The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): We are committed to supporting and developing all British farming. This includes working with the pig industry to build on progress by the pig meat task force to improve relationships between farmers and retailers. At an EU level, we are working to improve the situation for producers in the medium term, including discussions in the Commission's new enlarged pig meat advisory group.
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that pig producers are losing £20 on every pig sold, that the industry as a whole is losing £3 million per week and that at the same time supermarkets are making £60 million a week and processors are making £8 million per week? When are the Government going to set up a grocery ombudsman whose job will be not only to protect consumers but to ensure that producers, such as British pig producers, get a fair price for their product?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for raising his Question. He is quite right to point to problems that the pig industry is facing as a result of the rise in the price of cereals and oil and the fact that our welfare standards, of which we ought to be very proud in this country, are a lot higher than elsewhere. As regards his principal question about the grocery code adjudicator, we have made it clear on a number of occasions in this House and in another place that we intend to bring forward legislation to create a grocery code adjudicator. We hope that we will be able to produce draft legislation later this year and take things further forward as we discuss that draft legislation.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am afraid it is the same old question, but it has to be because so little of our national law is now made in your largely redundant Lordships' House. The question is: to what extent are Her Majesty's Government in charge of aid to pig farmers and to what extent is it decided in Brussels?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord is, for once, right to say that it is the same old question. We have heard it from him a number of times in the past. If he is asking whether we should subsidise pig farmers, I have to say that this industry has largely been unsubsidised and that is how the Government and the pig world would like it to continue. If he is saying that there are concerns about the welfare standards being higher here than elsewhere, well, welfare standards are higher here than elsewhere. That is something the previous Government brought in earlier than the rest of Europe, but the rest of Europe will be catching up with our standards by January 2013, which we welcome. At that point, there will be a level playing field in terms of welfare standards.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, prior to foot and mouth disease in 2001, pig farmers were allowed to feed swill to their pigs. Is there any way in which Her Majesty's Government can reconsider the rules on swill feeding so that swill can be prepared centrally or regionally by approved swill cookers and then distributed to pigs? The cost of feeding pigs grain is tremendous and is frequently criticised.
Lord Henley: The noble Countess is right to point to that problem, which is why I highlighted the price increases in cereal. If the scientific evidence was such that pig swill could be made safe and reintroduced into the food chain, we would consider it. Obviously we will base any decision entirely on the scientific evidence put before us.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a survey by the National Pig Association last month indicated that 77 per cent of producers have said that they will go out of production if the present situation continues? If that happened, there would be more imports of lower-welfare pork, some of which is produced in conditions that frankly would be illegal in this country. Will the Government consider bringing together producers, those who represent processors and the supermarkets to see whether we might together achieve a long-term sustainable supply chain agreement?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for highlighting the problems in the whole supply chain. We accept that it is in the retailers' interest to ensure the long-term survival of British producers of pork, and we will do all that we can to achieve that. There is very little that the Government can do directly, but there are a large number of things that we can do indirectly, which is why I referred to the groceries code adjudicator and why I talk about government buying standards and a whole range of other matters. They are all small things, but they should all help.
Baroness Quin: My Lords, in response to my noble friend Lord Hoyle, the Minister talked about a draft Bill on the adjudicator later this year. However, given the urgency of and indeed the cross-party support for
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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, if I may say so to the noble Lord, it was the turn of those on these Benches. I congratulate my noble friend on the usual high standard of his answers. Does his bloodline make him a kinsman of the late Earl of Emsworth?
Lord Henley: My Lords, obviously market forces are very important, but there are other things that a Government can do. I made it clear earlier on that we do not believe that pig farming should be supported by subsidies. Nor does the pig farming world think that it should be supported by subsidies.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has drawn attention once more to the urgency of the matter of the groceries adjudicator. The Government have the opportunity to insert a provision into the Public Bodies Bill. They refused to do that a week ago. Surely they should do so now; the Bill is still going through the House.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will raise this matter on Report on that Bill, but I think my explanation to him in Committee was that we think it better that these things are discussed in greater detail when we can find time for an appropriate Bill. That is why we are committed to a draft Bill.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the draft Bill to which he refers would be a far more welcome addition to the legislative timetable than another draft Bill that has recently been talked about?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Lance Corporal Liam Tasker from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and Lance Corporal Steven McKee from the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, who were killed on operations in Afghanistan recently, and Private Daniel Prior from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, who died of wounds sustained in Afghanistan. My thoughts are also with the wounded and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.
I am pleased to confirm that a commercial ice-breaker, to be named HMS "Protector", will provide the interim replacement ice patrol ship capability for at least the next three years while we consider the long-term future of HMS "Endurance". We anticipate a contract for the ship's lease and support being signed soon with the preferred bidder, GC Rieber Shipping. I will write to noble Lords who have an interest in this matter when the contract has been signed.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for his reply, perhaps I may say that I feel sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, will be greatly cheered to hear of this progress. He has, after all, been raising the issue regularly since the flooding accident suffered by HMS "Endurance" in the South Atlantic in 2008. Is my noble friend able to elaborate further about the past history of the new ice patrol ship to which he referred? Can he tell us why the name "Protector" has been selected?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the name "Protector" has a historic connection with Britain's Antarctic commitment. It was the name of the ship which preceded the former "Endurance" in the Atlantic role. "Protector" was the sixth ship to bear the name and completed 13 Antarctic deployments from 1955 to 1968. A seventh ship of the name saw service as a Falkland Islands patrol vessel from 1983 to 1987. This is the eighth time that the name has been used. The intention is to lease MV "Polarbjorn", a Norwegian ice patrol ship for an initial period of three years. She will arrive in Portsmouth in May where she will be fitted with specialist military equipment needed for her deployment. I have photographs of HMS "Protector", which I can show to any noble Lord who is interested.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I should like to associate these Benches with the condolences offered to the family and friends of Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, Lance Corporal Steven McKee and Private Daniel Prior. I should also like to associate these Benches with the very thoughtful tribute that the Minister has paid to the wounded.
Such a satisfactory Answer raises serious problems when asking a further supplementary, but this has been a very sad affair. It is more than two years since "Endurance" was damaged beyond repair and it will not be replaced until May. I gather that in the mean time the task is being carried out by HMS "Scott". Does the Minister agree that that is not satisfactory since "Scott" is not an ice-breaker, does not carry helicopters and is not armed?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind words. As he said, HMS "Scott" is not an ice-breaker and she was only able to undertake operations in areas clear of significant ice risk. We have yet to determine whether the long-term solution for delivering the ice patrol ship capability will be better met through replacing or repairing HMS "Endurance".
Lord Naseby: Having just returned from Chile, I should like to know whether my noble friend is aware that there is considerable tension in South America, particularly in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, which recently refused to give naval bunkering? The news that there is a new ship to take on station is welcome so far as it goes, but will he confirm that HMS "Protector" will be armed equivalently to her predecessor in order to fulfil the particularly important function of looking after the Falklands and South Georgia?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the deployment of the new ice patrol ship is a separate issue from that of the security of the Falkland Islands. The permanent maritime presence in the Falklands is provided HMS "Clyde", the Falkland Islands patrol vessel. The commander of British forces in the Falklands also has at his disposal either a frigate or a destroyer supported by a tanker.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I have to take issue with the Minister on this. The "Endurance" plays a key part and, indeed, 29 years ago today, almost, we had a bunch of scrap metal dealers going on to some of the Antarctic territories. Therefore to think of it as not part of a cohesive package for the region is wrong. I am glad that the ship is being replaced. It is important that it has the right facilities, and it makes sense to look at the options for the future; I have no difficulty with that. I suppose my final statement is that the Minister referred to HMS "Protector", which was a net layer, as historic. Since I went on board that ship as a young officer, I find that rather difficult, but I understand the background.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support regarding HMS "Protector". On the defence of the Falkland Islands, as the Secretary
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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, the political situation in Somalia remains fragile and its instability presents increasing threats to the region and beyond. We continue to work with the Transitional Federal Government and our international and regional partners to take forward the UN-led Djibouti peace process. We, together with the United States and others, have made clear to the transitional federal institutions that there can be no extension of their mandate without reform to make them more legitimate and representative in the eyes of the Somali people.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, for the past two decades, Somalia has been a classic failed state, yet within its territory is the autonomous enclave of Somaliland, the old British protectorate. It is democratic, it co-operates with the international community as regards pirates, it seeks its own independence and international recognition, and wishes to be a member of the Commonwealth. Amid all the turbulence in the Arab world, surely now is the time for the Government to encourage African Commonwealth members to raise the matter in the African Union in the hope that there can be proper international recognition of what is a successful entity: the old British Somaliland.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is quite right to draw attention to this issue, and I recognise the stability and achievements of Somaliland. Indeed, that recognition is reflected in the specific aid for Somaliland that has been given. When it comes to recognition as an independent state, while that is something that the Somaliland people have sought, it really is a question of getting their neighbours to lead the way. At the moment there is no recognition of Somaliland as a separate state by any country in the world. It may be that it is through the African Union that a change of heart should come, but our position is that this is a matter that has to be settled by the Somali people themselves and their neighbours rather than unilaterally by us.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, three months ago, the UN Security Council authorised an increase in the strength of AMISOM from 8,000 to 12,000. Will my noble friend say what progress has been made in meeting that objective? Will he also identify the substantial gains in the territory controlled by the TFG and AMISOM as announced in an AU communiqué of 17 March, if necessary by publishing a map?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I will look into the question of publishing a map, but, as far as progress in upgrading the strength of AMISOM is concerned, I am informed that the first 1,000 additional troops, provided by Burundi, were deployed early this month. The remaining troops are being provided by Uganda and are expected to deploy before the summer. As for the substantial gains, AMISOM carried out an offensive in Mogadishu from 19 February to 6 March, during which it was able to secure new ground, including vital areas around Bakara market. We are aware of other fighting between TFG-aligned militias and al-Shabaab elsewhere in the country, including in and around Bulo Hawo.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, have we not dangerously underestimated the reach and influence of al-Shabaab, not only in terrorising the people of Somalia but also in claiming responsibility for the deaths last year of 74 innocent people in Uganda? Should we not be doing more to highlight the depredations of al-Shabaab, which include the killing of Sufi and moderate Muslims, public executions, amputations, public flogging and stoning of women, the routine killing of journalists and the recruiting of child soldiers, some of whom have been responsible for some of the murders that I have mentioned? This has inevitably led to a large number of refugees leaving the country. What can the Minister tell us about the plight of those refugees, the human rights abuses and the export of al-Shabaab's terror?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I can certainly confirm that, as the noble Lord said, al-Shabaab is a vicious and dangerous group which has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Somalia and the killing of soldiers, AMISOM troops, innocent civilians and parliamentarians, and which shows no regard for human life. The noble Lord asked what we could do. Her Majesty's Government have a Somalia strategy which they are pursuing. We are working with the AU, the EU and other allied forces and we are doing everything we can to establish a political strategy for the area. It is called a "dual-track" strategy, whose objective is to encourage both the transitional Government, provided that they commit to the right degree of reforms, and the bottom-up development of responsible and constructive groups who can oppose these very unpleasant people. They are a real danger, and the noble Lord is absolutely right to draw attention to their vicious and unacceptable activities.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, may I press the Minister a little further on the question of reform? In his Answer, he said that there would be no extension of the transitional institutions' mandate
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Lord Howell of Guildford: I say in response to the second part of the noble Baroness's question that we are supporting the European Union training mission, which trains up personnel and returns them to Mogadishu to assist policing and the upholding of law and order, such as it is in the area. We are working with it on a number of other programmes as well. As a result of the DfID review, the UK has agreed to provide up to £250 million-a very considerable amount indeed-in support of Somalia over the next four years, but we shall have a review of how that is going halfway through, in 2013. Our objective is to help support prosperity and tackle poverty across Somalia and to support efforts at peacebuilding and reconciliation at national, regional and, as I was saying a moment ago, at local level. It is the co-operation of the transitional Government and their commitment to this programme that are the conditions on which we base our support for them.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the work being done by Missions to Seafarers Mombasa in providing counsel and support for seafarers who have been freed after having been hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia? Will he join me in affirming the wonderful work undertaken by Missions to Seafarers, not least through the promotion of an annual Sea Sunday, which this year, on 11 July, will highlight the problem of Somali piracy?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We are aware of this excellent work. It reminds us all of the much wider problem of piracy-which has been discussed in the House-which has been getting worse. The UK Government are taking the lead through the contact group and a variety of other co-operative links with the EU NAVOR Operation Atalanta, the Combined Maritime Task Force 151 and the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2. A co-ordinated effort is coming together to meet the overall piracy issue, the basic roots of which, given the instability of Somalia, lie as much on land as they do on the high seas.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the decision of Remploy Ltd, the largest specialist employer of disabled people in the United Kingdom, to make redundancies among the workforce.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, voluntary redundancies are a matter for Remploy management and employees. Remploy will continue to
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Baroness Turner of Camden: I thank the Minister for that response. However, is he aware that I have received information from the unions that Remploy has been told by the Government to make 1,500 people redundant? They are very concerned about this because they fear that it may mean the closure of certain locations. As I said in my Question, Remploy is the largest specialist employer of disabled people in the country, working at 54 different locations. Surely it is in the interests of everyone, including the Government, to ensure that this facility is maintained because, in the light of the Government's own policy, it is very important that disabled people should be able to work if they want to do so.
Lord Freud: My Lords, I can categorically reassure the noble Baroness that there is no such plan as has been suggested by the unions; we are looking at a voluntary redundancy plan. The next stage of what happens to Remploy will depend on the review that Liz Sayce is conducting into disability employment programmes, which is due to report in the summer.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I recognise that only voluntary redundancies are being sought at this stage, but does the Minister not agree that Remploy's failure to meet its financial targets is, at least in part, attributable to the Government's failure to meet their commitment to put work into the factories through procurement and otherwise? Can he assure the House that the Government will redouble their efforts to fulfil their side of the bargain contained in the five-year funding agreement of 2007?
Lord Freud: My Lords, the Remploy business plan was designed by Remploy management. It has failed to achieve its targets because, in retrospect, it was wildly overambitious to expect that public procurement could go up by 130 per cent. The cost of subsidising a disabled person in a Remploy job has now reached £23,000 a year, compared with the success of Remploy employment services in putting a person into an independent job for a one-off cost of £3,400.
Lord Addington: My Lords, will my noble friend expand on the work of Remploy employment services? Getting people with disabilities into jobs in the mainstream is surely the way forward. What guarantee is there of support for such schemes, which are in line with what most of us have been working towards for a long time.
Lord Freud: Yes, my Lords, the success of Remploy's employment services is little less than extraordinary. It has now put some 24,000 people into jobs. In 2009-10 there were more than 10,000 people. It looks to get about 18,000 people into jobs this year and its target for 2012-13 is 30,000.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Thank you, my Lords, I am grateful. We all agree, following the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the best strategy for work for disabled people is to see them coming into mainstream jobs. Anything that can be done in this respect by the current Government, as was done by the previous one, is greatly to be welcomed. Yet, frankly, that strategy only works when there is low unemployment. At the moment, in my county of Norfolk where 32,000 people are chasing 4,000 jobs, I suspect that the opportunities for disabled people will shrink unless Remploy can ensure supportive employment. Could the Minister not at least work with Remploy to ensure that there are continuing opportunities for disabled people until we see the employment market open up again?
Lord Freud: My Lords, my last answer made clear the extraordinary success of Remploy in getting people with disabilities into jobs. That does not seem to have been affected by a very difficult employment market. I remind the House of the relative costs: the factory business of Remploy takes between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of the total that we as a country spend on disability employment programmes to support some 3,000 people.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, while recognising that the policy of the coalition Government is to have voluntary separation and voluntary redundancy, does the Minister agree with me that even on a voluntary basis the number of job opportunities will be reduced for disabled people in the future?
Lord Freud: My Lords, I hope that I have made absolutely clear the exact opposite. The employment services strategy is working. Numbers are going up. It is looking to help 30,000 people per year by 2012-13 into mainstream jobs. A company such as ASDA has already taken on 1,000 disabled people. With this strategy we are delivering something that disabled lobbies and people want-to be in full, mainstream employment.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the Leader of the House will shortly repeat a Statement about Libya. The usual channels have agreed that the time for Back-Bench questions and answers today should be extended from 20 minutes to 40 minutes.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now make a Statement about Libya in order to bring the House up to date, in light of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, the Prime Minister's Statement to the other place of Friday 18 March and events that have taken place over the weekend.
It is now almost a month since the people of Libya first took to the streets to make clear their wish for a regime that is free of oppression and corruption. Since those initial protests, we have seen the situation deteriorate and the violence increase. In response to the need to protect vulnerable citizens, the UK has played a leading role in delivering EU action and UNSC resolutions.
At the end of February, and at Britain's instigation, the UN Security Council agreed Resolution 1970 to bring in asset freezes and a travel ban for Gaddafi's top officials. Accordingly, the Foreign Secretary removed the exemption from UK immigration control that applied previously to Gaddafi, as head of state, and members of his household, thus preventing them from entering the UK. The Government also took action to freeze the assets of Gaddafi, members of his family, people acting on their behalf, and entities owned or controlled by them. We have prohibited the export of uncirculated Libyan banknotes without a licence from the UK.
The EU Council decision and regulation, adopted on 3 March, extended the scope of the travel ban and asset freeze to include additional individuals subject to EU measures. On 11 March, the European Council issued a declaration on developments in Libya, in which EU leaders called on Gaddafi to "relinquish power immediately", as his regime had "lost all legitimacy", and agreed to work with the UN, the Arab League, the African Union and international partners in responding to the crisis.
There has also been a clear desire by the international community to see Gaddafi's regime held to account for its actions. On 1 March, Libya was suspended from the UN Human Rights Council. The UK was also instrumental in referring Gaddafi and his regime to the International Criminal Court, which opened its investigation on 3 March. Despite repeated calls to end their violence and, as the UN Secretary-General put it, for the Government of Libya to,
we saw only an escalation of state violence and an ever growing number of civilian casualties. We therefore supported the UN in a call for an immediate ceasefire and, if one were not forthcoming, for action to protect the civilian population.
A no-fly zone was authorised by UN Resolution 1973 on 17 March 2011. The resolution also called for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the violence, measures to make it more difficult to bring mercenaries into Libya and the tightening of sanctions. It also authorised the use of all necessary measures to protect the civilian population, including in Benghazi. Unfortunately, the Gaddafi regime did not heed this resolution and continued, and indeed stepped up, brutal military action against
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Following that, on the evening of 19 March, UK Armed Forces under the authority of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 participated in a co-ordinated strike against Libyan air defence systems. The UK launched guided Tomahawk land-attack missiles from a Trafalgar class submarine. The RAF also launched Storm Shadow missiles from a number of Tornado GR4 fast jets, which flew direct from RAF Marham as part of a co-ordinated coalition plan to begin the international community's enforcement of the Security Council resolution. HMS "Westminster" is currently off the coast of Libya and HMS "Cumberland" is in the region, ready to support operations.
Gaddafi made a television statement late on 19 March, in which he criticised military action and asked the Security Council and the international community for an "immediate" stop to the hostilities. Gaddafi claimed:
UK and partner forces remain engaged in ongoing operations as we seek to ensure that Colonel Gaddafi and his forces understand that the international community will not stand by and watch them continue to kill civilians.
I am sure that all Members of the House will join me in expressing pride in our Armed Forces and admiration for the bravery and expertise of our service menand women as they complete their difficult work. We also pay tribute to the continuing work of British officials both at home and abroad as they, too, complete their tasks.
I want to make it clear that these are efforts to protect the Libyan population as called for by many Libyans throughout the country including the Libyan opposition, with whom we are in regular contact. The Libyan population wants freedom from oppression and to be able to choose its leaders. As the Prime Minister has said,
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for the Statement that he has just given on Libya. Noble Lords will be aware that MPs in another place are debating and voting today on the UK's involvement in military action by the United Nations-led coalition in Libya. Our role in this House is not that today, but this is a serious and important matter and it is right that this House should consider these matters today as well.
First, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about members of the UK's Armed Forces who are engaged in that military action. We are and should be proud of what they do and of their ability, expertise and bravery. We share the concern of the families of service personnel at times of such action.
At a time of military engagement, it is particularly important to be clear about what is being done and what the strategy is, and about purpose and support. The Prime Minister said last week in relation to Libya and to the military action being taken by the UK and by UK forces that,
However, in addition to giving support, it is our job as an Opposition to maintain scrutiny and to hold the Government to account. That is what we must and will do. Strong support and rigorous scrutiny through this House are our clear job and responsibility as an Opposition, so, as I said, that is what we will do. We can all see from our television screens and other sources that the position on the ground in Libya and in the air above it is fast moving. It is in the nature of military action, especially in modern military engagement, that that is the case. The job of politicians in these circumstances is not to second-guess the military commanders-they are doing their job, on behalf of us all-but it is right that we should consider the broader position and the context for that military action. That is the job for both Houses of our Parliament today.
In relation to Libya and the current military action, I ask the Leader of the House about four principal areas: the action that Colonel Gaddafi is taking against his own people; our response to that action; our strategy for that response; and the position at and after the cessation of military activity.
In all this, the shadow of Iraq looms large. Iraq and the UK's part in the military activity there were controversial at the time and remain controversial now. Inevitably, what happened in Iraq is bound to lead to hard questions about the wisdom, practicality and consequences of intervention, including this
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When Colonel Gaddafi announced that, in relation to 700,000 of his own countrymen and countrywomen in Libya who had sought freedom, as so many have done this spring across the Middle East, there would be "no mercy and no pity", we have a clear responsibility to act. When Libyan government officials declare that there will be house-to-house revenge, we have a clear responsibility to act. When at least 1,000, probably many more, of Libya's own people have been killed by the Gaddafi regime, according to the UN, we have a clear responsibility to act. Action over Libya was and is necessary precisely because of Gaddafi's explicit actions-because of what he has done and what he proposed to do.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that action in these circumstances is action to protect the Libyan people? We should not forget that a responsibility to protect was agreed by the Security Council in the United Nations General Assembly following the atrocities in Kosovo and Rwanda, when the world community failed to protect. The United Nations Security Council resolution allows all necessary measures to maintain and restore international peace and security under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Will the noble Lord confirm that regime change is not an objective, that the proper focus will be the protection of the Libyan people, that measures have to be measured and proportionate and that Gaddafi is not a target unless he becomes or acts as part of the command and staff of any particular action?
It is important that the Government as a whole speak with one voice on this issue. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could confirm that, although the comments made by the Secretary of State for Defence were perhaps unfortunate, they should not be taken as indicating that the Government have any intention of acting outside the confines of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.
I pay tribute to the former Leader of your Lordships' House, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, who in her role as the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs was, I know, closely involved in important discussions with the Council of Ministers, the Arab League and the G8. The noble Baroness sometimes gets a rough ride in the media. She is tough enough to take it, but she deserves credit, too, for what she does and what she is able to do in difficult circumstances such as these.
The important decision of the Arab League to support a no-fly zone for Libya and the decision of the United Nations Security Council in passing Resolution 1973 show clearly the strength of feeling and the strength of purpose in the international community. We all recognise that without that decision by the league there would have been no United Nations Security Council resolution.
Will the Leader of the House set out the form of the current coalition-the number of countries involved and the number that are likely to be involved? Britain,
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Could the Leader explain to the House what the UK Government judge to be the meaning of the phrase used in the United Nations resolution that "all necessary" force is now authorised to prevent the slaughter of the civilian population in Libya? Does that, in the Government's view, include, as necessary and appropriate at some point in the future, the use of ground troops in addition to the airborne forces that we are currently deploying? In the coalition's strategy, will the Leader confirm that there is no intent for coalition forces to be or to become an army of occupation? Could he say what will constitute success in Libya? Is the creation of a stalemate between the regime and those against it a legitimate objective for the coalition? How far have the UK, the UN or the coalition considered the issue of partition, and what might that mean in practice for those taking part in the coalition? What will constitute the end game?
In Iraq, much attention was focused on the legitimacy of the military conflict, but much attention was also concentrated on accusations that, in taking military action, insufficient attention was paid to what would happen when that military action was, in the main, over. What happens subsequent to the military action is of course dependent on the outcome of that action. Libya and the Libyan people will and must be dominant in that. However, the Arab League, the African Union and the coalition will also be important. No one would expect that, at the very moment that military action is taking place, equal attention could or should be given to what happens after the shooting stops. Equally, one of the ways in which Iraq should inform us is that, however difficult it is, attention must be given to what happens afterwards. If the humanitarian need to act is pressing now, a different kind of humanitarian aid will be pressing after the military action.
Britain is in a better position to consider these issues because of our values as a nation, a democracy and a country where both the rule of law and human rights are paramount. Humanitarian requirements are strong. Multilateralism is the best way to respond to them. That is why we support the United Nations overall and, specifically, in relation to Libya.
Can the Leader of the House give a commitment that this House will have the earliest possible opportunity to debate these issues in full in a day-long debate? Can business perhaps be so arranged that such a debate could take place this week or next week at the latest-maybe even on Friday 1 April? I am very grateful to the Minister for saying that he will keep us informed about Libya and the military action. I presume that the noble Lord means that he will do so through Statements and, perhaps, in briefings on a variety of bases for Members of this House.
Throughout the Middle East, the world is turning on its axis. The changes in some countries have been enacted differently. There has been violence in Bahrain, for example, and Yemen. There was certainly bloodshed in Egypt. The removal of President Mubarak was not carried out without blood being spilt. However, overall, Egypt managed to change without the kind of large-scale violence, murder and war crime that we have seen and are seeing in Libya. Change is possible without what is tantamount in Libya to civil war. However, Libya is different; it is a special case. In Libya, the leader of the country is making large-scale threats against his own people. He is enacting those threats by attacking and killing his own people on a massive scale. That demands a response-a proportionate and just response, but a clear response of the kind that the United Nations is giving. We support the Government in that response. We will maintain our responsibility to scrutinise what the Government are doing but, in seeking to protect the people of Libya, the Government, the coalition and the UK Armed Forces fighting there now, today, in our names, have our support.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I begin with what the noble Baroness said in her closing remarks. We are witnessing, right across the Middle East, a great period of change. We are witnessing events sometimes changing very quickly on our television screens, dealing with frustrations that have built up over a long period. In each country these are manifested in different ways and may well end in different destinations. It is difficult for us to see exactly what those will be. Our role is to encourage the aspirations of individual countries' peoples to be met and to enable change, where it happens, to be as peaceful as possible and provide for the long-term sustainability of individual nations.
I thank the noble Baroness for her reply and the way in which she expressed it. I thank her particularly for supporting the action that the Government have taken. She is completely right: this House should debate these great issues. The House was not sitting on Friday when the Statement was taken in another place and the usual channels deemed it too short notice to provide for a debate at the same time as the debate in another place. Through the usual channels we will continue to provide time for short debates and Statements, as they arise. If there is a need for a wider debate-I suspect that there will be-we will make time available for that and let the House know. Like the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition, I think that we should do that relatively soon-perhaps towards the end of next week.
The noble Baroness said that we needed to be clear about the purpose of this action and that there should be clear parliamentary scrutiny. I entirely agree with her. The purpose of this House is not only to inform another place but to inform the Government of the views of this House.
What has Colonel Gaddafi been doing and how has he breached Security Council Resolution 1973? Since Saturday evening, it is clear to us that Colonel Gaddafi's forces launched an attack on Benghazi, shelling residential suburbs. There have been air strikes by the US, the UK
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This action is being taken primarily to protect the civilian population in Libya. Regime change is no part of our objective, although we have made it clear, through the Prime Minister and as a Government, that we believe that Colonel Gaddafi no longer has the support and confidence of his people. I can also confirm that Colonel Gaddafi is not a target, as the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Richards, told the BBC. He said:
I entirely agree with what the noble Baroness said about the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who has performed a difficult task under difficult circumstances. I know that she has the wholehearted support of this House.
The question is raised: who is running this military operation and what is NATO's role? In other words, who is in charge? The operation is currently under US command, with high-profile French and UK involvement as well as close co-ordination with a range of other countries, including Arab states. We continue to discuss with partners the arrangements for the next phase of this military operation. Over the short term, we want a transition to NATO command of military operations as quickly as is feasible. That is also Turkey's aim. We are working hard to get decisions in NATO to enable this to happen as fast as possible.
The noble Baroness asked a series of questions, some of which are hypothetical. For instance, she asked what happens next. It is very difficult to picture exactly what the next course of action will be, but we know that it will be a difficult and dangerous road ahead. We cannot determine the exact course of events. However, we are clear that already we have saved civilian lives from the violence of their own regime. We have prevented the fall of Benghazi, which is a substantial city of more than 1 million residents, and we believe that Libyan people have a better chance of determining their own destiny than before.
We are clear about the meaning of the Security Council resolution: "all necessary" force in enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians means exactly that, but it does not mean that we can put military forces on the ground. We do not believe that that is allowable under the Security Council resolution.
I have said that we will have an opportunity to debate this. I will continue to update the House, as will my colleagues. The noble Baroness also made an interesting suggestion that we as a Government might
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Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the Minister accept my thanks for the way that the Government have acted by putting down that resolution at the Security Council at the key moment? Will the Government give some consideration to getting the Security Council to authorise putting Libya's oil resources into an escrow account and making a proportion of that account roughly proportionate to the size of the part of Libya that is under the control of the insurgents available to them for civil purposes? That, as the noble Lord will remember, was what happened in Iraq in 1991. It successfully supported the survival of the Kurdish part of Iraq, without in any way altering our respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of that country. That would be a way in which the insurgents could be helped. When dealing with some Governments around the world who have expressed doubts or even criticism of what we have done, will the Minister remind them that every single one of them subscribed in 2005 to the doctrine of the responsibility to protect? Will he ask them fairly robustly what they would do now to protect the civilians of Libya?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I have noted previously that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, brings his considerable experience and knowledge to bear in this House. It is immensely useful that he does so at this time. I very much welcome his words about the United Kingdom and France putting down the key resolution, and doing so at the right time-some would say in the nick of time. Certainly, if it had happened 24 hours later, we might have faced a very different situation in Libya.
The noble Lord makes an interesting suggestion-one that is based on precedent-about the oil resources and an escrow account. All these matters are under consideration in the United Nations and, of course, in the Security Council and in individual member states. As the noble Lord points out, such a measure would respect the integrity of international borders.
On the criticism of some countries, the words of the noble Lord stand. They will be read and should be repeated to those countries that have sat by while so many others have done the work. In due course, the world will re-evaluate those who stood by and would have let a cataclysm occur in Benghazi.
Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, on behalf of all Back-Benchers in the House, perhaps I may express admiration for our gallant troops of both sexes in the war. It is not necessary for everybody to take up valuable time with that statement, so perhaps I may take it on myself to express it. Secondly, will the Minister use his influence to persuade the Prime Minister,
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I join my noble friend, as I know the House does, in paying tribute to our troops who have reacted immensely quickly to the challenges put upon them and who even now are in action or redeploying-particularly the RAF-to a new forward base in southern Italy. My noble friend encouraged me to use my influence with the Prime Minister to urge him to encourage Arab states to stay on board. The Prime Minister needs absolutely no encouragement from me. He is actively involved in this work and is speaking by telephone to members of the Arab League continually. There were stories yesterday in the news that the Arab League was withdrawing its support because of civilian casualties. I can confirm that that is not the case. The Secretary-General, Amr Moussa, said:
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, perhaps I may carry on that theme by suggesting to the Leader of the House that it is not a question just of the Arab League giving diplomatic support. Will he assure the House that we will ensure that the Arab League takes part militarily in the operation-the more members, the better-and that if it does not, and if we find that Arab support evaporates, we will think very hard about extricating ourselves from this military action?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extremely good point. Qatar is sending military assistance. We anticipate further assistance from other Arab League members, although we are currently not in a position to say what form this will take. Arab partners made it clear that if the action was authorised by a Security Council resolution, they would contribute military assets. We are continuing to discuss this with them and to lobby our partners to contribute to a coalition force from both NATO and the wider international community.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we on this side support the credible and convincing case made by the Prime Minister in the other place. The legality of the action is not in question, because the systematic slaughter and violation of international and human rights law
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his opening remark that the legality is not in question. He is right in that. We have received the clearest possible advice on the legal basis. The Security Council resolution is extremely clear without any ambiguity and the breaking of that resolution is equally clear. I also agree with my noble friend that the most vital aspect of the work taking place under the auspices of that Security Council resolution is the protection of civilians in Libya. Within that, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord West, the support of the Arab League and the African Union is also extremely important. Diplomatic efforts are being vigorously carried out across the world. Finally, my noble friend asked about the exit strategy. We have made it very clear for a long time that we believe that Colonel Gaddafi has lost the support and confidence of his people. However, in the first place, we wish to see peace and for the people of Benghazi to be able to go about their lives in a peaceful manner. We will review the situation from time to time and will see how events unfold in the days and weeks ahead.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, this episode, if I may call it that, which has given rise to discussion today, is characteristic of the unpredictability of foreign affairs and it indicates the way in which something very alarming has to be addressed urgently. I hope that the House will join me in welcoming the caution, comprehensiveness, clarity and courage with which this problem has been addressed, as well as our satisfaction that there is anything but complacency about it. We shall need to be careful and watchful. However, we can express great confidence in the decisions taken so far and extend our strongest support for the continuation of this approach to the problem.
Lord Strathclyde: I very much welcome what my noble and learned friend has said with all his experience and knowledge not just as a former Foreign Secretary but as someone who has witnessed many different international crises and events over a long period. I assure him that there is no complacency and I know that he understands that. I very much welcome his continued support and encouragement. I hope that he will avail himself of any briefing that we can offer so as to keep himself entirely up to speed.
Lord Judd: My Lords, it is immensely reassuring that the Government are showing determination that our courageous service men and women should operate within the context of international law and under the authority of the Security Council. I am sure that there is widespread support for that determination on the part of the Government. However, does the noble Lord agree that, ultimately, the long-term stability of Libya and of other Arab countries is dependent on the people being in control of their own destiny? It is their struggle and they have to find the solutions; and whether or not there should be regime change is in their hands. Is it not, therefore, essential for us to avoid at all costs being directly or indirectly seduced into what could be seen as political manipulation of the situation? Can the noble Lord also say a word about the predicament of the large number of refugees, many of whom are, in effect, stateless?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I welcome what the noble Lord has said about us operating within the context of international law and with the full support of a UN Security Council resolution. The noble Lord is also entirely correct in talking about long-term stability being in the hands of the Libyan people. If the western powers-perhaps I can put it as loosely as that-were seen to be imposing some kind of solution on Libya, it would not work. I totally agree with what the noble Lord said: the future of Libya must lie in the hands of its people and they must decide how best to run their affairs. That is part of what all this is about: by protecting civilians, we give the people the ability to have a choice to aspire to change, as has happened more peacefully in other parts of the Middle East.
The noble Lord also asked about humanitarian aid for those who find themselves stateless. I suspect that that could easily become a growing problem but DfID has played a key role and has already provided tens of thousands of blankets, more than 1,400 family tents and charter planes which have returned more than 6,000 people to their countries. The number of arrivals in transit camps is now falling; as of 20 March, some 5,874 people remain at the transit camp and DfID, with many other partners, is continuing to work to reduce the number.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, if Gaddafi were to disappear from the scene tomorrow, he would leave behind him a non-functional community, and no continued imposition of a no-fly zone would of itself give any real protection at all to that community? In the circumstances, does he agree that the temptation may be very great for land forces to be used to bring about that very result? Will he endorse something that I think he has already touched on, in so far as Her Majesty's Government's interpretation of the relevant resolution is concerned-after all it is a political and not a judicial decision-that he would abjure completely the possibility of land troops being used?
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, perhaps I can invite the Minister to clarify that point which might be open to misunderstanding. Although it is true that the UN Security Council resolution forbids or does not cover any invasion or occupation, there is nothing in that resolution which would inhibit us using military assets to do something like rescue a downed pilot.
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: My Lords, the House has heard an admirably clear account of how we got here. I was not as convinced by the way in which the noble Lord brushed aside the question of where we go next. I agree that it is hard to predict the future, but it is good to know where you want to go; that is called having war aims. It seems to me that, as of today, the analogy is with the first Iraq war when we had, as now, a very clear legal base in a Security Council resolution-new and specific-and we had widespread support in the region and in the Muslim world generally. I believe that that is the case now; I hope that it is. We also had very clear war aims. We were going to restore the independence of Kuwait. Therefore, the exit strategy was absolutely clear.
This time, it is so important to retain the support of the Muslim world and the Middle East that it is crucial that the Prime Minister, who moved with admirable speed last week, should move no less fast this week to agree war aims with the Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, across the Government, with Paris and Washington and our other NATO partners and across the Middle East, so that we are clear where it is we want to go. I hope that the noble Lord will pass that message on.
Lord Strathclyde: That is a good point well made. The comparison with the clarity of the Gulf War involving Kuwait is a good one, but the timing was so different. We were faced last week with the possible annihilation of opposition forces in Benghazi. I accept the noble Lord's implied criticism, which I know is meant in a constructive and friendly way, that clear objectives are harder to define. I hasten to add that I hope that I did not brush over that too much. The fact that we have saved civilian lives from the violence of their own regime already is a success and an objective. Enforcing the no-fly zone by damaging Libyan anti-aircraft assets is already a significant change. That means that coalition forces can fly over Libya to enforce the no-fly zone. We believe that that will lead to the Libyan people having a better chance of determining their own destiny than before.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend. As someone who has been involved in Anglo-Libyan commercial relations for the past five or six years, I have, needless to say, received with the greatest distress what has been happening in Libya in recent weeks: the wholesale slaughter of civilians and the wounding of a great many more. I am bound to say, therefore, that I very much agree with the action that the Government took first at the United Nations and then in joining the military operations of recent days.
However, we have to be careful about the objectives that we are seeking, both military and political. The military objectives are surely simply to pave the way towards the political objectives; and the political objective seems clear, which is to provide for the people of Libya an opportunity to choose for themselves in a free and fair way who should be their leaders.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I acknowledge my noble friend's great understanding of Anglo-Libyan relations. I thank him for his support of the actions of Her Majesty's Government. I particularly agree with the clarity with which he put the objective, which is to provide for the people of Libya to choose their own future and political destiny.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: The noble Lord said that the primary objective is the protection of civilians. Surely under the terms of the UN Security Council resolution, that is the only objective, however tempted one might be to go further along that road and intervene in a civil war on one side or the other. The noble Lord has heard the concern about the position of the Arab League: unless and until it goes beyond words to action, there will be strains within the coalition. I hope that, with the Government, he will seek to impress on the Arab League that more is expected of it than just brave words and that it should be with us all the way.
Will the noble Lord say a little about the position of countries, perhaps in the Arab League, seeking to provide arms to the rebels? Does the UN arms embargo apply to both sides or would it be legitimate under international law for countries to provide arms to the rebels?
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made it clear that there is very limited civil society in Libya. The European Union is experienced in providing and buttressing civil society and in providing aid, but clearly Arab nations will have to take the lead. Can the Minister give an assurance that we in the European Union are urgently looking at means of providing aid on political, economic and social infrastructure to help Libya look to a brighter future?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord raises useful and interesting questions. Under the Security Council resolution, there are two clear objectives. The first is to protect civilians and the second is to enforce the no-fly zone. They are enormously interrelated, but we believe that protecting civilians is a key objective. We have already discussed the wider coalition, the alliance across different nations and groups, including the Arab League. The Arab League has confirmed that it would be willing to offer military support, and I am sure that some members of it will do so.
The arms embargo is for the nation of Libya as a whole. Therefore, any arms shipped to the opposition or to rebel groups would be illegal under the Security Council resolution. On the EU role post conflict, I, too, believe that the EU has a substantial role to play. No doubt there are those within the EU working on how that might work in practice. It could only work with co-operation. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who talked about working in co-operation with the Muslim world. I agree with both noble Lords on that point.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter:My Lords, does the Leader of the House share my concern that in an increasingly volatile region there are already those who for their own ends are using somewhat inflammatory language and trying to construct a religious narrative around these unfolding events? In this account, a vulnerable Islamic population is being subjected to an opportunistic attack by a powerful Christian West. Not only does such a narrative have the power to destabilise the wider Middle East region, but it could impact very negatively on community relations in this country. Does this not underline the point that has already been made about the need not only to continue to work with but to retain the confidence of the council of the Arab League? Will the Leader talk about other ways in which the Government might be attempting to counter such a narrative and deny it the currency that it could begin to gain that would be so damaging to intercommunity relations here?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter raises some extremely important points. We will have all seen in the press and on our television those who have used inflammatory language for their own ends. There is no religious angle here whatever. This country and the United Nations are motivated by a humanitarian desire to bring some sort of peace and opportunity to the people of Libya. The best way for us to put that message across, including to communities in this country, is to repeat it and to explain what is really happening. It is a very human approach across humanity that crosses religious boundaries that we should seek to work together to bring peace and stability to this region.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, given that it has taken 28 minutes for a Muslim, and indeed a woman, to get in on these questions, I wonder whether I, coming from the Muslim world, may ask
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My noble friend dealt with the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, by saying that he thought that the arms embargo applied to every entity in Libya. I refer him to Paragraph 4 of UN Resolution 1973, which seems to indicate that it is possible, under protecting civilians and civilian-populated areas, notwithstanding Paragraph 9 of UN Resolution 1970, for people to participate in giving armed assistance to the insurgents. Will he say whether the Government are talking to the Gulf Co-operation Council states to help financially, even if they are not prepared to do so militarily?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her useful intervention. She is quite right to talk about what would have happened if we had stood by and a massacre had taken place and about the countries and the peoples who would have accused us of allowing it to happen without raising a hand in protest.
My noble friend also talked about the Security Council resolution. My answer to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, is also correct and allows me to clarify the position. As I understand it, arms may be supplied, but-this is key-only with the express approval of the United Nations Security Council sanctions committee. That is a key hurdle. There is no ability simply to arm different parts of Libya at will; it has to be done with the agreement of the United Nations.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. He mentioned that the Libyan air defence system had been knocked out-an essential prerequisite for setting up a no-fly zone. The cost of doing that is not inconsiderable; Tomahawks check out at about £500,000, and Sky Shadows for not much less. Hopefully there will be no need to use so many of those weapons in the future. Nevertheless, the cost already of these operations and the ongoing cost will not be inconsiderable. Will the Minister confirm that these costs will be met entirely from the contingency fund and not from the defence vote?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, much as I would like to, I cannot confirm that to the noble and gallant Lord. I can, however, confirm again that the air defences have been broadly knocked out. Of course the noble and gallant Lord, with all his considerable experience, understands the cost of these arms, but this is the kind
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Lord Reid of Cardowan: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord referred to resources. Since the primary purpose of this is the protection of civilians, and since the regime is the biggest threat to civilians, in the absence of either a change of heart by the regime, which seems highly improbable, or a change of regime, we have to consider that this no-fly zone might be sustained for the long term as necessary. In Iraq, for instance, to protect the Kurds in the north and the Marsh Arabs in the south, one such zone lasted for 12 years. Will the noble Lord assure us that the Government not only have the resolve to stay the course on this but, following some of the comments that have just been made, that we have the resources to continue to play our part in it in the light of the recent defence review?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Reid, asks an immensely good question. He is right to say that it might be for the long term, and none of us can say at this stage what the long term is. We have taken decisions over the course of the past few weeks on the need for a no-fly zone and we have constructed an international alliance. We will wish to maintain that and to get other countries to provide military assets. If we are successful in doing so then there is every reason to believe that the pressure that is being brought on the regime will prove a success. I think that all noble Lords listening to this exchange will have different views about what "long term" will mean. We will have to see how these events unfold before we can take a final decision on what the longest-term commitment from the United Kingdom will be.
Lord Chidgey: My Lords, if we are to learn the lessons of Iraq, is it not essential that, during the operations currently under way, we do everything that we can to protect the power stations, the water supply, sanitation-all the public sector infrastructure? In that context can the noble Lord tell us whether our cross-government stabilisation unit-not just DfID but also, across departments, the FCO and the MoD-is at the heart of the medium and long-term stabilisation planning? Is the stabilisation planning feeding into the decision-making now? We learnt from Iraq that it has to be a current process, not a past idea. Finally, will the UN lead stabilisation efforts in the medium and long term? We should play our part but, clearly, this needs to be an international concern.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that this is a concern. Of course, what has been happening is that it is Colonel Gaddafi and his troops and other armed forces who have been causing such difficulty and damage to electricity and water supplies, particularly in the town of Misurata. It is no part of the coalition's objective to try to degrade those kinds of not just economic but humanitarian assets.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, as regards Security Council Resolution 1973, would not the Leader of the House also agree that the decision of China two weeks ago to support the referral of Colonel Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court firmly puts human rights at the heart of this issue? In that regard, the Leader said in the Statement that Libya has been suspended from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Does he agree that it something of a paradox that a country that was responsible for the killing of WPC Fletcher, responsible for the Lockerbie bombing and responsible for the atrocities now being committed against its own citizens was ever a member of that body in the first place? As we come to review the membership of the Human Rights Council, should we not also review our arms policies? British arms are not only being used now in this theatre in Libya but also being deployed elsewhere in the Middle East against pro-democracy demonstrators.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord says that it is a paradox and he is entirely right-it is a paradox. We remember not only WPC Fletcher and the atrocity of Lockerbie but also the years of support for the IRA perpetrated by Colonel Gaddafi. We have a very robust arms policy in place. As I know the noble Lord believes and clearly understands, the aim of that policy is to keep continually under review what is exported and to which country it is exported.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, 95 per cent of Libya's export earnings come from oil and gas, and 75 per cent of all Libyan oil is exported to western Europe. Surely the issue of oil flows and the destination of revenue must be a consideration in the mind of Governments when key decisions are taken on the way to proceed. We have a lot at stake in terms of oil.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, our overriding objective is to protect the civilian population in Libya; that is the purpose of the action that we have taken. But the noble Lord is right to say that regimes can be sustained by their revenues, including those from oil. This question is in the mind not only of the Government but of the United Nations.
Lord Selkirk of Douglas: Will my right honourable and noble friend bear in mind that very serious allegations have been made from within Libya that Colonel Gaddafi had foreknowledge of the Lockerbie outrage before it occurred? Will he also keep in mind that the Lord Advocate in Scotland has said that she may consider reopening the Lockerbie case?
Lord Touhig: My Lords, following the questions put by my noble friend Lord Reid and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, has any thought been given to British aircraft operating from bases in France? At present, they have to make a 3,000-mile round trip.
Lord Bates: My Lords, while no one envies the grave task of my noble friend and my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in wrestling with these great decisions, can he confirm that the UN Security Council resolution was supported by only 10 members out of 15? The five countries that abstained included the likes of India, Germany and Brazil. Their reservations were that they felt that diplomatic channels had not been exhausted; that there was a risk that this action would galvanise support behind Gaddafi; and that military action would also pose a risk to civilians.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, different countries take different decisions at different times. No country voted against the Security Council resolution; 10 out of 15 voted in favour, and only nine votes were required for it to be carried. Events as they unfold demonstrate that it was right to take military action over the course of the weekend and to protect civilians on the ground.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this amendment goes to the heart of the Bill in that it seeks to reduce the period of a fixed-term Parliament from five years to four years. This important Bill may well bring about a significant change to our politics by changing the position from a situation in which the norm for our Parliaments is to last around three years and eight months to four years-with a maximum of five years-to a norm for our Parliaments to last for five years, with the possibility of going below that period only in exceptional circumstances.
"There is now a consensus across the country-dare I say brought to a head by the expenses scandal but which had been forming for some time-that the political system in this country needs to be reinvigorated".-[Official Report, 1/3/2011; cols. 929-30.]
His leader, Nick Clegg, has spoken in a similar vein. The Select Committee of this House which reported on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill had the privilege of Mr Clegg appearing in front of it. Its report states:
"The Fixed-term Parliaments Bill is just one part of a package of proposed reforms intended by the Government to make the political system 'far more transparent and accountable'. In his evidence, the Deputy Prime Minister told us that: 'it is an unambiguous judgment on our part that reducing the power of the executive, seeking to boost the power of the legislature, making the legislatures more accountable to people ... collectively introduces the mechanisms by which people can exercise greater control over politicians'".
"My intention in writing this book is not to describe an all-too-brief Cabinet career. It is instead to inform those who are interested in this important period of British politics and to make sure that an accurate account is left of what really happened in May 2010 before memories fade, myths grow and the evidence is lost".
That is how the Liberal Democrats moved from four years to five years; they did it because of the problem of trust. We should look at the proposals that are being put forward by the coalition with a moderately jaundiced eye, particularly because of the disingenuous way in which it is being done.
However, that does not relieve this House from considering as a matter of principle for the British people whether the right period is five years or four years. We are clear that the evidence-and this should be decided on the basis of evidence-is strongly in favour of four years rather than five. A mistake that the coalition persistently makes, and made in relation to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill as well, is that because judgment is required in coming to a conclusion on whether a particular course should be taken, all evidence can therefore be ignored. One simply, for example, has a conversation with
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We in this House have an especial responsibility in determining what the length of a Parliament should be. It is an area where the Parliament Act does not normally apply, although I accept that its being five years is not the reason for its not applying. Nevertheless, it is an area where this House has an especial responsibility to ensure that the matter is looked at on the basis of evidence.
What does the evidence show? The Select Committee looking at the Bill heard evidence, which did not happen in terms of pre-legislative scrutiny, and concluded unequivocally that the evidence showed that four years was the right answer rather than five. In her speech at Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said:
"As well as the biorhythmic arithmetic, we need to consider the quality of government and political life in the fifth year of Parliaments that have gone to the wire. They have rarely been shining patches in the life of Administrations. Ministers are often tired and accident prone. The palette of the electorate becomes progressively more jaded. A kind of pre-electoral blight sets in. Of course it could be argued that the final year of a fixed-term four-year Parliament would be similarly blighted. Certainly, the press would succumb to its customary pre-election frenzy as the last year deepened. However, the blight is likely to be less pronounced towards the end of a four-year span than a five-year one, and accountability is more likely to be enhanced by a four-year cycle".-[Official Report, 1/3/11; col. 935.]
"There is no doubt that the fifth year of a Parliament, in our constitutional history and experience if not in theory, is nearly always a completely unsatisfactory year".-[Official Report, 1/3/11; col. 958.]
The overwhelming view expressed during the course of the Second Reading debate, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, and some Back-Benchers on the Government's side, was that five-years as the norm is a bad idea. That was the weight of the evidence before the Select Committee and the experience of active politicians such as my noble friend Lord Grocott, so where is the evidence in favour of five years? I have looked hard to find it. I
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Secondly, the point was made that you would have a longer time in which to implement your provisions. The throw-away remark of Mr George Osborne which appears in Mr Laws's book appears to be the reason for five years. It states:
"George Osborne made the point that five-year Parliaments were better, as they allowed governments to get into implementing their plans before having to start worrying about the timing of the electoral cycle".
As was said at Second Reading, when Asquith introduced the current arrangements he made it clear that he thought a five-year maximum would, in practice, lead to a four-year period of time, which he said was sufficiently close at some stages to the previous election and sufficiently near to the next election to lead to accountability. If the coalition were serious about trying to reinvigorate our politics, it would at least address that issue. The consequence of there having been a four-year fixed term is that there would have been four fewer general elections between now and 1945. If your aim is to connect more with the electorate, surely reducing the number of general elections rather than increasing them will have precisely the opposite effect of that which Mr Nicholas Clegg and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, put forward.
There is no doubt in anybody's mind that this proposal is put forward as means of gluing the coalition together. Mr David Laws says that that is the reason. As I said at Second Reading, there is no need for an Act of Parliament, bogusly dressed up as a piece of high constitutional principle, in order to achieve that. All you need do is stick by your word if you are a Tory or a Liberal Democrat. I ask the coalition to please think again about our constitution. Is it genuinely better for Britain and for encouraging trust in our politicians to say that now there should be longer between elections than previously? I earnestly ask the coalition to consider whether the electorate might think that the coalition is doing this so that it can stay in power for as long as possible.
That sense is perhaps increased by the broken promises the coalition has made in relation to the conduct of the Bill. On 25 May 2010, Mr David Heath, the Deputy Leader of the House, said that there would be no guillotines-but there were. He said that he would favour pre-legislative scrutiny as long as it did not lead the Bill to go over into the next Session. Despite the fact that this Session was then extended until May 2012, he reneged on that particular promise. This is a matter of some importance and it is not too late for the coalition to rethink what is best for the British constitution and to perhaps accept the overwhelming
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Does the noble and learned Lord not think that maybe five years is the wrong length of time and that four years is right? If he is not able to persuade the coalition to change its mind, I hope that this House, having considered the evidence, will conclude that the right way to protect the constitution is to support the amendment and reduce the period of the fixed term to four years. I beg to move.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: I will make a brief speech since I have put my name to the amendment. In the course of his reply at Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, described the question now before the Committee as "the key issue". He went to on to say that,
That point has been made by many noble Lords in the course of the debate. Unfortunately, to describe something as a question of judgment does not necessarily make the answer any easier but it does, I suggest, point the way to the right starting place. In this case, that must be to look at what other sound judges have said on the subject, especially those who have made a study of our constitution. That is surely a better approach than simply, for example, counting up the number of countries worldwide which have chosen five years rather than four, or four years rather than five.
I wish to start with two of the witnesses who gave evidence before the Select Committee, Professor Dawn Oliver and Professor Bogdanor. It happens that I know them both; they are both pre-eminent in the field of constitutional law and practice and they both say that they would choose four years rather than five. So did Professor Bradley-and I hope that the Committee will forgive me for simply mentioning their names, without quoting from them-along with Professor Padgett, Dr Milner and Dr Fox. None of those witnesses who gave evidence expressed a view in favour of five years. In the other place, Professor Robert Hazell preferred four years, as did Professor Blackburn, whose evidence is important because he is the man who has made a particular study of this very issue. So the professional evidence is really unanimous; it is certainly all one way. In the Constitution Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, tested the witnesses giving evidence, but it is fair to say that they did not hedge in any way, or flinch from what they had said. So it is not surprising that the Constitution Committee came down as strongly as it did in favour of four years. In contrast, the Government's reply to the committee's report, in paragraphs 12 to 15, seems feeble in the extreme.
If academic evidence was all one way, so also with two or three notable exceptions were the views expressed at Second Reading in this House. I have in mind the noble Lord, Lord Anderson-again I shall simply list the names-and the noble Lords, Lord Hennessy, Lord Grocott, Lord Norton and Lord Morgan, and
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Of the notable exceptions, I regret very much not being able to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, or the noble Lord, Lord Marks, who favoured five years rather than four because they thought that four years would not allow long enough for sensible policy-making and parliamentary debate. I accept that during the fourth year of a four-year Parliament the coming general election would begin to loom large but, even so, four years is surely long enough for the electorate to judge the Government's performance to date. That is what in a democracy matters most and it is what Professor Oliver meant-I think it was her-when she referred to the democratic deficit if we chose five years rather than four. That is clearly what Professor Bogdanor meant when he said that five years would make Parliament less accountable to the public. In addition to those theoretical arguments from eminent experts, there is the practical argument that four years fits in better with the devolved institutions.
So what are the Government's arguments in favour of five years? They are not altogether apparent. I looked carefully at what Mr Harper, the Minister in charge of the Bill, had to say on the subject when he was pressed by the noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater. He said:
He was saying that the Government might well have chosen four years but for the fact that five years is the current maximum under the Parliament Act 1911. I simply do not follow the logic of that argument. If we are trying to do our best to find the right number of years for a fixed term of Parliament by taking all relevant factors into account, surely of all the factors the current maximum is the least relevant, unless you take as your objective giving the Government of the day, whether they be Labour or Conservative, as long as possible within the existing maximum. The objective should be entirely different; to make the Government and, indeed, Parliament itself more accountable to the public.
In conclusion, briefly, what is before us today is a constitutional issue. It is not, perhaps, of the greatest importance but it is certainly of some importance and it would therefore be highly desirable to reach a consensus if we can. Unfortunately, there is no room for a compromise between four years and five years. We often reach a consensus in that way but no one, I think, suggests a fixed term of four and a half years. When the Government chose five years, they could not have had before them the evidence which is now before us so, like the noble and learned Lord, I hope very much that they will give way on this occasion and accept the amendment. If they do not and insist on their opinion in this matter, despite the great weight of opinion the other way, there will be little point in anyone ever giving evidence before Select Committees again. They will simply be wasting their time. For that reason, I will support the amendment.
Lord Stirrup: My Lords, a key argument advanced by the Government in favour of five-year fixed terms as opposed to those of four years is that it will improve overall government effectiveness, because there will be fewer elections and therefore less distraction to the Government in having to fight them. In mulling over this question, I have found it useful to think about the whole lifespan of a Government rather than the individual terms that go to make that up. Modern experience seems to be that most Governments serve for two or three terms. They occasionally serve for one or four but two or three seems to be the norm.
On that basis, modern experience is that a two-term Government will serve for about nine years and a three-term Government for about 13. That is because most Governments go to the polls every four years, except in their final term when they realise that the jig is probably up and hang on for as long as possible. Actual experience since the Second World War is that two-term Governments have served for even shorter periods, because of the narrowness of their initial victory and the need to go to the country early to try to secure a workable majority. Even setting that to one side, we have two-term Governments of nine years and three-term Governments of 13 years under the current system.
Under the proposals in the Bill, we would have Governments of 10 years or 15 years. However, in the second or third term of each Government, they seem to run out of steam. The toxins that are produced by reshuffled Ministers and disaffected and disappointed Back-Benchers build up to such a degree that the Government find it increasingly difficult to provide coherent and decisive leadership. They therefore end either their second or third term in a rather weakened state. It seems to me that these dynamics are likely to occur at about the same pace under whichever system we adopt so it seems likely that, under the Bill's proposals, we would have weakened Governments limping on for about one or two years longer than they currently do. I find it hard to see how that can be construed as an overall increase in government effectiveness. Indeed, it seems quite the opposite; that four-year fixed terms would probably produce such an increase in effectiveness, rather than the reverse.
Perhaps I might make one final point. I may have a rather idiosyncratic view of this but the essential and, indeed, the defining characteristic of any democratic electoral system of whatever model is the unassailable power and right to remove incumbents. This is to say not that doing so at too frequent an interval is conducive to effective government but that one should be very cautious about extending the period at which that is customarily done. That seems to me to be inescapable under five-year fixed-term Parliaments.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I am tempted to talk about the word "consensus". I said on day one of the Committee that New Zealand had a three-year term of Parliament. When the cut in the number of UK seats was devised as a consensus between the two parts of the coalition, I think that one lot wanted to get rid of 60 seats and the other wanted
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I turn more seriously to the question of four years. As the noble and learned Lord has reminded us, the Minister acknowledged at Second Reading that this was a judgment and there was no absolutely right or wrong answer. I feel that the Government have made the wrong judgment in going for five years rather than four.
There is a lot to quote from earlier debates. I have chosen the quote from Herbert Asquith that is in the report, partly because it was exactly 100 years and one month ago today when he said that we should be desirous of a House of Commons that is,
The Deputy Prime Minister, who has already been quoted, claimed that the Government's ambitious programme would transfer power away from Parliament and empower people. So we have to ask why the Government want to diminish accountability by extending the life of the other place from four years to five. It cannot be about increasing accountability. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, has suggested, to think about two periods of five years-that is, 10 years -is what makes me think that the figure of five is wrong. Ten years seems to be too long. Someone just short of their 18th birthday might have to wait until they were 23 to vote, and they would be 28 before they could vote again. The period from 18 to 28 is the whole of the setting down of one's life, but the Government are suggesting having only one vote during that time.
Similarly, imagine a Government with a small majority or indeed no overall control. It would be extremely hard to run the country like that, as I know, but the Government would be denied the right to go for a working majority, somewhat dreading every death or resignation and the resultant by-election-or maybe hoping for them so that they could then engineer a defeat on a confidence vote. Leaving it that way to call an election could mean that it would happen at the very worst of times: in the middle of a freezing winter, during school holidays, in a financial crisis or even at a time of national mourning, to say nothing of major international events or indeed the convenience of Her Majesty. Some of those questions are about the principle of a fixed-term Parliament, but they are far more likely to arise and be more acute with an over-lengthy five-year Parliament.
The question is particularly pertinent for a coalition. A coalition is new to the electorate and therefore needs a vote sooner on its performance than five years.
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Lord Martin of Springburn: I agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, about the length of the period between elections in normal times. If it is agreed that five years will be written into legislation, over a period of 20 years the electorate will be denied an opportunity to go to the polls to decide what form the Government will take and which Government will be returned. We had an opportunity last week to hear the Minister on this matter. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, was good enough to talk about it. He said that the present system gave awesome power to the Prime Minister of the day. However, what seems to have happened in the room that was talked about in the story from the autobiography of Mr Laws is that awesome power was given to the people around that table. It strikes me that many of the people around that table, who may be very good at economics and other matters, were not experienced parliamentarians. If they had been experienced parliamentarians, they would have said what I am saying today: four years is far better than five.
I ask the Minister to consider four years for the sake of the House and how it operates. I know what he said last week, when we had a warm-up and were able to hear some of his thinking. That is good; we could then think about what he had to say and come back, as we have today. I think the Minister said that his case was that in the fifth year Members of Parliament decide that they want to be in their constituencies. That is not because they are lazy-far from it. They want to work on the hustings; they know an election is coming up and want to be in their constituency. The Minister's case was that they would do that in the fourth year. However, they would not do that because the Government would not run out of legislation in the fourth year. Therefore, if Members of Parliament missed three-line Whips, it would be duly noted in their constituency. Constituents would say, "Why was he or she here on a Tuesday, missing a three-line Whip?". That is an incentive to keep Members of Parliament here in the fourth year, rather than in the fifth.
I bolster the case about Governments running out of legislation in the fifth year. The House of Commons Library tells me that in 2009-10 Session, there was not one vote taken on the Floor of the House of Commons on a Thursday. They had topical debates on a Thursday. Some were on very important matters but they were debates. On Thursdays we turned the House of Commons into a debating society, which meant there was no record of whether anyone turned up to represent their constituents. I reiterate what I said the other week. Tam Dalyell, an excellent parliamentarian, told me as a young MP, "Michael, if they want you, tell them you will be available on a Saturday or a Friday night.
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Last week the Minister said what fantastic power we were giving to the Prime Minister by enabling him or her to call an election on a date of their choosing, when the polls looked good. The coalition comprises two parties that fought like cats and dogs in the House of Commons-I had to hold their jackets at times-because their policies were so different. However, the leaders of those parties said: "We are getting together to sort out the financial problems of this nation; that's why we are together, but here's the wee deal-that we get a five-year Parliament". There are people with more knowledge of political history than I but I put it to the Committee that Ted Heath might have had the power to go to the country that the Minister talks about, but it did not work for him. Ted Heath said: "It's me or the miners", but the country did not re-elect him. He did not serve his full term. Therefore, the great power that he had did not work in his favour; nor did it work in Harold Wilson's favour in 1970. I remember hearing as a young canvasser that Labour would win again, and the polls all said that. Harold Wilson was perceived as the winner, but during the 1970 election word came through that he would lose, and he did. The same happened with Jim Callaghan. Had Jim Callaghan gone to the country before the great winter of discontent, perhaps he would have won-who knows? The Prime Minister may have awesome power but it has been shown that that power does not always work in his favour.
The noble and gallant Lord spoke about disgruntled Ministers. I suggest that there will be a stack of disgruntled former Ministers. I can hear them now saying, when they were appointed, "Tony said I am the only one who can do this job". Then they go on to Sky TV-the lovely thing about Sky TV is that if you cannot sleep in the middle of the night, you go on to Sky TV-and the same Minister says, "What a wonderful Prime Minister we have". I do not know whether it was reported that one Minister said: "I would jump under a bus for the Prime Minister". I would not jump under a bus for anybody. I do not know whether it was a moving bus or a stationary bus but it shows how much that Minister loved the Prime Minister. Then there is a reshuffle because the Prime Minister has a difficulty; he has to get fresh blood in because the Back-Benchers are saying, "They've had their turn at being Ministers; we want to be Ministers now".
I do not want to mention names but it has been reported that the gentleman who wrote the book might get back into government. I say good luck and three cheers to him. However, there are too many Ministers on the Front Bench so somebody must fall off the end. The logic of that gentleman getting back into government is that someone else will lose their job
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That then leads me to consider the people who matter-the electorate. They turn on their televisions, as do the politicians, and they say, "What is going on here? They are all fighting like cats and dogs". They then think of the old saying in the Biblethat a house divided against itself will surely fall, and they say to themselves, "We elected these people to be unified. They promised us unity and now they are fighting with one another". That will happen in the fifth year. For the sake of running the House properly, four years is far better than this fixed five years.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, I am tempted briefly to intervene, partly because of what the noble Lord, Lord Martin, said. I always remember that one of his predecessors-the late, great Jack Weatherill, who many of your Lordships will remember from his time in this House-once said to me, "If you have any doubt, do not go in and listen to the debate; just stay out and vote". I must say that I have heard every word in this debate and uttered one or two myself, but the more I look at the Bill and listen to what noble Lords say, the more convinced I am that this is a wholly unnecessary piece of legislation.
If the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister wish to make a binding undertaking to go to the country in May 2015, there is nothing in our current legislation that would stop them. I can well understand why the two leaders of the new Government-a coalition which is a new experiment in many ways-wanted a period of five years. God bless them, they can have five years, and I genuinely wish them success; but I am not so naive as to suppose that if there is some extraordinary rift or argument during those five years, all those protestations will not fall to the side and there will be an election. The Bill provides for an escape clause, in Clause 2, which we shall debate next week. I have tabled a significant amendment to delete it and to replace it with something else. However, I must not rehearse those arguments now.
The more I listen to this debate, the more two things come to mind. The noble Lord, Lord Martin, talked about the fifth year. Everything he said was correct. I was there for the five-year Parliaments that existed between 1970 and last year. It is quite true that, in every case, the fifth year was the least glorious. However, it would be a little naive to suggest that there would not be a concentration on the forthcoming election in the fourth year. One has only to look across the Atlantic at the ridiculous two-year cycles for the House of Representatives and the four-year presidential cycle to see that potential presidential candidates are already being lined up by the Republicans although
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The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have put themselves into a difficult position, because if we insert "four" rather than "five" into the legislation, their resolution made last year to serve five years will be blown apart. Of course, the House of Commons would send back the Bill. Therefore, I suggest that perhaps the best way forward is to accept, with whatever degree of reluctance but with total understanding, the five-year wish of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, but then to look to the future beyond that to consider what should be the normal life of a Parliament. On that question, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, in an excellent speech, put his finger on a number of very important points. Beyond 2015, it would be prudent and sensible to listen to the advice not only of many theoretical experts and academics, but of others who have had practical experience of politics, and to say that if the Government insist on fixed-term Parliaments after 2015, the term should be four years.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I am not sure that I would be happy with the proposal that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made, although I can see merit in it. However, I was very interested in what he said about the Bill laying bare the criticism that has been made of the Prime Minister for using as a defence of the five-year Parliament and of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill the argument that somehow it will take away power from the Prime Minister. It will take away power from subsequent Prime Ministers. As David Laws's book and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spelt out clearly, it was the Prime Minister who decided, with the Deputy Prime Minister, that the next general election would be five years hence, and gave the precise date. He did it far longer in advance than previous Prime Ministers, but none the less he made the decision himself.
I will address a comment made by a number of noble Lords in various debates that deserves a response from people like me who do not like the Bill but feel that if we must have fixed terms, we would prefer four years to five. The criticism directed toward us is that the worries in the final year of a five-year Parliament are not significantly different from the difficulties that come at the conclusion of a four-year Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, touched on that. The argument is that people will be electioneering for a full year, knowing when the election will come, that the Government will gear their legislative programme to the timing of the election, and that the situation will not be significantly different regardless of whether that election comes at the end of four years or five.
However, it is my experience, and that of many other noble Lords who have spoken, that a five-year Parliament historically has been less successful than a
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There is also a practical problem. This is probably rather an esoteric point but I think that many in the Chamber will recognise it. With fixed five-year terms, when you have to commit yourself to fighting the next general election, which is normally around half-way through a Parliament, you are committing yourself to remaining in Parliament for at least eight years-no one dares to call a by-election these days, or at least they do so only very rarely-and that is a very big commitment to make, certainly when you get to about your mid-50s.
Therefore, in terms of the last year, there is a significant difference between a five-year and a four-year Parliament. Of course, this country has the advantage of a wonderfully flexible constitution, so we are able empirically to compare what has happened in the past with four and five-year Parliaments. I hope that I have at least attempted to answer the criticism that it really does not make much difference whether it is a four or a five-year term.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, may think that I am rather a sad figure but over the weekend I reflected on what he said in his response last week. He said something that threw me-I had not thought of it. I was arguing, as I am now, for a four-year Parliament-not of a fixed term but normally four years-and I challenged him on why on earth a Liberal Democrat within a Government would say that the electorate should be consulted less frequently, because I suggest to the Committee that that is what would happen. I suggested that since the Second World War there would have been 13 rather than 18 elections and the noble and learned Lord said, "Ah, you can't really assume that that is the case because, under the provisions of this Bill, who knows how many elections there would have been. Some might have been instigated by the two-thirds rule". On reflection, that is not the strongest of arguments. I hope that in responding to this debate he will at least concede that there could not have been more general elections than there would have been had his Act been in operation, because there is a maximum amount of time that a Parliament can
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I have a final question for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace. The defence that his leader gave of the proposal for a five-year Parliament is contained in the Second Reading debate of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. When challenged as to the justification for five years, he said:
"Leaving aside the very short Parliaments, half of all Parliaments since the war have run for more than four years, so five years is ... in keeping with our current arrangements".-[Official Report, Commons, 13/9/10; col. 625.]
I do not know what he did at university, but it was not logic. That is the equivalent of a batsman saying, "My batting average would have been 100 if you eliminate the ducks". Basically that is what he is doing in terms of averages. We need from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, a better justification for five years than has been offered to the Committee so far.
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, accepting, as I suspect we all do, that this is a matter of judgment, I suggest to the Committee that the judgment referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, is best made by a serious assessment of the balance between, on the one hand, the likelihood-although not the certainty under the provisions of the Bill-of less frequent elections and, on the other, the stability that a five-year Parliament offers and the opportunity for the electorate to bring a greater maturity of judgment because of the experience that they have of the Parliament and the Government after five years rather than four years. In making that judgment I suggest that the historical precedents since the war are of limited assistance, precisely because we have not had fixed-term Parliaments.
One complaint of those who argue for four years is that the Bill substitutes five years for a maximum of five years and a norm of four years. That is the effect of the Bill, but the complaint ignores the fact that the effect in practice of the 1911 Act has been that, where a Government have had a working majority, the Parliament has lasted five years if the Prime Minister has believed that he or she will lose, which means that he or she has stayed for the full term. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Lord, Lord Martin, argued that the fifth year tends to be a lame-duck year-an ineffective year. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said much the same thing. It is an ineffective year because, it is said, in the case of five-year Parliaments, the Government is tired and expects to lose. However, you cannot deduce from that that, where everyone knows that the next election is fixed for the end of the five years, there will be similar exhaustion.
In the past, when a Prime Minister has expected to win, he or she has gone after four years. That analysis is borne out by the elections of 1964, 1979, 1997 and 2010. In each of those years, the election was held at the end of five years and the Government went on to lose. An exception is the election of 1992, when the Government expected to lose and were rather surprised to win. The only other exception to that analysis, although it is not a real exception, is the election of February 1974, which noble Lords will know was held for special reasons. However, that election gives us a useful analysis of whether it is true to say that there would have been four fewer elections or whether you can count the elections and say that there would have been that many fewer. I suggest that under the provisions of this Bill it is highly likely that there would in any case have been an election in 1974 because when the then Prime Minister said, "I want an election to determine the issue of who governs the country, the Government or the miners", the then Opposition to Mr Heath would have accepted the challenge and voted for an election, so that Parliament would have been dissolved on a two-thirds majority basis. It is not possible to say how many fewer elections there might have been. The Bill makes the basis for Dissolution more logical and removes what we say is the unfairness of allowing the Prime Minister sole charge of when there is an election.
As we know, the average length of Parliaments since the war has been three years and 10 months. I suggest that the calculation of that average term is of no assistance. The principal point against the relevance of such an average is that it takes into account all those early elections called by the Prime Minister in the exercise of precisely the power that the Bill is designed to remove. Secondly, it takes into account the very early elections of 1951, 1966 and October 1974. In that sense, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is right to say that it leaves out the ducks, but those ducks are important to leave out because, in the calculation of a sensible term for a Parliament with a working majority, those Parliaments where the Government had no working majority and had to go to the country early are of no assistance.
Lord Bach: I am interested in the noble Lord's arguments. He knows that his party's policy for many years was, honourably, that there should be fixed terms for four years. Did he support that policy? If not, was he always a five-year man? If he did support that policy, when was it that he changed his mind to five years? Was it, by any chance, around the time that the coalition was formed?
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: That is a perfectly fair question, because it is well known that it was Liberal Democrat policy to go for four-year fixed terms. However, it is quite clear that the formation of the coalition caused people to consider their policy and the arguments one way or the other. The coalition has put forward a programme for government. It is a considered view-which, I suggest, is no less right because it is a view come to after negotiation, the negotiations to which Mr Laws refers in the book that
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Lord Cormack: Surely if five years is what the leaders of the coalition want-I fully understand that, as I have made quite plain-we do not need the legislation for that. How does the noble Lord answer that point? They can have that under current legislation.
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: The noble Lord is quite right to point that out, but it has long been Liberal Democrat policy, with which I firmly agree and consider extremely important, that we should have fixed-term Parliaments in the long term, because they make a level playing field. The question that we are considering in the context of the Bill is whether those Parliaments should be for four years or five. It is of no assistance to say that we can fix a Parliament for five years now and decide later. We are determining the right period under the Bill. This Parliament cannot bind its successors, as the noble Lord plainly knows. If a future Parliament should take a different view, it is for that Parliament to legislate, as my noble friend pointed out. However, on consideration of this Parliament and what we should do now, we say that, as a matter of principle, it is right to go for five years.
Understandable concern has been expressed on all sides of the House and by the Constitution Committee about the need for pre-legislative scrutiny. If we accept that there is a need for pre-legislative scrutiny of important legislation, then the first year of a Parliament will generally be given over in respect of important legislation to that scrutiny.
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: I accept that; it gives rise to the concern that has been expressed and that I am, for these purposes, accepting. If it be the case that enactment of legislation starts in year two of a Parliament, and given the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Martin and Lord Grocott, which I think we all accept, that the last year of a Parliament is given over to preparing for a general election, a five-year Parliament leaves a period of three years for positive legislation and a four-year Parliament leaves only two years, because we all accept that inevitably the imminence of Dissolution makes legislation more difficult, as the time is limited in the last year. I suggest to the House that the stability that is required for the convenient and sensible passage of legislation is better achieved with three whole years between the first and last years.
In terms of government rather than simply legislation, I also suggest that four years runs a danger of leading to short-term planning, which inhibits a strategic approach to all forms of activity in government. That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, at Second Reading.
On the other side, of course it is the case that regular recourse to the electorate is at the heart of our democratic system of government. However, there is no doubt that Governments that are too driven by early electoral considerations may not be the best or most effective Governments. The four-year term in the United States is frequently and rightly criticised for its shortened electoral cycle and for the fact that from far too early in the term the Administration are looking for the prospects of re-election-all political eyes are firmly fixed on the next election.
The last point is this: a shorter term has the effect of depriving the electorate of the time to judge on mature reflection the effectiveness of government policy and legislation. That is particularly true of a reforming Government who reform the way in which the public services are delivered and taxes and benefits are administered, as this Government will and as may be the case with many future Governments. That is the case because the preparations for the Dissolution and an election come at a time when much of what the Government have done during the term, particularly after the first year of the term-this brings me back to the point about pre-legislative scrutiny-has not had time to take effect, so the electorate have not had the opportunity to judge what the Parliament and the Government have done during the term.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, laughed when I talked about a matter of principle with reference to what I had previously described, and continue to describe, as a matter of judgment. Of course that is right, but I suggest that the better balance between four years and five years is the one that the Government have struck and incorporated in this Bill as unamended.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I keep hearing the words, "It is a matter of judgment". I heard them from the noble Lord, Lord Marks, on several occasions in connection with giving the electorate the power to decide. I just heard a reference to the importance of time for pre-legislative scrutiny and allowing people who are about to vote an opportunity to maturely evaluate the Government's policy. I am beginning to feel as though we live in a different place, because we have a whole plethora of constitutional reforms before us, who have to vote on them, with no opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny and no opportunity to see how the first bit, the second bit, the third bit and the fourth bit come together.
Then, in the middle of it all, is the bit of the Bill that perhaps worries me even more than the five and four years: who, how and in what circumstances the proposed five or even four years could be varied. I have heard a variety of ways in which a Prime Minister can decide that it is a good time for an election if he thinks it is in his interest, although I think that convincing the Opposition that it is a good time for an election will be quite a hard task. Having heard all these arguments, however, I am not allowed to see what this coalition Government propose to do. This is against a background of assurances that I keep getting that they know where they are going and they know who is going with them, but it sure ain't me because they are not telling me where they are going.
I have been asked to vote on changing the system of votes, which is being put to the people in the AV referendum, without being told what is being proposed for people being elected to this House. All these things keep being thrown at me by people who say, "Oh well, it is a matter of judgment". In the end, a bit like the dance of the seven veils, all will be revealed. However, I want to know the whole picture now before I am asked to start pulling apart some of the parts of the structure of our constitution. The argument is therefore surely that it would have been better if the coalition had concentrated on fewer Bills that made fewer changes to the constitution, had put them out for quick pre-legislative scrutiny and did not Christmas-tree them. Those who have been in government know that the minute the whole plethora of people in any department see a Bill looming, they start hanging little baubles on it, complicating it and muddying the whole picture. I am therefore uneasy.
On the use of the term "judgment", I think that it is a bit arrogant of the coalition-a new form of government in this country for a long time-to say, "We are making a judgment about when you can vote to judge us, and we are restricting the way in which it is going to be done". Perhaps, having a somewhat warped political mind, I can see that it is just possible, in reaching an agreement to form a coalition, that neither party trusted the other and so the five years had to be set in concrete in case either one pulled the rug from under the other. However, I am then assured that in the middle of the Bill is the opportunity for the Prime Minister of the day suddenly to pull the rug out anyway, although I suppose he would have to get his Deputy Prime Minister to support him.
On the argument about the length of time that it takes to bring in legislation, in my view the public out there have the right to expect to be able to voice their view on what happens in the future. It is just possible that, within the next two years, some people who are currently members of the coalition will not want to be tied to a fixed term of five years. They could be members of either party; it is not always the most adulterous one who ends up getting divorced.
I am concerned. Why cannot we have a big picture for all these constitutional changes? Why cannot we substitute this judgment that we ought to be laying in concrete an agreement of convenience for this particular Government? Why are we wasting our time legislating to set that in concrete? We are wasting our time because they can do that anyway. They do not need this Bill to do that, so why on earth are we being told that they do? I am beginning to get suspicious, because from certain Benches-from parties to this Government-I keep hearing, "Well, we are voting for this now. It is not what we really want, but we will get what we want next time". I have met the odd person out there who has said to me, "Hey, I watched that debate, and the Lib Dems said that they do not really like AV, but it is better than what we have, and anyway it is a road to somewhere else".
Finally, I cannot resist remembering when I sat on those Benches over there during the first stage of House of Lords reform. I heard a member of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition at the time-a former Home
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Lord Wills: My Lords, I think most would agree that there is merit in the arguments on both sides of the debate on whether the term of Parliament should be fixed. However, if there is merit in the argument for the term being fixed at five years, it is merit that passed by both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats until the coalition agreement enlightened them. Nearly a year after that agreement, Ministers have still not managed to find a way of articulating that case persuasively.
The Government's proposition is that they have a mandate for this proposal-this was one of the arguments used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, on Second Reading-because an appetite for political reform was manifested at the last general election. That is a questionable proposition, to put it at its politest, because it conflates an arguable general distrust and dislike of politicians with a wish for a specific proposal for a five-year fixed term for Parliament. The Government's argument that five years is somehow part of our political culture-the Deputy Prime Minister has made this argument-ignores inconvenient facts about the average length of post-war Parliaments. Of the last seven Parliaments, for example, four have lasted for about four years and three for five years. Moreover, the proposition, which Ministers have also advanced, that the Parliament Act somehow supports this proposal confuses setting a maximum term with fixing a norm. Then, of course, there is the selective quoting of international examples, nearly always in discussions of constitutional reform-a refuge for the intellectually desperate.
Does it matter that the Government have so inadequately made the case for a fixed term of five years? I think it does. This is not a matter of a finely balanced judgment one way or another, with there being really nothing very much to choose between a four-year term and a five-year term. Of course there is an element of judgment in these things, but, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, so eloquently set out, the overwhelming weight of expert opinion is in favour of four years. Anything longer inevitably-logically, inevitably-delays the calling to account of the Executive, and it creates an accumulating democratic deficit.
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