Lord Carlile of Berriew (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, the European Union does not help itself by issuing pettifogging regulations on the roundness of oranges or the shape of tomatoes, nor by its burgeoning bureaucracy. For the future, its leadership must mirror its membership. It is not acceptable in the present economic climate—at least in mainland Europe—that the President of the Commission should be without direct experience of a complex, mixed economy. But whoever the leaders of Europe are, they must be sensitive to the recent rise of nationalism, racism and other prejudice.
My sister Renata Calverley’s book, Let Me Tell You a Story, published last year, is her searing recollection of her extraordinary survival as a two to seven year-old child fugitive, hiding from the Nazis in Poland day by day and just about surviving. Families such as ours were more than decimated by the Second World War—by prejudice, totalitarianism and nationalism. However, unlike my sister, I was born after the Second World War, and I have never had to do military service in any form, save as a less than distinguished army cadet at school. I have had over 65 peaceful years—and why is that? It is because—and we should remember this as central to the reasons for having the European Union—the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the Netherlands and now Poland, the country we let down the most in the 1930s, and other countries, are part of the same political organisation. We share and solve issues together and confront nationalism and prejudice. Those are the vials that contain the precious essence of our past and future security. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said earlier, of course we should reform the European Union on its merits. However, we abandon the European Union at our peril and at the risk of European peace and security.
I turn to Iran and Iraq—the register refers to my interests in this connection. Iran has committed more human rights violations this year than ever before. President Rouhani and the theocratic mullahs he serves routinely execute—in public and usually from cranes—people who do no more than I am about to do now: question my own Government’s policy. The mullahs exert sinister and sometimes dominant influence on the disastrously falling Government of Iraq; we read today of terrorists marching towards Baghdad. That has led to the abandonment of any pretence of protection in Iraq for the Iranian opposition resident in Camp Liberty. Murder and deprivation are now regularly imposed upon Camp Liberty, and the state of Iran is behind it.
My point for the Minister is that it is unprincipled and unwise to decouple human rights from nuclear issues in talks with Iran. Iran is a rogue state—we should not forget that. Rouhani is no Gorbachev, though there are some world leaders who appear to believe that he is. Without a clear demonstration of change in their approach to political and religious freedoms, those who rule Iran must not be trusted in any other sphere, including the nuclear. As I said earlier, we abandon Europe at our peril, but in relation to Iran and Iraq we abandon principle at the price of innocent lives.
Lord Low of Dalston (Crossbench)
My Lords, it will be immediately evident to your Lordships that I am not the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I am grateful to the noble Earl and the Whips’ Office for accommodating my need to be elsewhere when I would have come up for my original turn on the speakers list.
I am pleased to follow so many powerful speeches urging a stand against barbarism in other parts of the world, and that I am able for once to make a speech that welcomes the course of government policy and action. Two months ago, on 10 April, the International Development Select Committee published its 11th report on disability and development. For too long disability has been overlooked in the UK’s and other countries’ international aid and humanitarian efforts, so I very much welcome the report. Its recommendations are comprehensive and far-reaching and I very much hope that the Government will respond positively to them. This is an opportunity for the UK Government once again to show leadership in the field of international development by supporting people who are frequently the most deprived and marginalised.
I have been heartened to see the lead being given by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Lynne Featherstone, to ensure that disabled people are included in all development programmes being led and funded by DfID. Her announcements on funding the construction of accessible schools only and on taking the lead on addressing the need for more data on disability globally are a most welcome start.
As your Lordships will know, we are at a crucial moment for development as Governments debate a post-2015 development framework to replace the current millennium development goals. I very much welcome the ways in which the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development are continuing to champion the call for a transformative shift in post-2015 development whereby no one is left behind by insisting that targets are considered achieved only if they are met for all relevant income and social groups. The prioritisation of disabled people in development programmes is crucial to ending poverty. As the Select Committee says, development goals will remain out of reach unless we urgently step up our work on disability.
I believe that it is essential for the UK as a world leader in development to lead by example in inclusive development, responding positively to the Select Committee’s recommendations and making immediate plans to implement more ambitious disability inclusion. I encourage the Government to continue advocating for this transformative shift as discussions on post-2015 development continue in the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development and at the General Assembly in September.
With the general election on the horizon, I agree with the committee that DfID should move quickly to put in place a cross-cutting disability strategy to ensure that the increased focus on inclusion is embedded for the long term, even as key individuals move on. The strategy should be developed in consultation with disabled people and their representative organisations in lower-income and middle-income countries, and should embrace the principles and commitments contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The strategy should be published with clear objectives and timescales, supported by a larger team of specialists and by strong reporting processes at DfID. We have seen clearly with DfID’s important focus on women and girls that a sustained strategic focus by the UK on the most marginalised can have a transformative impact and influence other donors and developing-country Governments.
The Select Committee has recommended that a larger team be put in place with a director-level sponsor, a wider network to champion disability in country offices, basic training for all DfID staff and strong reporting processes to ensure accountability and that the commitment can be sustained even as Governments change and key individuals move on.
As the report recommends, DfID should choose one or two substantial sectors and a small number of countries to focus on initially. Given my work as president of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment and my role as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Education for All—and I declare an interest in that regard—your Lordships will not be surprised to hear me say that I urge DfID to prioritise education, given how fundamental education is to poverty reduction and given the leadership position that the UK already has on aid to education. However, this needs to be set out within a long-term timetable, showing how DfID will expand from this focused approach to more sectors and countries in due course to achieve progressively the full inclusion of disabled people in all UK aid programmes.
The report notes that education for disabled children is a complex area and that one size does not necessarily fit all. It recommends that forthcoming guidance on inclusive education should take a nuanced approach. I support this, but also urge the department and Ministers not to let complexity or imperfect data stand in the way of urgently needed action. Great progress can be made for disabled people, even as evidence of approaches is being refined. I therefore urge the Government to accept the International Development Select Committee’s recommendation that DfID should not let imperfect data stand in the way and should set challenging milestones for implementing large-scale programmes and reporting results disaggregated by disability in annual reviews, project completion reviews and logframes.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Government on the progress that they have made so far to include disabled people within their programmes. I now call on them to take the report of the International Development Select Committee seriously and announce a plan for a disability strategy and a larger team to make provision for inclusive development a reality.
Lord Davies of Stamford (Labour)
My Lords, two grave events have occurred so far this year, the full import of which has not yet been fully appreciated, which threaten in its very foundations the international system with which we have become familiar and have probably taken for granted over the past decades. The Russian annexation of Crimea is the first occasion since the Second World War when frontiers have been changed in Europe by force. It is the first occasion for 50 years that that has occurred anywhere in the world, including outside Europe. I do not need to remind the House of the two occasions when an attempt was made to change frontiers by force, opposed very successfully and bravely by British forces—in the Falklands and, later on, in Kuwait. That is a position that we now face, and we have to ask ourselves what kind of precedent and uncertainties are being created and how the rest of the world will react to these new circumstances and new precedent.
The second grave event is the fact that a British guarantee has been clearly and openly violated—again, apparently, entirely with impunity. We and the United States were both signatories to the 1994 agreement guaranteeing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, which has clearly been gravely breached by the annexation of Crimea. In this country, we used to take our guarantees extremely seriously. The House will recall that we went to war in August 1914, in accordance with the guarantee that we had given to Belgium under the Treaty of London. We went to war in September 1939, in accordance with the guarantee that we had given to Poland some six months earlier. We have to ask ourselves how seriously we, let alone anyone else, will take British guarantees in future. These are incredibly serious matters.
Of course, I do not suggest that the position created by Mr Putin’s aggression is entirely analogous with that of the outbreak of the two world wars. No historical circumstances are entirely analogous anywhere—that is quite clear. But unlike the Germans in the two world wars and unlike the Soviet Union in the invasion of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, Mr Putin did not just send his tanks or aircraft crudely across the frontier; he used much more subtle means. He displayed his training as a KGB officer, using absolutely brilliantly a mixture of subversion, infiltration and black propaganda. The very close analogy in my view is with the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia in 1938. That was a time when Hitler was still quite cautious before he had become overconfident. He and Henlein were able to subvert Czechoslovakia, again by playing on the nationalism of the German-speaking Sudetens, and on the international sense of guilt about Germany having suffered unduly under the Treaty of Versailles. I had a terrible sense of déjà vu when I listened to the noble Lord, Lord King, talking about how we had not been sympathetic enough to Russia in recent years. Hitler’s 1938 aggression was enormously successful and very subtle, and six months after annexing the Sudetenland, with international acquiescence, he was able to take over Bohemia and Moravia and turn them into a German protectorate—and Slovakia became an independent country.
We are now facing a period of uncertainty in which many people, not just Mr Putin but others as well, will be looking for the weaknesses in the international system—how the rules have changed and how they might get away with what they had previously never considered possible. In other words, the system is under test. Our international system is under probe.
The Chinese, who have recently been extraordinarily aggressive with their neighbours, will be watching events extremely carefully and drawing conclusions from all that.
What should we do? We need to do three things. First, we need to decide on the situation that we face, which I have just described. Secondly, we need to take a view on where Mr Putin is going immediately from here. I think that he is likely to want to embed his gains by doing a deal with the West on the basis of the neutralisation of Ukraine. That may be on the analogy of the Austrian state treaty, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, suggested, or perhaps on the analogy of Finland in Cold War days under Presidents Paasikivi and Kekkonen. The neutralisation of Ukraine is not in itself bad, but it would be appalling if it was imposed by the West on Ukraine. What a gruesome and dreadful situation we would find ourselves facing if we in the West accepted that Crimea could exercise the right of self-determination to join Russia but Ukraine could not exercise the right of self-determination democratically to join NATO or the EU if it subsequently wanted to do so. We should not go down that road. Thirdly, we should prepare ourselves for the worst. We should consider imposing effective sanctions. We need to look very carefully at what might happen if we were to impose serious economic sanctions. I have previously suggested sanctions directed at the Russian banks.
We should certainly reverse our cuts in defence spending. In this respect, I totally endorse the powerful case made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and my noble friend Lord West. We and the rest of the European Union have been disgracefully cutting our defence spending for years while Putin has been increasing his, year by year, by substantial percentages. By doing what we have been doing, we could not have been sending a more effective signal of our abdication. We must reverse that position. We must also support Ukraine concretely. We should provide arms, training and intelligence support. That is enormously important.
We in the European Union need to reduce our energy dependence on Russian natural gas. I am glad that moves have been made in that direction in terms of putting LNG capability in Germany. We need to look again at putting in pipelines to bring natural gas from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, without passing through Russia. That will be expensive, but if we and the European Union have to use public funds, that would be a good insurance premium to pay.
Finally—I know that this will be very controversial in the House—this is the moment when we need to make some progress towards a common foreign and defence policy in the European Union. It should be on the basis of every country being committed to spending 2% of its GDP on defence. This needs to be on an EU-wide basis because there are four neutral EU countries that are not members of NATO. We want to get away from the “free rider” issue and the idea that some countries can take their defence for granted. We need to make sure that we do what the Americans have for a long time been calling on us to do: become capable of taking on a greater defence burden ourselves. On that basis, we shall strengthen our solidarity with the United States and increase our credibility in the world, which so badly needs restoring after the events of the past few months.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, the gracious Speech mentioned continuing work on the issue of Iran and nuclear weapons. That is an important but only small part of the nuclear weapons challenge. The gracious Speech was silent on the fact that all the work to go into the next Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which will take place in May 2015, needs to take place this year. The NPT is an opportunity that comes up every five years for the world to take a step away from the abyss. We have heard a lot today about instability and conflagration; that has been painted very vividly in this Chamber. If noble Lords take into account that proliferation is a fact of life as well, they will see that we really need this NPT to succeed.
One of the inadvertent consequences of fixed-term Parliaments for the UK is that, as in 2010, the next conference will fall at election time. The preparations for the 2010 conference were very thorough. The UK went into it with a constructive and active stance, but then political attention was entirely diverted because of the election. There was then a different Government with somewhat different policies—our coalition Government—and there was a change of stance from the UK during the conference. It confused the other countries, which were trying to get somewhere with that 2010 conference. We have to solve that issue before the 2015 conference. I do not have the answers, but the Government and all the political parties here need to come to some consensus on our contribution to the NPT. UK government policy is now to rely more and more on the NPT as the forum where these nuclear issues will be solved.
I attended the UN open-ended working group that Ban Ki-moon called in Geneva. Our ambassador’s absence was a matter of a lot of speculation. People asked me why the UK did not attend. I asked some Parliamentary Questions when I came back and I was told that the UK Government think that the NPT Review Conference is the place for such discussions. I then asked some more questions about why we did not go to Norway or Mexico when those countries hosted two conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. The reply was of course the same: that the forum for such things is the NPT Review Conference. The Government are putting all our eggs in the NPT basket. We owe it to the rest of the world to ensure we have a coherent stance that will carry over from one Government to the next. Earlier in the debate a noble Lord—I am sorry, I cannot remember who—called for more involvement from us in international treaties. This is an absolutely classic case for more involvement.
Earlier, I mentioned increasing proliferation, and I have taken some press from the past couple of weeks. On 4 June this year, there was this from New Delhi:
“India’s first indigenously built nuclear submarine quietly pushed out of its base for sea trials … India will join a club of just six nations with nuclear submarines carrying ballistic missiles”—
and a doctrinal challenge, as India has always separated the delivery mechanism from weapons. Who knows
what will happen now there have been elections: that may not change, but it may. My second bit of press states:
“China has deployed three nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to a naval base in the South China Sea”.
That was reported on 28 May. These are just intentional actions. If noble Lords were to look at accident reporting, they would see that on 4 June the Daily Telegraph reported a “close to death” situation in a nuclear submarine when the air conditioning failed. We have increasing proliferation and the continual possibility of accidents: as more and more fissile material is used, it is more and more possible to have accidents.
Finally, I refer noble Lords to the European leadership group, some members of which come from this Parliament—indeed, some from your Lordships’ House. That group makes it quite plain just how important this NPT conference is in addressing these matters. Its statement, which came out very recently, underlines that the situation in Ukraine and many of the issues that noble Lords have raised today make nuclear non-use ever more pressing.
Viscount Clancarty (Crossbench)
My Lords, I want to take this opportunity to expand further on an issue that I raised last month in an Oral Question: the protection of cultural property in times of conflict. I am grateful to Professor Peter Stone of the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University and of Blue Shield for his briefing. Blue Shield, for those who do not know, has nothing to do with American healthcare but is the international organisation concerned with this issue. It has been described as the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross.
We have perhaps a peculiar grouping today, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, pointed out, in which culture is being discussed alongside defence and foreign policy. Nevertheless, for this particular issue, it would be helpful to have the ear not only of the DCMS but of the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID.
It is disappointing that the Government have not pledged to include, as part of their final Session, legislation to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. This parliamentary year would be the perfect time to do this and there was clear support around the House at Question Time last month for it to happen. My understanding is that the Bill drawn up by the previous Administration in 2008 would not need to be changed a great deal and that therefore this would be a relatively simple thing to do.
It is now recognised that there are many reasons—not just the clear one of cultural and artistic importance—for protecting the world’s museums and archaeological and other cultural sites. Such reasons include the social, the humanitarian, a respect for people’s own culture, the economic and, yes, the military as well. It is, for example, increasingly recognised that the protection of culture is a so-called “force multiplier”. It can aid military success. As Peter Stone has pointed out, respecting the living heritage, such as a minaret, may not increase good will but it will not damage it irreparably, which might otherwise be the case. In Syria, the looting which has devastated archaeological sites is also a means by which fighting is financed and therefore prolonged. Protecting culture helps with rebuilding a country in social and economic terms.
In May, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, said:
“What is important in practical terms is that our Armed Forces are very conscious of the protocol and the convention, which is why they adhere to what is intended”.—[Hansard, 12/5/14; col. 1652.]
However, it must be emphasised that that in itself is not quite good enough, because what cannot then be done, until the convention is ratified, is for this country, its academics and others to speak out and influence leaders and colleagues across the world with the requisite moral authority, as well as to work with other countries to develop a greater understanding of the problems involved.
In evidence given to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the draft Bill in 2008, Brigadier Gordon Messenger, director of Joint Commitments (Military) at the Ministry of Defence, said:
“I know of no reason why the military would not be anything other than fully supportive of progress towards the Bill and ratification”.
It is my understanding that that position has not changed.
Of course, the criticism can be made that others, who have ratified this treaty, such as Iraq, have themselves behaved badly. However, as a world community, it is the only thing we have, and we now appear exceptional internationally in terms of our commitment, or non-commitment—both real and moral—to this principle. Britain is the only significant military power not to have ratified. This is not a good place to be. Peter Stone says that not ratifying,
“leaves the UK isolated internationally and at a significant disadvantage in our aspiration to be a global leader with regard to international humanitarian law. This position undermines our claim to be at the forefront of working for global security and peace”.
Why, after 60 years, has Britain still not ratified? The sense is that, as with all matters cultural, which end up low down in the political pecking order, it has simply neglected to do so. It is high time that the Government put this right. Continuing conflict and indeed unfolding events give an urgency to this. I hope that the DCMS takes a lead on this issue and presses for parliamentary time to be made available so that the convention can be ratified as soon as possible.
Lord Cavendish of Furness (Conservative)
My Lords, altering the rhythm of this debate once more, I want to speak on constitutional affairs—or, rather, to discuss what I see to be a threat to our constitution. I have heard it suggested sometimes that the British public have only limited understanding of the great issues that affect their daily lives. Even in your Lordships’ House, I have heard speeches that only just stop short of implying much the same thing. A number of European officials are on record as being openly contemptuous of voter intelligence and dismissive of their aspirations. A view has plainly taken hold that the lack of “demos” within the European Union contributes to the displeasure that has been increasingly directed at the political class, and notably so in recent weeks.
If my life’s experience has taught me one thing, and it applies to all organisations large and small, where accountability is absent or weak even, you can expect trouble as sure as night follows day. The consequences of failures in accountability include incompetence, unfairness, waste and fraud. Some or all of these consequences are not just a danger, they are an inevitability. While I would agree wholeheartedly with those who believe that a significant element of public anger stems from the shortcomings and the undemocratic and unaccountable nature of today’s EU, there is also a compelling case that we should look closer to home to find the genesis of much of the public’s disquiet.
When the measures to update the electoral register were sabotaged as retribution for Parliament having failed to support House of Lords reform, some people may well have derived satisfaction from the thought that they had damaged my party. Never mind my party, whatever the motive, the effect of that action was to swindle the voters who in consequence will have to participate in next year’s general election using an old and out-of-date register. I find it hard to imagine a more unforgivably cynical or self-serving ploy. Nowadays, it looks as if the public share that view.
However, that misses another point. It may well be that your Lordships’ House could be improved and I am sure that it could. But at least it works and I hear very little public demand to suggest that its reform should be a top priority. Where I sense many people feel an urgent need for reform is in the conduct of another place. Consider the continued and relentless use of programming and guillotine Motions in the other place, and the growing perception that House of Commons debates are irrelevant even when the subject matter is of huge public interest. The public see sparsely attended events where a handful of MPs, increasingly with little or no experience of the real world, often are seen reading from briefs prepared by lobbyists and who have vested interests.
Well within my memory, there was a substantial body of Members of the other place who were content to be and to remain respected Back-Benchers. This respect derived in large part from the fact that Back-Bench MPs really did hold the Executive to account. With new entrants today expecting almost immediate preferment, the party Whips enjoy a power that makes a mockery of the concept of MPs holding Ministers to account.
I have always held the view that the overwhelming majority of people who enter public life do so for honourable reasons. Very often things go wrong not because of bad intent but as a consequence of a collective failure to uphold the concept of accountability. I want to point to the apparent reluctance of modern Governments to reflect more than they do on the uses and misuses of power. The fact that Governments should have, and need to have, authority should not blind them to the fact that they govern by consent. Consent is not limited to what voters decide at election
time. It needs to be sustained through day-to-day accountability. This weakness, in terms of accountability, spreads through all our institutions and all aspects of our national life. A senior figure in the BBC recently told me that no one knew how decisions were reached in his organisation. The same want of accountability is to be found in the huge array of quangos and monopolistic utility companies. It has led to atrocious service and an arrogant disregard for people’s needs and aspirations. Many of our corporate giants are patently unaccountable to their shareholders as well as frequently the enemy of small business. I was very pleased to see measures contained in the gracious Speech to curb some of their excesses.
Of course, no one conspires to govern badly but we must all take some responsibility when good policy surrenders to meretricious soundbites, personal integrity is at such a premium in public life and such a huge proportion of decision-making is ceded away to distant institutions without the consent of the people whose lives those decisions affect. I commend the coalition Government for the measures outlined in the gracious Speech and they will have my support. However, I hope the Government will reflect in the year that remains to them on the issues that probably cannot be remedied through the legislative programme alone. They need to react to the perception that power continues to be centralised and that we are governed less and less by people who enjoy popular support and more and more by new oligarchies both public and private.
We most surely need to understand that the recent election results were not uniform across Europe. We in Britain did not give encouragement to the National Front or any other extremist party. The public reminded us that we in these islands have a 2,000 year-old inherited settlement, unique to the English-speaking world, under which the freedom of the individual is better protected that anywhere else on earth, where government is servant not master. People believe that the often ancient institutions devised to protect them from unaccountable power are being compromised and weakened. There will be a heavy price to pay if their message is ignored.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Labour)
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish. I do not agree with everything he said, but people’s suspicion of experts is something that I know about from my time running the Met Office. I shall focus my remarks on a very significant point towards the end of the Queen’s Speech regarding the Government’s continuing support for measures to deal with climate change. I want to make a point about how such action should relate to other programmes to do with the environment and its effect on people.
The present position is that there is an upward trend in global warming which is now predicted to exceed 4 degrees over the land areas of the world and continue to produce very considerable effects in terms of disasters such as cyclones, droughts and heat waves. One can see this in many countries. The number of deaths, for example, in natural disasters per year is of the order of 100,000. As for other environmental factors in the world—matters such as air pollution—the World Health Organisation estimates deaths from these will exceed 1.5 million people per year.
Even more serious now is that air pollution affects the youngest of children in Asian cities. There was a rather famous Chinese young lady who lived on the crossroads near Beijing and died of lung cancer. This country is concerned with lung cancer and smoking, but that is a voluntary disease. When children face that kind of situation, it is something that we have to consider. The fact is that there are connections between these natural and human disasters which are worsening as a result of the effects of climate change. One of the effects is to produce longer periods of static wind or conditions such as very high or very low temperatures. There is much evidence to that effect.
One of the other features of the Queen’s Speech is that the Government are continuing their programme of investment in low-carbon power, including nuclear power. I commend the Government on moving ahead on nuclear power and these other programmes. I would point out again that it is important to have an overall system of both nuclear and non-nuclear power because there are periods—as commented on in Germany this winter, and in this House in 2010—when the wind stops, the clouds appear and back-up sources of power are needed.
The UK is working within the international community to minimise climate-related threats. As this debate is focused on international work, I should comment on how we and other countries work with the United Nations agencies and monitor that work. The UK contributes significantly in terms of both finance and expertise to the UN agencies, including the World Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme and the programme for climate change. A worrying point made to me recently by a World Bank official was that although the UK is the second-largest contributor to the World Bank, we have a very much smaller number of experts there than other countries do. As the Germans have large numbers of experts there, what happens when a question on, for example, an urban railway arises? Lo and behold, the World Bank will support a big project proposed by Siemens. Equally, however—as the noble Lord, Lord Low, pointed out—the UK has great expertise in education, science and business, and it is important that we should have the right number of people there to make our contribution. I also support the noble Lord’s remarks on disability and environmental hazards. Many disabled people are particularly vulnerable, for example in floods in cities.
Next year there will be the regular 10-yearly United Nations international disaster reduction meeting. This will take place in Japan and should lead to further scientific and technical improvements. The UK plays a very important role through our insurance industry. Equally, however, we have to use our expertise to provide warnings to communities which might suffer badly.
I feel that progress on some scientific issues is moving rather slowly. It has always been said in the West, and in the United States, that earthquakes are impossible to predict. We heard in a seminar in London that the Russians have two or three institutes that are doing remarkable work in this respect. Earthquakes are now regularly being caused by fracking. The United States Geological Survey—not a very left-wing organisation—has commented that the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased by 300% at the sixth level on the Richter scale. We should consider this at the United Nations meeting. We should also consider—the issue has been raised in debates in this House—the social and economic consequences of natural disasters.
This year and next year will be important for building on the commitment on climate change made at Durban. The targets for the reduction of carbon emissions should be agreed at the meeting in Paris in 2015, with a view to all countries finally agreeing and implementing them by 2020. It is remarkable that at Durban the Chinese agreed to this, and we are expecting Chinese participation.
At the most recent meeting of legislators—in Mexico City this week, which I attended—it was interesting to hear Governments and their delegates expressing their belief that it is important to demonstrate more visibly their commitment to urgently tackling climate change, sometimes through simple means. One example, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, mentioned, is the use of smart meters in cars to indicate the level of their carbon emissions; or, as in France, to inform drivers on motorways that driving at high speeds is not only dangerous but causes higher carbon-emission levels. I have had no joy in talking to the Department for Transport in this country. It would be progress if people could be shown that they add to the carbon in the atmosphere when they drive fast on motorways.
The recent IPCC report on the social and economic impact of climate change now recommends that national and international policies on carbon reduction should be connected to policies covering the environmental benefits of tackling it—I have mentioned air pollution—as well as the benefits in terms of reducing poverty and vulnerability more generally. Security is also important. The Pentagon takes a strong view on this, to the fury of Republicans in the United States.
There is also the question of the preservation of biodiversity. A number of economists, some of whom are distinguished Members of this House, have the strange idea that we can put off dealing with climate change for decade after decade because—according to their strange calculations—it will become cheaper and cheaper to deal with. In the mean time, however, we are losing biodiversity.
If we are to have an integrated approach it is important that we consider all these factors together. That will be a challenge for the Government. From my time in the Met Office I know that we need to have an integrated approach through international bodies, Governments and civil societies. These integrated measures must first be formulated—universities can play a role in that—and then implemented and then, finally, reviewed by Parliament. In the 14 years that I have been a Member of this House we have had two debates on the United Nations agencies, and I led both of them. It is important that we should review this development and I hope that the Government will support it.
Lord Sharkey (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, in last year’s debate on the Queen’s Speech I spoke about the situation in Cyprus. I thought we were then looking at the most favourable prospects for reunification that we had yet seen and I called upon the Government to increase their involvement. A year later, my cautious optimism seems not to have been entirely misplaced. Detailed negotiations are under way. The FCO has been very active and deserves congratulations for that. It has continued its informal dialogues with the diasporas, talked to civil society organisations and taken the bold step of inviting the Turkish Cypriot leader and his negotiator to London. This is the first time that Turkish Cypriots have been invited formally to London and it is a welcome step. None of this means, of course, that negotiations will be easy or successful.
On Monday, I attended a lecture at the LSE given by Dr Kudret Özersay, the Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator. Dr Özersay was frank about the difficulties but he was cautiously optimistic. He made a compelling point about the conditions for success. Clearly, the first condition is the production of a federal, bi-zonal, bi-communal plan acceptable to the political leaderships of both sides. However, if this plan is to gain popular approval in a referendum on both sides, it must pass one other test. Will acceptance of the plan produce a better state of affairs for the people of the north and the south, or, as Dr Özersay put it, will both sides recognise the harm to them involved in rejection of the plan? This was clearly not the case for the Greek Cypriots with the Annan plan.
The international community has a role to play here, especially the guarantor states and the EU. We cannot and should not intrude upon the negotiations—any solution has to be by Cypriots for Cypriots—but we can encourage and help make clear the benefits of reunification. Britain and the EU here have an opportunity to redeem past mistakes—Britain for allowing the divided island to join the EU in the first place; and the EU for the post-accession broken promises that it made to the north.
The situation in the eastern Mediterranean grows increasingly unstable and dangerous and the BBC is reporting that ISIS is now fighting for Tikrit after taking Mosul. This growing instability is a reminder that we need a Cyprus settlement this time around—not only because failure will undoubtedly provoke a deepening and hardening of the divisions on the island but because, regrettably, the behaviour of Turkey is becoming more worrying.
Turkey’s stability and orientation are vitally important to NATO and to the interests of the West in general. Turkey’s development has been hugely impressive: from authoritarian, agrarian and poor to democratic, industrial and relatively wealthy, but inclining once again towards authoritarianism. There is a sad record of imprisonment of journalists, of restrictions on the freedom of speech and of executive interference with the police and the judiciary. There is the danger of a deepening division between the secular west and the pious Anatolian heartlands. This is greatly to Turkey’s disadvantage, not only in its relations with the West but economically.
Admiration of western values has long been a driving force in Turkey, both politically and culturally. However, unfortunately, the attraction of the West and of the EU has declined significantly in recent years. Prime Minister Erdogan’s then chief adviser, Yigit Bulut, recently called the EU,
“a loser, headed for wholesale collapse”.
Turkey’s last EU Minister and chief negotiator said:
“Turkey doesn’t need the EU. The EU needs Turkey. If we had to, we could tell them ‘Get lost, kid’”.
All this is bad news for the EU, for the West and for Turkey. Our influence has been allowed to wane.
Given the public hostility of France and Germany and the long delays in the accession negotiations, it is no wonder that many Turks no longer see the prospect of EU membership as either realistic or desirable. This is a cause for concern. The West needs Turkey as a friend and an ally. Her Majesty’s Government have always understood that, while others have not. We are currently engaged in persuading our EU partners of the merits of reform, and the merits of Turkish accession may not sit easily alongside these discussion. Nevertheless, I urge Her Majesty’s Government to persist in their strong advocacy of Turkish accession. Europe will be weaker and more vulnerable without it.
Lord Ahmed (Labour)
My Lords, the gracious Speech mentioned Iran and Afghanistan. I would like to speak briefly about India, Pakistan and Kashmir, the DfID money for education in Pakistan, and the money given to MKRF, a charity that is linked to the media group, Geo TV, which has given substantial amounts to its own company.
I congratulate the Indian people on the successful democratic elections. I remind the House that when the newly elected Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi, was serving as the chief minister of Gujarat, thousands of Muslims were killed, including two British citizens from Batley in west Yorkshire. I want to make three points about what concerns me most in relation to the BJP manifesto. The BJP, supported by parties such as the RSS, has declared that it will build a Hindu temple on the land where the Babri Mosque stood and was then demolished. I fear that this will cause riots and bloodshed again.
My second point is made as a British citizen of Kashmiri origin. The BJP has committed to abolishing Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which gives special status to Kashmir due to the commitments made by India to the United Nations Security Council that a free, fair and impartial plebiscite would be held. The BJP’s manifesto commitment to abolish Article 370 is a clear provocation against the rights of the Kashmiri people that will result in further bloodshed, tension along the line of control, and possible threats of nuclear war between India and Pakistan. More than 100,000 people have already been killed and tens of thousands of women have been raped. This morning the noble Baroness spoke about the international conference being held in London this week regarding sexual violence as a tool of humiliation in war zones. I therefore ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they would support an independent inquiry into rape in Indian-administered Kashmir since 1997. Thousands of youths have been killed in fake encounters and extrajudicial actions, many of which have been listed by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir in a report about unmarked graves.
My third point is that before the elections, Prime Minister Modi stated that if the United States can enter Pakistani territory to kill Osama bin Laden, India also has the right to go into Pakistani territory to pursue those who are allegedly responsible for attacks on Indian soil.
I welcome Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India for the oath-taking ceremony of Mr Modi. It was also good to see the exchange of gifts for the mothers of both the Indian and the Pakistani prime ministers. However, those gifts should be extended to the mothers of the thousands of Kashmiri martyrs and the mothers of Pakistani and Indian soldiers on the settlement of the Kashmir issue, as well as all the other issues which include water, borders, fishing and line of control disputes.
My final point is in regard to DfID’s programme in Pakistan. I thank the research team in the House of Lords for providing the latest information, and I thank the British Government and the British people for constructing, since 2009, more than 20,000 classrooms, training 45,000 teachers and helping some 400,000 girls to go school. I also thank them for aiming to train, by 2020, 100,000 community midwives, constructing or renovating more than 70 midwife schools, and providing legal aid and counselling for 35,000 women victims of violence.
No other country in the world has lost more soldiers and police officers than Pakistan, and its economy has lost more than $70 billion due to the war in Afghanistan and terrorism in Pakistan. Providing food, medicine and financial support for 315,000 women from the poorest families and jobs for tens of thousands of people is much appreciated while Pakistan tries to recover from these terrible times. However, I have some deep concerns related to money that has been allocated for the educational awareness programme of the not-for-profit organisation, MKRF. Members of the same family are the owners of Geo TV, which is currently suspended in Pakistan because of the allegations made against the Pakistan intelligence services and the army. I want to ask why money has been given to this charity, which is directly linked to a business that is the beneficiary of DfID money. What was the business proposal and why was the grant money not subject to competition rules? I have put down Written Questions and I have asked the Chairman of Committees, but I have yet to receive any answers. Finally, more than 100 police cases have been registered against the owner of this media group and a warrant of arrest has been issued against him. Will the funding still continue?