I remind the Minister of my comment in the summer last year—she was good enough to acknowledge that it might come true—that the talks about Syria would almost certainly fail. I thought that they would fail, not on the humanitarian side—I recognise what the Government are doing on that and it is very good—but, as perhaps the debate has already indicated, we are not paying enough attention to the role of Russia.

People talk about the arms going to the various opposition groups in Syria, but the Iranian and Russian arms going to the government side—to the military, in fact—are profoundly important. The reason they are particularly important is that Russia is a sophisticated power with satellites, so it is not only arms being provided: there is good reason to believe that it is also providing intelligence to the Assad regime and military about the whereabouts of the various forces. Of course, Assad has an air force and it is no surprise that the barrel bombs—even though they might go astray at times and hit targets either deliberately or not deliberately—are targeting those areas about which it has information likely to have come from the Russians. I have yet to hear from the Government, either in this House or in the House of Commons, about how much we are engaged with the Russians in trying to get them to pull back some of their support for the regime.

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I do not suggest that the Russians will necessarily want to see Assad stay in power, but I think they have a very real interest in ensuring that the military stays in power in Syria. That is why the Russians work closely with it. The Russians have a military base in the area and they want that base. Russians have arms contracts with the Syrians and they have always made it very clear that they will continue to supply according to those contracts. There is no dishonesty about it from the Russians’ point of view; it is just that they believe—and they are not entirely wrong on this—that if they do not back the Assad side, then it will be a failed state. The problem with the Russian position is that we are either facing a military state or a failed state, and neither of those is a particularly attractive option.

We therefore need to know a little more about the Government’s engagement with the Russians on their policy towards Syria. My own view still is that, although there is no clear winner on the ground in the military sense, the military controlled by Assad—or it may be other way around, with the military controlling Assad—is winning more ground than various opposition groups. That is really why I said a year or so ago that I believed that the talks would not succeed: because as long as the regime in Syria thinks that it can gain ground through military advances, it is not in its interest to engage in talks. That is why I found myself in agreement today with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, about a plan B. I do not have any suggestions about what that plan B should be, but I understand—the noble Lord, Lord Wright, mentioned this—that if it is true that the Russians are determined to keep the military in control of Syria, rather than the various other opposition groups, then, frankly, that is what we might have to live with in times to come. If so, we had better have a policy about that; it is very hard to see what we could do otherwise.

The Russians are big players in this. Russia and Iran have a very real interest, and I do not doubt that they would deliver on ensuring that weapons of mass destruction are not used by the Syrian armed forces. It is in Iran’s interest, not least because it was on the receiving end of weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein. From the Russian point of view, it is because its world image is so awful, but I do not think it is true to say that the Russians do not have an interest in making sure that the military stays as the primary force in Syria. That points to a military dictatorship of some type, except in the very unlikely event that one of the other groups comes forward as a winner.

A number of people in recent months have made the comparison with Spain in the 1930s. Obviously, the differences are far greater than the similarities; but the one similarity we should all be aware of is the problem for the western nations: they look at the opposition and see this diverse group which is unable to deliver a proper government while at the same time seeing a military Government who are unacceptable in everything that they have done and look like doing.

The world goes through various phases of supporting or being against intervention. You can go back much further than the post-war years to find policies on

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intervention, but we all believed in intervention when we found that we could work in certain areas. We tried Somalia and burnt our fingers there—or, rather, the United States did—so we promptly refused to intervene in Rwanda and 1 million people died. We intervened in Iraq but the post-conflict situation was dealt with so poorly that it went badly wrong again. However, who is really arguing that non-intervention in Syria is good for humanity? Of course it is not, but that non-intervention is a failure of the United Nations.

At the end of the day, it is possible to intervene in these states but you can do so only if all the major world powers are in agreement. That is our problem—we do not have that agreement. We should remember that it was only about two or three years ago that there were discussions in this House and the House of Commons about the new concept of a responsibility to protect, drawn up through reform of the United Nations. At the moment that has gone, and I am afraid that it will stay gone until we get agreement among the great powers. That is particularly difficult while Russia, most notably, but also China are opposed to intervention, unless of course it is close to their own borders in the case of Georgia and—one hopes not, but possibly—Ukraine. At some stage we need to reopen the argument in the United Nations about a responsibility to protect and what we do when we are faced, as we are in Syria, with the alternatives of a military Government who have been behaving appallingly by any standards and a series of groups, all of which would equal a failed state if they came to power.

I ask the Minister to respond particularly on the point about Libya. Otherwise, I thank her for what she has been doing in this field. Her knowledge of the religious conflicts in this area is very helpful.

2.46 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, I agree with a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has said, especially about Russia. Syria’s collapse into civil war is the whole world’s concern. This country, having a lot of experience in the Middle East, has played a leading role, not least, as my noble friend Lord Maginnis said, in getting it wrong at least once. My chief concern today is Britain’s reputation not just as a Security Council member but as a host country to refugees from Syria. I offer no political solutions to the crisis itself but I know that, of all people in the world, Lakhdar Brahimi has the qualities and the experience to solve it, and it is hard to imagine anyone else equalling him. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Williams will agree with that because he has already said it. I would only advise Her Majesty’s Government to do their utmost to keep Russia and Iran on side if any progress is to be made. There, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and my noble friend Lord Wright, who, incidentally, mentioned the important question of the settlements, which is tending to get ignored.

The desperation of Palestinians in the besieged camp of Yarmouk in Damascus has already been mentioned. Access to humanitarian aid is, as always, the vital issue. The international community has failed again to deliver aid where it is needed. Médecins du Monde, Chatham House and others have made practical

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suggestions for local ceasefires and improved access for the relief agencies through the UN and the ICRC. This remains an important priority for our Government, even if we cannot yet achieve a lasting peace. If the noble Baroness has any detail on that, I would be grateful to hear it. Aid workers are running enormous risks in Syria, and we need to do much more to support them.

We have been generous with humanitarian aid, as we would expect, being one of the world’s foremost aid givers. I do not quarrel with the amount we are giving but I do question our basic philosophy, which is to support the neighbouring countries rather than a wider programme of world involvement and resettlement. At first sight, this policy of supporting the neighbouring countries seems sensible because the ties between Syria and its neighbours are considerable and refuge appeared to be temporary at first. Turkey’s welcome to the earliest refugees in particular stands out as an example. But these neighbours are now stretched to the limit, as we have heard, and as a result the UN is looking to the long term.

Syrians in northern Iraq have already been living in abandoned houses and even animal shelters for two years—up to 20 people per home without proper nutrition. Many who are out of reach of international aid depend on the generosity of their Kurdish hosts where food may be already scarce. A Christian Aid visitor, for example, found refugees crowding around a vehicle carrying trays of cooked rice and chicken, all provided by the local people from their own resources. We tend to forget that in these situations. On top of this many displaced Iraqis are now fleeing northwards to escape newly escalating violence engendered by the al-Qaeda groups and freelance militia, both Sunni and Shia. Lebanon is also carrying a huge burden on top of its own problems. Many Syrians who arrive in Lebanon after long journeys, often without money or possessions, cannot reach UN protection and depend completely on the help of local Orthodox churches and charities which also help with health and education. Refugees who are bombed out of their homes and schools may also need psychosocial support to help them cope with the emotional impact of living through conflict. In Jordan most services to refugees are said to be close to breaking point.

I can well remember the warm reception given in the late 1970s to the Vietnamese boat people after the wars and massacres of the Vietnam War and its aftermath in Indo-China. As a country we responded well to UN and charity appeals and churches and communities all over the UK were alerted. I am sure most of us remember this. I was on the staff of Christian Aid at that time and I recall that thousands of people were accommodated with British families and that it was an efficiently run operation. What a contrast with Syria today. Here we have nearly 2.5 million refugees in four neighbouring countries, many overcrowded and undernourished, and thousands applying for resettlement in Europe. They have little prospect of returning home and yet European countries are not exactly jumping forward with offers. The UNHCR is asking for 30,000 places this year and 100,000 long-term. Our Prime Minister said three weeks ago that we must act urgently

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but we have negotiated a figure of only 500 out of the 18,800 places offered by 20 countries. Germany alone is said to be receiving 11,000. Here we may remember for a moment Chancellor Merkel’s powerful appeal to European nations to work even more closely together, and this applies to asylum as much as everything else. It is true that in the year up to last September the UK accepted 1,100 Syrians refugees, which is the third highest number after Germany and Sweden, and the Home Secretary says that 3,500 are already in the UK. But none of those was actually invited; they somehow managed to get here after an exhausting journey of weeks or months.

So what has happened since the 1970s? Wars and massacres continue and the suffering and risk from chemical weapons is equally serious, if not more so. Was there anything special about the Vietnam War and Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or about the vulnerability of the Vietnamese who took to sea to persuade us to be more hospitable? Syrian families are, if anything, more easily adaptable to British home life, and their standard of living in many cases was previously comparable to that of many people in the UK. I cannot answer these questions. I know that the level of immigration is now much higher than it was then and that that has affected our sense of hospitality. A combination of migrations from eastern Europe and the troubles of the Middle East and north Africa have generated new fears in the minds of some of us that this country is losing its intrinsic character and culture. These fears, of course, are groundless because we have absorbed migrations over many centuries and indeed we depend on them. None of that should affect our attitude to genuine refugees who are in a quite separate category. They are not deliberately choosing a new life elsewhere but are reluctantly fleeing war, persecution and hunger.

I know that this is not primarily the Minister’s problem but it does belong in our overall response to the crisis in Syria. The only question I would put to her today is about Greece and its frontiers. Are the Government satisfied that the FRONTEX programme, supported by the European Union, is providing a secure border with Turkey? We hear many conflicting stories about that. Would she describe recent reported actions by the Greek Government against the Syrian boat people as refoulement, or as sensible immigration policy?

2.55 pm

Lord Williams of Baglan (CB): My Lords, we are holding this debate almost three years since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria—a war that has already claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people and left in its wake more than 1.5 million refugees. Despite the length of this conflict, the international community has struggled to contain the war, let alone bring an end to the violence and restore peace to Syria. In the length of the conflict, its nakedly sectarian nature and the inability of the international community to reach a consensus, it reminds me all too often of the war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, where I served with the UN. Then as now, we struggle to bring humanitarian relief to the victims of the war and, despite all the hopes after the Yugoslav wars that a new era in the international management of conflict had dawned,

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those hopes have been dashed. Those hopes gave rise among other developments to the doctrine of the responsibility to protect—R2P in shorthand. The sad fact is that we have been unable adequately to protect the people of Syria.

The dangers of the conflict spreading to neighbouring countries, and especially to Lebanon, have been noted by many speakers this afternoon. On a visit to Lebanon a few weeks ago, I found UN colleagues anxious about the growing sectarian violence within the country and the extraordinary burden of more than 1 million refugees, equivalent to a quarter of the Lebanese population. Can one imagine 15 million refugees arriving in the United Kingdom and how we might cope? I pay tribute to what our Government have tried to do to help the Lebanese and to the extraordinarily able and energetic Ambassador Tom Fletcher and his staff in Beirut. Despite their efforts and those of many other countries to help Lebanon, the trends are not good. There have now been at least five bomb attacks on the Shia district of Beirut, Dahieh. The country’s second city, Tripoli, is wracked by periodic but sustained violence between the majority Sunni population and an Alawite minority openly supportive of the regime of President Assad and his Lebanese ally, the Shia militia Hezbollah. A few days ago there was an Israeli air attack on an alleged Hezbollah convoy. There have also been assassinations—above all of the former Finance Minister and leading moderate, and a personal friend, Mohammed Chatah, whose death by murder on 27 December last year I mourn.

Hezbollah, deemed by many to be the most heavily armed non-state actor in the world, was born during the 1980s Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and played a considerable role in prompting the eventual withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon. Its focus now is elsewhere: fighting fellow Arabs and fellow Muslims in Syria, who have dared to challenge Assad’s regime. That action, strongly supported by Iran, has left an Arab world dangerously divided between Sunni and Shia, which will take many years to heal. I hope that, in their necessary dialogue with Iran on the critical nuclear file, the Government and our colleagues in the P5, as well as Germany, are taking issue with President Rouhani and warning of the dangerous course that his Government’s allies are following in the Arab world. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could clarify that.

I take this opportunity to welcome the two rounds of talks held in Montreux and Geneva under the able chairmanship of the veteran UN diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi. Of course it is disappointing that more was not achieved, but we should take some comfort from the fact that the talks did not break down and that no party walked out. Moreover, between the first and second rounds in Geneva, the head of the Syrian National Council delegation, Ahmad Jarba, visited Moscow, where he was received by the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergei Lavrov. This was certainly not welcomed in Damascus. Russia is now in the unique position of being the only P5 member with relations with both sides of the conflict in Syria.

The next important development was the adoption, which I warmly welcome, of Security Council

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Resolution 2139 last Saturday by unanimous approval of the Security Council. The resolution called on all parties,

“in particular the Syrian authorities”,

to allow unhindered humanitarian access for the UN. It also strongly condemned the use of barrel bombs, which, of course, are used by only one side to the conflict. In the light of this resolution, which offers some hope, I call on the Government to redouble their efforts with the Russians and the Chinese to find a negotiated end to this conflict. There has, I believe, been a subtle change in the position of the Russian Federation.

Diplomatic efforts need to be intensified. I believe that it was foolish in the extreme that the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, seemingly had to withdraw his invitation to Iran to participate in the Geneva peace talks. If there is to be a negotiated settlement, diplomacy has to be inclusive, not exclusive. I have always believed that the model in this regard was the hawkish and viscerally anti-communist Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. In 1954 in Geneva, he was appalled at the prospect of shaking hands with the Chinese statesman and Foreign Minister, Chou En-Lai. In colourful language not appropriate in your Lordships’ House, he refused to do that. The point is that Dulles sat in the same room with representatives of a Government that the US had been fighting for the previous three years in Korea. If Dulles could do that half a century ago, the West should have been able to do so a few weeks ago in Iran.

This war has seen appalling acts of violence, cruelty and brutality that, in many cases, almost certainly amount to war crimes. Before Syria, it had become accepted that the international community would not tolerate such crimes. In the Balkans, we saw the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. I myself testified against former President Slobodan Milosevic, as well as the commander of the Yugoslav army, General Perisic. A special tribunal was formed for Sierra Leone, which has seen Charles Taylor indicted and tried. Above all, there has been the formation of the International Criminal Court, which has seen, among others, President al-Bashir of Sudan indicted.

It cannot be that Arabs and the Syrian people are less deserving of justice. As a P5 member we have a duty towards them. I would welcome any thoughts that the noble Baroness might have of government thinking in this regard. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which this Government and their predecessor have strongly supported, is now conducting a trial, in the absence of the accused, of the suspected killers of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others in 2005. I ask the noble Baroness whether any thought has been given to extending the mandate of that court to look at the murder of Mohammed Chatah, who was killed in an almost identical fashion, by a massive car bomb, only a few streets away from the 2005 killing.

In Syria, we have few good choices. Absent a willingness by the Obama Administration to take a more forceful stance—for example, a no-fly zone, which had an impact in Bosnia—a negotiated settlement is the only option. We cannot do less for the Syrian people and we must do more to intensify our efforts.

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3.04 pm

Lord Marlesford (Con): My Lords, as the world recovers from the deepest, longest and most diffused economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s—I should emphasise that the recovery has been slow and erratic, with the resumption of growth and prosperity remaining fragile—another cloud threatens global stability and security. This cloud—and it is a deepening and darkening cloud—is jihadist terrorism against large areas of the world. Although aimed primarily at the West, few areas remain entirely safe.

The most notable and fearful threat is that it is becoming joined-up terrorism. The fundamentalist Islamism from which it stems is widely diffused through not just much of the Middle East but also north, central and east Africa, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Caucasus. The organisations which are planning the terrorist operations are a coalition of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front and a number of other splinter groups. All share the overall aim of creating theocratic states under Sharia law, with the eventual aim of a worldwide caliphate.

If anyone doubts the threat to this country, let them read the evidence given in public on 7 November to the Intelligence and Security Committee by the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. There is huge danger to us from the radicalisation of young Muslims in the UK. As of now, it would be an exaggeration to say that it threatens peace on the scale of the Cold War but, significantly, on jihadist terrorism, all five permanent members of the UN Security Council are in the same camp. Thus, there should be hope of using the UN to authorise measures, thus legitimising them in international law, to reduce the threat—perhaps developing the responsibility to protect doctrine, which has already been referred to.

I want to refer specifically to only three countries: Syria itself, Israel-Palestine and Egypt. On Syria, I say only that we have probably been on the wrong side from the start. That came from the naivety of assuming that the Arab spring was akin to our Enlightenment, automatically leading to tolerance, freedom of thought and thence to western-style democracy.

The fact is that all dictators are undesirable, but only some are true monsters—such as Saddam and Gaddafi, who richly deserved their fate. Others, such as Bashar al-Assad, are forced into monstrous behaviour by events. In this case, we have given western moral backing to a loose alliance of about 20 rebel groups who now appear to be dominated by the ultra-Islamists. Their victory would lead to a repressive theocracy. It is no coincidence that Israel, whose policies in world affairs are always very pragmatic, has never come out for the removal of Assad, although Syria is hardly its best friend. Thankfully, in August, the House of Commons vetoed British participation in an ill conceived military strike against Assad.

The Israel-Palestine situation is entering an even more serious phase. It continues to drop its poison into the region and more widely, providing the leitmotif for the jihadists and making it ever harder for moderate Islamic interests, such as Fatah, to negotiate a long-term solution. In Israel, however, the West Bank is not a top

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domestic issue. Most Israelis have never been there and have no wish to do so. The politics of a Palestinian state are not an easy option for Prime Minister Netanyahu, especially while there is relative calm. Secretary of State Kerry has shown himself totally committed to producing a settlement based on the two-state solution so long and widely advocated, which has, incidentally, been steadily gaining support in the United States. Originally, Kerry set a nine-month framework for results. That was six months ago. There are concerns that President Obama may be about to announce changes to the terms of reference, which, far from moving towards a solution, could close options and escalate instability on the West Bank, providing welcome sustenance for Islamists.

On Egypt, I would like to follow up what the noble Lord, Lord Stone, said. With the noble Lord and others, I had the opportunity earlier this month to spend two days in Egypt as part of the all-party parliamentary delegation from both Houses. This was sponsored by the Farid Khamis Foundation, which created the British University in Egypt, of which the noble Lord, Lord Stone, is a trustee. We met, among others, interim President Mansour, Prime Minister Beblawi and the Foreign and Interior Ministers. Perhaps most importantly, we had two hours with the Defence Minister, Field Marshal Sisi, who is also head of the armed forces. We were told we might get half an hour, but it would be more likely to be 15 minutes. When we got there, he started by saying how much he liked England because he had such happy memories of his time at Camberley in the staff college. That is a little lesson, perhaps, in the importance of welcoming people in the role of student at whatever institution in this country.

The Muslim Brotherhood Government of President Morsi, elected in June 2012, of which many had such high hopes as a more moderate version of the old Brotherhood, rapidly reverted to its ideological roots. It aimed for an Islamic state with a theocratic Government that would resurrect the Islamic caliphate, and introduced a new Islamic constitution in December of the year they were elected. Morsi released from prison the Brotherhood Islamist who assassinated, in October 1981, President Anwar Sadat. President Sadat had offered peace to Israel in November 1977.

Morsi then released those who bombed the tourist bus on the Nile. Most serious was that Morsi arranged for some 600 Islamist fighters to enter Sinai from neighbouring countries. They are now causing mayhem. Their removal is a top military priority for the Egyptians. Equally, al-Qaeda threats against tourists are intended to sabotage a crucial element of Egypt’s very fragile economy. By December 2012, Egypt’s economy was virtually paralysed, and an IMF loan had to be delayed. From early 2013, violent street protests, with many killed, resulted in the army trying to get Morsi to hold a vote on his policies as things went from worse to worse, with massive unemployment and no means to reduce extreme poverty in the country. In July, the army stepped in to remove him. An interim, mainly technocratic, Government was formed. The Muslim Brotherhood was banned as a terrorist organisation. This was almost certainly a mistake because it has hundreds of thousands of supporters. However, there

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is no reason why there should not be a Salafist candidate to represent Sunni hardliners in the presidential election, although they are not exactly the flavour of the month.

Egypt now has a new constitution, drawn up by a committee of 50 under Mr Amr Moussa, formerly the Secretary-General of the Arab League. Most significant is that any president is limited to two four-year terms, which reduces the risk of another long-term military leader like Mubarak. Sisi is likely to stand and my own impression is that he would make an effective leader of vision and integrity. The fact that the Minister of Defence will continue to be the head of the armed forces reflects the special position that the army has in Egypt as the ultimate guardian of the people. Then in three months’ time, there have to be parliamentary elections. Egypt is in every sense a country of world importance. We owe it to ourselves as much as to the Egyptians to do all we can to help them.

Finally, my overall conclusion is that we in the West really must stop trying to tell other countries how they should run their own show, which is so often counterproductive. It is indeed a tragedy that the United States, which is fundamentally one of the most generous and well meaning countries in the world, has succeeded over several decades in using its military power to reduce its world influence. We must draw the true lesson of the Enlightenment, which is about the need for despotic government to be replaced with constitutional government subject to the rule of law and the fullest use of free thought, from which science and technology can produce the prosperity which underwrites stability.

3.16 pm

Lord Noon (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this timely debate. I am clearly surrounded by noble Lords who have great experience of the situation in Syria and the many issues and tensions in the Middle East. The Syrian situation is complex and evolving. Noble Lords have mentioned a great many issues, including extremism, the use of chemical weapons, the role of Iran and the Geneva peace talks. In respect of Syria, I simply reinforce what my right honourable friend Douglas Alexander said in the other place about the importance of continued humanitarian aid being available to the many people who are suffering from this tragedy. The United Nations has estimated that 100,000 people have been killed during this conflict, a number which continues to rise with each day that passes.

In the time available today I wish to focus my attention on Bahrain, a country in the Middle East that has also had some bad press in relation to human rights abuses but which, I would argue, is genuinely trying to address these issues. The Minister will be aware that the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the Commons criticised the Government of Bahrain for their slowness in implementing some of the recommendations of an inquiry which had been critical of the role of the security forces during the civil unrest there. I believe that much has changed in Bahrain and hope to present some of the positive actions taken in recent times. It is important to state that I personally know the region and country well, having visited it many times and owned a number of businesses in

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Bahrain. If any noble Lords would like to discuss my business experiences outside the Chamber I would be more than happy to meet and chat to them, and lunch is on me.

Suffice to say that I found Bahrain’s judicial system very open and transparent. I will give your Lordships an example. On one of my trips to Bahrain, I had to transfer power of attorney to my Bahraini partner and a legal document had to be signed in the presence of a judicial magistrate. When I went to sign the document, the magistrate asked if I had read it. I explained that I had not as the document was in Arabic, a language I am unfamiliar with. He told me that I could not sign that document if I had not read or understood it. He then called on a translator to go through the document with me line by line. Once he was satisfied that I had read and understood the document, he allowed me to sign it. This is but one example of a personal experience that highlighted to me the integrity and transparency that exist in the country.

I also found Bahrain to be tolerant of all religions. I visited many mosques, churches, synagogues and gurdwaras; it should be noted that the Bahraini ambassador to the UK is a Christian woman and the former ambassador to the USA was Jewish. I could give many more examples, but unfortunately we do not have time in this debate today.

Let me focus on the critical steps that Bahrain has taken in the past two years, particularly in addressing allegations of human rights abuses. Bahrain was the first country in the Gulf to establish an independent ombudsman at its Ministry of Interior. This was a recommendation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was set up to investigate allegations of police misconduct and improper treatment of prisoners. In fact, reform has gone beyond what the commission recommended and Bahrain maintains a zero-tolerance policy towards torture. The commission has already investigated more than 80 complaints, many of which have subsequently been referred for criminal investigations. The recommendations contained in its report on the infamous Jaw prison are currently being implemented by the Ministry of Interior. Jaw prison has been notorious since its creation, particularly with regard to political prisoners, as many noble Lords will be aware. However, following the report, with its 18 recommendations on how to improve the situation in the prison, things have improved greatly.

The introduction of the special investigations unit is another recent institutional reform. This unit at the Bahraini Attorney-General’s office, which was originally tasked with ensuring that allegations of torture and mistreatment during the events of 2011 were investigated thoroughly and that those responsible were held accountable, has become a permanent prosecutorial body to investigate and prosecute all instances of torture. It has investigated more than 150 complaints, some received directly from victims and others proactively gleaned from social media. Of these, 30 have resulted in the prosecution of 51 officers.

Moreover, a draft law is currently under review by the Bahrain Parliament to ensure that the reformed National Human Rights Institution is a fully independent body. It was founded in accordance with the Paris

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principles and will be capable of investigating and reporting on all types of human rights violations without government interference. Prominent Bahraini human rights activists have already been appointed to the newly constituted board of the institution.

A few days ago a royal decree was issued naming the members of the Commission on the Rights of Prisoners and Detainees, which will be presided over by the Ministry of Interior ombudsman. This commission is tasked with monitoring places of detention in order to prevent torture and ill treatment.

I hope the Minister will agree with me that Bahrain has made some serious progress towards addressing its negative portrayal in the media. I was heartened by her words when she said that the UK recognised Bahrain’s groundbreaking reform programme.

Finally, we should not underestimate the relationship between the UK and Bahrain. In 1820, Bahrain signed the General Maritime Treaty with the United Kingdom and became a British protectorate. The treaty dealt with trade, security and travel, and also strengthened the defence relationship between Bahrain and the UK. The UK maritime component command is based in Bahrain. This is vital for keeping shipping lanes and the Strait of Hormuz open.

In 2005, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah, released a joint statement saying that the two countries,

“have a strong, warm and longstanding relationship, rooted in our friendship over the years and in the 1971 Friendship Treaty”.

Around 7,000 Britons work in Bahrain and many Bahraini students study at educational establishments in the UK. There are also around 250,000 Indian professionals and business people living in Bahrain, which is helped by the friendliness and the welcoming attitude of Bahraini people. I hope that in her summing up the Minister will be supportive of my observations of the progress that Bahrain has made.

3.25 pm

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for obtaining this debate and for introducing it with such a helpful scan of Syria, the Middle East and north Africa. I draw to the House’s attention my registered interests in the region, particularly in trying to deal with conflict in the region.

Many noble Lords have picked on a number of particular countries in which they have a special interest or concern. That is a very appropriate thing to do in the context of this debate, but I shall take a line directed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. He pointed out the need for us to have a clearer strategic approach to understanding the problems of this region. While it is true that the same thing is not happening in every country in the region, something is nevertheless happening in the broader region and we need to understand it. We need to evolve and develop our own way of addressing the problems.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, has directed us to three issues: Iran, when he said that he hoped our Government and others would maintain some progress and momentum in dealing with the

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nuclear question; relationships with Saudi Arabia; and containing the Syrian problem. I shall start with the last of those issues.

From the very start I cautioned against any kind of military intervention in Syria. I said that it seemed to me that the internal problems were not amenable to our engagement and resolution and that what was critical was to try, in so far as possible, to limit the spread of the developing disorder and chaos. Part of the process of doing that is to try to give support to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey—a front-line country which has been mentioned a few times in this debate but which has perhaps not received as much attention as it deserves as a NATO ally that has engaged very thoughtfully in this situation. The Government have put a substantial amount of money, time and effort into giving support, perhaps particularly in Lebanon and Jordan but also in Turkey. We had the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey here a week or so ago and he welcomed the assistance that has been given. This is very important. It is one of the positive and constructive things we can continue to do and where we can continue to give a lead.

I am afraid that when the question of military engagement arose the Government seemed to jump with much too great an alacrity to agree despite the bad experiences that we have had with it over some time. Why was that? I have the impression that “engagement” seems to be seen in military and force terms, and that much of our foreign policy seems to be a matter of “Let’s see what our American colleagues say and give them as much support as possible”. In fact, on some issues—particularly the Israel-Palestine question—that is the answer I have received when I asked officials at the Foreign Office what precisely is our policy. “We will wait and see what John Kerry says, we will wait and see what happens, and then we will support it”. Of course one wants to support one’s friends, but you are not a terribly useful friend if the only thing you have to say is, “I agree with Nick”. It is really rather important to say, “I hear what you say and I am sympathetic to it but here’s another perspective”. When it came to dealing with problems in my part of the United Kingdom, our friends in the United States were perfectly capable of taking a very different line from Her Majesty’s Government and, in the end, helpfully so.