HL Deb 27 April 1995 vol 563 cc1024-7

3.20 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider that the United Kingdom and the United States of America still have a "special relationship".

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, the term "special relationship" is not one we use. But our relations with the United States remain very close. Defence, nuclear and intelligence matters and, of course, trade and investment are at the heart of the relationship and are greatly valued by both of us.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Many people in other lands have been quite jealous of the relationship between the USA and the UK. There were, of course, not so much misunderstandings as minor disagreements with Mr. Winston Churchill and, later, with Mr. Clement Attlee. However, those matters were all resolved to the advantage of the UK and, indeed, America. Therefore, should we not keep the good relations going?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can inform the House that the relationship is not only of paramount importance but has gained in substance, as was evident during the Prime Minister's recent visit. Our trade relations have never been stronger. We invest more in one another's countries than anywhere else. We are indeed in a good relationship, but, of course, we must work at it to keep it that way.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is it not the fact that we share a common language with the United States; that we have inherited with the United States the common law; that a large number of persons in the United States come from one or other of this group of islands and its different nations; and that the United States shares a land frontier with the largely English speaking nation of Canada with whom we have such a special relationship too?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is absolutely right. It does not matter what area of business it is; our relations are clear and close. For instance, as regards the vexed issue we were discussing in your Lordships' House earlier this week, it is a US Under-Secretary who is at present in Rwanda and Burundi and who will share completely the results of that work with me on his return, as we would with the United States. If it is a matter of a much larger issue, we find ourselves sharing information, and we hope that that will continue for a long while to come.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, while I accept what the Minister says about relationships between the United Kingdom and the United States, does she not agree with the previous American ambassador to the United Kingdom that the relationships with the United States that matter in terms of a special relationship are those with the European Union, and that therefore it is Britain's position within the European Union, which could be a major and influential position, that matters in conducting our relationships with the United States?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is clear to those of us who work on these relationships that the relationship with Britain is important to the United States. The very fact that our position within the European Union attracts so much United States investment and interest in what we do is an added benefit, but the relationship is very much between the two of us, as well as with other countries in the European Union.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said about Mr. Raymond Seitz, the former US ambassador to Britain, and his statement at the end of his posting here that the special relationship with the US was dependent on Britain playing a positive role in Europe, is it not clear that the disarray in the Conservative Party on Europe, and the hostility towards Europe expressed by some members of the Cabinet, will damage the future of our special relationship?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Baroness's paraphrase of what Mr. Raymond Seitz said to the Pilgrims' meeting is a little generous in one sense; it was her own interpretation. I would just say this. We see an important European Union/US relationship because we know that we have a useful role to play on behalf of Europe, with our European partners, in North America. That is why so many people, including Sir Leon Brittan in a speech he is making today, are attracted by the debate on the possibility of a transatlantic free trade area and a useful role for Europe and North America working together. This party has a positive attitude to getting Europe right. Perhaps the noble Baroness will bring that to the notice of the 59 Labour MPs who voted against her party in the Maastricht debate.

Lord Acton

My Lords, I spend part of each year in the mid-western state of Iowa. Is the Minister aware, following on from what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, said, that masses of Americans are acutely conscious of the links of culture and history with this country and that they long, above all, to visit this country? Should not these matters also be borne in mind when assessing the relationship between the two countries?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we very much welcome the visitors from the United States who, I think, will come in greater numbers this year than perhaps has been the case for some years past. As my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone said, it is the language and the long experience we have had together which make them want to come. They also want to understand the successes we are having, the successes of trade and of development. Also, many of them have money invested in US companies which have chosen to come to Britain above all other countries in Europe.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree, despite her earlier answers, that our growing flirtation with the Western European Union risks making the USA rather less keen on its special relationship with us? If there is any danger of this, is not that growing flirtation both extremely ungrateful and absolute folly?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is a misnomer to call the relationship at which we have worked with the Western European Union over a long period a flirtation. That can lead to dangerous outcomes and we are not engaged in them. It is absolutely right that there should be a closer defence relationship between the nations of Europe. Some members of the Western European Union have never had as close a relationship as we have with the United States in NATO. One thing WEU can help us to do is complement the relationships we already have. I always need to remind the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, that the relationship is not a zero sum game; the closer our relationship with the United States and the closer our relationship with Europe, the more we add to the total of European/US relations.

Lord Eatwell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that an important part of that trading relationship is air travel? Will she tell the House whether the Government believe that negotiations on air travel arrangements between Britain and the United States should be a matter for the British Government or for the European Union?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, they are a matter for the British Government.

Lord Sherfield

My Lords, is it not the case that the United States has a special relationship with a whole number of countries, for example, with Japan and with Germany? These special relationships are different. Ours is particularly close and particularly deep. Is it not better not to talk about it too much?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I have been careful in trying not to be special about anything the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, mentioned at the beginning. There is a great deal of work behind the scenes, week in, week out, at all levels of government and at all levels of business. Because we share the language, there is a great deal of understanding, but we should never take it for granted.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, will the noble Baroness make clear that while we have the greatest respect for the United States of Europe—

Noble Lords


Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I meant to say the United States of America. Will the noble Baroness make it clear that we do not want to emulate the United States by joining a United States of Europe? I think I got it right that time. Will she underline what she has just said—that the Conservative Party, as well as, I hope, the Labour Party, do not favour a European superstate and will ensure the sovereign integrity of this country?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, that was a notable slip of the noble Lord's tongue. Knowing what he really meant to say, I can tell him that certainly there is no question of a United States of Europe. He has heard me say that on many occasions and I can repeat it firmly and without contradiction today. I believe that the member states of the European Union should learn to work together ever more closely. By our greater understanding we can help to prevent many of the problems which have bedevilled Europe, albeit thankfully, more than 50 years ago now.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that we have special relationships with the United States and the British Commonwealth of nations and that acting together, the United Kingdom, many of the Commonwealth countries and the USA represent one of the best bastions of freedom and democracy ever created?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

Yes, my Lords.