Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, if the Minister will give way, XEU structures" is a disarming remark. What EU structures will our intelligence be fed into?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, noble Lords will have noted the remarks I made about the military coming together and the committees that will need to be established that I hope will then feed into DSACEUR. That is why it is very difficult to split up the debate without spending a full half hour trying to go through the issues in great detail.

However, the fundamental point has to be that we cannot engage our troops in any position without also ensuring that we are supplying the proper intelligence for the engagement of those troops. I am sure that the noble Lord will want to raise these issues again and I shall be happy to deal with them, I hope, when we speak about this issue again on Thursday.

At Nice the EU met its commitment to complete the institutional reforms necessary for enlargement. It will be in a position to welcome new member states from the end of 2002. The Prime Minister said in Warsaw that he wanted new member states to have a seat at the table at the next IGC. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, and my noble friend Lord Tomlinson that we believe that there is a strong case for setting a target date at the Gothenburg European Council in June 2001. The EU has reiterated its commitment to be ready to welcome new members. That gives credibility to the Prime Minister's call for new members to participate in the European parliamentary elections in 2004. We believe that with good will and real effort on both sides, there is no reason why that should not be achieved. We agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and my noble friend Lord Grenfell about the statements of the Leader of the Opposition in another place. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his far more sure-footed response.

My noble friend Lord Tomlinson was right that without the Nice treaty there would be no enlargement. I commend the thoughtful contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and his forward thinking on the implications of enlargement for UK citizens.

The noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Grenfell, referred to the common agricultural policy. Agriculture policy has presented complex challenges in all previous enlargements, as I am sure that noble Lords are well aware. This enlargement will be no exception. Further CAP reform is clearly desirable, but it is not necessary for enlargement to take place.

12 Dec 2000 : Column 348

The UK view is that the terms of accession need to reflect the fact that the CAP is evolving. We should not ask the applicants to take on aspects of the CAP that will change by the time of their accession or shortly after.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, raised questions about decision-taking processes in the EU, including on the Council, which she wanted to be more transparent. We have led a number of initiatives on that, particularly during our presidency in 1998. We shall work with other member states to improve transparency in the EU and to increase citizens' understanding of the workings of the Union. Like my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, was interesting but a little grim and gloomy in his view of what is happening in the EU. Surely the key point is that democratically elected leaders of the EU states set the EU's policy framework and its priorities. They are not set by the Commission. When the UK is fully engaged, as we were at Nice, we can drive forward on the issues that are of importance to us, as can other countries.

I listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Park, as I always do, and to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, about the importance of our handling of issues with Russia. From my right honourable friend the Prime Minister right down to the more junior forms of ministerial life such as me, the Government are all seized with that imperative. Constructive dialogues with Russia are under way. We are building trust bilaterally and through the European Union and the other forums in which we engage. That is an enormously important process. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Owen, about the sensitivity that is required when dealing with our Turkish allies on this issue.

The inadequacy of European military capability was not the only lesson that we learned from Kosovo. We were also quick to identify the lessons of the Kosovo conflict in other ways and equally, if not more importantly, to address those lessons positively. In July we announced some immediate enhancements to the Armed Forces' equipment capabilities. First we procured Maverick anti-armour missiles for the RAF's Harrier GR7s. Trials have been successfully completed and the contracts for the missiles have been placed. I assure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lords, Lord Lyell and Lord Burnham, that equipment issues are never far from my mind. We have also begun work on procuring weapons to provide the RAF with a precision-guided all-weather bombing capability as soon as possible.

We have also announced that we shall be purchasing enhanced Paveway bombs from Raytheon. We shall also enhance the security of our air-to-air communications--I hope that the noble Lord will be pleased to learn this--in order to maintain inter-operability with our NATO allies and ensure that our forces can play their full part in future alliance operations.

In addition, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, remarked, we are meeting the strategic air and sea-lift requirements identified in the

12 Dec 2000 : Column 349

SDR, initially by leasing four Boeing C-17 aircraft from next year and by purchasing Airbus A-400M aircraft in the longer term. The air-lift package represents an investment of some #4 billion. Complementary to that will be the provision of the six new roll-on/roll-off ferries to provide strategic lift for our forces and the procurement of four new logistic ships to support our amphibious and expeditionary capability.

Those are real benefits and they are happening now. They are part of a huge programme of investment which is under way for our Armed Forces, with some #6 billion being spent on new equipment. Therefore, I assure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, that I am acutely aware not only of the opportunities but of some of the problems surrounding PFI in these respects.

I turn to some of the wider issues raised by your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, my noble friend Lord Ahmed and the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, all spoke with considerable force and passion about the Middle East peace process. The Government are extremely concerned about the violence, deaths and injuries, the overwhelming majority of which have been among the Palestinians.

The UK has supported Security Council Resolution 1322, which condemns acts of violence--especially the excessive use of force against Palestinians resulting in injury and loss of life. However, I say to my noble friend Lord Ahmed on the one hand and to the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, on the other that we do not see any merit in repetitive criticism. What matters is that we look forward and achieve a return to negotiations.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, we strongly support the work of the fact-finding committee which has now been established with the participation of senior international figures, including the EU High Representative, Javier Solana. We welcome its first meeting which took place in New York last month. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I believe that it is important that we look to the windows of opportunity that are still open to us.

Tentative contact between the parties has given some cause for hope that there might soon be a possibility of resuming negotiations. Ehud Barak has said that the door remains open for those negotiations. I am happy to confirm the Government's position of principle on some of the points raised; namely, that the only route to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East is in negotiated settlement based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, we believe that settlement activity is contrary to international law and an obstacle to peace. It continues and it remains a matter of considerable concern, as was made clear by the European Council in its declaration at Nice. We also recognise that there is no sovereignty over Jerusalem.

I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, that we have no evidence of British-made equipment, licensed for export to Israel under this

12 Dec 2000 : Column 350

Government, having been used by Israel security forces against civilians in the occupied territories or in southern Lebanon. However, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked whether we could do anything more. The Government are actively engaged. We shall consider any ideas that are brought forward, and I hope that the fact-finding committee, with members from the United States, the European Union, Turkey and Norway, will be able to take us forward on those issues.

My noble friends Lord Rea and Lady Turner of Camden raised issues concerning Iraq. I say to both my noble friends that we must not give too much credibility to the claims of Saddam Hussein. On nearly 30 occasions he complained that we had killed civilians or destroyed civilian infrastructure when we did not drop any ordnance at all, including on several days when we were not even flying. We have reason to believe that he routinely portrays military casualties as civilian; similarly, we have been able to disprove with photographic evidence claims that we have damaged civilian buildings.

We know that some 16 billion dollars will be available to Iraq for food, medicine and infrastructure. However, I can tell my noble friends that Saddam has imported more than 300 million cigarettes and 28,000 bottles of whisky. That money could have been spent on humanitarian issues, on medicine or on food, but it was not.

My noble friend Lord Rea raised some important points about leukaemia. We do not have any evidence on those issues. We do not have any supported research data. But we support the efforts by the World Health Organisation to work with the Iraqis on a proper study. We also support the independent review of depleted uranium currently being carried out by a working group of the Royal Society.

I join the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in condemning the recent attacks by Albanian extremists on the Preshevo Valley in south Serbia. She raised an important point which I wanted to answer.

The noble Lords, Lord Burnham and Lord Howell, referred to NMD. The US has not yet put a request to us to the effect that was suggested, nor do we expect it to do so unless and until it has decided to proceed with the deployment of any such system. It is not reasonable to expect us to say how we would respond to such a request at the moment as we really cannot know in what circumstances it is likely to be made nor, indeed, what form it is likely to take.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, raised the issue of DERA. I assure him that all my interlocutors in the United States have assured us that they are now happy with the arrangements. The picture is moving very rapidly on that. I suggest that I write to him with the details and place a copy of my letter in the Library.

I was extremely gratified, as I am sure were others on the Front Bench on this side of the House, by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the right reverend Prelates the

12 Dec 2000 : Column 351

Bishops of Guildford and of Salisbury, my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis and the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, about the White Paper from the DfID.

The Government believe that open markets governed by internationally agreed rules are in the interests of developing countries which must be more open to international trade if they are to prosper. The Government are committed to making trade work for poverty elimination. A real study of the White Paper which we have before us makes it very clear that that is an extremely well thought through policy which has been put forward by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development.

The Government will untie all development assistance from April 2001, thus ending that practice which leads to loss of value and of money and to inefficiency. We believe that that decisive action will increase the pressure on other countries similarly to untie. The Government will work vigorously with the OECD and the European Union for others to untie too.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury raised a number of issues about the route map to make the White Paper really work on the ground. I have some quite detailed information about that and I shall write to the right reverend Prelate about that.

My noble friend Lord Tomlinson suggested that there should be a debate on the White Paper. Like most noble Lords, I have an enormous amount of sympathy for that proposal. It is an excellent White Paper, published only yesterday. Much can be derived from it. I am sure that the usual channels will reach a sensible decision in that regard.

The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, referred to the problem of AIDS in South Africa. In January 1999, the Prime Minister, speaking to the parliament in Cape Town, pledged an additional #100 million contribution from DfID to help to fight AIDS in Africa over the next two years. To date, more than #140 million has been committed. I hope that that meets the issue which the noble Lord raised. We are also giving priority to HIV and AIDS prevention in other parts of the world, including Zimbabwe, where I know the noble Lord has interests which he has described to us.

We do not believe that further sanctions, multi-national or national, are the right response to Zimbabwe at this stage. Moreover, when the leader of the MDC called on the Foreign Secretary on 6th November, he reaffirmed his view that punitive measures would strengthen rather than weaken the Zimbabwean government.

Very important questions were raised on Sudan by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I shall write to her. We have had quite an exchange on this subject. I know that the noble Baroness is very critical of some of the controls on exports. But this Government have introduced a far more wide-reaching programme of export controls than we have seen hitherto and I should be very happy to talk to her further about that if she would find that helpful.

12 Dec 2000 : Column 352

A number of issues were raised in relation to human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned Aceh. The European Union issued a statement on 28th September urging the Indonesian government to redouble their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Aceh problem and to avoid further violence and loss of life.

I shall try to find more information on the issues in Aceh. As always, the noble Lord is quite encyclopaedic in his knowledge of what is happening on the ground. I shall try to do what I can to match him in some of the points that he raised with me.

I can confirm to my noble friend Lord Ahmed that we welcome the Indian Government ceasefire in Kashmir and the Pakistani Government's reciprocal announcement to observe maximum restraint on the line of control. We also endorse any efforts that are genuinely aimed at peace and reconciliation in that troubled part of the world.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, raised issues in regard to Cuba. She will know that my noble friend Lady Scotland and I have visited Cuba in the course of our ministerial duties. I did so when at the Foreign Office and my noble friend has done so recently. We believe that we have begun a frank and constructive dialogue. We have also opened up direct flights from the United Kingdom to Cuba.

I return to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft. I look forward to the negotiations on the new arrangements to associate British and other EU and overseas countries and territories with the Union. The proposals made so far suggest that an institutional framework will be established that will enable the member states, the Commission and the OCTs to work together. I believe that the powers of the respective authorities in those member states will be fully respected.

To the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, I say that we have not ignored Tibet. It is a serious matter. We are considering the rights of individual Tibetans and the preservation of the Tibetan culture and practices. We believe that the signature of the international covenants to which the noble Baroness referred, takes us a step forward. We are urging the Chinese to work promptly to ratify those covenants.

My noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney, as always, was passionate in his exposition on nuclear disarmament. I remind him that this Government have signed a comprehensive test treaty, that we have given up the free-fall bomb, that we have lowered the number of nuclear warheads on Trident to fewer than 200 and that we have greater transparency about our nuclear and fissile material stockpile than any previous government.

To the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, I say that I sympathise with him on the point that he raised about the Gurkhas. The noble and gallant Lord will know, of course, that prior to 1947 the Gurkhas were not part of the British Army, but he raises serious points and they should give us some pause for thought. I shall talk to my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence about them.

12 Dec 2000 : Column 353

I shall write to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, in regard to the points that he raised with respect to HMS XTireless". I assure him that we have established an open and constructive dialogue about the situation with the authorities both in Madrid and in Gibraltar and that we continue to do everything that we can to keep them fully informed about what is happening.

Our Armed Forces have had an extraordinarily busy year. As your Lordships will know, we had a successful time in Sierra Leone. In regard to that expedition, I was pleased that the Americans admitted that they could not have reacted so quickly to the situation that developed there, nor so decisively. That is something of which we can be proud.

We cannot afford to be complacent about the costs of our involvement, wherever that may be, around the world. That was brought home in a most dramatic fashion in Sierra Leone when Bombardier Brad Tinnion was killed during an operation to rescue beleaguered British soldiers. We must never forget the less visible but none the less real burden placed on our servicemen and women and on their families by such operations. Of course, the Government recognise the problem of overstretch. It is not a new problem; it will not be solved overnight, regardless of whichever party is in power. The only proper long-term solution is to bring resources and commitments into balance.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, is always vigilant in relation to the budget, but I believe that even he will recognise that a major step in the right direction was to increase the defence budget, as announced in the last CSR. That increase, amounting to #1,250 million after inflation, is the first real increase in spending for over a decade.

In addition, recruitment of men--I remind the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, of women too--into our Armed Forces remains buoyant. Last year 25,000 people joined the Armed Forces, making it the best recruiting year since the beginning of the decade. Many of the initiatives we set in hand through the CSR are bearing fruit.

12 Dec 2000 : Column 354

The recruitment target in the Royal Marines was met for the first time in 1994. In the same year, the naval service enlistment reached 99 per cent of its target; Army enlistment reached 95 per cent; the RAF enlistment reached 96 per cent; and at the mid-year point for this financial year the numbers enlisted had reached 49 per cent.

However, noble Lords are right in saying that the difficult issue is retention. We have done everything we can to try to develop family-friendly policies and we remain open to suggestions about how we may develop those. We have, for instance, increased the telephone allowances; increased the number of Internet terminals used at military bases; introduced Project Welcome, a new communications system; and introduced guaranteed periods of post-operational tour leave. All those measures are important, as is the upgrading of housing, to which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, referred.

What has struck me most of all over the past year is the magnificent way in which our Armed Forces and their civilian colleagues have risen to meet difficult and frequently dangerous challenges. I pay tribute to their dedication and fortitude. They have made a real and vital contribution to international peace and stability. As a result, the situation has improved immeasurably in almost all the areas where they have intervened. The lives of many thousands of people around the world are better as a result not only of the policies which have backed them but of their personal contribution on the ground in the areas where they have operated.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, I beg to move that the debate be now again adjourned until tomorrow.

Moved, That the debate be now again adjourned until tomorrow.--(Lord Burlison.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.

        House adjourned at eighteen minutes past eleven o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page