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We thought that the Government disagreed with us over the whole issue of the timing of cost cutting, so we are baffled by this issue. We are equally baffled that
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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I declare some interests on this. For five years my wife was at the European University Institute, was a student at the College of Europe and for 25 years a visiting professor there. Indeed, among others, she recruited the young Stephen Kinnock to the College of Europe to help him escape from his parents who were far too well known in British politics by going to Brussels where, at that point, they were unknown. It was an unfortunate failure.
The concern many of us have on this is precisely about making sure that British expertise and British interests are properly recognised within the European institutions. Those are not just the Commission, but the Council Secretariat, the European Parliament and its secretariat and the whole range of Brussels-based institutions. I suppose that I should also declare an interest in that I have taught many of the people who now work in those institutions, almost all of whom are not British. That is one of the problems we face: we under-recruit to those institutions. At the top, at the level of directors-general and so on, we have a number of very good British people, many of whom were indeed students at the College of Europe, but for the last few years we have not been sending enough students through any means to the European institutions.
The Government have a poor record in this respect because they abolished the European fast stream. After a good deal of lobbying by a number of us, myself included, they have at last reconstituted the European fast stream, but when we asked what had happened to the College of Europe scholarships, we discovered that the question of how they fitted in with the European fast stream had not been addressed. There were no figures for how many people had gone on to join the European institutions from there, so this was a decision that clearly had been taken at a low level, without apparent ministerial involvement and without considering the consequences.
It is, as has been made clear in the speeches from the Conservative Benches, a matter of all-party consensus in this House that we need to have high-quality British candidates working for us in the various European institutions and more widely in the intergovernmental organisations as a whole. Indeed, it is a matter to which we should return on another occasion because the broader issues of languages and of getting bright young British people to think about working internationally is something that we all need to address. I just wish to add my voice strongly to those who have said that this was a poor decision taken, it appears, without thought for the wider implications or policy consequences, and without looking back at the files to see why this policy had been instituted in the first place.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for this opportunity to clarify
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Recent years have also seen a burgeoning demand for masters and research degrees, reflecting growing demand from employers for high-level skills. Here, too, student numbers stand at record levels. To take just one example, over the last six years for which there are figures, the number of home students taking physics PhDs rose by no less than 37 per cent. However, noble Lords will be aware that it has never been a normal function of the Government to fund postgraduate students directly. Instead, as has been the case under previous Administrations, the seven UK research councils bear this responsibility, funding students on a discretionary basis.
It has nevertheless been the case for some years that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and its predecessors have funded a limited number of postgraduate students from the UK to study at three institutions in Europe: the European University Institute, the College of Europe and the Johns Hopkins University Bologna Center. This provision was made possible by a composite set of regulations which covered three different funding frameworks. In 2009 we reviewed the funding for these three institutions. The context then was emerging EC law, changes to domestic student finance policy and, frankly, pressures on the public purse caused by the global downturn. At that point, we took the decision to withdraw funding for students wishing to attend the College of Europe and the Bologna Center from 2010-11. No students currently involved in programmes at either institution have been affected by this decision.
At the same time, we resolved to continue to support students attending the European University Institute. The EUI was established pursuant to a European convention and the UK is therefore obliged under treaty to contribute a specified proportion of its budget. Furthermore, the Government are obliged to the extent that funds are available to support UK nationals admitted to the EUI. We intend to honour this commitment.
That is the background to the regulations we are debating today. They clearly set out provisions for supporting postgraduate students attending the European University Institute and they revoke the preceding composite regulations. I understand the genuine concerns raised by noble Lords that withdrawal of funding from students attending the College of Europe could harm UK representation at EU institutions. It is true that too few UK nationals apply to work in EU institutions. The UK makes up 13 per cent of the EU population, but only 6.4 per cent of EU staff. In more junior roles, the UK percentage is even lower, and we are falling behind other large member states.
We recognise that to be effective in Europe the UK needs more British nationals working in EU institutions, better engagement with these bodies and ways to achieve more joined-up policy-making across Whitehall. For these reasons, the Government have recently set up the Success in the EU project, which is examining a range of approaches to boost UK representation. I think that is a positive step forward, which acknowledges the importance of the issue that has been raised. Plans are under way, for example, to revive the European fast stream-a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. The project is looking at how to maximise the effectiveness of secondments to the EU from the UK Civil Service. We are also working with EU institutions to help them recruit more effectively in the UK and address issues which deter UK nationals from working in the EU, such as stringent language requirements and slow promotion prospects. As part of this broader effort, the project will explore the value of funding UK postgraduates at the College of Europe. In the mean time, we have reinstated a limited number of scholarships to the College of Europe this year-it will be something like 11 scholarships. There are fewer than previously, which is partly due to the exchange rate. There are also 20 scholarships to the European University Institute.
I readily accept that the laying of the European University Institute Regulations as planned and then subsequently providing a separate set of regulations for the College of Europe is not ideal. I apologise to the House if this approach has caused concern to the Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments. However, it was crucial that the EUI regulations were laid as planned to make sure that students applying under those provisions for the 2010-11 academic year did not suffer any undue delay. We also firmly believe that maintaining a composite set of regulations covering quite different funding policies was unsustainable in the long term. By providing two separate instruments, we can deal with reviews of policy or administrative changes to either set of regulations quickly and clearly, and again without undue disruption to students.
I will look now at some of the issues that were raised. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, asked when the College of Europe grants will be reinstated. The grants, as I have said already, will be reinstated in time for the academic year 2010-11. The applicant process is imminent and the regulations to reinstate them have been laid. The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, raised the role of stakeholders. Following representations from interested parties the Government decided to reinstate, as I have said, a limited number of scholarships at the College of Europe. I do not think that fully satisfies the noble Baroness on the question of whether the stakeholders were consulted. I apologise for that. On the question of languages, I seem to recall that we had a debate on the importance of modern languages and our commitment to ensuring better provision and better take up in a previous debate. I will write to her giving details of that. The noble Baroness also asked about the role of BIS. BIS is the lead department due to its responsibility for higher education. It does have a joint interest with the FCO in the success in the EU project to boost UK representation in EU institutions, so we are in effect straddling those two departments.
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I should also stress that the Government look forward to working with interested parties over the coming months, including the College of Europe, to develop fresh ideas on how to target available funding to the best effect and how to achieve our abiding goal of increasing the UK's representation in Europe. To sum up, these stand-alone regulations set out clearly the support that remains available for students at the EUI, while disentangling them from other, unrelated policy areas. A separate set of regulations has now been laid to provide the statutory framework on support for a small number of students to attend the College of Europe. Regulations for the College of Europe are being laid separately and are not linked to the regulations being debated here. The College of Europe regulations will be reviewed in their own right as part of the Success in the EU strategy.
I trust that this explanation has persuaded noble Lords that these regulations and the more recently laid College of Europe regulations will in fact work towards achieving the Government's policy objectives and the objectives that have been expressed here today by the noble Lords, and also meet our obligations under EU law. It only remains for me to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and other noble Lords for their contributions today.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young, for getting on his feet, which is never the easiest thing, and giving us that reply admitting graciously the things that have gone wrong and giving us some good news about success in the EU. Do I take it that this particular initiative is taking place in his department? We know where to find it this time next year when we return to this, as I am sure we will. Having located something that needs doing, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, this House has a reputation for following up on it. It will be very interesting to see where that process leads.
I will take this opportunity to say that much as I would be delighted to see a Conservative victory on 7 May, every sun has its spots, I suppose, and not seeing the noble Lord, Lord Young, at the government Dispatch Box will be one of those. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, in the French newspaper Le Figarothis morning the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Erdogan, gave a very interesting interview about many different matters and problems including the Middle East. He was asked, as relations between Israel and Turkey did not seem so promising at the moment, what the situation was as far as he was concerned. He replied: "First of all, I wish to underline that our relations with Israel are not broken off. Our exchanges continue on the usual basis ... But I have to say at this very moment, Israel does not unfortunately support the idea of a peace process in the Middle East. Let us take the example of the constructions of settlements in the West Bank. The whole world is demanding now that they are interrupted and reversed and lately President Barack Obama has said the same thing clearly as has Hillary Clinton. We know equally the position of all the European countries. But does Israel stop those developments as a result of these pressures? The answer is plainly no".
Those are sobering quotes indeed from a very respected Prime Minister of Turkey and someone who represents a country with which Israel has had very excellent relations over many years. It is a Muslim country, mainly secular but with a growing religious input, but it has become disillusioned with one of its long-standing friends. Does it make sense for Israel to alienate a country like that, as it has increasingly done so many others?
Despite that I am delighted, if that is the correct word, to launch this debate in the nick of time before Dissolution and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, and all other noble Lords who will speak in the debate, especially my noble friend Lord Alderdice, who has played a major role in this area already over the years and has replaced the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. Even as we speak, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is on his way to an election campaign meeting in Bermondsey, I believe; I wish him well on that occasion.
By that he meant that the frustrated and angered international community might well end up asking the UN to accept a Palestinian declaration of statehood within the agreed pre-1967 borders, without the mutually agreed borders that a peace accord would have produced.
The Palestinians cannot be left for ever stateless without citizenship. This matter must be reversed as quickly as possible. It is very interesting to note, for example, that Israel itself has recently been described as a state without necessarily the firmly fixed borders that all states should have, in the sense that these negotiations may cause somewhat of a change if there is a genuine peace process, but that remains to come out of what is going on now. Indeed, there could be other bizarre side effects to Israel from the growing defiance and intransigence of the increasingly foolish and myopic Netanyahu Administration. I speak as someone who has been a proud and enthusiastic friend of Israel as well as a supporter of Palestine in its hour of need. I despair at the antics of the politicians in the coalition who are leading Israel down a blind and false
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If Obama achieves a just and balanced two-state solution and the removal of the settlements, he will be the universal world hero for years and will finally have earned that prematurely accorded Nobel peace prize. It will be a fantastic achievement-but it looks some way off at the moment. At last, however, the quartet is lumbering into some semblance of reluctant movement forward with a recent gathering, but much more needs to be done. I especially ask the Minister tonight to give some account of what the pathetic and laughable efforts of the EU portion of the quartet intends to do from now on to insist that Israel behaves properly as the established state. We recall still with bitterness the chilling accounts of the 42 vetoes of UN resolutions as mentioned in the famous book by Mearsheimer and Walt in 2007 by the United States over the period 1972 to 2006, greater than the combined total of all other UN Security Council members over that period put together. What a disgrace for the country that professes to be the leader of the western world; I am not sure that that role is any longer applicable in the world, for lots of other reasons as well.
The list of Israeli violations of international law since the illegal annexation of the West Bank in 1967 is so long that I have no time to mention them tonight. Israel's defiance of the agreed road map is also now well documented, and we can add to that woeful saga the history of violations of civic and human rights in the apartheid colony that the Occupied Territories have now become; the extra-judicial murders that we have recently seen in the press, seemingly authorised by Israeli Ministers and the military; and the continued incarceration of more than 8,000 detainees, mostly without proper due process, equal to more than twice the pro rata United Kingdom entire prison population. Then there is the killing of civilians in Gaza, and the illegal settlements with some 400,000 settlers, who literally have no right to be there at all. How reckless can a Government of a western-style democracy decide to be? Presumably as reckless as Blair and Bush were in Iraq.
We seem to live in a world where only the US, the UK and Israel feel that it is all right to bomb civilians, as in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Lebanon and Gaza. Among the advanced countries, no one else seems to do it on a regular basis, apart from one or two unfortunate accidents among other NATO members in Afghanistan. Israel even attacks Syria with impunity, apparently, without any criticism uttered in Washington at all. In fact, if sensible public opinion in Israel were respected and followed by a sensible and moderate Government, as it used to have in the old days, these dreadful violations of international law would not be enacted.
I repeat my previous admiration for the millions of decent citizens in Israel who do not accept these dark prescriptions for the future. I raise my hat to JFJP, including its UK adherents-people of remarkable courage and tenacity-as well as to the 300-plus ladies of Checkpoint Watch, who go daily to the West Bank to report on violations of abuse of decent Palestinians struggling to survive, and to the hundreds of signatories in the Times on 1 December last year of British and international Jews welcoming the Goldstone findings. I single out too Gerald Kaufman MP for his bravery, and Peace Now-the UK branch and in Israel-as well as Bet'Selem and the other human rights groups in Israel, and the brave younger members of the military who formed the Breaking the Silence group to complain about abuses by the military of hapless Palestinian civilians. The list is very long and shows a decent side of a country, which can still-if only its short-sighted Government see sense-avoid becoming a pariah state like apartheid South Africa.
Because of the nature of this Question, I have not in this debate mentioned the long list of all the things that the Palestinians need to do if peace talks start properly. I presume that Senator Mitchell will work hard to be even-handed to both parties. But the fact remains that the Israeli Government, as the established order, supported as to their future security unconditionally by the entire international community, must take the lead as a colonial occupier that committed the violations of international law and created the Palestinian victims in the first place. That is what President de Klerk did in South Africa in 1990 to 1994. Sadly, the EU now has to consider seriously trade and other sanctions if Israel is not seen to be compliant with the growing anger and frustration of the international community. It would also be a good idea if it abandoned its defiance on the nuclear arsenal and subscribed to the NPT as well.
Finally, we watch with care and apprehension how the Muslim world of Arabia and beyond, as well as Muslim non-Arab countries like Iran, watch all these matters against the background of Israel's short-sighted rejection of the Arab League peace offer, made as long ago as 2004 and repeated frequently ever since. Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait and is expelled, quite rightly, after one year; Israel is still there after 43 years in the Occupied Territories. That cannot be right for the Arab man and woman in the street.
Israel has a great deal to offer its own citizens and neighbours, if true peace arrives and the Palestinians are given their place in the sun as a truly sovereign independent state, only seeking some 22 per cent of the combined territory. Israel has so much, the Palestinians so little. It is truly time for that Israeli generosity, which is such a feature of this excellent country. When I first went there in 1970, I was deeply impressed. I want to be impressed again.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, it is high time that this House had the opportunity to debate the state of the Middle East peace process-not, alas, because the situation is developing so fast, but because it is not moving ahead at all and simply goes round in
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The Middle East, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Experience shows that a further outbreak of violence is unlikely to be avoidable if the parties cannot be brought back to the negotiating table. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, is to be congratulated on initiating this debate in the closing days of this Parliament. It is right, too, that we should focus our attention in the debate on the role of the Government of Israel and on their current disregard for international law. For all the shared responsibility between the two sides that has existed over the past 60 years-the shared responsibility for the failure to reach a negotiated settlement-it is the present Israeli Government who, by their words and deeds, now represent the biggest obstacle to making progress. Take the decision to site the security wall not on the ceasefire line but in many places well within occupied Palestinian territory, and to continue its construction even after the International Court of Justice ruled that the siting was illegal. Take the incredibly offensive and maladroit announcement of further settlement building in east Jerusalem, which scuppered the latest US initiative to resume peace talks. Take the remarks of the Israeli Prime Minister to the recent AIPAC meeting in Washington that there could be no talk of settlements in east Jerusalem, because the whole of that city rightfully belonged to Israel and east Jerusalem was not therefore occupied territory at all and not covered by the Geneva conventions. Those are just three examples of clear breaches of international law, as clear as it is possible to imagine. The fact that Israel is a working and respected democracy, which is often rightly cited as a factor in its favour, only compounds its errors.
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