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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Government are committed to a programme to ensure fair access to consistently high standards of care across the NHS. For older people, we are currently engaged in identifying where improvements are needed.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. But does he agree with what I perceive to be a frightening practice of asking elderly patients entering hospital whether they wish to be resuscitated in the event of their heart stopping?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important question concerning the information which is made available to patients and the desires that patients are able to express about the treatment that they are to receive. It is right that we should listen to what patients say in those circumstances.
I suspect that the noble Baroness raises a wider issue concerning the withholding of treatment and she will know that BMA guidelines are available which make a thoughtful and useful contribution. At the end of the day those matters lie within the clinical responsibility of clinicians. At times they have to take extremely difficult decisions and it behoves us all to support them in that.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I am sure that the Minster will agree that the availability of high dependency and intensive care beds is of crucial importance to the care of older people. Indeed, they claim to have increased the numbers of high dependency and intensive care beds. Why is it, therefore, that they have held back the results of their own internal review into those beds? Is that the Government engaging in deceit or is it the product of ignorance?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is neither. We have indeed set up a national beds inquiry to look at the NHS as a whole to see whether the distribution and number of beds are appropriate and adequate to the needs of the health service. My understanding is that work on that inquiry is still ongoing but is nearing completion. We should certainly hope to publish the results shortly.
As regards the noble Lord's suggestion concerning the number of intensive care beds and high dependency unit beds which are available, I reiterate the point that the Government have already made. We have made available 100 extra beds this winter.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a place for community cottage hospitals in the nursing of elderly people near their homes when they have conditions such as chest infections and flu, as has been experienced lately? Does he agree also that some elderly people become confused? It is difficult to nurse them and nurses should be trained to give a little more TLC to those who are elderly.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, nurses do a magnificent job. While we are committed to improving the education, development and further education of nurses, we owe a lot to them and the contribution they make, often in difficult circumstances. I am surprised that the noble Baroness did not invite me to visit a community hospital, as she usually does on these occasions. I acknowledge the enormous contribution that they can make. Where they have the support of local primary care groups, GPs and other staff, they also have a valuable contribution to make.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, will the Minister return to the first answer he gave to my noble friend regarding the question that is sometimes asked of elderly people when they go into hospital? I understand that the Minister cannot discuss personal cases, but will he accept my assurance that my mother was not simply given advice? When she arrived in the A&E department, after having been told that she had not suffered a heart attack, she was asked whether, if her heart stopped during her overnight stay, she wished to be resuscitated or whether she should be left. Does the Minister agree that that is a frightening question to ask an elderly lady? Does he accept also that, after protesting in writing, I received a letter from the hospital to say it was national policy to ask that question?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am always prepared to investigate individual issues and will be happy to do so in this case. I am not aware of a national policy as to how these matters should be approached and am prepared to look into that, though I am surprised by what the noble Baroness was told.
Delicate issues surround this area which have to be dealt with sensitively. That is why the BMA guidelines on the withholding of treatment are an important contribution to that debate. It is right also that every adult with the mental capacity to make their own treatment decisions should have the right to refuse medical treatment if they so wish. However, the question as to how they discuss that with clinicians must be handled with care and sensitivity.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am aware that for older people, as well as for most patients in the NHS, mixed sex wards have proved to be wholly unacceptable. We are committed to ensuring that those wards completely disappear by 2002 and are working towards that.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Government gave a clear commitment in their manifesto to increase investment in the NHS in real terms year on year and put that money towards patient care. That is what we have done. The Government acknowledge that levels of investment and intervention are not up to the levels of our European neighbours. The Prime Minister clearly signalled his readiness to tackle that and honour the commitment made. Already next year the proportion of national income spent on the health service is set to rise to 6 per cent for the first time ever.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in England and in Scotland, and possibly also in Wales, elderly patients occupy hospital beds because they are not able to afford nursing home fees and there is currently not enough money to service them in their own homes?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am aware of those problems. That is one of the reasons why the Royal Commission on Long-term Care was set up. We are considering its recommendations and the financial implications of those recommendations.
A number of factors lead to difficulties of discharge of patients from hospital, partly to do with problems in ensuring that the right community services are available. The co-operation now taking place between the NHS and local government is bearing considerable fruit. From April of this year the use of pooled budgets and new flexibilities will lead to improved co-operation and enable us to ensure that the services required in the community are available. Thus some people will not to have to go into hospital in the first place; but those who do will be able to be discharged as soon as they are able.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so I should perhaps start with an explanation of my interest in Pakistan. Also, I ask for the indulgence of the House in allowing the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, who is to speak last in the debate before the Front Benches, a little tolerance to answer some of the points that arise. After all, he is from Pakistan and I am only Pakistani by association.
From 1942 to 1946 I was privileged to serve in an Indian cavalry regiment, the 19th King George V Own Lancers. After partition in 1947 our PM squadron formed the nucleus of the present 19th Lancers in Pakistan while our Sikh squadron became Shinner's Horse and the Jat (Hindu) squadron, the Central India Horse.
Those noble Lords who have served in a cavalry regiment will know of the bond of pride and affection that exists, a genuine family spirit that is deep-felt and remains for life--in Urdu, a bhai-bundi; a brotherhood. Thus it was when I let the commandant of the 19th Lancers know that I was to be in Pakistan last August with a CPA delegation. He immediately replied that if I was unable to meet the regimental "family" in Multan, they would meet me in Peshawar. And they did.
At that party, among those present was General Pervais Musharraf. As a former Speaker of the House of Commons I am not in favour of military coups. Nevertheless, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, stated in his outstanding speech on Wednesday last,
Several points need to be made regarding the election which brought Prime Minister Sharif to power in 1997 and his subsequent misuse of office. Vote rigging was rife. So was the use of forged ballot papers and multiple voting by women, covered from head to foot, who managed to vote several times because they could not be recognised. Even so, the turn-out at that election was a mere 32 per cent of the total electorate. It was, sadly, very much a case of the old adage:
It would be possible to give numerous other examples of the misuse of power during Nawaz Sharif's time in office: his curtailing of the powers of the president; his politicising of the judiciary; and, when the press became critical, his freezing of bank accounts and imprisoning of the editor of the Friday Times. Prime Minister Sharif's regime has been accurately described as "kleptocracy masquerading as democracy." It is worth saying that today, by contrast, the Pakistani press is free, and free to comment critically, as it frequently does.
So enter General Musharraf, who had been sacked while out of the country on an official visit to Sri Lanka. It is known that the civilian flight on which he returned to Pakistan was refused permission to land, despite having only seven minutes of fuel left when it eventually put down in Karachi after the army had taken over the airport. In General Musharraf's own words, this was not so much a military coup as a counter-coup--the army's reaction to a reactive event.
Despite Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth and blacklisting by other members of the international community, accurately headlined in a leading article in The Times at that moment as "Harsh and hasty", General Musharraf has not sought to isolate his regime but has made efforts to ensure that his country is a responsible player on the international stage. He has announced a unilateral military de-escalation on international borders with India in an attempt to defuse tension between the two countries and has called for,
Prime Minister Sharif openly courted Taliban and other extremist elements in the region. General Musharraf has behaved quite differently. He has sought to stem the growth of militant Islam and has made genuine indications that he is committed to the principle of good government. At his first news conference he pledged to set up a national accountability bureau which would embrace all sections of society, including the army, and stated his intention to protect the rights of minorities and to promote religious tolerance in Pakistan. He has said that he wishes to re-establish democracy in the spirit of the founder of the nation, Quaid-i-Azam; that is, respect for the rule of law--one must bear in mind that Mr Jinnah was a Bencher of Lincoln's Inn--respect for human rights; respect for minorities; and respect for the rights of women under the Quaid's slogan of faith, discipline and unity.
General Musharraf has inherited a country which is virtually bankrupt; a country whose foreign and domestic debt is almost equivalent to its GNP; and a country in which the payment of taxes has been pretty well voluntary and in which vast sums have been borrowed (as much as 4.8 billion US dollars) by a few powerful people, and never repaid. All this is well documented.
General Musharraf needs help and support in overcoming vast problems--not condemnation, but practical and positive support. I say that because I believe the alternative would be chaos and highly dangerous to us all. Pakistan is surrounded by a number of other highly volatile and unstable "Stans". We surely have a vested interest in seeking to ensure a strong, friendly and responsible Pakistan within the Commonwealth, a rock of stability in a very unstable part of the world. The alternative is a fragmented and irresponsible Pakistan with a nuclear ability. Think how dangerous it would be to India and, indeed, to the rest of the world if the Taliban had access to nuclear weapons. To those who say that we have no direct interest, I respond that l billion people in 55 countries are Muslims and that there are in this country over a million citizens, many of whom have strong links with Pakistan.
Kashmir will remain a dangerous flashpoint until a just and equitable solution has been found. It has already been the cause of two wars between India and Pakistan and the cause of some 25,000 deaths. Unless one has been to Pakistan it is difficult to appreciate how passionately this is felt.
We have both an interest and, I believe, a responsibility because the matter was not fully addressed in 1947 when the Maharaja of Kashmir (a Hindu) opted to remain independent rather than--at that time--join India or Pakistan. We should bear in mind that most of his subjects were Muslims. It may be that the Maharaja was right and that the only solution is an independent Kashmir with its boundaries guaranteed by the international community. However, that is a matter for another day.
It is impossible to be absolutely certain that General Musharraf will succeed, but my reason for initiating the debate today is to draw attention to the potentially disastrous consequences if he fails. It is for that reason that I submit that he must be helped and not hindered in putting Pakistan on its feet and, thereafter, re-establishing democracy. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
Lord Desai: My Lords, we are truly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for introducing this extremely important subject. We do not give enough time to discussions of Commonwealth affairs and, given the fact that 1 billion people live in south Asia, it is really important that we pay attention to the region. I cannot claim the noble Lord's long and deep associations with Pakistan, but the one thing I can claim is that I was born in undivided India. Therefore, I regard myself as a citizen of undivided India since birth, as well as of this country.
It is important to remember that Pakistan has had a great deal of bad luck from its beginning. I was involved recently in contributing to a report on south Asian human development, devoted to a discussion of the crisis of governance in south Asia. There it was pointed out that Pakistan's main creator died soon after Pakistan's creation, while India had the benefit of 17 years of the Prime Ministership of Pandit Nehru. Mr Jinnah died within 13 months of independence, and Pakistan's first Prime Minister was assassinated soon after.
Pakistan has had a series of incidents involving bad luck; again and again the attempt to create a stable, democratic polity in Pakistan has met with many problems. We are going through another phase in which there is a hiatus, an interruption in the democratic polity in Pakistan. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in that although I would oppose a military coup and would not want to see a permanent non-democratic regime in Pakistan, I think that we could for the time being suspend judgment and scrutinise the actions of General Musharraf quite closely to see what his policy turns out to be.
Pakistan has had a series of regimes that have failed to tackle the basic problems of literacy, social reform and land reform. Pakistanis one meets, either in Pakistan or abroad, agree that there is a big feudal overhang in Pakistan society. The need to remove feudal elements and to make the Pakistan elites abide by the rule of law--pay taxes for example, and behave as if they were like all other citizens--is extremely urgent.
It must be said, rather sadly, that the democratic regimes established since the death of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1988--Ms Bhutto as well as Nawaz Sharif--have failed to inculcate democratic habits in the population or to do very much to correct any of the anomalies that Pakistan faces.
I think that what is currently going on in Pakistan is, first, a quick emergency attempt to restore fiscal credibility in Pakistan. That is extremely important, as the noble Lord said. Pakistan has problems of both internal and external debt. There is a failure to collect taxation, and, as the noble Lord also pointed out, the elite who borrow money from banks habitually do not pay it back. The lists are public, and heading the list of people who do not pay back bank loans is the former Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, as well as the man who headed the anti-corruption bureau. Therefore, there is not much to be said about the pretensions of the previous government to fight corruption. It was a purely partisan effort to get at Ms Bhutto.
We have not only to suspend judgment, but to be very attentive to what happens in Pakistan. For example, I am very heartened that the legal procedure that has been followed to bring Mr Nawaz Sharif to trial is proceeding normally, as it should. We have to watch it very carefully. It could easily be that the court is not convinced that Mr Sharif has done anything very wrong. If that happens, it will present the crucial test of General Musharraf--whether he allows Mr Sharif to be free to live in Pakistan; if Mr Sharif is not convicted by the special court, he has every right to stay there.
I agree that this is all hypothetical, but it could happen. If the ex-Prime Minister is not convicted of the charges against him, the question will arise as to how General Musharraf deals with the case. I should like him to say, "That is fine, and until such time as I think that elections can be called in Pakistan the ex-Prime Minister is free to live and conduct himself in Pakistan, but he cannot have the job back". That was the whole point of the interruption.
Something will have to be done if that contingency arises. Although many of things that the noble Lord said against Mr Sharif are true, and I could cite more examples, none of them is an indictable offence. He tried to bully the supreme court; he had his own person as president and made him sign over some of the powers; and he is corrupt, but none of that is an indictable offence.
Therefore, we must be very careful and watch the course of events in Pakistan. I hope, for the sake of Pakistan and the sake of south Asia, that General Musharraf will set an example of being as subject to the rule of law himself as he would like everyone else to be. The principal lack in Pakistan is of the rule of law, or at least in terms of members of the elite behaving as if they lived under the rule of law. That is very important.
I also hope that while he is in charge General Musharraf will not only clean up the outstanding debts owed to commercial banks, as well as the outstanding tax, but will also put in place institutions and practices so that payment of due taxes becomes a routine habit and does not depend on how large a landlord one is.
On a previous occasion Moeen Qureishi was briefly brought in to, as it were, manage the transition. He made a condition that any candidate for election had to settle all his or her debts. Reports are that Ms Bhutto went to the bank with a billion rupees in cash to clear her debts. I think that many more billion rupees need to be paid by Mr Nawaz Sharif and the entire Cabinet, which has been sacked, before we can have any confidence in them.
I do not want to go into the question of Kashmir or south Asia. As the noble Lord correctly said, that is for another day. If I start speaking on that, not just nine minutes, but nine hours will not be enough. I want only to say this: Kashmir is not just part of south Asian politics; it is part of British politics. It is our problem and not just south Asia's problem. Many, many citizens of this country are deeply concerned, and they have different views on it. There is no single agreed line on Kashmir. Even historical facts can be disputed again and again. It is very important that Her Majesty's Government keep an eye on this problem and do anything they can to help solve the burning problems in south Asia.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for introducing the debate on Pakistan, an area in which my organisation, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, has been working for many years.
Although problems abound, after talking to our Pakistani colleagues both in the United Kingdom and in Pakistan, we believe that there are some grounds for optimism and some developments that can be encouraged, many of which have been outlined already.
For example, at the first news conference after the coup General Musharraf pledged to set up a national accountability bureau to attempt to rid the country of the corruption that beset it during previous administrations.
Thirdly, General Musharraf appears to be distancing himself from the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. He has respected the recent UN sanctions imposed on that regime, and he has ordered the closure of Afghan banks and frozen Taliban bank accounts.
However, there are continuing problems. I shall concentrate briefly on two areas: first, the rights of women and their quality of life; and, secondly, religious freedom. The Hadood laws represent a significant departure from the vision of Jinnah's constitution. These laws illustrate how the constitution of Pakistan has been changed so that women suffer discrimination within the legal framework. For example, in 1979 promulgation of the Hadood Ordinance introduced the so-called "Islamic punishments" for crimes including slander, theft, drunkenness, bearing false witness, rape, adultery, fornication and prostitution.
I give one example concerning rape. The law requires four male witnesses to testify that an unlawful act has occurred between a man and a woman. In Pakistan this instruction has been applied to rape. If rape is not proven, the accuser--a woman who may already be the victim of that rape--is charged with adultery. The punishment for adultery is death or imprisonment. The result is that thousands of women, unable to defend themselves in a court of law, are serving sentences of various terms, accused of adultery when they themselves have been the victims of rape. Thus a large number of rape victims do not take recourse to the law but suffer their fate in silence.
Such practices and policies associated with the Hadood laws and the Shariah laws of evidence, which make such stark distinctions between men and women, are gross violations of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which affirms that human rights should be granted to,
I turn to the area of religious persecution, beginning with the treatment of the Ahmadis. In 1952 the Ahmadis were declared not to be Muslims, because they reject the principle of jihad and they recognise an additional Prophet, Mirza Ghirlam Ahmad. This declaration resulted in a wave of destruction of Ahmadi property and their mosques. In 1974 they were "officially" declared non-Muslims by an act of parliament. Since then the systematic persecution of the Ahmadis was formalised in the 1984 penal code
Many Ahmadis have also suffered under the blasphemy law. Amnesty International estimated in 1995 that over 130 Ahmadis faced charges of blasphemy which carry a mandatory death penalty. As recently as September and October last year, police took no protective action against the fatwas which were issued, offering rewards to anyone killing human rights activists, journalists and religious personalities, including the head of the Ahmadiyya community.
I turn from Ahmadis to Christians. Despite their crucial vote in the establishment of Pakistan, the Christian minority began to face persecution in civil and political life as early as the 1950s. Article 20 of the 1973 constitution protects the freedom to profess religion and to manage a religious institution. It states:
However, the right to change religion is not protected and apostates are particularly vulnerable to attack. Although the penal code does not list conversion from Islam to Christianity as an offence, a judge's decision may be made on the basis of his own interpretation of the constitution, which states,
The law and the culture which in recent years have been endorsed in Pakistan endanger individuals who dare to consider religions other than Islam. I mention one illustrative case. In June 1997 a 17 year-old girl, Saleema, and her pastor were arrested for allegedly converting Saleema's friend, Rahela, to Christianity. Both Saleema and her pastor, Salim, were tortured. Saleema was whipped 16 times while in detention. On 8th July 1997, after repeated attempts by family members to force Rahela to recant her Christian faith, she was killed by her brother, Altaf, who claimed that she had brought "dishonour" on her family.
I have tried to illustrate how the constitution and legal framework in Pakistan have changed since the original constitution, and how these changes have brought enormous suffering to many people. I have highlighted a few areas in which some legislative revision would greatly improve the plight of both women and religious minorities in Pakistan. I therefore ask the Government to capitalise on General Musharraf's apparent openness to change and to prevail upon him to ensure that the constitution of Pakistan is reformed to a healthier state for its people. If he does so, he will have made a valuable contribution towards the establishment of democratic values and policies as a basis for the eventual return of civilian rule. In doing so he would perform a great service to his people, to the Commonwealth and to the international community at large. We wish him well in so doing.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I add my thanks to those that have already been expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for initiating this debate. I warmly agree with his endorsement of the remarks that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, a week ago today when he said that we should suspend judgment on the coup, taking into consideration the abundant evidence of large-scale corruption within both of the political parties. It is indeed wicked for those in power to have enriched themselves and their cronies at the expense of the people. The Government of General Musharraf evidently had the support of the vast majority of the people of Pakistan when the first item on his agenda was to punish those who had stolen the country's money. Under Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan was sliding into bankruptcy, but his predecessor had also allowed her cronies, and especially her husband, to profit from their hold on the reins of government.
The establishment of the National Accountability Bureau, which has already been mentioned, and the Speedy Trial Courts, which were announced by General Musharraf at the first press conference he held on 24th November, were right and proper measures to deal with the cancer in the political system. Already some progress has been made in getting bank loan defaulters to pay up and that has helped the Economic Revival Plan, under which there has been something of a turn-around in economic conditions. The recovery of the bank loans has clawed back 8 billion rupees out of a total that is estimated to be outstanding of 240 billion rupees--that is some £3 billion--which are reported to have been illegally siphoned out of the banking system by political crooks and their cronies in the form of loans that were never going to be repaid.
The second main plank of General Musharraf's policy was to investigate the former Prime Minister. As has already been said, in that regard the law is taking its course. The Foreign Secretary has expressed concern that there should be no "show trials" and in a letter to my right honourable friend Menzies Campbell he stated that the handling of this process would provide a test of Pakistan's military in their commitment to democracy and the rule of law. That has been repeated this afternoon. Do the Government therefore agree that there has been no interference with the courts and that the proceedings against Nawaz Sharif and others are being dealt with strictly in accordance with the laws of Pakistan? Only today the full charges have been made against Mr Sharif and seven others in the so-called "plane conspiracy case"--they include the serious charge of murder against Mr Sharif--so there may be quite a lengthy trial. I understand that matters are proceeding in accordance with the normal rules of the courts in Pakistan and that the press and the public are freely admitted to the proceedings.
The need to allow the defence its full rights is one of the reasons why it is not possible to have a full timetable for the return to democracy. General Musharraf has committed himself to handing over to an elected government, but the trials of those accused of embezzling the wealth of Pakistan have to be
At the same time, democracy needs to be rebuilt, starting at the grass roots. That process has already been started with the setting up of the electoral commission and the decision to hold district-level elections this year, as announced to a visiting delegation of US senators in Islamabad on 14th January. This is also in accordance with the General's undertaking to create a much more decentralised system in which decisions are taken at district level wherever possible and as close as they can be to the people.
Next, the Chief Executive undertook to try to settle outstanding issues with India, a task which has always eluded his predecessors. He has reiterated that he wants to resume talks based on an equitable solution. There is no doubt that if this could be achieved it would transform the relations between India and Pakistan and the whole atmosphere and development of the subcontinent. It would end the nuclear arms race and free for peaceful development the immense resources that are now wasted on excessive armed forces.
On the other hand, India has ruled out bilateral talks unless Islamabad desists from cross-border terrorism. That guerrillas do cross from Pakistani territory and into the Valley and Jammu, where they engage in gratuitous killings, is a certain fact. Indian forces have killed many of them and have found identification papers on them to show that they did come from Pakistan. But that does not prove that the state of Pakistan is involved in these activities. The only way of settling the matter beyond doubt would be by means of an investigation under international auspices, for which purpose it would be necessary to increase the United Nations monitoring force, UNMOGIP, on either side of the line of control and to persuade the Indians to allow it to operate on their side of the border. At the moment it operates only on the Pakistan side.
When General Sir Charles Guthrie visited Pakistan last week he said that Britain was willing to assist Pakistan and India to resume their dialogue and to resolve bilateral conflicts, but only if both countries wanted it. That has always been the problem. Your Lordships will know that as recently as 11th January India said that it would not resume bilateral talks as long as Pakistan is involved in cross-border terrorism. The Indians claim that they have publicly presented all the evidence for these allegations and for their assertion--for which I have seen no evidence--that Pakistan was involved in the hijacking of the Indian Airlines aeroplane. Can the Minister say whether the Foreign Office has seen any of the evidence? If so, will she place copies of it in the Library? It certainly has not appeared in the media.
There have also been counter-allegations of Indian-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan. An official at the High Commission in Islamabad was arrested yesterday in possession of an explosive device, and a bomb outrage in Karachi is now being laid at the door
Finally, I should like to draw attention, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, to the Chief Executive's condemnation of intolerance and bigotry in his televised address to the nation on 17th October last. He urged scholars to curb those who were exploiting religion for vested interests and bringing a bad name to Islam. He said:
In the new Pakistan, with a genuine system of democracy, that spirit of tolerance, so powerfully articulated originally by the Quaid-I-Azam when Pakistan first gained its independence--we heard earlier the powerful statement that he made--there will be no room for laws discriminating against minority groups. It would be enormously welcome if the Chief Executive repealed the iniquitous sections of the penal code which discriminate particularly against the Ahmadis, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said.
The government of Nawaz Sharif let loose extremists who relentlessly persecuted and prosecuted Ahmadis all over Pakistan, but the evil forces of bigotry that they unleashed had even more harmful consequences. Sectarian violence was spreading across Pakistan. An attack on a Shi'a mosque in Karachi, for instance, resulted in the deaths of nine worshippers--and the person charged with that offence proved to be the head of an extremist Sunni party. Pakistan badly needs a powerful law against hate speech and against incitement to acts of discrimination against members of a particular religion. I respectfully hope that the Chief Executive will consider that, as well as the repeal of the infamous Ordinance 20 and its successors.
Let us give Pakistan a breathing space to reform the law, to reconstruct true democracy and not a mechanism for rotating corrupt feudals masquerading as democrats, and to sweep away the cobwebs of corruption and nepotism. Why not go a little further and offer technical help to Pakistan, both in drafting laws to eliminate religious discrimination and in establishing fair and effective procedures in the National Accountability Bureau?
The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, as the House knows, the background to the creation of Pakistan was the feeling of a minority--that is to say the Muslim community in undivided India--that it was being oppressed. The reason, as Professor Akbar Ahmed, who is in the Gallery, has pointed out, was the revival of a particular kind of Hindu nationalism in the 1920s and the 1930s in British India. It was for that reason that the founders of Pakistan were determined that those who are now in the minority in the new state
Having said that, it is also true that Pakistan was created primarily for the Muslims of India. It is reasonable, therefore, that Islamic beliefs, values and traditions should influence law, policy and other measures in that state. But this should not exclude respect for the contributions of minorities. Indeed, it should make room for them. On the eve of the Wakeham commission report, perhaps it is pertinent that this is how the Church of England views its service to the nation and to the House. The Christian tradition, perhaps in its Anglican form, will of course be influential, but that should not be seen as in any way exclusive.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that time should be given to the new government. At the same time, we need to ask questions. What is it that we are looking for in this time of grace afforded to General Musharraf? First, it is open and accountable government through democratic processes at every level, not only at the national level, and an independent judiciary. The higher judiciary has often saved Pakistan from the fate that has befallen countries like Afghanistan and Iran. Furthermore, the country needs impartial ombudsmen so that ordinary people have access to speedy justice.
Like other speakers, I welcome the desire of the new government to maintain an effective fiscal policy, and I welcome moves to tax both wealth and income above a certain threshold, in particular that of the feudal classes. However, I am concerned about indirect taxation--a blunt weapon that hits the rich and poor alike. I am concerned to see that, under pressure from the world financial institutions, Pakistan is now placing an emphasis on this area of taxation. It is important that indirect taxation should not harm the poor who are already under tremendous pressure in Pakistan.
Once again, I welcome the action against institutions and individuals who have been defaulting on their huge loans. However, this points to the need for a regulated banking system, an independent review of the lending policies of the scheduled banks, and a regular audit of defaulting loans and of the action taken by the banks, if any, in establishing a difference between legitimate banking charges--we call them "interest", but call them what you wish--and usury, the kind of charges that exploit the needy. The two are often confused in Pakistan.
We need equality of opportunity and access for all citizens to education, to public services and to employment. That is particularly true of the religious minorities, whether Christian, Ahmadis, Hindu or whoever. I welcome the Government's initiatives on the religious schools, the Madrassahs. There is a requirement that they should teach a wide range of subjects so that their pupils are prepared for contemporary life in this world.
I would support a return to the 1973 constitution in its original form. It was the best constitution that the country had, a constitution of consensus. All sides agreed. A return to that constitution would have implications for legislation that has flowed from amendments to it. That would be a desirable result, achieving some of the aims asked for by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
A unified electoral system should be put in place. That would allow minorities to participate at every level of political life, as they did in the past. The present system of separate electorates reinforces a form of social apartheid which is highly undesirable when trying to build one nation. It alienates minority communities from their constituency representatives. I am sure that many noble Lords will appreciate the value of people feeling that they belong to a particular constituency.
I turn to the issue of equality before the law, about which the noble Baroness spoke. In certain cases under Shari'ah, the evidence of a Muslim woman is half that of a Muslim man. The evidence of a Christian man is also half that of a Muslim man while a Christian woman has no legal standing at all in the law in such cases. That is clearly an absurd situation which must be addressed. Women and minorities should be equal before the law. Of course, there should be respect for Shari'ah, the accumulated wisdom of legal experience in the Muslim world. However, for almost 200 years now, Muslim reformers themselves have been asking for reform of the Shari'ah so that it can address modern circumstances. I could cite a long list of distinguished reformers: Mohammed Abduh in Egypt; Jamaluddin Afghani and Mohammed Iqbal. They have been asking for a radical Iftihad--radical research into the sources of Islam so that a new legal consensus can be built. Indeed, the principle of movement and of development is native to the existing schools of law in Islam, whether they be Hanifite, Malikite or Shafi'i. Only one school does not have any principle of movement at all.
In my articles in The Times, I have often referred to the blasphemy law as profoundly un-Islamic and against the practice of the Prophet of Islam. It should be repealed. However, there must be effective legal provision for the prevention of incitement to religious hatred. There might even be a law against insulting the founders of the various religions, while at the same time--this is also an important point--maintaining the freedom to criticise religions and religious beliefs.
Let us encourage the rebuilding of Pakistan according to the plan left by Iqbal, by Jinnah and by the first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, who was mentioned in an earlier contribution. However, none of this is achievable without a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. It is urgent to address how the international community could facilitate negotiations between India and Pakistan and, indeed, also include the Kashmiri people.
Lord Paul: My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for initiating this debate. He has given us the opportunity to discuss one of the more critical areas of foreign policy today. At the outset, perhaps I may say that I love Pakistan and its people. That is because we are the same people. However, I must also say that I do not like a coup anywhere.
Noble Lords may not be aware that I have some personal experience of the current situation in Pakistan. On 12th October last year, on the very day of the military coup, I arrived in Islamabad representing this country as an ambassador for British business. So I had a unique, first-hand view of what took place during the first three days after the coup. I spent that time with the then acting UK Head of Mission, Greg Dorey, and his colleagues, at the British High Commission in Islamabad. I wish to commend them on their professionalism and courage in very difficult circumstances. That is not unusual. I have observed many of our overseas missions. They are doing outstanding work and we have every reason to take pride in the way our Foreign Office functions abroad. Perhaps I may request my noble friend the Minister to convey my appreciation to them.
During my visit last year to Karachi and Islamabad, it was my strong impression that most people in Pakistan were very unhappy about the political state, in particular the corruption. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said in this House on 12th January that,
Surely, the answer to the problems of democracy is more democracy, not less democracy. If Britain, so widely recognised as the Mother of Parliaments, is seen to endorse the destruction of a democratic regime, it will send a sad message around the world. Anti-democratic forces, which threaten so many fragile democracies, particularly in developing countries, will be encouraged. This is why the Foreign Secretary's statement has been widely applauded by democratic and freedom-loving forces in the developing world.
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