HL Deb 15 May 1997 vol 580 cc29-134

Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Lord Merlyn-Rees—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows: Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".

3.53 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, it is a great honour to open your Lordships' debate on the gracious Speech this afternoon. Perhaps I may say at the outset that I very much look forward to hearing the maiden speech today of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and later in the debate, those of the noble Earls, Lord Derby and Lord Cork and Orrery.

When the debate opened last year, my noble friend Lady Blackstone observed that, for the fourth year in succession, she was opening the foreign affairs and defence debate on the Queen's Speech for the Opposition. She expressed the hope that it would be the last time for some years that she did so for the Opposition and that we on that side of the House would be introducing the debate the next year from this side of the House—and so it has come to pass. It is therefore a particular privilege to be opening the debate this year.

The electorate has just voted for change in a most dramatic and almost unprecedented fashion. This new Government are humbly aware of the hopes and expectations which the electorate has placed in them. Not everything can be achieved at once, impatient though many will be. But the gracious Speech outlines a comprehensive programme for the forthcoming Session which marks at the outset the range of our ambitions as a reforming government.

The mandate given to us by the British people is indeed awesome. It is the biggest majority ever for the Labour Party and, I think, the smallest number of Conservative seats in the House of Commons since 1832. I believe that two things follow from that result: the first is a responsibility for the Government; and, secondly, if I may say so, a responsibility has also been placed on the Opposition.

As a government with such a massive majority in another place, we are, I believe, under a duty to use that power sensibly and wisely in the execution of our mandate. As an Opposition, I think that it behoves the party opposite to recognise the strength of public feeling that was shown for the changes outlined in our manifesto. Of course, one does not want to press the mandate argument too far, and I hope that I do not, but there is no doubt that certain issues, particularly perhaps the constitutional ones, were put fairly and squarely to the people and were resoundingly approved, even to the extent of there now being no Conservative representation in either Scotland or Wales. Whatever else we have, we do have the clear and unmistakable consent of the British people for our proposals for devolution and, dare I say it, for reform of your Lordships' House.

Among those proposals was that we hold referendums in Scotland and Wales, a subject to which I should like to return a little later. However, perhaps I may first say a few words about what is not in this gracious Speech. On careful reading of the gracious Speech, your Lordships may have observed that reform of the composition of this House does not figure among the measures presaged in the gracious Speech. I hasten to reassure the House that that is not omission by inadvertence. The proposal, of course, remains part of the Labour Party's programme for this Parliament. Quite when it will be introduced remains to be seen, but that it is there, there should be no doubt.

Today's debate focuses on foreign affairs, international development and defence and will be wound up by my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean. On Monday the debate will concentrate on constitutional affairs, home affairs, health and social affairs. The Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill will provide for referendums on whether there should be a Scottish Parliament, and whether this should have tax raising powers; it will also provide for a referendum on whether there should be a Welsh Assembly. In the event of a positive outcome of those referenda, a Bill to establish a Scottish Parliament and a Bill to establish a Welsh Assembly will then come before Parliament.

Home affairs legislation set out in the gracious Speech includes a Bill to incorporate the main provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights into United Kingdom law. That will enable people to enforce their rights under the convention before our courts. I know that this Bill will be of particular interest in your Lordships' House. There will be a Bill to introduce measures to combat crime, including streamlining the youth justice system. There will also be a Firearms (Amendment) Bill which will allow a free vote on prohibiting the private possession of handguns.

There will be two Bills relating to Northern Ireland. One of these will renew the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act to help combat terrorism. The other, the Northern Ireland (Parades and Marches) Bill, is introduced in response to the North Report and will implement many of its recommendations, thus helping to reduce tension over parades, in particular through the establishment of a parades commission. Monday's debate will also encompass health matters, including the National Health (Private Finance) Bill which will clarify the powers of NHS trusts to enter into partnerships with the private sector. The National Lottery (Amendment) Bill will enable funds from the National Lottery to be used in particular for education and health projects.

Tuesday's debate will concentrate on education and employment, the environment, transport, agriculture and local government. The legislation to be covered in that day's debate includes an education Bill to implement the Government's manifesto commitments on standards in schools, school structure and further education and higher education. It will be a wide-ranging and important Bill, about which more discussion will no doubt take place on Tuesday. The Government will also soon introduce an Education (Assisted Places) Bill which will abolish the assisted places schemes so that money saved can be used to cut class sizes for five to seven year-olds. Again, that was a commitment in our party's manifesto.

Among the measures that Tuesday's debate will also cover are the National Minimum Wage Bill; the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill which will enable a referendum to be held on the introduction of a directly-elected strategic authority and mayor for London; the Local Authority (Capital Receipts) Bill which will enable capital receipts from the sale of council houses to be invested in house building and renovation; and a Bill to establish regional development agencies for England, outside London, to promote economic development in the regions.

The final day of debate on Wednesday will concentrate on industry and economic affairs. A competition Bill will be introduced to reform and strengthen competition law; a data protection Bill to strengthen data protection controls and simplify the existing registration scheme; and a Bill which will provide a statutory right to interest on late payment of debts, as part of the approach to backing small business. A Bill will also be introduced to give the Bank of England operational responsibility for setting interest rates. We believe that that will help to deliver price stability and to support the Government's overall economic policy within a framework of enhanced accountability. Whatever else one can say, we shall be busy. This is a formidable and wide-ranging legislative programme, about which your Lordships will hear more in the next four days of debate, and of course during the passage of each Bill.

I turn now to today's area of interest, foreign affairs, international development and defence. I am a little surprised, but I understand that there will not be a debate on foreign affairs and defence on the gracious Speech in another place. Although I do not intend this to be a speech covering the whole range of foreign affairs, in those circumstances there are perhaps one or two matters which the House might wish me to deal with. I think it might be helpful if I were now to state the Government's approach to the problems and opportunities raised by our membership of the European Union and of NATO. These are, after all, probably the most important areas in which far-reaching decisions affecting our prosperity and well-being will have to be made.

The first priority of this Government is to restore to Britain the role that she deserves, helping to lead the way in the creation of a European Union of independent nation states. The Government are already taking, and will continue to take, a positive approach in discussion and negotiation with our European partners. I am confident that this positive approach will bring us success. It is certainly refreshing.

One of our first priorities therefore is to complete the single market, so that British companies can exploit their competitiveness to the full. We shall seek the early and successful enlargement of the European Union to include countries of central and eastern Europe and Cyprus. We look forward to welcoming new members to the European family, spreading the benefits of the European Union—prosperity, security and solidarity—more widely. I think it is common ground in this House that the common agricultural policy is costly, vulnerable to fraud and not geared to environmental protection. We shall vigorously seek its reform.

The intergovernmental conference will take key decisions on preparing the Union's institutions for enlargement. We share the goal of completing the intergovernmental conference at Amsterdam. Within the IGC, we shall firmly but politely defend our vital national interest. We shall, for example, insist that Britain retains control of its own frontiers. We shall work in the IGC to help improve the European Union's ability to protect the European environment, to fight fraud, to protect the rights of European citizens and to improve co-operation between member states in the European Union's common foreign and security policy.

The European Union must find ways to increase understanding among the peoples of Europe of how the Union works, and how it works on their behalf and for their benefit. We shall work to make the Union more transparent in its workings, more democratic and more accountable. We believe, however, that the Union must do more to tackle unemployment and promote flexible labour markets. We support an employment chapter in the new treaty under negotiation at the IGC. But the true test of whether the Union can promote employment for its citizens will not lie in treaty declarations but in real jobs. We have already announced our intention to join the social chapter. We shall use our membership to boost jobs and to make Europe's companies more competitive.

I wish now to say a few words about defence. I fear I shall be brief but—I say this with respect—I do not wish this to be a Foreign Office speech, which is a catalogue of different parts of the world comprising two sentences on each. This Government are committed to a strong defence for these islands. We are determined that our Armed Forces will remain strong to defend Britain and that they will be given solid political support, leadership and direction. Our Armed Forces are a unique asset to the nation. Their courage, professionalism and commitment are rightly admired around the world. Our Armed Forces personnel in Northern Ireland, for example, provide invaluable support to the RUC in countering terrorism. As I speak, over 40,000 servicemen and women are deployed overseas on a range of missions and tasks. They are serving in Bosnia, Cyprus, Africa, the Gulf, the Falkland Islands and in the Pacific. In the Asia-Pacific region, we have the OCEAN WAVE 97 Task Group which is the largest Royal Navy deployment since the Gulf War.

Since the end of the Cold War, the security risks to the United Kingdom and our allies have changed fundamentally. New security challenges confront us: proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, aggressive nationalisms and international terrorism. We must ensure that our forces are matched not only to today's but also to tomorrow's challenges and have a clear sense of purpose. Therefore, this Government have decided to hold a strategic defence and security review. Again, that was something that was presaged when we were in Opposition. Our country's security needs and foreign policy objectives must be fully reflected in the roles, missions and tasks of our Armed Forces. I assure the House that that review will be foreign policy-led, identifying our interests and commitments and deciding how our Armed Forces should be structured, equipped and deployed to meet them. All this will enable us to provide the clearest direction for strong defence into the next century.

In Europe our security has been provided and guaranteed by our membership of NATO which will remain the key framework for our common defence. NATO is undergoing a great process of change to reflect the changed strategic environment. We intend to play a full and active part in NATO's future development. It is taking on new tasks; it is adapting its internal structures; it is building new relationships with former enemies; and it is preparing for enlargement. At the Madrid Summit we expect the first candidates for membership to be invited to begin negotiations for accession. The enlargement of NATO and enhanced co-operation with countries which are not invited, or do not wish to join, will in our view increase security across the whole of Europe. It will extend across the Continent the peace, stability and habits of close co-operation that NATO embodies. We must at the same time reach a satisfactory agreement with Russia so that she too can play her full part in ensuring Europe's security in partnership with NATO. We welcome greatly the agreement reached yesterday between the Secretary-General of NATO, Mr. Solana, and the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Primakov, on the text of a joint NATO/Russia document. We hope that it will now be endorsed by NATO members and Russia for signature at a summit in Paris on 27th May.

Enlargement of NATO must not and will not create new dividing lines in Europe. The Government strongly support building the European security and defence identity within the Alliance. This will allow European countries to do more for their own defence and security, including through the Western European Union. The Government are committed to achieving that aim and to increasing the practical co-operation between the WEU and the European Union. However, we do not agree with those who advocate merging the two organisations.

It is true that the threats to peace in Europe have receded, although they have not vanished. However, conflict still continues in many other parts of the world. In too many regions, international relationships are soured by enmity and mistrust. Great challenges remain in working for peace and security around the world. Working with the United Nations, with other international organisations and with our partners and allies we shall be firm in seeking to secure lasting peace and reconciliation.

I said at the beginning of my speech that it was an honour to be opening the debate. I have felt it so. It is indeed an honour for my party to find itself, after 18 years in Opposition, now back again in Government. We shall enjoy it. We shall do our best to serve the British nation; and I hope that the British nation will feel that peace and security are safe in our hands.

4.11 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, perhaps I may say at the outset how much I look forward to hearing the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Moynihan later today. The House has listened with, I think, considerable interest to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. Understandably in the circumstances some of his speech was not concerned primarily with the main subjects for debate today—defence and foreign policy. I hope that I did not misunderstand the noble Lord. I thought I detected a mild threat—what I might call the sword of Damocles argument hanging over your Lordships' House—in some of what he said. I am delighted to see the noble Lord shake his head. In that case I withdraw what was clearly an over-sensitive interpretation on my part.

However, let me reiterate what I intimated yesterday. The Official Opposition in your Lordships' House will not in any way be deflected from what they see to be their duty: to exercise their judgment, to improve, to amend and to scrutinise legislation. They will attempt to be a constructive and vigorous Opposition. They will treat each Bill on its merits with no thought for their own future or indeed the future of your Lordships' House. I hope that your Lordships will feel that that pledge is honoured in the light of experience.

I can readily understand why the noble Lord the Leader of the House chose to open the Queen's Speech debate today both for the reasons which he charmingly laid out and in view of his considerable experience in foreign affairs. As a European Commissioner and a former permanent representative at the United Nations, he is eminently qualified by experience to speak on foreign policy including our relationship with the European Union. Perhaps I may also warmly welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, to her new position. We much look forward to hearing her when she embarks later on her maiden voyage at the Dispatch Box. For myself, with the House's permission, I shall concentrate on foreign affairs, including European affairs, and rely on my noble friend Lord Howe to speak on the subject of defence.

I think I said yesterday that there are some familiar phrases in the gracious Speech. Some of them, in particular the aspirations expressed, do not conflict in any way with the objectives of my party. We certainly applaud the Government's aspirations on NATO enlargement and on United Nations reform. Equally, the Government do not seem to differ from us in their desire to place high on their agenda peace in former Yugoslavia, a settlement in Cyprus, and peace in the Middle East. And we share the same aspirations for Hong Kong's future and the desire to promote open markets around the world. As in everything else, we shall watch the Government's efforts in all these areas with close attention and we shall do our best to support them if their plans to transform aspirations into reality seem well founded and practical.

However, to the outside observer there seems an interesting contrast in style between the foreign policy sections of the gracious Speech and the mission paper launched with so much glitz this week by the Foreign Secretary. The first is sober—dare I say, almost dull—in style; the second is directed by one of the leading Labour "luvvies", Sir David Putnam. I have always entertained the greatest respect for the right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary, in particular for his formidable debating skills in another place. However, I have never seen him as the Cecil B. de Mille of British foreign policy. Indeed, I am surprised that the Foreign Secretary should have succumbed to the temptation of adopting the Hollywood approach. The record of success of glitzy foreign policy initiatives, if my memory serves me right, has not been inspiring from the Field of the Cloth of Gold onwards. They tend to raise expectations. When the protagonists fail to meet them, the disappointment is all the greater. The Foreign Secretary's glitz masks what I think amounts to remarkably little that is either new or original despite the grandiloquent language with which the document begins and ends. I shall come to the Foreign Secretary's aspirations, and those of Mr. Henderson for the European Union, later in my remarks.

Reform of the United Nations was high on the last Government's agenda. I wonder whether rejoining UNESCO at this time gives quite the right signal. I am far from convinced that UNESCO has sufficiently mended its ways to warrant such a step. Perhaps, when the noble Baroness replies, she can confirm that rejoining would cost about £11 million in subscription. Can she tell the House how many more small posts in developing countries could be run for the cost of that subscription? And while she is at it, can the Minister also say what future she sees for our permanent seat on the Security Council in view of European aspirations to take it over or see it merged with the French seat?

Equally, there is nothing new in making export promotion a Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget priority. I hope that I do not burden the Minister too much. But am I right in thinking that commercial work is already the largest activity of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, accounting, I understand, for about 25 per cent. of its spending? If so, how much more of the existing budget does the noble Baroness expect to spend under this head? Or does she expect to increase the budget for this purpose? And, if so, by how much? How does she square that with the promise by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to keep within the last Government's spending plans overall? I could ask the same questions about virtually every other aspiration in the Foreign Secretary's position paper.

The last Government spent large sums on improving the audibility of the BBC World Service on the understandable ground that there is little sense in pumping out large quantities of broadcast material if not many people can receive it clearly. I yield to no one in my admiration for the World Service. I have listened to it, if I may venture to say so with great boldness and without too much presumption, probably in least as many distant countries as anyone in this House. I know what a lifeline of truth and sanity it is to millions of people all over the world. Can the noble Baroness give any indication of how much more money she and her colleagues intend to spend on the World Service? If she cannot increase its budget, how does she intend to squeeze more out of the existing one?

I shall not weary the House with more examples. I have perhaps said enough to suggest that this parcel has more wrapping than content. Nevertheless, there is a "but", and it is substantial. One element, one sentence, of the position paper almost took my breath away. I hope that neither the noble Lord the Leader of the House nor the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, will take this personally because I except them from the accusation. But for sheer sanctimonious humbug it beats even the high standards set in less than two short weeks by what is already too clearly—despite what the noble Lord said—an embarrassingly arrogant Government.

The Foreign Secretary concludes by saying that he is launching a, project to make Britain once again a force for good in the world". Pray note the phrase, "once again". Does the Foreign Secretary mean to imply that over the past 18 years the people of this country elected Conservative governments that were not a force for good? Perhaps noble Lords opposite who so readily assent to that proposition will tell me whether they believe that the foreign policy of this country over the past 18 years has been a force for evil. I wholly accept that the result on 1st May made very clear, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House said, that the electorate thought it high time for a change of government. However, it is extraordinarily difficult to argue that they voted for the present Government with any great sense of enthusiasm. After all, fewer voted for Mr. Blair in 1997 than voted for Mr. Major in 1992. I certainly do not remember any popular clamour for a change of government because of the "evil" that Conservative government policy was wreaking world wide. Indeed, as we see from the rather more sober tone of the gracious Speech, this Government and the last share a number of foreign and defence policy objectives of a strategic nature—for example, dependence on NATO; NATO and European Union enlargement; and keeping separate (I was very pleased to hear the remarks of the noble Lord the Leader of the House on this matter) the Western European Union and the European Union. I am delighted to hear that the Government, like us, also wish to promote open markets world wide, a point to which I shall return.

The implication of that last sentence, to which obviously in the view of noble Lords opposite I took such unwarranted exception, must be rather narrower. Perhaps, although in view of the fact that it was no doubt drafted by the Foreign Office it is unlikely, the drafting is sloppy. The implication is that this Labour Government's foreign policy will be morally superior to that of the last Government. They have clearly forgotten the efforts of the last Chancellor of the Exchequer to encourage swapping loans for equity in developing countries and how we increased, contrary to popular view, our aid budget, if we add together multilateral and bilateral elements, at a time of great financial stringency. They have clearly forgotten the success of my noble friend Lady Chalker in concentrating our bilateral aid budget on the poorest nations; our success in arms control; and, not least, the great contributions of my right honourable friend Mr. Gummer to improvements to the environment internationally. We really need no lessons in ethics from the Foreign Secretary, and we will watch with some interest the Government's efforts to translate their moral strictures into foreign policy decisions. To take a topical example, how will the Foreign Secretary's stance stand up in reacting to the developing crisis in Zaire? Does he envisage sending troops if asked to do so? Sending troops will cost money. Would he be prepared to spend it? Indeed, would the Chancellor of the Exchequer let him do so?

Noble Lords may deduce that I find Mr. Cook's position paper less than convincing. That would be entirely right. I would have been more impressed had the Foreign Secretary addressed far more fundamental questions. Perhaps I may give just two rather outlandish examples. He might, for instance, have shared with us his analysis of where, overall, Britain's interests lie. What, for instance, is his view of the future relationship between the European Union and the United States? Does he think that if Europe becomes more protectionist the consequent tensions between the two blocs, which between them account for 50 per cent. of world trade and 75 per cent. of all overseas investment, could drive them apart? What are the risks of that happening? Does he think that Mr. Rifkind's idea of a transatlantic free trade area could reduce those inherent tensions? What views does he have on the political stability of the Far East and in particular the ambitions of China to exert influence on the region? What influence does he feel the mineral riches of the Russian Far East will have on the geo-politics of the same region? The last Government felt that those questions were important to this country. That is one of the reasons I am glad that the noble Lord the Leader of the House referred to our deployment of over 20 ships in Ocean Wave '97 to the Far East this year. Also, in reference to that part of the world, will the noble Baroness give some idea of her ethical position on the present situation of the people of Tibet and what representations the Government will make to the Chinese Government in that regard?

In short, Mr. Cook is big on self-righteousness but is a little short on geo-politics. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Government's attitude to the European Union. The last Government were often accused by their critics, of whom the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, may have been one, of being Little Englanders. I find that charge an extraordinarily interesting one and I should like briefly to examine it.

Let me try to explain my interest. I have no doubt that the European Union could, and should, prove to be of the most enormous benefit to this country. It could and should create among member states new jobs and an unparalleled level of prosperity and do so in a framework of peace and stability. Those objectives are an enormous prize. It is well worth our while striving to attain them. However, as the Foreign Secretary says in his paper, The global economy is stimulating growth in trade between nations at double the rate of growth in output within their economies. The information revolution has produced satellites and fibre-optic cables that enable us to communicate with other continents as rapidly as with the next room". I entirely agree. So perhaps we should ask ourselves one fundamental question. How do we create jobs and prosperity in this fast-moving world that the Foreign Secretary so neatly describes?

The Labour Party's answer is a remarkable one. It is to rush to sign up to those very aspects of European policy that have proved over the past few years to have destroyed jobs rather than create them. Ask any German industrialist or French businessman why unemployment is so high and rising in their countries. Almost to a man and woman they will answer that over-regulation of labour markets and high non-wage labour costs act as a barrier to employment and investment. They envy us the reforms that successive Tory governments have introduced since 1979, which this month again reduced our unemployment by an enormous number, which enabled us to meet our inflation target of 2.5 per cent. by the end of the last Parliament, and which have indeed begun to deliver 3 per cent. growth rates allied to low inflation. Yet the Government promise with glee to sign us up to the very measures that will kill jobs and investment just when our policies are beginning to work.

To digress for a moment, I understood the present Prime Minister to say before the election that he proposed to implement only those provisions of the social chapter that suited him. Will the noble Baroness confirm that he can pick and choose in that way only by preserving the opt-out we negotiated at Maastricht and introducing those provisions that suit him in parallel in the British Parliament? If that proposition is true, and if memory serves me right that was the received advice, will the noble Baroness further explain why the Government propose to surrender our opt-out on the social chapter at all? I admit that that is a digression and I shall return to the interesting question of Little Englanders. The effect of those European policies is clearly to make the European Union uncompetitive with the growing economies of America and Asia. In the world of swift communication described by the Foreign Secretary, old-fashioned protectionism is difficult to enforce and is in any case self-defeating, if only because of the extreme mobility of capital in today's world.

The last Government had a vision for the European Union designed to make Europe competitive so that it would create jobs and attract capital. Many of our European partners disagreed with our analysis or, if they agreed, found it expedient not to say so. However, we at least had the courage to fight for our view and to fight for our interests, especially our capacity to create jobs. We felt then, and still feel, that the only way to control the ambitions of those who wish to impose reactionary ideas upon us is to maintain the power and cohesion of the nation state. In spite of what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said about his desire to establish a Europe of nation states—a desire which I entirely applaud—that is something to which Mr. Blair clearly does not wholly subscribe as he proposes to deliver the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, bound and gagged, into the hands of super-federalists as mere regions in a united states of Europe.

The Government take a diametrically opposite view from us. All their instincts are to agree with the corporatist views of the Rhineland model economies. Some of my colleagues call their proposed actions surrender. And, from the point of view of this country, that is what it is. But to the Government it is not surrender at all; it is a fusion of ideas with which they feel entirely at home and they are happy to concede without asking for anything in exchange.

What are they signing up to? It is a Europe of Little Europeans, an inward-looking Europe afraid to take the measures necessary to compete in the Foreign Secretary's new world of communication. To cover their own position, they are all too prone to call the rest of us who have perhaps a slightly broader view Little Englanders. It is not the world of free trade that we have to fear, the world of flexible labour markets: it is the Little Europeans whose instincts are to close the frontiers of the European Union to foreign trade and to try to reduce the unemployment created with the solutions of big government that failed us 20-odd years ago. That will help to drive the world economy into protectionist regional groupings. That will be bad for jobs, bad for prosperity and above all bad for stability, particularly for stable relations between Europe and the United States of America.

Of course I wish the Government well. After all, the electorate has entrusted the welfare of all of us to their care. I can only hope that where there is glitz they will eventually put substance and where their policies of substance are mistaken they will eventually see the error of their ways.

4.32 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, I greatly dislike troubling your Lordships' House with my third speech within the first 25 hours of the Sitting of this House in the new Parliament, but I can assure noble Lords both that I shall on that account be brief and that thereafter, to recall Lord Attlee's famous rebuke of Professor Laski, not only will a period of silence from me be most welcome, it will actually occur.

In the few brief remarks I wish to make, I shall apply myself almost as a text to the remarks of the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal to the effect that the primary object of the Government's foreign policy is to restore to Britain the role which it deserves in the development of the European Union. That should mean—and probably that is what the Government have at the back of their minds—trying to achieve a position, which has signally disappeared recently, for Britain of joint leadership with France and Germany in the European Union. There has been recently an almost exclusively Franco-German axis of leadership. It is about the only thing which has moved the European Union forward. Nobody with any sense of history—or any sense at all—could possibly believe that that partnership is not a vast improvement upon the enmity between those two countries which so disfigured Europe and the world for nearly a century before. Therefore no sane British government could wish to break up that partnership and to drive it asunder.

Nonetheless it would, in the interests of this country, certainly be more desirable if we could achieve not an exclusive leadership role—that would be extremely foolish and Utopian—but a position as the third point in a triangle of leadership. In many ways that could be a better and more fructuous arrangement for the other countries of the Union because a triangle is a rather more friendly geometrical concept within which to cluster than a straight line or an axis.

What are the chances of achieving that? The Government have, in my view, made a very good start. They have made very good noises towards Europe, and that has been greatly welcomed. I welcome—though I do not think it is of vast importance except symbolically—the acceptance of the social chapter. If I may say so with the greatest respect, and even affection, I have never heard more of a farrago of nonsense than what the noble Viscount put to the House this afternoon. He said that, if you ask any French or German industrialist what he thinks is damaging his country, he will reply that it is the social chapter. I would say to him that, if he asks the head of any multinational company operating in Britain and in Europe what he thinks about the social chapter, he will say that it is of very little importance one way or the other. That is absolutely the fact.

As a matter of fact, the social chapter has been a greatly exaggerated King Charles's head: it does not do all that much for welfare, but nor does it do all that much damage to enterprise. The social chapter performed a totally exaggerated role in the stale election propaganda of the Conservative Party. One can see when one looks at the shape of the House of Commons today exactly how effective that stale election propaganda was. My advice to the noble Viscount would be: forget it; move a little forward from those stale electoral platitudes which so signally failed.

There have been other good moves. However, there are hard issues that the Government have to face. If a triangle of leadership is to be achieved, it means full British participation in all the main initiatives and institutions of the Community. It does not just mean expressions of good will, though those are desirable and have in a sense already reaped a certain reward. Consider the reception which Mr. Gordon Brown received in Brussels when he said he wanted to reduce VAT on fuel. I am not all that enthusiastic about reducing VAT on fuel; I think there are environmental disadvantages. Nonetheless it was in the Government's manifesto and, if they want to do it, I am in favour of their being allowed by Europe to do it. With a little good will, Mr. Brown received a good reception. Contrast that with the way the previous Government handled the BSE issue, first of all their battling view and then the complete collapse of their position. A little good will works a good deal of benefit on peripheral issues but not in itself on establishing a triangle of leadership.

While I welcome what has happened so far, I remember at least three disappointments in the past. First, I remember how, after the 1975 referendum, there was great hope that the British Government, having a two-to-one mandate behind it, would play a really constructive role in Europe. That was followed by considerable disappointment, which was epitomised by Britain being the only country of the nine which stood out from the effective part of the European monetary system in 1978–79.

Then, when the new Conservative Government came in, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made a great effort in his early days—I observed it from my position as president—in the Council of Ministers and elsewhere to establish a new atmosphere of good will for Britain's European policy. That was swept aside by the swings of Mrs. Thatcher's handbag over the budgetary question when, though she was right on the substance of the issue, she created a vast amount of ill will for a marginal amount of money at the end of that bitter dispute.

Then in 1990 Mr. Major began by saying that it was his aim to put Britain at the heart of Europe and there were the disappointments which followed from that.

The fundamental contradiction was that, in so far as Mr. Major's European policy achieved any triumphs, they were the triumphs of opt-outs. Leadership cannot be built on opt-outs. I hope that the present Government will learn that lesson.

I do not know for certain whether the single European currency will come into being on the accepted date. I believe that it is still highly probable that it will do so. But in any event, the British record under governments of different parties has been consistently that of being over-sceptical about what would happen in Europe. Right from the beginning they have been saying that it will not work and will never happen—and they have always been wrong—and then joining late. In my view we should be extremely well advised to assume the reverse: to assume that it will happen—even if there is still a possibility that it does not happen—and to adjust to that.

It is simply not possible—this really should be taken into account—to exercise a role as one of a triangle of leadership if one is outside a European development as major as that of the single currency. That hard fact must be faced. It is possible to decide for other reasons that one would prefer perhaps to have a peripheral role in Europe or even to come out of Europe altogether. That might be the logical consequence. But it is not possible to believe that one can exercise a role outside the major development of the next few years, which is absolutely crucial to the future development of the whole European community. If, at this stage, a single currency were to fail or be postponed—to founder—it would be exactly like being in an aeroplane in which at the very last moment the captain decided to reverse his engines and abort take-off, bringing the plane to a stop before going into the sea or whatever. The passengers might survive but they would be very shaken and would not be very keen on new ventures for a long time to come.

If that foundering were to occur, I do not believe that substantial enlargement would take place. There would then be a very inward-looking perspective. If that happened I think that the French would veto major enlargement. So let us have some realism about what are the possibilities. The Government have made a good start but I hope very much that they will understand the hard choices in Europe, learn from the many lessons of the past and proceed accordingly.

In my view, it is also absolutely vital that the Government, if they wish to pursue a sensible and constructive European policy, should begin some firm persuasion and education of public opinion. Of course, I do not believe that one can go beyond a certain distance against public opinion and certainly the superficial, surface currents of public opinion are Euro-sceptic and hostile to Europe at the present time. Sometimes it amazes me that people are not more hostile than they are, when one remembers that for years past there has never been a word of positive enthusiasm or positive Euro-propaganda from the late Government. As a great part of the press is now trans-oceanically owned by proprietors who are very hostile to the concept of Europe, it is surprising that there is as much pro-European opinion as there is.

I believe that the surface current is superficial. I remember that there was a very hostile position to Europe in the polls six months before the 1975 referendum. Opinion can be turned round. There is a great duty on the Government to do it. If they wish to operate in a decisively better climate. They have to a substantial extent to make the weather of public opinion for themselves. It has been let go for too many years. This is the time to start. I have great hopes of the Government. I hope that they will not be disappointed.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, we have heard two powerful defences of the European Union from the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. I want to ask them whether perhaps they have left anything out of their speeches. They are both former commissioners of the European Union and one is a former president. Were the whole edifice to collapse, as some of us believe it could, I ask them and indeed other noble Lords who may be in that category—looking down the list of speakers perhaps I should mention my noble friend Lord Cockfield—whether, in view of the new regulations which apply to your Lordships' debate, they do not have some interest to declare.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his most elegant and gracious suggestion. Perhaps I may say to him that, if I were in his position of having reduced his own party by his destructive activities to the state in which it is today, a period of silence from him would now be most welcome.

4.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, in welcoming the gracious Speech, I must express my regret to the House that, owing to a long-standing speaking engagement in Oxford, I shall not be able to stay to the end of the debate. But I shall certainly read the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, with great care. Together with other noble Lords, perhaps I may say how much I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan.

The first theme in the gracious Speech that I particularly welcome is the Government's stated commitment to tackling global poverty and promoting sustainable development. In this House in recent years we have been very blessed to have in our midst the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, whose personal dedication to alleviating poverty in the world has been so marked. But the problem, sadly, is as acute as ever.

Your Lordships will understand that this is a concern particularly felt by all the Christian Churches. Especially at the moment the Churches are concerned about the burden of debt on the poorest countries of the world. Next year, all the Bishops of the Anglican Communion will gather for the Lambeth Conference—a meeting which takes place once every 10 years. Already, it has become obvious that the international debt crisis—it is a crisis, my Lords—will be the major theme of the Anglican Bishops' meeting in Canterbury.

Furthermore, a new strong movement has begun in Britain, called Jubilee 2000, which calls for remission on a one-off basis of the unpayable debts of the countries of the poorest 1 billion people on earth. Many of those countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. Christians and church people of all kind believe without any kind of exaggeration that that movement is comparable to the campaign against slavery in the 19th century. People are literally dying by the minute because of those unsustainable debts, which always, of course, bear hardest upon the poor.

Aid agencies such as CAFOD, the Roman Catholic relief organisation, Tear Fund and Christian Aid (of which I am a board member) have indicated strong support for Jubilee 2000 and we look to Her Majesty's Government to play a leading role in this field. However, the recent highly indebted poor countries initiative is proving something of a disappointment. The Ugandan Government in particular now face the agonizing prospect of removing from their budget the sums allocated for increasing educational opportunities for an estimated 2 million to 2½ million children of primary school age in order to make interest-free payments to the international financial institutions. Surely, no government should be forced to make such choices.

The new millennium will begin during the anticipated term of office of this Government. The possibility of a significant remission of the unpayable debts of governments whose citizens are among the poorest members of the human race would mean that the new millennium was genuinely something to celebrate and an occasion of which the British people could justly be proud.

The second aspect of the gracious Speech to which I should like to draw attention is the commitment there to: the promotion of human rights", which will be a priority. This is a complex area where hard choices will have to be made. Her Majesty's Government deserve every encouragement in making human rights a central concern, but when this conflicts with the imperatives of trade and investment—as it may well do in many instances, even with countries the size of China—hard choices will have to be faced. The case of Nigeria and the position to be adopted by Her Majesty's Government at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh this autumn could well be a test case. The case of Nigeria is the most serious test of the cohesion and determination of the Commonwealth since apartheid in South Africa.

Conflicts of interest are inescapable. The human rights element of government policy must be more than a moral gesture. The effectiveness of steps proposed must also be weighed. I believe, however, that the citizens of this country will welcome a foreign policy which embraces human rights concerns in genuinely good faith.

The third and last aspect of this speech to which I wish particularly to draw attention is one which at least hints at the question of the arms trade and arms transfer of policy. In view of the Government's commitment to human rights, it is something of a disappointment that that is not more explicit in the gracious Speech. But there are certainly points to welcome in the recent statements of the Foreign Secretary.

Many non-governmental organisations, aid agencies and refugee organisations have highlighted the scourge of landmines as a key obstacle to development and one of the factors which prevent civilians returning home after wars have been resolved. The Churches have joined in this condemnation. So we welcome the Government's early statement of support for the international campaign to outlaw landmines and we look for real progress on the elimination of landmines of all kinds, including the so-called "self-destruct" ones.

As regards the conventional arms trade more generally, in November 1994 the General Synod of the Church of England unanimously approved a report entitled Responsibility in Arms Transfer Policy. This called for a reassessment of government policy so that arms transfers would be made only in accordance with a policy which is, generally acknowledged as being ethically responsible, transparent, publicly accountable and consistent". Such a call is close to the formulation used by the Foreign Secretary in outlining the approach to be adopted by Her Majesty's Government. The findings of the Scott Report and steps already taken indicate that a thorough reconsideration is well overdue.

The difficulty, of course, will be getting beyond verbal agreement on a respectable formula to a practical policy. One case which has exercised Churches worldwide has been continued arms sales to Indonesia—a country which has illegally occupied East Timor for over 20 years in clear contravention of international law and United Nations resolutions. Will the Government now show their resolve to live up to the stated criteria by preventing arms sales to Indonesia? Other key countries where the Government could make a decisive difference include Burma, Colombia and Kenya.

There is a great deal to welcome in the gracious Speech. The good will and, if I may say so, the prayers of millions of people, not only in this country but perhaps especially abroad, will be directed towards the achievement of those goals. There are millions of people who are literally dying of starvation, people whose human rights are being violated week by week, people who are being killed or wounded by weapons which should never have been sold to the contending parties in their country. Solving some of those problems is urgent and the good will and prayers of millions will be directed towards achieving those extremely worthwhile goals.

4.55 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, perhaps not surprisingly, I wish to concentrate briefly on one sentence in the gracious Speech: To ensure that the United Kingdom's defence capabilities are matched to the changing strategic setting, my Government will reassess our essential security interests and defence needs". The noble Lord the Leader of the House has already referred to that part of the gracious Speech. He has said that the Government are in favour of strong Armed Forces with strong political support and that defence policy will be foreign policy-led. I am sure that the Leader of the House will be the first to recognise that the translation of admirable sentiments into a practical policy is one of the most difficult tricks in the whole of the political repertoire. I wish the Government every success in bringing it off.

However, I have to say that the very phrase "reassess our essential security interests" has a fearful resonance for anyone who has been involved for long in defence matters. It means that another defence review is on the way. Almost every defence review for the past 40 years has turned out to be no more than a pretext for a reduction in defence expenditure and for cuts across the board in the strength of our Armed Forces or the procurement of military equipment, or both. I hope that when the noble Baroness replies to the debate she can give the House a firm assurance that this defence review will not be yet another smoke-screen for an assault on the defence budget, which always seems to be the favourite public expenditure target of governments looking for economies.

Of course, no defence review can or should be carried out in an economic vacuum. Perhaps it might be relevant to mention that there have been times in the past when critics of government defence policy, both inside and outside the Armed Forces, have condemned defence reviews and defence policy as being "Treasury-driven". But all public expenditure policy in some sense has to be Treasury-driven. A more valid criticism, I think, is that, in my experience, in the past the Treasury, in addition to influencing the amount of money and resources allocated to defence—which is its proper function—has also tried to influence how that money is spent, what kind of defence we have. That is not its business. It is the business of those who are responsible for external policies. Just as defence expenditure and defence policy cannot be determined in an economic vacuum, so, perhaps more importantly, it cannot be done in a political and strategic vacuum. Any serious strategic review of defence policy must be approached in the context of the aims of foreign policy.

It is true that not all military policy is the handmaiden of foreign policy. One of the functions of our military establishment is to ensure, in its narrowest sense, the defence of the realm—that is to say, the ability to deter any potential aggressor from mounting an attack on the United Kingdom and, if deterrence should fail, the ability to defend the country against such an attack. However, it is fair to say that, in the current strategic political environment, that is a remote contingency, although it will always be necessary to guard against it. There is one other point that we must never forget and which has already been mentioned in the debate today: it is also essential to provide armed forces to support the civil power in circumstances of terrorist attack or any other form of violent threat to law and order.

In all other respects, defence, or, to be more precise, military policy is an instrument of foreign policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard has already said. In that sense, many elements of our defence arrangements sometimes taken for granted—such as the possession of armoured and amphibious forces and the capacity for the distant projection of military force—will depend upon the country's chosen role on the international scene. Here perhaps I may be allowed to sound a mild note of alarm and echo something that was said in a different way by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. We have heard a certain amount recently about placing matters such as human rights and arms control at the top of our foreign policy agenda. Of course human rights are of concern to all of us, although anyone who believes that the rights of man are absolute and self-evident should perhaps go back and study Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. But this is not the occasion for a discussion of what Burke called real rights and pretended rights. As the right reverend Prelate has said, this is a very complicated matter.

As for arms control and the control of arms transfers, these are aspects of foreign policy in which this country has always had a respectable record. British negotiators have played a leading part in achieving international agreements such as the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Government have never been lazy or ineffective in their contribution to negotiations on arms control and disarmament.

It is important to be clear that when we are talking about these things we are talking about the machinery of foreign policy, not its purpose. Anyone who believes that foreign policy can be conducted on strictly ethical principles should study the history of diplomacy leading up to the Second World War. Maintaining the reputation of this country in the international community is, as other noble Lords have said, an important element of external relations. But it is not an end in itself. It cannot be said too often that the purpose of an effective foreign policy is to protect the interests of the nation and, in doing so, to ensure its security and prosperity. Anything which weakens or compromises that purpose should be regarded with great reserve and suspicion.

Time is going on and I must hasten to end my remarks. Anyone embarking upon a defence review of the kind adumbrated in the gracious Speech should be quite clear about how the Government see the role of this country in the world. A number of questions—at present without any clear answers—have to be confronted. Let me mention two of the most obvious, which have already been mentioned in your Lordships' House today and will possibly be mentioned again by the noble Lord, Lord Healey, when he comes to speak. What is to be our attitude to NATO and its future role, composition and organisation? As I have said, from those decisions will flow decisions about the need for armoured forces and mechanised infantry, for example.

What about events affecting national interests outside the NATO area? To what extent may they require military action? What sort of military action? Are we to contemplate more peacekeeping as in Bosnia; protection of humanitarian aid operations as in Africa; conventional military combat as in the Falklands? Until such long-term policy decisions have been resolved, we cannot make intelligent decisions about military resources such as aircraft carriers, logistic support or the appropriate mix in our armed forces of artillery, engineers and communications troops.

Without a clear understanding of foreign policy assumptions, it is impossible even to begin considering the shape and size of our Armed Forces and the kinds of arms and equipment they will need to discharge their commitments.

On present evidence, it seems that the instincts of the Government in their world view are very little different—except in certain specific instances—from those of the previous government. But the matter of the role of Britain in the world has to be crystallised and clarified if our military affairs are to be conducted in a manner which provides security for Britain, reassurance to our allies and strong support for our foreign policy.

As a final word, there are two other essential functions of a serious review of defence policy. One is to achieve some kind of national consensus about the kind of armed forces which we need and the proportion of our national wealth we are prepared to spend upon them. Unless that national consensus is achieved, no effective defence review can seriously be contemplated.

The other, and final, point I wish to make about any defence review upon which the Government decide to embark, is that it must provide motivation and a measure of stability for our Armed Forces. They must have proper equipment and adequate training resources for the tasks they are called upon to perform, and they must not be subject to unnecessary and obsessive tinkering with their strength, structure and organisation. There has been far too much of that in the past. If we are to have a defence review, let it be one which recognises that the Armed Forces are a vitally important part of the role which I hope this country will continue to play in the world.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Healey

My Lords, I shall resist the temptation to deal at length with the speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, except to remark that so far as Europe is concerned, splendid isolation seems to run in his family. I suppose that is an inevitable handicap of being a hereditary Peer.

I cannot resist reminding the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that I carried out a defence review just over 30 years ago and I cut our commitments far more than I cut our forces. I got rid of all our bases and commitments east of Suez in the teeth of fierce opposition from the Foreign Office, in which the noble Lord was then a Minister—although he was, to be fair, the Minister of Disarmament at the time.

I shall concentrate on an issue which urgently needs consideration by the House and by the Government, and that is the proposal to enlarge NATO. It is still very unclear from the press—which is all I have to go on because the Government have resisted discussing this with the country or Parliament—whether NATO is to be enlarged to include only Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia or, as my noble friend who opened the debate suggested, all the countries of eastern Europe except Russia.

One of the great problems is that it has not been thought through at all. Only a few days ago Mr. Yeltsin was predicting that the enlargement of NATO as proposed would lead to the worst crisis in relations between Moscow and the West since the Cuban missile crisis. He appears to have taken a different line at a meeting with Secretary Solana yesterday, although he seems to disagree totally with President Clinton as to what was agreed at that meeting. Mr. Yeltsin said that the meeting ensured that NATO could never take another decision without the consent of the Russian Government. President Clinton insisted that Russia would have no veto on future decisions. It is very difficult for the laity like us to know who is telling the truth because they will not publish the text of what they agreed. If, and when, it will ever be published remains to be seen.

What we do know is that this proposal is opposed by the two main architects of American foreign policy since the Second World War—George Kennan and Henry Kissinger. It is opposed by two recent British ambassadors to Moscow—Sir Brian Fall and Sir John Killick. Sir John Killick was also ambassador to NATO. It is opposed by Admiral Sir James Eberle, who was a British commander in NATO and later served as a distinguished head of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. It is opposed by a very large number of experts on foreign policy such as Sir Michael Howard and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who opened the debate on this subject a few weeks ago. We have not been told why this proposal is being made.

We welcome the proposal to include the east European countries and Russia in the Partnership for Peace project. They are already members of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. But this new proposal seems to envisage excluding the Ukraine, the Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria, although they all served with NATO forces, and are still serving with NATO forces, in Bosnia with the stability force, as indeed are Russian troops. Deep concern has been expressed by the governments which do not seem to have been invited to join NATO, such as the Estonian Government. Its foreign secretary complained yesterday that it would expose the Baltic states to new threats.

There is an interesting article in today's Herald Tribune by President Havel of Czechoslovakia pointing out that it will be a disaster unless it includes all the countries which have recently escaped from communist leadership. It threatens the existing treaty on conventional forces in Europe, which is already having trouble. I noticed that the other day they had to redraw the line affecting the Ukraine and Russia. It is difficult to understand quite why it has been put forward at all. I dare say it is not totally irrelevant that the American Secretary of State, who is its strongest supporter in the American Administration, is Czech by origin, and one of the administration's main advisers, Zbigniew Brzezinski, is a Pole. Those countries have large and influential minorities in the United States which exert pressure on that administration.

However, I suspect that the real reason for the proposal is that which is put forward in an interesting article in the current number of the official NATO review by Mr. Christoph Bertram, who was once head of the Institute of Strategic Studies in London. He makes it clear that he believes in it because the end of the Cold War has robbed NATO of its role. In fact, NATO is that biological monstrosity, an organ without a function. Bertram suggests that the only way of giving NATO what he calls an "existential function" is as a centre of stability in Europe, taking in some of the countries which used to be members of the Warsaw Pact. But I would suggest to your Lordships that this proposal will mean new instability in Europe and new divisions in Europe, as the Baltic governments and the Czech Government are already fearing. There is no doubt that this proposal, especially Yeltsin's obscure reaction towards it, could well lead to the replacement of Yeltsin as leader of Russia by a far more nationalistic government, whether communist or militarist. In that case there is little doubt that Russia would meet an expansion of NATO to the east by expanding its own forces to the west. That is why the Baltic states, the Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria, are deeply disturbed by the proposal.

The proposal will also be immensely costly. The Pentagon claims that it will cost between 27 billion and 35 billion dollars over the next 13 years. The Congressional Office of the Budget says that it will cost nearly three times as much as that—between 61 billion and 125 billion dollars. A third of that cost will fall on the new entrants from eastern Europe, which certainly cannot afford to pay the cost. According to the Pentagon, it will also involve doubling the number of civilian staff working for NATO in Brussels. There are at present 3,000. Under the new proposal that would rise to 6,000. One or two of my noble friends were with me in the dining room the other day when I asked a very bright young officer from SHAPE how many people were at present working at NATO. He said, "I think about 20 per cent". The idea that one should double the civilian staff of NATO and involve the NATO countries and the new members in this enormous increase in cost is very difficult to understand.

In fact the proposal makes a total shambles of the western policy on dealing with the former communist countries. It is difficult to see how it will be reconciled with the Partnership for Peace and the OSCE. I appeal to my Government to see to it that this proposal is dropped as soon as possible. Only a few weeks are left before the meeting which is supposed to make it formal. It is far more important and more useful and better for world peace as well as for democracy to concentrate instead on getting the east European countries—those which are fit to do so—to join the European Union. That will be an expensive business but it will be worth spending money on it. Spending money on the enlargement of NATO will be totally counter-productive. I appeal to my noble friend who is to reply to put some of these points to her friends in the Cabinet to see whether we cannot take a lead on this matter. It is quite important for the future security of Britain and indeed for peace in the world.

5.16 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, when I had the honour to make my maiden speech in another place 14 years ago, I did so against the backdrop of a world facing stark ideological division. I argued in that speech that we must be prepared fully to understand the nature of systems which are inimical to the principles of freedom and democracy; that we must not allow individual voices to be muffled or public opinion to be suppressed; that we must counter the possibility of communism creating a world where individual liberty extends no further than thought and where freedom of thought is exorcised by political indoctrination.

Even the most seasoned and perspicacious analysts would have been challenged to predict the far-reaching changes which have taken place, fundamentally altering the global political geography: the end of the cold war; the ebbing of communist influence in many states; the ending of apartheid in South Africa; the emergence of liberal democracy as the most successful model for modern society; the rise and strength of Islam and its subsequent impact on relations with the West; the advent of new global communications technology, fuelled by the spectacular rise of the Internet and the information superhighway; and the mounting ascendancy of environmental issues on the international political agenda. The old challenges have been replaced by a new set of no less complex challenges.

There is a growing consensus that without appropriate action the social price of environmentally unfriendly policies may ultimately bankrupt us. But this road is mined with moral ambiguities. Who indeed will pay to bear the brunt of the environmental burden in the next century? Will it be those northern hemisphere countries which rose to prosperity while abusing the environment, often in ignorance, or will it be those poorer states, increasingly prevented by today's dogma from exploiting their natural raw materials, often their main resource, which could net them similar achievement and prosperity? There are no easy answers and I hope that international solutions, including the trading of international pollution permits, will figure among the policy initiatives surrounding this important issue.

As we meet the new millennium there is a sense of great uncertainty about the future that we face. For me, this future is tinged with hope, but a sense of faltering hesitancy is somewhat cloaking the achievements and advances that have been made. I believe that it would be a mistake to think that in shaping tomorrow's political landscape we need to reinvent the wheel. We have the right tools within our grasp. Over the past decade we have been attempting to learn how to use them to their best advantage. I contend that we must not allow them to become rusty or blunt through neglect and lack of use.

The first of these tools is the importance of competition in the global market upon which our future economic prosperity depends. Everyone is familiar with the maps of the world produced by the newly-favoured UNESCO which show the countries sized proportionately to their GDP. Those maps show North America, Japan and Europe dominating the globe. If we imagine another map where the countries are drawn in proportion to their average economic growth rates for the past 10 years, we see a very different world. The Pacific Rim dominates that map. Taking a 10-year period, the mature economies of Europe and North America may well be dwarfed by the giants of Latin America, South East Asia and, thereafter, by China and India.

I believe that current GDP figures tell us where we are now. Growth rates tell us where the world is going. Throughout history, economic power changes have been a leading indicator of political and strategic power changes. The key to our European role in this equation is the recognition, accurately articulated by Sir Ronald Hempel, in his outstanding paper Beyond the Millennium, that, we face social and political pressures which our major competitors in other parts of the world do not. He added, Conquer inflation and create jobs, they say, and all will be well. But behind these worthy ideals lurks an even more serious imperative: competitiveness, or rather the lack of it. Unless we solve the problem of European competitiveness, industry will continue to decline, imports will rise and unemployment will continue to be the spectre at the feast". In the gracious Speech, the Government are committed to taking, a leading role in the European Union". I believe that we have a duty on this side of the House to apply the competitive test to every directive, Bill and regulation we consider, for, if we impose measures which lessen our competitive edge, we actively create unemployment, the damaging social ills of which are recognised on all sides of the House.

The next tool available to us in foreign policy is the support for privatisation, which goes hand-in-hand with competition. While out of politics for five years, I had the honour of witnessing the impetus of privatisation which has taken hold globally since the collapse of the Berlin Wall; particularly in the growing central Asian and South American markets. The impact of privatisation has been of enormous importance to UK industry since it became our leading export during the 1980s.

Now I believe that we need to move forward, with a new approach to privatisation. In Bolivia, for example, I had the privilege to work with the exceptional President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to develop the imaginative capitalisation programme. The social objectives of winning popular approval and establishing a universal pension programme were directly linked with the urgent need to attract foreign capital investment into the once state-owned enterprises. This social dimension, directly linked to classical privatisation, was a fundamental ingredient in the success of Bolivia's capitalisation programme.

The point behind this is that the key issue for the future is that, if commercial success is to be achieved, investors and companies must work alongside governments as partners; must develop new and imaginative models for co-operation and must remain sensitive to the socio-political priorities of governments around the world.

The third essential tool I would like to focus on is the importance of global communications and the exchange of knowledge. Open and easily accessible channels of communication promote the growth of democracy, for democracy has deep and strong roots. Its fruits may be delicate, but they are well worth protecting because they feed all people with hope and opportunity. They are the fruits of representation, liberty and the rule of law. They nurture freedom for the individual. They protect the inalienable rights of all of us and they must be defended against external aggression as against internal subversion and anarchy.

In harmony with my noble friend Lord Cranborne, I hope that the House will forgive me for highlighting one particular area of foreign policy in which immediate action can be taken; an area where a traditional form of communication is internationally acclaimed as an upholder and promoter of democracy. Indeed, this is an issue which in the past led me to abstain on a vote in another place for the only time during my career, not without considerable cost. I sincerely hope that in the many parts of the world, including those where democracy and market economies are emerging from the ashes of the communist world, strong and enduring support will be given to the BBC World Service. For millions of people the World Service has provided a beacon of fair and respected news coverage in parts of the globe which have been dominated by half-truths and state influence, if not control, over the media. It is trusted as a voice more than any of its free world rivals, but it needs fulsome support. We have a duty to support it vigorously. I welcome the recognition that, in this maiden speech, that may no longer be regarded as a controversial request.

The Government can, and I hope will, do much to help in all these areas. I stand before your Lordships genuinely cognisant of the duty placed on me as a Member of your Lordships' House; a duty and an honour which I will never be able to match in kind, but one which I will undertake to the best of my abilities.

5.27 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am inclined to start by saying, "Well, follow that!". That was as good a maiden speech as I have heard in the 16 years or so I have been in your Lordships' House. This is the first time that I have had the honour and pleasure immediately to follow a maiden speaker. I could not have picked a better occasion. It was timely, well thought through and wonderfully well delivered. It is certainly my wish, and I am sure that it is also the wish of the whole House, that the noble Lord will attend the House frequently and expand on what he has been saying today.

It is customary on these occasions to make reference to the noble Lord's predecessor. I have difficulty with that. I knew his predecessor when he sat on the Liberal Benches. Unfortunately, he took his liberalism a little too far, with the result that the noble Lord had to dig his way through a difficult tangle. But we are glad that that is behind him and he is with us today. He has a strong Liberal ancestry. His father was a predecessor of mine as Liberal Chief Whip in 1950 and before that as the chairman of the Liberal Party Executive.

Unfortunately, in those dark days for the Liberal Party, he decided that there were other places he wished to go. If he had seen the result of the last election perhaps he would have been more content to stay where he was.

But we welcome the noble Lord here. I spent some time with him in Kenya when we were together looking at the elections in that torn country. I was struck then by his clarity of thought. His summary, which could well have made the whole of our report, was very brief indeed. He said, "If someone asks you whether these elections were free and fair, I would say that they were not quite not".

I must now thank your Lordships for my reappointment yesterday as Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees and therefore as the Chairman of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities. As far as I can see, it was a close-run thing between me and a chap called "nemine dissentiente", but I think that I won in the end!

The IGC approaches. The Government do not have much time in which to get involved in the process and perhaps to shift the emphasis of this country's approach to the IGC. However, today I should like to raise a matter which has been discussed widely at various meetings throughout Europe during the past six months or more. I refer to the question of the democratic deficit, about which everybody talks but nobody knows what to do, and to the role of parliaments, both national parliaments and the European Parliament. This House has now scrutinised European documents and European directives effectively over a long period, although we may not be at the top of the pecking order in that regard these days. The Danes and the Finns have slightly overtaken us in terms of dealing with legislation because they mandate their Ministers before sending them to the European Councils. I beg leave to doubt whether anything would ever happen in those European Councils if everybody did that, but those countries seem to find it appropriate. Indeed, they seem to find it easier because they have coalition governments and in that way they know that they are carrying their parliaments behind them.

This House has an enviable reputation of researching issues in depth and then producing reports which are widely read and digested on all sides of Europe. Our work fits extremely well with that of the Commons. I should now like to pay tribute to Mr. Jimmy Hood, who was the chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation in another place throughout my earlier period of tenure. That has now changed with the change of government. It is unfortunate that it appears that the Commons will now take quite some time to reconstitute that Select Committee. Indeed, it may not be reconstituted before the IGC meeting in Amsterdam, although I hope that I am wrong on that.

Together, both Select Committees have made a strong plea about the importance of getting information from Brussels to our national parliaments and our scrutiny committees in good time. I believe that I have said previously in your Lordships' House that many of the documents seem to be sent from Brussels by a man with a forked stick. Things are improving, but we are still not in the position that we should like to be in because electronic media cannot yet be used. Apparently, there is some incompatibility between what happens in Brussels and what happens in various European capitals. However, until such documents can be transmitted quickly, we cannot properly do our job of scrutinising European legislation on behalf of the citizens.

In a report last year—it was followed by a report from this House—the other place said that there should be at least a month from the delivery of documents before a Council decision has to be made. I am glad that that has now been included in a draft from the Dublin Summit and that a new protocol is to be added to the text of the treaty, stating that a four-week period shall elapse between a legislative proposal, as defined in Article 151 of the treaty establishing the European Community, being made available in all languages to the European Parliament and the Council. That is all right as far as it goes, but there is still the question of when the clock starts ticking. We have suggested—this seems to be gaining wide support in the Conference of European Advisory Committees—that that four-week period should start when all the translations are in the hands of the national representatives in Brussels. In other words, the clock should start ticking only when all the documents reach UKREP. I believe that we could then do our job much better.

The position with regard to first-pillar documents has improved in recent years. Unfortunately, that is not true of second and third-pillar documents. We have had hardly any second-pillar documents. That is perhaps more understandable with regard to foreign and security affairs because this House and another place are bound by the Ponsonby Rules in relation to our own foreign policy. However, it is important that we begin to open up what happens in the Council with regard to third-pillar matters. The Council deals with important matters such as human rights and other matters affecting everybody's daily life, yet there is a disturbing pattern of secrecy. We have no clear idea of what is on the Council's agenda. There are no detailed reports of what has been agreed and we do not know how our Ministers have voted on the issues before the Council. That seems to me to he the negation of democracy. If we are here as a parliament to check the Executive, we have a right to have such information. I hope that this Government will begin to blow such secrecy wide open.

Many of us have been surprised that there is no freedom of information Bill in the gracious Speech. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, who is to reply to the debate, is a great supporter of the Freedom of Information Campaign and I hope that she will continue to be so now that she is in office. I welcome the noble Baroness to the Dispatch Box and do not want to load her with too many questions, given the number that have already been put to her. Nevertheless, the Government's attitude towards secrecy in the Council must improve. We thought that the judgment of the European Court of Justice in the Carvel case (when Mr. John Carvel of the Guardian was refused documents by the Council Secretariat) had started that process, but it seems that the Council Secretariat is trying to avoid the consequences of that judgment to the best of its ability. Sub-committee F is conducting an investigation into the affairs of the third pillar and will start to do so again once the Select Committee is reconstituted.

That committee received some interesting evidence from Mr. Tony Bunyan of Statewatch, from which I discovered to my surprise that once documents which are secret have been passed to me and I have put them to my sub-committees and my sub-committees have invited people to give evidence on them, those documents are secret no longer. I seem to have extraordinary powers which I did not previously know were available to me. I shall certainly use them to the best of my ability. Despite the Carvel judgment, Mr. Tony Bunyan has had enormous difficulties in getting documents from the Council. He has been to the ombudsman, who has told the Council to come up with the goods, but the Council has said, "It's none of your business". It seems astonishing that the Council Secretariat—and the Council itself—is prepared to say to the European ombudsman, "This has nothing at all to do with you; it is entirely a matter for the Council because it is a third pillar matter".

I believe that the British Government voted in favour of that proposition. A number of other delegations gave an explanation of their vote in the other direction. I refer to the delegations of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden, so we are not speaking about a small number. Their explanation stated: While the Ombudsman is not competent to deal with matters falling under Titles V and VI of the TUE, these Delegations consider that this case concerns an inquiry of alleged maladministration in the application of Council Decision … for which the Ombudsman is competent". I hope that the British Government will join those other governments in supporting the competence of the ombudsman to break open the great wall of secrecy which surrounds the Council and its activities.

I should like to mention just one other matter—and this comes from me personally rather than from me in my role as chairman of your Lordships' Select Committee. Another subject which has been discussed with me in a number of meetings this year is the question of a uniform electoral system for the European Parliament. This causes considerable perturbation in Europe because the way in which the electoral system in this country works and the distortion in numbers that it creates has unbalanced the European Parliament. The Socialist Group in the European Parliament is significantly greater than it should be because of the large number of Labour Members in that group. I hope that the fact that the electoral system causes that to happen will not deter the Foreign Secretary from pursuing the initiatives that he has already taken by saying at the recent publication of a book by the noble Lord, Lord Plant, and Mr. Michael Steed that it is the intention of the Government to proceed to a uniform proportional system for European Parliament elections in 1999. I should like some reassurance from the Government Front Bench that that still remains the position.

Your Lordships' Select Committee will continue to scrutinise to the best of its ability (which I believe is quite high) European matters, but it can do better if it has access to documents which at the moment are regarded as far too secret by the Council and its secretariat.

5.41 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I also thoroughly enjoyed the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. I follow the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, by saying that I also care a great deal about the Government's pledge on a uniform electoral system not only as a matter of principle but, in the best spirit of constructive opposition, to suggest that it is in the Government's self-interest. Two years into a Labour Government when the honeymoon has worn off the voters will have the opportunity to punish the Labour Party in the European elections in 1999 by voting for whoever else they wish. I suggest in all humility that in those circumstances it is in the interests of the Government, as well as a matter of their previous pledge, to make sure that a proper and democratic electoral system is by then introduced.

In contrast to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, I welcome the new Government's mission statement. I look forward to the Government carrying out the Labour Party's pledge to introduce a White Paper on foreign policy. I remember well the Statement by the Labour Foreign Secretary in, I believe, March or April 1974, that he would take steps to introduce a White Paper on foreign policy to ensure that the public were properly educated on these matters. Somehow or other it got lost then. I recommend that the new Government pull out the files on James Callaghan's Statement and reconsider how much more useful it is to be open.

The one part of the mission statement that left me rather queasy was the pledge to make the United Kingdom a leading player in a Europe of independent nation states. Last night I was in the Foreign Office listening to an excellent annual lecture by Professor Keith Robbins on the United Kingdom as a multinational state and its implications for foreign policy. After all, the United Kingdom is not a single nation state. Devolution, to which the new Government are committed, emphasises the extent to which we are a multinational state and raises the question of how far a Scottish parliament, and for that matter a Welsh assembly, will have their own interests to represent in Brussels and elsewhere. This rather Gaullist language redolent of sovereignty and nationalism of independent nation states fits rather uneasily with a stronger commitment to international co-operation which occurs elsewhere in the Statement.

Having sat for an hour or more in the Locarno Room last night and looked at the backdrop to the presentation of the mission statement of the Foreign Office, I ask the noble Baroness who is to wind up why it is that Iceland is portrayed on that backdrop as twice as large as the United Kingdom.

In the spirit of constructive opposition, I should also like to comment on the defence by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, of the record of the previous Government. He spoke about the past 18 years. I should like to speak about the past eight years. It seems to me that the previous Government went most wrong in its failure to adjust to the end of the Cold War, to think through the implications and to explain them to the British people. During the election campaign I read the excellent book on how we managed the unification of Germany written by Condoleeza Rice and Philip Zelikow, who were members of the National Security Council under President Bush. In that book the closeness of German-American co-operation in the process of German unification is detailed and the obstructiveness of the British Prime Minister and the unhelpfulness of the British Government are painfully set out. The slow move from resistance to German unification to a general cultivation of anti-Germanism, and from there to transatlantic nostalgia, was very much part of what went wrong in the atmosphere in which the previous Government made foreign policy. My criticism then and since of Douglas Hurd as Foreign Secretary was that he was always prepared to argue that very little had changed rather than try to explain to people how rapidly and radically the international context was changing. Malcolm Rifkind went further in his transatlantic nostalgia, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has suggested, by promoting the totally illusory and unsaleable idea of a transatlantic free trade area which would never have a chance of passing the US Congress. Of course, from this I exempt the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, who in that Government played an extremely valuable role in emphasising the importance of the third world and defending a shrinking development budget from those who wished to attack it.

Following the recent decisive election result self-righteous Euro-phobia has come to an end. I spent much of the election in the south west of England where the Referendum Party mounted an extremely strong campaign in a number of constituencies, including Yeovil. There were as many Referendum Party posters visible as there were Conservative Party posters. The outcome of the campaign was, as many noble Lords will recall, that Liberal Democrats won a great many of those constituencies and the Referendum Party failed to save many deposits. As a result, I hope that the rather puritanical comments about some being saved and the rest being sinners that we have heard from various Benches and seen in the columns of The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, so clearly rejected by the British people and compounded by the disappearance of Sir James Goldsmith to foreign parts again, will be replaced by a little more humility and readiness to admit that they may be mistaken and they are perhaps not saved.

I should like to say a word about the Conservatives' record on defence and what we may hope for on that subject from the new Government. A couple of weeks ago a German official remarked to me that the biggest paradox of the Conservative Government was that under Michael Portillo as Minister of Defence the British defence commitment had moved closer towards European integration than ever before, that we had taken part in the Rapid Reaction Force with a multinational division, that we had formed a Franco-British air wing but that, at the same time, the Government had been doing their best to hide that from the British people. I urge the new Government, as one of their first actions in relation to defence, to make it clearer to the British people just how closely integrated with our European allies our defence has already become.

There is much one can do to symbolise defence. Mrs. Thatcher always symbolised defence when she went to Germany by standing with our boys in tanks without a single German in sight. President Mitterrand always had the sense to ensure that when he went to Germany he stood together with the German Chancellor to watch German and French troops marching together. The Franco-British air wing was allowed to fly under the Arc de Triomphe on 14th July last year. I am not aware that it has yet flown in public on any ceremonial occasions in Britain. Perhaps the next Queen's birthday may provide an occasion.

With the next 14th July, we shall be approaching the 50th anniversary of the occasion on 14th July 1948 when the 1st Battalion of the Scots Guards, with the Scots Guards' band, marched down the Champs Elyseés as part of the 14th July parade. It would be welcome were the new Government to suggest to the French that we might mark that by doing the same again, and then perhaps even have the unit which has always seemed to be the most under-appreciated and the most militarily integrated in Europe (the British-Dutch Marine Amphibious Force) holding the guard outside Buckingham Palace. A little bit of symbolism in the right direction would help get rid of all the old symbolism in the wrong direction from which we have suffered.

However, I was a little worried by the tone of the new Foreign Secretary's remarks the day before yesterday on the WEU. It seemed to me that the old Atlanticist nostalgia was still almost there. Stronger European co-operation is the only way forward for British defence within NATO, but within a European pillar for NATO. That is what the new Foreign Secretary should be saying rather than sounding as though he is deeply cautious, like his predecessor, about any closer engagement with those dangerous continentals.

I welcome the defence review. European and NATO integration, efficiency gains from further integration and a degree of specialisation are what one needs to pursue.

I shall end by talking about EU enlargement, which the noble Lord, Lord Healey, appeared to suggest was a new idea which we could clearly throw out of the window. We have, after all, as a country been committed to that since the NATO council of January 1994. Many people did not fully recognise that, and of course the Government did not do very much to explain to the public that that would lead to enlargement. But all of those countries which had formerly been Socialist had asked for NATO membership from 1990 onwards, and we had done our best, in a rather inadequate way, to respond.

Clearly what we need here from the Government is an open explanation of what is going on and why, and a number of speeches, preferably in Britain— Malcolm Rifkind made just one speech on NATO enlargement of which I am aware, and that was in Washington—on the underlying purpose of the expansion of NATO. We are, after all, approaching a key point in both NATO and EU enlargement in July this year when, first, the NATO council will announce which countries will join; and, secondly, the European Commission will publish its opinion on those countries which it regards as ready to negotiate for full EU membership.

The importance of giving messages to Slovenia, Romania and Estonia which do not leave them outside, and which do not just accept that we are interested in three countries and we shall stop there, both in the EU and NATO, is important for the long-term security of Europe.

We then go on from the 1997 IGC. We face a large number of changes in NATO and the EU. Indeed, enlargement is not possible without substantial changes in NATO or the EU. The Treaty of Amsterdam will clearly be a modest affair. Nothing in the election campaign was more absurd than Michael Howard's suggestion that the Treaty of Amsterdam would end the sovereignty of the British Parliament. The one thing we can be certain will be in the Treaty of Amsterdam is an agreement that there will be another IGC in four or five years' time. The Government will need to start educating the public about what they have in mind. Any British foreign policy and any British defence policy has to start in Europe with a proper partnership with France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, conducted bilaterally and multilaterally through NATO, its European pillar and the EU. If the Government pursue that type of foreign policy we will do our best to support them, and when the Government fall short of that we shall oppose them constructively.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, this year's gracious Speech has received a better press than any of those annual occasions that I can recall. I say that at the beginning, because my contribution to the debate will point to a serious flaw in the speech. I should like to make it clear that in other respects I am as enthusiastic as some of the newspapers almost seemed to try to be. It had a splendid reception, which it deserved.

I can deal with the one point only in the time that I shall allow myself. In the penultimate paragraph of the penultimate page of the speech the Government say: My Government will retain strong armed forces, including the nuclear deterrent". That is the bold war-like note of firm military government. Then we come to a quieter sentence which strikes a different note. It continues: Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will be a priority". Which is the priority? There are two there. That is the only thing that the Government say about this awesome weapon: that they are going to keep it. On the other hand, they are going to advise everyone else not to have it. That is the confused message which comes across here, which is why it seemed to me to be worth while to point it out, in the hope that the Government were merely cramming it in the space and that they will have something more satisfactory to say about it when they look into it.

We are inclined to forget the awesome nature of what is called here the "nuclear deterrent". We are also inclined to forget the change that has taken place. When I served in the forces in the last war, the civilian was sacrosanct. I have mentioned the book I have once before in the House. I hope your Lordships will not mind if I repeat the reference. It was a small document issued to all commissioned members of the forces in 1940 to tell them what they could and could not do in war. It was called What Acts of War are Justifiable. It was written by the formidable and famous Professor A. L. Goodhart. It was to tell you what you could do and what you simply must not do if you proposed to be a civilised combatant. I shall not give the details, but Goodhart finishes by saying: The separation of armies and peaceful inhabitants into two distinct classes is perhaps the greatest triumph of international law. The effect in mitigating the evils of war has been incalculable". He finishes his last sentence: It is to re-establish these in a world threatened with barbarism that this war is being fought". If that is all it was fought for, it was fought in vain, because at the time that that was being circulated the situation was gradually getting out of control. The civilian, instead of being sacrosanct, was becoming more and more the target. Coventry, Rotterdam and, gradually, the blockbuster which killed whoever was in its path—women and children—meant that the citizen was not sacrosanct. The citizen was sacrosanct in the earlier years, because then, if our bombers could not be sure that they were on the military target, they were under instructions to bring hack their bombs. Indeed, many of them did so and dropped them in the sea.

It was not long before we were blockbusting ourselves. That eventually finished up with Hamburg and finally with the horror of Hiroshima, where hundreds and thousands of civilians were killed. So instead of the sacrosanctness of civilians, we have barbarism, as Goodhart called it, which is now accepted as a common occurrence. All we have to say about it is to call it the nuclear deterrent and say that we are going to keep it. We are going to keep a weapon which cannot possibly avoid killing civilians if it is ever used at all. If it is used, civilians will suffer as a result more than those in the Armed Forces. That is due to the very nature of the thing; it cannot be used otherwise.

That is why there is a rebellion against it among the Armed Forces who would have to use such weapons. One of the most remarkable developments in recent times is that of the Washington generals—that is, generals from all over the world, including Russia and America—who got together and said that this was a weapon which must be got rid of because it was not a legitimate weapon of war. As a matter of fact, that sentiment was uttered many years ago by Lord Louis Mountbatten. He said that it was not a weapon of war, it was a weapon of mass destruction.

We pay lip service to the idea that weapons of mass destruction should not be used but we harbour one. We apparently imagine that it is all right to continue saying, "We are just going to keep this one but you must not have it; we do not want proliferation". That simply has not worked and it will not work. We tell the other non-nuclear nations that they must not have nuclear weapons. However, in the General Assembly of the United Nations it was made clear that those others are unimpressed with the nuclear powers who advise them to have nothing whatever to do with mass-murdering weapons while themselves spending vast sums of money on keeping their own civilisation smashers in good condition so that they will be ready to carry out their terminal job.

I believe that the situation deserves more than a single contradictory paragraph. What, then, should the Government have been saying rather than these two conflicting sentences? The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, is due to speak after me in today's debate. Strictly speaking, I ought to have been following him but I am sure that he will be able to tell the House more than I can about the Canberra Commission, of which he was a member.

The Canberra Commission, including the noble and gallant Lord, is saying what the General Assembly of the United Nations has accepted by a massive majority. Indeed, it is what the Washington generals have also been saying but in slightly different words. The message varies in detail but basically they seem to be saying the same. I believe that that is an interesting development in the anti-nuclear struggle. Initially it started out on a national basis. I myself marched to Aldermaston. However, the emphasis has now changed. When we are talking in international terms, it is no use talking about unilateralism, and so on. When we were trying to set an example in this country in that respect, it was reasonable to talk about unilateralism. But, nowadays, that is old hat. Today the decisions must be taken on an international basis. That is what the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Canberra Commission and so on, are attempting to do.

As I said, they are all saying that nuclear states should get together and, gradually and certainly, reach agreement on a target for eliminating the nuclear weapon. It has been suggested that, if necessary, it should he done over a period of several years. I believe that to be a most encouraging development and one which deserves something more; indeed, it deserves at least a mention in the White Paper. The shared aim of those organisations from Australia, the United States and so on, is the aim of a world free from nuclear weapons. That should be our aim. It should be the aim of this Labour Government, and we should state that aim. There is nothing unilateral about it. The more it is studied, the more it will be seen to be plain common sense and the way to an objective that we all share, irrespective of our political positions. That objective is the very survival of our civilisation. With all its faults, it is the only one we have.

6.6 p.m.

Lord Carver

My Lords, I propose to limit my remarks, as I did in the debate on the Address last October, to the related issues of the expansion of NATO and the elimination of nuclear weapons. There is no more important responsibility for the Government than that of doing their best to ensure the future peace of Europe on which our security depends. I believe that the thoughtless and irresponsible way in which the North Atlantic Alliance, with the full backing of the previous Government, has embarked on its expansion threatens that peace and therefore our future security. I most warmly welcome every single word spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Healey, on the subject.

It is of vital importance to ensure that Europe is not again divided into two potentially hostile alliances, armed to the teeth against each other. To ensure that that does not happen, the first priority is to reach an agreement with Russia, if necessary formalised by a treaty, that relieves her of fears for her security and accords her a responsible place in arrangements to preserve peace in Europe. That is the first priority, and the Government must do all they can to see that the agreement between the alliance and Russia, due to be signed in Paris on 27th May, succeeds and is built upon. Of course, we welcome the agreement reached yesterday between Mr. Primakov and Se[...]or Javier Solana. We do not know the detail but I cannot believe that it is enough to serve as a permanent foundation for permanent peace in Europe.

I fully appreciate the motives which lie behind the keen desire of countries of central and eastern Europe to join the alliance. They were forced to be members of a nasty left-handed club, dominated by their oppressor. That club has now collapsed, for which they can claim much credit. They now wish to join the respectable right-thinking club on the opposite side of the street, dominated by a country which they see as in some ways their liberator and of which many of their former countrymen have become citizens. I have no objection to their joining the alliance provided that it is transformed in a way that does not appear to pose a potential threat to those who are not members.

If that transformation does not take place, and new members are admitted and incorporated into the alliance's military organisation—because that is officially what NATO means—as that organisation now exists, and on the sort of conditions which are now being suggested, that will inevitably be regarded as posing a potential threat to countries to the east of the alliance. That is the case, first, because their forces will be incorporated into a military structure dominated by the Americans which is dedicated to reliance on nuclear weapons, and also because they will be encouraged—indeed it will be demanded of them, I understand, as a condition of membership—to organise, equip and train their forces on a model designed for high intensity warfare. That is bound to appear threatening to their neighbours and to provoke them to develop similar forces of their own.

The key to this problem is to dismantle NATO's integrated military structure and to take a new look at the aims of the alliance, including the stark commitment of Article V. Both were designed to counter the real threat posed by large and efficient Soviet forces, based in the centre of Europe, cutting Germany in half. That strategic situation, which arose from the way the Second World War ended, has been fundamentally changed by the break-up of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of those forces, not just back to the frontiers of the old Soviet Union but right back to Russia. It is quite unrealistic to imagine that being reversed.

The alliance should be conceived not as a means to defend western Europe against an overwhelming military threat from the east—as it originally was—but as a means of facilitating political and military co-operation between North America and Europe in the promotion and defence of their mutual interests worldwide. The automatic commitment of Article V should not be insisted on. Within this concept NATO's large and expensive integrated military headquarters are not needed. They were always in any case—as I know from having served in them—a fig leaf of internationalism to conceal the reality that overall command was in the hands of the Americans. That was the American condition for committing its forces. I believe that that reality should be accepted, as it was in Korea and the Gulf, and is in fact today in Bosnia. We and our partners in the alliance should accept openly that in any major operations in which the United States participates, our forces should operate under its command. In place of the NATO military structure we should make a reality of the European defence identity within the alliance. I stress the words "within the alliance". There should be a more or less integrated European military structure which must include at least ourselves, France and Germany. Other members of the alliance could join to the extent that they wished, their forces, when not engaged in operations, remaining under national command, as the United States forces in Europe always have been, and indeed all the forces of members of NATO have been.

I see no reason why such an alliance could not suit all concerned. It should not pose a threat to countries which are not members. It should satisfy the United States in ensuring retention of command of its own forces, including the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean, which is now the subject of argument with France. It should satisfy France and Germany. It should satisfy new applicants for all members would be on the same basis, and it would open the doors for more. I can see no objection to it from our point of view or the point of view of other members of the alliance. When contributions of armed forces are needed for an international force of any kind, it would be a matter for decision at the time—as indeed it is now—whether we made our contribution on a national, a European or an alliance basis.

That is the immediately urgent problem. In slower time the Government must face up to examining their policy on nuclear weapons, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, said. There was no mention at all of them in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I urge the Government to take seriously the recommendations of the Canberra Commission for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons of which I was a member and of which I spoke in October. They should commit themselves, and urge the other nuclear powers to commit themselves, in the words of the report, unequivocally to the elimination of nuclear weapons, and agree to start work immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for its achievement". Those steps were set out in the report.

Our critics make much of the risks involved in total elimination. Of course there are risks but, to repeat what I said in the previous debate, we must compare the risks between, on the one hand, the present situation and how it is likely to develop—that is, with a large number of weapons in existence and the possibilities of proliferation, lack of control and accident, the fear of which unites those on both sides of the argument—and, on the other hand, a situation in which there has been a progressive, step by step reduction, verified at every stage, until all concerned conclude that the risks of proceeding to the final step of total elimination are less than those entailed in keeping such weapons. There can surely be no doubt that the latter would involve less risk and that it would be a safer world for us all.

Finally, in their projected defence review, the Government must ask if we are getting value for money from our own nuclear weapons. The answer is that we are not. They are of no value as military weapons. They cannot be used. "But we do not intend to use them," say the nuclear enthusiasts—of whom there are one or two about here—"we only threaten to do so." If you are one of those people who believe that nuclear weapons are a valid deterrent against anything, we are fully covered by the American nuclear capability. It has always been inconceivable that any British government would use our weapons when the Americans had decided not to use theirs. It would be both unnecessary and undesirable for us to duplicate their use. The concept of being weapons of last resort is absolutely meaningless. What could that last resort be and how would it be in our interest to use nuclear weapons if whatever fantasy it was came to pass? They are not suitable weapons of war for us; they are merely status symbols preventing us from feeling inferior to the French, as we might if we did not have them and they did. Do this Government really believe that that is a valid reason for spending some £1,500 million a year, for that is the full annual cost of maintaining the whole nuclear weapon capability? The cost of buying, operating and maintaining four submarines is only part of that; in fact, it is less than half. If the French want to waste their money, let them. Can the noble Baroness who is to reply say with a good conscience and with hand on heart that she believes that that is good value for money?

Let me reiterate what I believe the Government should do. They should first give priority to an effective agreement with Russia. Secondly, they should transform the North Atlantic Alliance before, or at the same time as, admitting new members. Thirdly, they should co-operate with France and Germany in establishing an effective European defence identity within the North Atlantic Alliance. Fourthly, they should make a clear commitment to the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. Finally, they should get rid of our own. This new Government have taken pride in claiming that they will adopt radical measures. However, they have given no sign of that in defence. I have offered them such a policy. I hope they will think again and adopt it.

6.18 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. In the words of Professor A.L. Goodhart—as recalled by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney—both of us, I hope, were civilised combatants in some of the same operations in World War II.

Turning to the recent past, history may well record that one of the main achievements of the Conservative Government during the past 18 years has been that the Labour Party has jettisoned many of its policies, for example on Clause 4, on nationalisation and on allowing council houses to be sold. I welcome the change. I am reminded sharply by the recent announcement concerning the Bank of England that in 1945 the Bank was at, or near the top, of the list for nationalisation by the Labour Government of that time, who were also sustained by a massive majority. That is a tangible sign of the times and of the change.

I personally wish the new Government formed by New Labour well. In foreign affairs and defence I trust that on most occasions a bilateral approach will prevail. I speak from some personal experience. Having entered the Foreign Service after World War II, I worked personally at times for Ernest Bevin, for Christopher Mayhew and, later at the United Nations in New York, for Hector McNeil. I have admiration for all the three Foreign Office Ministers of that time. I was very much aware of the joint approach to external problems and the support from the Conservative Opposition.

I was very close to one significant occasion. I was a member of the very small British permanent mission at the UN in New York. I attended the emergency meeting of the Security Council at Lake Success on the Sunday morning in June 1950, the day after North Korea had attacked South Korea. The Attlee Government immediately responded and joined the United States in urgent military action under the United Nations flag. While there was some dissent within the United Kingdom, as there was recently in the Gulf War, the Government of the day and the Opposition were together in that historic decision. I hope that there will be similar concord in major external affairs affecting British interests.

I turn to a subject referred to in the gracious Speech and by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, the Leader of the House in his opening speech today. The Government have this afternoon published their Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill referred to in the gracious Speech. I have managed to obtain a copy. It had not yet been distributed by the Printed Paper Office when the debate started, but I was sent a copy during the debate. During a four-day debate I can speak only once. Therefore the best service that I can perform at present is to make some immediate comment on that subject, the first very early manifestation of the contents of the gracious Speech.

In 1976–77, opinion polls in Scotland regularly indicated that 70 per cent. or more of the population appeared to be in favour of the vague concept of devolution, or some form of assembly. They were in favour of decentralisation; and that has been the case for the past 40 years. In the referendum on the Scotland Act in March 1979 only 33 per cent. supported the scheme. That was a particular scheme which the Scottish electorate clearly had not visualised or anticipated. There is a danger that if a referendum is taken first, popular support will be indicated for an idea—but an idea which means different things to many people. It is what comes out of the parliamentary process at the end that will affect Scotland.

Had the Labour Government in 1976 arranged a referendum before producing a Bill, as now intended, I would have expected about 60 per cent. to have been in favour of the concept, the vague principle of devolution. As regards the Scotland Act, at the end it was only 33 per cent. The main question in Schedule 1 to this very new Bill is simply this: I agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament". That is short and clear but it begs the question, what kind of parliament? Is it to be any kind of parliament?

In contrast, in 1976, 21 years ago, at this stage of the previous exercise, a Statement was made by the Leader of the House in another place and repeated here by the then distinguished Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. It indicated that there would be one Bill for Scotland and Wales and no referendum. I quote from that statement: We have decided against holding a referendum on our devolution proposals. There have been wide opportunities … for public discussion of them". I was the first in this House to respond from the Opposition Front Bench to the Statement, insisting that there should be a separate Bill for Scotland—which later occurred. In the event, after the Scotland and Wales Bill had been introduced it was withdrawn; and there was a referendum even though at that stage that had been discounted.

This time the Government propose a referendum first on a White Paper before the Bill on a Scottish parliament is published. Unless there is also a referendum after the parent Bill is passed, there will later be disillusion and much dissent in Scotland.

In 1976, there was in general a willingness to consider devolutionary ways forward. The Royal Commission chaired by Lord Kilbrandon had reported at the end of 1974, after four-and-a-half years of deliberations. Although there was a memorandum of dissent, the majority suggested that an assembly with limited powers was a practicable possibility but would probably have to be accompanied by a substantial reduction in Scottish MPs at Westminster. This of course was their way of suggesting how the West Lothian question could be dealt with following the precedent in Northern Ireland in the early 1920s. The political parties were reluctant at that time to accept this proposed reduction of Scottish representatives at Westminster whose presence was considered to be too valuable.

I believe that the situation is different today. First, the Conservative Party has no MPs representing Scotland. Secondly, the Labour Party now has so many MPs in the United Kingdom that it no longer depends so much on those from Scotland. This is a serious matter, but there is a lighter and ironic side to it. A twist of fate has caused that. Could there be a small gleam of light at the end of this particular tunnel? The West Lothian question is probably the most intractable of the problems. A reduction in representation at Westminster might placate non-Scottish MPs, especially those from northern England who were very dissatisfied on the last occasion 20 years ago. There are many other difficulties and problems with any scheme put forward and we shall be looking into those later.

A referendum records the views of the electorate in Scotland at a given time. It is inaccurate to equate that with "the Scottish people" and to make statements about the "settled will" of the Scottish people. Many Scots at any particular time are resident outside Scotland for a variety of reasons. They are British subjects entitled to vote and most of them are in England. There were many complaints in 1979 that they had no say, and that they, as Scots, regarded themselves as part of the Scottish people.

There are also a number of non-Scots on the electoral rolls in Scotland. While recording views in a referendum can be a helpful way of recording the wishes of the electorate in Scotland, we must remember that that is not the same as "the Scottish people".

I end with another point affecting this House. It is the suggestion that this House might unnecessarily delay the passage of devolution legislation. I remind noble Lords that in 1976–78 that did not happen. The Bill was debated and examined in Committee in a normal way, by no means in a dilatory manner. Because guillotines fell in the other place so as to prevent examination of parts of the Scotland Act 1978, it was only in this House that the whole of the Bill was fully examined. I can testify to that; I think I was here on the Opposition Front Bench for every minute of the debates examining every part of the Bill during its passage through this House. I urge government Ministers to ask for the Hansard records of that time with a view to being reminded of the lessons learnt then and to avoiding the pitfalls that await them.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Gillmore of Thamesfield

My Lords, first I join with other noble Lords in welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, to her seat on the Front Bench. In common with other noble Lords I look forward to hearing her summing up later this evening. She will, I am certain, derive great satisfaction from working within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where I know she will enjoy the full support of a dedicated and loyal public service.

I also welcome the new tone—new noises, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—in the Government's approach to foreign affairs. If this change of tone heralds a new practice of co-operation, a readiness to work constructively with partners, particularly in Europe, then it is doubly welcome. We must hope that this co-operative spirit will deliver us from the kind of vacant xenophobia which all too often has the pretension of defending British interests but which in fact only damages them. That is not to say that we should not be tough in our defence of British interests and hard-headed when they are threatened. But in such conditions what is important is that our voice should be listened to and should command respect.

That means that in Europe we can no longer afford to be the systemic nay-sayer, whose voice, usually grumbling moodily from where we skulk behind the political arras, is unheard or, if dimly heard, ignored. That is surely no way to defend our national interests. Last week a senior German politician remarked that Britain had after all important ideas to offer to Europe and should be listened to. It is a measure of the sorry position that we have reached that he should have spoken in terms which revealed that the idea was entirely novel to him.

If, for example, we agree with the Government (as I would) that it is crucially important that the European agenda should include concrete steps to embrace the newly liberated countries of central Europe (indeed that it should have done so long ago before we moved to the enlargement of NATO) let us hope that our representatives will in future be able to argue the case without being immediately suspected of some perfidious device to sabotage efforts towards closer union. There are many imaginative ways in which this process can be engaged upon; for example, by finding means to bring those countries at an early stage within the ambit of pillars two and three. It is a process that is in our interests and in the interests of all of Europe.

Similar considerations apply to the proposals for reform of the common agricultural policy. Enlargement of the Union will perforce, and not before time, require substantial CAP reform. That is well known and the Government's welcome intentions are set out in the gracious Speech. In this process Britain will have an important stake. But our chances of arguing successfully for a sensible and sustainable agricultural policy will not be improved if at the same time on BSE we are using the megaphone of abuse to the point where it sometimes appears that we hold all the responsibility to lie not in our own farms and abattoirs but somewhere else, probably on the Continent.

Your Lordships will have other occasions to debate economic and monetary union. Let me say just this. Too much of the debate in this country has been marked by hysteria and hyperbole, too little by rational and sensible thought. Nonetheless, serious discussions are taking place away from the tabloid headlines that are certainly as thoughtful and sensible as anywhere else in the Union and arguably just as constructive. I, for one, hope that Britain will be able to join economic and monetary union. What is clear beyond doubt is that, whether or not we join in the first round, whether we join in the second, British interests will be vitally affected by what happens and we cannot afford to be sulkingly absent from the debate.

Perhaps I may say a brief word on the moral dimension to foreign policy, if only because the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, somewhat obliquely, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford more directly, referred to it earlier. I am bound to say that there is nothing new in morality in foreign policy. I remind the House that it was in these Houses of Parliament that Charles James Fox and his colleagues brought to an end slavery in this country, an event which led to a long campaign in Parliament for the abolition of slavery worldwide. Gladstone fought his last and most famous election, the so-called Midlothian campaign, to protect a minority victimised by the government of Turkey. To take a strong moral position is therefore not a novelty in the conduct of British foreign policy. However, far more difficult are the detailed moral judgments, case by case, when the balance between good sense and practicality on the one hand and the occupation of moral high ground on the other is so difficult to strike. The test will come in the application of policy, not in the formulation of principle.

If the new tone of which I have spoken also heralds an end to a peculiarly British form of debilitating self-doubt—sometimes bordering on paranoia and paradoxically a frequent sick bedfellow of xenophobia—then we shall have turned a significant page. Until recently it was fashionable to talk of Britain's decline and to contrast the so-called realities with what are alleged to be high-flown pretensions. We must have no truck with pretensions. But equally we must live with the facts.

The first of these is that our decline is only relative. Since 1945, admittedly with some ups and downs, our wealth has grown at an annual average of about 2 per cent.—a rate not spectacular by comparison with some, but wholly respectable. In that time our standard of living has more than doubled and in the course of this century the real wages of manual workers have doubled every 30 years.

The second point is that we are a global player. I should not wish that statement to be misunderstood. No one who has been involved in British foreign policy over the past 30 years or more can be unaware of the limitations of British power. However, it is not of power that I speak. The simple truth is that as a player, an actor, Britain is global because we cannot be otherwise, and that for a very simple reason: our wealth and prosperity depend on the outside world to a greater extent than any other country of roughly similar size.

In the brief period that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have learned that I must not bore noble Lords with statistics, but perhaps I may recall one or two facts. Britain is the third largest investor in the world, and the largest in the United States, with total net assets of £1.4 trillion; we provide the third largest source of private capital to the developing world; over 8.5 million Britons live and work overseas; over 40 per cent. of foreign investment into the European Union comes to Britain; 187 of the 500 largest European firms are British compared to a figure of 77 for our nearest rival, France; the City of London hosts the largest number of foreign banks of any city in the world, with the London Stock Exchange, by far the largest in Europe, handling 27 per cent. of the world's foreign exchange dealing, and 17 per cent. of the world's external bank lending.

In short, Britain is unique for a country of its size. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer perhaps, our economic interests give us a huge stake in the future of the European Union, in international stability and in the rules-based disciplines of the world trading system. For us, therefore, an active and constructive foreign policy is no luxury but a keen and present necessity.

To this task we bring considerable assets. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for saying that our diplomatic service is skilled, professional and widely admired and comes at a cost to our resources of about half that devoted by the French to their diplomatic effort. We belong to more international organisations than practically any other country so we do not lack for fora in which to exercise productive influence. It is gratifying to note that the gracious Speech referred specifically to NATO, the cornerstone of security, and to the Commonwealth, a unique but undervalued institution which brings benefit to all its members, including the United Kingdom. The BBC World Service reaches an audience larger by far than that reached by any rival; and the British Council is the envy of all our competitors.

As the noble Lord the Leader of the House pointed out earlier in the debate, our Armed Forces are a crucial part of our assets. Their professionalism is second to none and they are widely deployed, not only in NATO and Europe but beyond. I will not rehearse again the long list of areas in which our forces are active but they make a vital contribution to peacekeeping and humanitarian operations under United Nations or NATO auspices. These and other deployments derive not from some post-imperial hangover but from Britain's global interests and the fact that we are one of only two European powers with the will and the professional skills to undertake them.

Let us hope that the new Government, building on our assets, will ensure that Britain remains wholly engaged in international affairs, not out of foolishly romantic nostalgia for a role which is no longer appropriate but out of a clear-sighted understanding of the facts of British interests and the sources of our wealth; not because events crowd in and force a reaction but because we want to be there at the beginning to shape events; not because the European Union is some awkward and regrettable affliction of history, like the bubonic plague perhaps, but because we are full-blooded members of a partnership in which all our destinies are linked, a partnership to which we have much to offer, not least in helping Europe to look outwards to build its role in the wider world. If these are indeed the intentions of the Government, then they will enjoy the fullest support.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, my first task is to congratulate the Government on a number of actions. It is quite rare to be able to congratulate a government almost before the gracious Speech is pronounced. The speed with which they moved surprised me. Their first move, promised in the manifesto, was to change the Overseas Development Administration into the Department for International Development, thus giving it a Cabinet position and putting it in the mainstream of decision-making, which must be a good thing. Over the last few years international development has definitely suffered from being pushed further and further down the list of political priorities. It was a bold move to bring it back into the mainstream. It is rather unfortunate that there is no position on the Front Bench in this House for a government spokesman from the new department. In saying that I intend no offence to the Minister.

The Government's next action, which was a real delight to me and which caught me completely unawares, was the commitment made by the Foreign Secretary on his "glitzy" tour to Bonn on 7th May—a commitment of real substance which I do not believe can be called glitzy—to sign an international, legally-binding agreement at the earliest opportunity to ban the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. Such a commitment has been supported by these Benches. I am overjoyed that the Government have acted so promptly.

One matter left out of the gracious Speech is the environment. I feel that tackling what is basically a form of human pollution—namely, anti-personnel mines—means that it is being addressed to some degree. I realise that the Government will face opposition from the military who believe that such mines are a useful weapon which, if used responsibly, can help to defend British personnel. Against that argument one needs to examine at the figures of British personnel killed in Bosnia and elsewhere by these weapons.

It is only possible to combat anti-personnel mines effectively by treating them in the same way as chemical weapons and make them morally repugnant to the international community. That is the only way to stop countries producing them. In the first five years after the Second World War 147 British personnel were killed while clearing landmines around the British coast. Those minefields were clearly marked, so the danger posed in the third world cannot be too strongly stated.

The Government have made a commitment to re-enter UNESCO. I understand the reasons why we withdrew. However, I find it rather ironic that the former heritage Minister put forward Greenwich as a UNESCO site of world heritage at a time while Britain was not a member of UNESCO. I sound a note of caution, however. On carefully reading the Labour Party manifesto, I note that it contains the ominous words that the £11 million annual commitment to UNESCO would be funded by savings from elsewhere. I find that very distressing. I do not know—perhaps the Minister can put me right—whether the funding from elsewhere would come from the DID budget or from other government spending. As the Minister will be only too aware, and as has been pointed out in many debates in your Lordships' House over the past few years, the ODA budget suffered unbelievably under the last Government, falling in percentage terms.

Indeed, the budget is set to fall this year under present expenditure plans. I realise that the Government have a stated aim to reaffirm our commitment to the 0.7 per cent. UN aid target and also to start to reverse the decline in UK aid spending. But I feel that that will be extremely difficult. Now that we have a Minister on our side, we can go to the Treasury and say, "This is a very important commitment." I firmly believe that the Government have a commitment to that, but it will have to be fought for. The £11 million saving on spending from other departments will, if new money is not found, not be savings but cuts in their budget.

Following the points made about UNESCO, I hoped to take the opportunity to find out the Government's plans relating to UNIDO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. I believe that that organisation has merit. It has a small contribution of £4 million a year and plays a very worthy role in industrial development in the third world to make sure that the problems faced by developing countries have minimum effect on the environment. I believe that UNIDO was the victim of pressure for UN reform. I should hate to see it axed now that the UN is undertaking the necessary reforms.

Like other noble Lords, I have a great shopping list of requests. I promise to limit myself today as I am sure that there will be many more opportunities in debates over the next few months. However, I should like the Government to give a firm commitment to support the BBC World Service and, I hope, the British Council.

I turn briefly to the subject of defence. I have only two simple points to make. The first concerns the strategic White Paper. The defence review that has been promised will, I believe, mark one of the most fundamental changes in the way in which defence is organised in this country. We have quite simply to decide what the British Army is for. It has been spread so thinly over the past few years that we have a small amount of everything but lack the capability to do a great deal. Having said that, I do not believe that the defence review should mean a cut in the Armed Forces. Basically, the review looks at what we have and how to reorganise it. It may cost some more money in the defence budget to make those changes.

I offer a personal point of view, having spoken to members of the Army. The defence review is having a profound effect on the morale of soldiers. They have gone through Options for Change. Many are worried about their career prospects and indeed about what will happen to the British Army. One of the great strengths of the Army is that it is a volunteer army and a very committed army. But there is a problem. Unless the aims of the defence review are made clear and members of the Army are informed at all stages of what is expected of them and what will happen to them, there will be a very real deterioration in morale. Options for Change had a real effect on recruitment. I believe that the 10,000 under-recruitment in the British Army is a result of the image projected; namely, that the Army did not produce job security. Having said that, I believe that the defence review is a very necessary reform. I wish the Government all success with it.

6.55 p.m.

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I am sorry that we have lost the presence of the Leader of the House. His massive presence always adds great weight to our deliberations. I am equally sorry that we have lost, temporarily, the Leader of the Opposition, because some of the things that I propose to say he may find unpalatable. But there is nothing like the unpalatable truth to force people to reconsider their preconceived ideas. That does not mean that I do not value the presence on the Government Front Bench of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, whom I am sure we all welcome to that position. I welcome also the presence of my noble friend Lord Howe to answer on behalf of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, as we now have to express it.

Yesterday was a day of ceremony and courtesy, where compliments were exchanged between the two Front Benches. We hope that they were sincere, although one might doubt it. Today, of course, we have to face the harsh realities of the real world in which we have to live. I shall start with a comment. Too often, it is argued that the Labour Party won this election by a massive majority and we equally lost it because people felt that it was time for a change. That is far too superficial an explanation. It gives no credit to the intelligence of the British electorate. What has happened in fact is far more important and serious.

Going back to 1945—there have been references to it in the speeches yesterday and some passing reference made today—that Government entered office with high hopes. After all, their watchword was, "We are the masters now"; that is what was meant by governing in the interests of all the people. It ended in anger, bitterness, recriminations and utter defeat. I knew that Government well and many of its leading members. The almost 50 years which have passed since then, from 1951 to 1997, have been a period occupied almost entirely by Conservative Governments. There were two brief periods in which we had the penalty of Labour Governments, under, first, Mr. Harold Wilson and then Mr. Callaghan, although Mr. Callaghan survived only because he was propped up by the remnants of the Liberal Party, as it then was. But the rest of the time was a time of Conservative government.

How was that done? It was because after every electoral defeat—in 1945, 1964 and 1979—the party's philosophy, the party's approach, was completely and thoroughly reviewed under three great statesmen: Rab Butler—I knew him well; he was my senior supporter when I came into your Lordships' House; Edward Heath; and Margaret Thatcher. On all three occasions they brought the party firmly into the centre ground and in control of that centre ground. It may be thought remarkable that I refer to Margaret Thatcher as having brought the country into the centre ground, but that is what she did. What had happened was that the centre ground had moved. She was one of the few people who realised the enormous importance of that shift to the centre ground and the importance of the party occupying that centre ground. That is the explanation of why the Conservative Party remained in power and in control for the greater part of 46 years.

What has happened recently? About seven years ago, first under the influence of Mr. Neil Kinnock and finally under the influence of Mr. Tony Blair, the Labour Party moved massively into that centre ground. It has moved away from the arid desert of the far left back into the centre ground. It was the reaction of the Conservative Party to that which was the cause of our present failure. We talked of leaving "clear blue water". Well, if the enemy invades your territory, what do you do? Do you retreat to leave clear blue water? What you do is to stand up and fight. We ought never to have abandoned the centre ground and left it to be occupied by the Labour Party. After all, this country is ultimately a country of the centre ground. We are a decent and honourable people. We have many defects, I know, but basically we are a moderate people, a people of the centre. That is where our strength lies and it is what we have to recover.

That has enormous importance in relation to the European Union, because precisely the same happened there. The policy which has been adopted by the Labour Party is the original policy of the Conservative Party, forged by Harold Macmillan, Ted Heath and, indeed, by Margaret Thatcher in her earlier and more constructive years. It is the policy that the Labour Party has taken over.

What have we done? We have moved to the extreme right. We have become, if not overtly at least covertly, sceptical about Europe. Until we realise that our place is and must be in Europe we shall never regain the confidence of the people of this country.

My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition rightly condemned the phrase "Little Englanders", but I seriously wonder whether he knows how little England now is. In the latest OECD report, over 30 per cent. of the total output—the GNP or the GDP, I do not know which and it does not matter—of the whole of the OECD belongs to the United States of America. More than 20 per cent. is generated by Japan. Over 50 per cent. of the total wealth and output of the OECD is generated by two countries: the United States and Japan. Our contribution is about 6 per cent.

My right honourable friend Mr. Douglas Hurd has commonly spoken about this country punching above its weight. But if your opponent is 10 times as big as you are, you will not get far punching above your weight if your weight is only that amount. Our influence in this world, our economic position and our prosperity can only exist if we are an active member of the European Union. The Union accounts for 38 per cent. of the GNP of the whole of the OECD countries, more than the United States. That is the power and weight which is at our disposal if we only play our cards right.

Of course, many things are wrong with the European Union, but many things are right. We in this country have pioneered many policies which are enormously to the benefit of Europe. We were responsible for the initiative of the single market; we pioneered privatisation; we have always been at the forefront of competition policy; we were the first country to try to clamp down on state aid. We have innumerable strengths to bring to the European Union. It is all very well criticising the Union for the things in which it is wrong. Of course it is not as competitive as we are. Of course many of its policies will damage competitiveness, but it is in our interest to get Europe to change because Europe is our market.

We cannot get Europe to change if we stand on the perimeter merely criticising, still less can we get Europe to change if we opt out. It is an incredibly difficult job. I know that because I have had to fight it on the ground. How do you make your influence felt among 15 member states who may have very different priorities and very different ambitions from those you hold yourself? Under no circumstances would I go along with the proposition we heard from the Liberal Democrat Benches of creating a kind of triumvirate of Germany, France and the United Kingdom to rule the European Union. Along that route disaster lies. There are 15 member states which must work together: they must learn to work together and to advance in that way, not divide into big and powerful states and those who have to take whatever is offered to them.

The Labour Government come in with great rhetoric, great promises and high ambitions. I am not all that certain that I trust them. They are full of good words and good promises, but what will matter is what happens on the ground. Listening to Mr. Cook, for example, on television during the election campaign, it seemed to me that he was consistently what I would call "off-loading". He was moving more and more in the direction of the Euro-sceptic line. I am not saying that he got as far as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, or even the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Fortunately, in the past day or two he has seemed intent on restructuring the Foreign Office as some kind of international welfare organisation. I wish him well, as long as he keeps his hands off the European Union.

Still, we shall watch what the Labour Party does. We have goodwill towards it, but in the end we shall judge it on what it produces. But one thing must never be forgotten: our place in the world, our economic strength, our political strength rest upon our successful membership of the European Union.

7.7 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, it will not have escaped the attention of noble Lords that throughout the recent election hardly a single candidate of any party even mentioned the subject of defence. That is sad because, after all, the defence of the realm and the protection of our national interests should rate—must rate—as one of the first responsibilities of government. That is why I think that the time spent and the emphasis placed by the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal in his opening speech on the subject of defence and our influence abroad was of considerable comfort.

Moreover, in congratulating the Government on an impressive victory, and also, more personally, Dr. Gilbert both on his impending elevation to your Lordships' House and his appointment as a Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence—in his case coming home to the department in which he served with distinction 18 years ago—I take heart from and have confidence in the team which now presides there. However, I hope that they will give consideration to designating a Minister having overall responsibility for veteran affairs, as happens in many other countries. Such an appointment would give great confidence to all those in the services, particularly to those who in the past have served and suffered in the service of their country.

Whenever in the past few months anyone has opined to me that, yes, perhaps the government (that is the last government, not this one) have not always handled defence as well as they should have done, but you just wait and see what infinitely worse things will happen to defence if the Government change, I have agreed with the first premise—which is of course true if you consider, for example, the parlous state of Army manpower, the Armed Forces medical services and military sustainability generally, the fairly inept handling of the so-called Gulf War syndrome and the botched-up and expensive introduction of joint staff training, much of which can be placed at their door. But I was always able to say with a clear conscience that the second prognosis did not conform to my experience, an experience in Whitehall—with, happily, frequent escapes from it—spanning nearly 50 years and up to a dozen Secretaries of State. And all for the simple reason that under Labour there always seemed to be a better attempt to match resources to commitments or vice versa.

Moreover, many would agree that of those numerous Secretaries of State I have mentioned, the noble Lord, Lord Healey—who this House will have listened to with respect and great interest—was the best because he did exactly that, as well as overseeing an extremely economical and successful campaign in South-East Asia. I only hope that this compliment to him from an old soldier will not destroy his political credibility. I remember with affection too that the late Lord Mulley had a greater feel for and rapport with those serving in the Armed Forces than some others I can think of.

I take further encouragement from what appeared in print in last summer's Labour manifesto, as well as briefly in the gracious Speech, about the importance attached to Britain's role in promoting a wider international peace and security; to strengthening particularly the military staff and readiness forces of the United Nations; and to an enhanced role for a European pillar of a strong defence based on NATO—with all of which I agree, although it will still require wise and original thought and energetic and dynamic action to implement these aspects properly. A change of government provides a good opportunity to look at many of the key defence issues such as nuclear weapons and the whole future direction and structure of NATO, which has been mentioned by many noble Lords, with a fresh mind, which is badly needed.

I should perhaps sound a note of caution at this point. With all the understandable emphasis on keeping the peace, it must never be forgotten that if you train for war you can keep the peace effectively. But it does not work the other way round should the need ever arise, as history has shown it so easily might, quite unexpectedly.

Troops who are trained and equipped only for peace-keeping soon lose their capability to do even that. If any noble Lords doubt that they have only to speak to those who have commanded in Bosnia and seen the enormous differences in the various national contingents. So there is much to be thought deeply and wisely about.

I end with two further points. First, the greatly reduced financial resources available for defence—a reduction of over 20 per cent. in real terms since 1991 when Options for Change was announced; a drop from 4 per cent. of GDP to under 3 per cent.—should not he eroded still further until the results of the reassessment mentioned in the gracious Speech are known and decisions have been taken on them at the proper level and the roles and capabilities of the Armed Forces have been properly defined.

I say this particularly at this time when, with the last government having indulged in a riot of private finance initiatives, more and more of the annual budget is now tied up irrevocably in five-year contracts with civilian firms. If the Treasury continues to demand—as surely it will unless checked—another 2 or 2½ per cent. reduction in the coming year, there is nowhere that that can come from other than from those things which impinge most directly on the ordinary serviceman's and service woman's morale and esprit de corps, such as training activity and everyday service life. This would exacerbate still further already serious recruiting and retention problems and mean that, far from retaining strong Armed Forces as promised, in certain areas the effectiveness of those Armed Forces may become so eroded and undermined that the damage will be irrevocable. That is no starting point for a comprehensive review.

Secondly and finally, a point I have made before in your Lordships' House, as have other noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Chalfont, but one which should be repeated as a rightly critical Opposition become the Government, if the review the Government appear to have in mind is to be truly a strategic review, set and decided upon at Cabinet Committee level, with full input from the Foreign Office (which I hope will make its requirements forcibly known early on, in the same tone used by my noble friend Lord Gillmore in your Lordships' House, and not just when recommending the dispatch of a gunboat or whatever) with also the Department of Trade and Industry considering the widest aspects of British interests, as a continuing member perhaps of the Security Council, and with a proper input from the chiefs of staff, then this should be warmly welcomed as a sensible way of matching resources to commitments, something we have lacked for the past few years.

I would welcome any assurances the noble Baroness can give about the tenor of that review. If the review, by any chance, is confined to the Ministry of Defence, it will become a repetition of the endless, debilitating studies which have monopolised the department since 1989—no fewer than 34 in the last three to four years—and have caused such damaging uncertainty and upheaval. The Treasury will at the outset establish cash limits and percentage reductions on every nook and cranny of the Budget so that yet again the review will start from the bottom upwards and become in effect an exercise in how to cut down to an arbitrary financial figure. I am confident that that is not the Government's intention, but it will need extremely careful watching if it is not to happen.

7.18 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I must declare an interest. For much of my life outside Westminster I have worked professionally and voluntarily with organisations involved in international and humanitarian affairs, currently including work with the think tank charity Saferworld and with International Alert.

From those involved in such work there is widespread goodwill towards the new Government. This is reflected in what we hear from our colleagues across the world. Indeed, there is a feeling that the UK has at last rejoined the world; and that is altogether good because there are few strategic issues facing us as a nation which can be resolved by the UK alone.

It is cheering to see my noble friend the Leader of the House, with his extensive UN and European Commission experience, at the Dispatch Box for today's debate, and it is clear that my noble friend, Baroness Symons, will bring invaluable experience of Whitehall to help to turn aspirations into practical achievements. I join all those who wish them and their ministerial colleagues well.

My noble friend has indicated the challenges and priorities accepted and established in the gracious Speech. They are impressive.

Let me join with those who have expressed delight at the firm decision to rejoin the significantly reformed UNESCO. We have a lot to contribute and to gain from practical international co-operation on culture, education and science. This, like the determination to make human rights central to our foreign policy—underlined at home by the welcome decision on GCHQ—is the kind of civilised commitment which it is heartening to see.

In Europe—the most immediate of the Government's priorities—we face up not only to the IGC and monetary union, with its far-reaching economic significance and, of course, its constitutional implications but, as my noble friends Lord Richard and Lord Healey and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, have emphasised, the complex issue of NATO enlargement and the imperative to avoid provoking dangerous nationalism in Russia. There is an absolute requirement, if enlargement is really to go ahead, for parallel initiatives to build on the encouraging developments this week with not just better formal but enhanced substantive, dynamic and altogether positive relations with Russia.

In the follow-up meetings—which I understand the Prime Minister will attend—to review what has already been achieved since the Rio Earth Summit and what must now be done, there will inevitably be a recognition that we are already beginning to experience the far-reaching adverse consequences of the abuse of our environmental inheritance—not least climate change—consequences which may well dwarf some of our current economic and social preoccupations, especially through their impact on water management and agriculture.

It is therefore essential to understand the importance of international policies which fully take into account the large technological and resource transfers which will simply have to be made from north to south if the developing countries are to be enabled to adopt critically needed environmentally friendly, sustainable development policies.

In the UN we have inherited our special responsibility, as a permanent member of the Security Council, for global stewardship and global security, a continuing responsibility which we cannot simply pick up and put down at our own convenience. There must therefore be support for the Secretary General in weeding out the self seekers and the dead wood, in building an effective professional secretariat based on merit alone, in rationalisation of the specialised agencies into a cohesive network with the winding down of those which have fulfilled their usefulness: in short a United Nations which is tasked, not institutionally orientated, which takes a proactive role as peacemaker and preventer of armed conflict, a UN with a regenerated General Assembly and a restructured Security Council and, underlying everything, with a sound financial basis.

In the international financial institutions, the World Bank and the IMF, there is much room for still more openness and accountability and for a strengthened agenda to fight world poverty and deprivation. This agenda must include an accelerated programme for multilateral debt relief as part of an overall commitment by the industrialised world to reduce the still crippling debt burdens of the poorest countries, like those in sub-Saharan Africa, debts which crush their prospects for development and undermine their stability.

As for the Commonwealth, it really is exciting to see the refreshing recognition by the Government of the very considerable economic, trading and political potential of this multicultural free association of nations.

As the Government take all this and more on board, it is good to see the Department for International Development, with its own Secretary of State in the Cabinet, poised to act as a powerhouse for practical commitment. But this department must be about more than aid alone: it must be closely involved in the necessarily interdepartmental economic, trade, environmental, defence and human rights policies without which the fight for a fairer, sustainable world will never be won.

We eagerly await the White Paper—the first in this sphere of policy for some 22 years—promised in the gracious Speech and in which the Government are to set out their strategic plans. Europe and the future of the Lomé Convention must obviously be an essential part of these plans. I hope that the futile confrontation between the cases for bilateral programmes and multilateral programmes will once and for all be buried. Both have their part to play. The challenge is to ensure that they are mutually supportive.

The beginning of the whole European Union story after the Second World War was an imaginative determination to banish by means of building practical interests in common the prospect of war between the nations of western Europe. This determination has proved itself. We have enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. But, sadly, the same is not true of the world as a whole. Since 1945 over 50 million people have lost their lives in warfare and millions more have been rendered destitute. In our highly interdependent world, history will certainly judge the European Union not just by its own material success but by its contribution to the wellbeing of global society as a whole.

The moral imperative is undeniable. But the economic case is also compelling. The nations of Europe repeatedly face unnecessary bills for failing to act in time. In the past two years the European Union has already spent well over £450 million on humanitarian assistance to the Great Lakes region alone and those costs will continue to escalate as we respond to the human nightmare of Zaire. The aggregated costs of refugee flows, peacekeeping, reconstruction and lost trade and investment opportunities are formidable.

As the Government take their seat in the IGC there will surely be an opportunity to persuade our European colleagues to seize the potential for working together to prevent violent conflict. We have an unparalleled inheritance of historic and cultural ties, representation at the top tables of diplomacy and economic planning and access to more than 600,000 professional soldiers. There is no doubt that we could assemble—if only the will were there—an array of carrots and sticks which, if well targeted, could help to relieve the tensions which lead to violent conflict.

Take the Great Lakes. Before the genocide of 1995 there was, among people who knew the region well, no shortage of argument for timely intervention. However, their message was not convenient and they were not heard. What should have been happening was a mitigation of the negative effects of structural adjustment and failing commodity prices coupled with effective action to stem the arms flow to such an explosive region. Instead, in the end, the world opted only for the essential sticking plaster of short-term relief. This is a failing which must be taken seriously in our approach to the Lom½ Convention and its future. But what the European Union has badly lacked is a process for shared analysis to provide early warning of potential armed conflict, a quasi-independent unit which can develop analysis free from the pressures of vested national interest. There is the prospect that the IGC could deliver this. I hope we will support it strongly. It is almost unbelievable that when Ministers met in March to discuss the European Union's response to the Albanian crisis they had no common brief on what was happening on the ground.

All this, however, will be to little effect unless, as the Foreign Secretary advocates, the European Union takes a collective lead in controlling arms exports. The responsible British arms industry is an important part of our economy. It has played an invaluable role in the effectiveness of NATO and in our national defence. It will continue to do so. The Government's planned security review is important, not least in providing, it is to be hoped, a context within which the defence industry can plan with confidence for the future.

But we have to face the fact that in 1995 the European Union accounted for 30 per cent. of all weapons sales to the developing world, exports which too often exacerbated conflict, fuelled human rights abuses and increased instability. And that 30 per cent. did not include the black and grey arms trade of the arms already there and constantly recycled. There is a desperate need to strengthen the vague existing European Union criteria relating to arms exports and to introduce, as called for in the carefully worded Labour Party election manifesto, a European Union code of conduct to establish clear common rules for weapons transfers for the European Union as a whole. In the meantime, the proposals being put forward by the Dutch Government for stamping out illicit arms sales, especially in the sphere of small arms, must surely be supported.

The Prime Minister has referred to the strong internationalist tradition of the Labour Party. The first two weeks of his Government have illustrated that it is a tradition which is as alive today as it has ever been. I wish the Government "God speed" in the foreign, defence and international development priorities they have so clearly identified.

7.29 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, is not in his place because I found his speech at the beginning of this debate embarrassingly arrogant while I thought the presentation of the Foreign Secretary in the Locarno Room of the Foreign Office was admirable. If Ministers are not entitled to use multi-media and other modern technologies in their presentations, that is a contradiction of the declared policy of the Conservatives when they were in power to use those technologies to convey government policies to the public and to those who have to know about them. So I believe that not only the style of the presentation by the Foreign Secretary was excellent, but much of the content as well.

It was clear from the titter of disbelief that went round the Tory Benches when the Leader of the Opposition said, at the conclusion of his remarks, that he wished the Government well that the mask had slipped a bit and that the general good humour of the Tories' handover of power was not shared universally or, in this particular case, by the Leader of the Opposition. So it was with some relief that I listened to the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, who described the way in which the Tory Party recovered from three previous defeats. He said that every time great statesmen had come to the rescue by revamping their policies, but since they do not have any great statesmen in the party at the moment I am sure that the Tories will be in opposition for a very long time.

I particularly welcomed in the presentation by the Foreign Secretary and in the gracious Speech the commitment to human rights. I include also the remarks made by the Foreign Secretary at his press conference on this subject. The proposal to publish an annual report on the Government's work in promoting human rights abroad is excellent. I hope also that Parliament will be able to make a contribution of its own. The Parliamentary Human Rights Group, of which I have the honour to be chairman, already publishes analyses of human rights problems which we always send to Ministers. We also draw the attention of Ministers to much of the information that we receive from sources which they may not always tap themselves.

I was particularly glad to see that Mr. Tony Lloyd, who is a former vice-chairman of the group, has been given responsibility in the Government for human rights. Perhaps the Government will consider ways of involving Parliament more formally in the examination of human rights policy. For example, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in another place could have a sub-committee on human rights. If it does not choose to do that, we could revive the idea, which I put to the former Leader of the House, that we should have our own Select Committee on human rights here because it is a subject which would admirably suit your Lordships' talents.

The Foreign Secretary mentioned that we must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves. In spite of the progress made towards democratic pluralism in eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and southern Africa, there are still very many parts of the world where dictatorship and repression still prevail. The question is how we can reconcile stronger action by the United Kingdom, either alone or as part of EU initiatives, with our perceived economic and commercial interests. The case arose only last week where Ministers, in the last phases of the previous administration, had been disposed to take new measures in the wake of the finding by the German Federal Court that the Iranian Government had masterminded the killing of four leading Kurdish dissidents in Berlin. That case shows how difficult it is to get 15 states to agree on these matters. After two days of deliberation, the European Foreign Ministers decided only to suspend official bilateral visits and to co-operate to ensure that visas were not granted to Iranian secret agents. That was rather a mouse to come out of two days of deliberations by the Foreign Ministers of 15 states. Only yesterday there was news of an oil swap deal under which Iran would process 250,000 barrels a day of Caspian Sea oil at the Tabriz refinery and export a similar quantity from its south-western fields via the Persian Gulf. So immediately the ink is dry on a little agreement by European Foreign Ministers there is a huge breach in our economic armoury against the mullahs' regime.

The Americans at least would like to see Europe taking much stronger economic measures against Iran. I do not believe that there is very much chance of that by the look of things. The Gulf states are friends of both London and Washington. Does the Government's new policy mean that we will try to persuade the absolute rulers of Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain that they should hold elections and grant their citizens freedom of expression? The London-based Arabic newspaper, Al-Aalam, in its Tuesday edition, referring to remarks made on Monday, quoted Mr. Cook as saying that Britain would, support the movements that demand democratic rights of the kind taken for granted by the British". The people of Bahrain are demanding the restoration of their 1973 constitution and the partly-elected assembly which was dissolved in 1975. Therefore, will the Foreign Office, as part of its new dispensation, seek to persuade the ruler to free the leaders of the constitutional movement who are detained without trial and engage in dialogue with them? That would be a big shift in policy because in the previous administration Ministers, including Mr. Hogg and Mr. Hanley, always said that they would encourage dialogue, but they refrained from saying that it should be with the genuine leaders of the opposition, all of whom happened to be locked up in prison without trial. So it is a good test of the Government's intentions to see whether they will now speak to the Emir of Bahrain and ask him to release the political prisoners and to take them into dialogue which will lead to the restoration of the rather modest constitution which they had over 20 years ago.

Moving closer to home, I shall be very interested to know what the Foreign Secretary said at his lunchtime meeting with Mrs. Tansu Ciller, the Turkish Foreign Minister, in Paris on Tuesday. After all, we do have some leverage over Turkey because she is a member of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and her entry to the European Customs Union was conditional on general assurances of human rights improvements.

The problem with the OSCE is that the declarations that it has promulgated are politically but not legally binding. The Copenhagen Declaration, for instance, contains an admirable codification of the rights of minorities, but it has no mechanism contained within it, or anywhere else, for the scrutiny of alleged violations. There are periodic human dimension review meetings where the performance of states could be examined, but there is nothing analogous to the UN's Human Rights Commission where NGOs present evidence in a public forum and governments feel that they are obliged to account for their actions.

The Turkish authorities have removed some 3 million people belonging to the Kurdish minority from their homes in the south-east and destroyed the 3,000 villages which they inhabited, in gross violation of the OSCE's Budapest Declaration as well as the Geneva Conventions. But in Turkey they simply deny the existence of a Kurdish minority and say that the internal armed conflict in the region is not one to which common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions apply.

The Turkish armed forces have crossed the frontier into northern Iraq in great strength, accompanied by large quantities of armour and artillery, violating Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter. This is not the first time that they have done it. It is a repeated violation of the charter, which has always been allowed tacitly by the international community because it does not protest. On this occasion Mr. Doug Henderson issued a statement urging the Turks not to exceed the measures necessary to protect their legitimate security interests and asserting that the problem in south-east Turkey is not one that can be solved by military means alone. That is an advance on the policies of the previous government, who were always silent on these occasions. Is it not apparent that the military force that Turkey uses in such circumstances is always grossly disproportionate to the security objectives sought, and that no care has been taken in any of those military operations, contrary to the code of conduct on politico-military aspects of security of the OSCE, to ensure that no harm comes to civilians or their property?

Therefore, I wonder whether Ministers will consider—not today, but in due course as they come to develop their human rights policies—whether the OSCE could develop means of evaluating internal armed conflicts and deciding in each case to which of them common Article 3 applies. If they did that and if there was an official declaration by the chairman-in-office or by the Council of Ministers that Article 3 applied in a particular case, that would add force to the requests made by the ICRC to be allowed to deliver its humanitarian and compliance services in such conflicts, and it would then be more difficult for, in this case, Turkey to resist those demands.

The OSCE does have the power to take initiatives through its chairman-in-office, and the previous occupant of the chair, Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti, worked hard to achieve a solution of the Chechnya conflict. Nothing similar has been attempted in the case of Turkey because Ankara has always been adamant that it does not want the OSCE to advise it or to make any recommendations with regard to the conflict in its south-east region. How can we get round the problem? The UK should give notice that at the next periodic human dimension review meeting, which is to take place at the end of this year, we shall concentrate exclusively on better enforcement of the OSCE's declarations, including particularly those dealing with internal armed conflicts and minorities.

One of the best of the OSCE's documents is the Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers of November 1993. It is a difficult area for the Government because we are one of the world's biggest arms suppliers, and some of our economic prosperity has been achieved on the back of sales which are challenged by some NGOs. The sale of Hawks and of armoured cars to Indonesia has already been mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. The Principles oblige states to avoid transfers which would be likely to be used for the violation or suppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to prolong or aggravate an existing armed conflict or to be used for internal repression. I believe that that applies in the case of Indonesia. The previous government relied on assurances given by Jakarta that it would not use in East Timor the Hawk jets supplied by British Aerospace.

I was very glad that Mr. Cook received Mr. Jose Ramos Horta, the Nobel prize winner and external representative of the East Timorese resistance, during the election campaign. Mr. Cook actually interrupted his campaigning to see Jose Ramos Horta. I hope that Britain will review the sales of aircraft to Indonesia, as well as its sales of the water cannon which have been used against peaceful demonstrators elsewhere in Indonesia. I hope that Britain will consult Portugal to see what additional help we can give towards bringing about a political solution to the question of East Timor, in accordance with the wishes of the people.

One essential component of that strategy must be to encourage the development of democracy and human rights in Indonesia. Rather than inviting military officers to come here for training, I suggest that we should invite democratic activists, journalists and human rights campaigners to visit Britain. To some extent, the FCO already has a human rights dimension to its programme of visits. We have had recent visits from, for example, the chairman of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights from Russia, and from the Presidential Adviser on Human Rights from Uganda. We welcome those opportunities for discussion, but it would be good to have more opposition activists from countries where human rights are at risk. Nigeria has already been mentioned. Why could we not invite Mr. Ayo Obe or Mr. Abdul Oroh, the President and Executive Director of the Civil Liberties organisation, or Mrs. Ladi Olorunyomi, a journalist on the executive of the Lagos chapter of the journalists' union who was detained for several weeks and released only last Friday?

The question of Nigeria will be at the top of the agenda for the CHOGM in Edinburgh in October. That meeting should consider the confirmation of Nigeria's suspension from Commonwealth membership. It should also consider the situation in Cameroon, which was admitted to membership of the Commonwealth on condition that steps would be taken to comply with the Harare Declaration. Although local elections were held there and parliamentary elections are due, which are to be observed by a delegation from the Commonwealth Secretariat, I believe that it will be found that Cameroon is not complying with the Harare Declaration or with the declaration that was made recently in Gaborone at the meeting of Commonwealth African countries.

The Commonwealth has had important discussions on human rights, but it would be useful if the commitment to transparency and accountability of government, made by the Heads of Government in Gaborone, could be extended to the Commonwealth as a whole when it meets in Edinburgh, and if Commonwealth governments could set a good example in that regard by inviting the thematic rapporteurs and working groups of the UN Human Rights Centre to visit their countries when asked, and by replying promptly and fully to inquiries made by those rapporteurs.

Finally, with regard to the work of the UN Human Rights Centre, which must obviously be important in the Foreign Secretary's strategy, that organisation must be enabled to do its work properly. We are already helping by providing a research assistant to Dr. Nigel Rodley, the UN Rapporteur on Torture, and I believe that we pay for the services of Price Waterhouse, which is advising on the restructuring of the centre. However, we could do more by following the example of the Netherlands and providing associate experts to help with the work. We also need to adjust the UN's priorities as a whole to give greater emphasis to human rights; otherwise the centre will be constrained by the zero growth which applies to the rest of the organisation. The limits on the capacity of the centre to keep pace with the demands made on it by the Commission are already severe, and every year new functions are added.

The promotion of human rights and pluralist democracy makes the world a safer and happier place for all humankind. I congratulate the Government on having made a very good start, and I wish them every success in the tasks they have set themselves. I hope that in the course of this Parliament we shall begin to see results in the influence that we can bring to bear in our bilateral relationships, and through our membership of the EU, the OSCE, the Commonwealth and the United Nations.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, those of us who have sat through this extremely interesting debate have heard some most important speeches. We have heard from two sometime Chiefs of the Defence Staff as well as from my noble friend Lord Chalfont, all of whom articulated extremely eloquently the needs of the armed services in the future.

A sometime head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the noble Lord, Lord Gillmore of Thamesfield, spoke most convincingly and powerfully about the interrelationship which this country still has—limited though it may be in power—with the rest of the world. In his admirable maiden speech, my noble friend Lord Moynihan gave a full justification for the hereditary peerage when drawing our attention to the fact that no country is so remote that its concerns could not be of interest to us.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, in a speech of great interest, drew attention to the desirability of considering defence in the European context and, by implication, I thought, reproached the new Secretary of State for Defence for rejecting so quickly the idea of collaborating with the French and German defence initiative. The noble Lord, Lord Healey, delivered a most powerful and convincing criticism of the extension of NATO, which I hope the noble Baroness who is to reply for the Government will take seriously.

But for those of us who have for a long time supported the idea of the European Union, this debate gives us an opportunity to express our great satisfaction about the way in which the Government approach, in a quiet and positive manner, their relations with the Union. It gives me particular satisfaction since 21 years ago I left the Labour Party, largely on the grounds that at that time the party seemed to be anti-European. It is a source of great satisfaction to me that the Government have taken up a position that I strongly support in relation to the European Union. For example, in today's Le Monde I read a repetition of the confirmation that should the European single currency go ahead and be a success, the Foreign Secretary would regard it as inevitable that Britain should join it. That is not exactly leadership since it is an idea that depends on how it all turns out. Nevertheless, it is better than nothing. There are other ways in which the Government have shown their desire to have positive relations with the European Union.

Mr. Santer, President of the European Commission, in an article in last week's Economist explained what in his view were the most important issues confronting the European Union. Those who read the article probably noted that he thought that expansion of the Union was even more important than preparing the way for a European currency. However, I believe that both the Government and the Commission should pay attention to the fact that, for the benefit of those fearful of the implications of the European Union, Mr. Santer, did not refer to what he, the European Commission or the Government hoped the Union would turn out to be in the end. If one does not know what will happen it is easy to misrepresent the European Union as a continental land monster whose chief pleasure is to eat up freedom-loving offshore islands for breakfast. It is sometimes difficult for those of us who support the European Union to say that that is wrong and that the aim is such and such. I believe that it is a concern to which the Government should pay attention.

Shortly after leaving the Labour Party 20 years ago I was invited by the then Foreign Secretary, now the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, to meet the new Spanish Foreign Minister. Sitting on my right at lunch was a Spanish diplomat who asked me what the British Government had in mind when they used the expression "European Union". As I had no clear idea of what the then Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson, or Jim Callaghan had in mind when they used that expression, I turned to my neighbour who at that time was a political adviser at No. 10 Downing Street. He replied that Mr. Wilson believed that British foreign policy was like the journey of an old stage-coach. It might not always know what its destination was but it always reached that point in the end. After some thought my Spanish colleague replied, "Maybe I am a Latin, but when I set off on a journey I want to know where it will end."

I suspect that in a sense we are now all Latins. We all want to know what the conclusion of the European Union is to be. Some noble Lords may say that the subject has already been decided and that the word "subsidiarity" sums up the conclusion. I do not believe that that is an adequate answer. Others may say that it is perfectly plain that what is wanted is a Europe of nation states. Here in this particular zone of foreign affairs it seems, if words mean anything, that the present Government are in complete agreement with the Opposition, since the Leader of the House today repeated that as his definition of what he wants the European Union to be. That was certainly the phrase which appeared in the Conservative Party manifesto.

The difficulty is that most of our continental partners reject the idea of a Europe of nation states on the assumption that the nation state was responsible for most of the wars that have wrecked European lives on such a large scale this century. Further, as a matter of fact even now we are not a Europe of nation states but are in some ways a confederation. Even the word "confederation" is unsatisfactory. After all, we have something that is very close to federal agriculture policy, federal fisheries policy and federal trade policy. We have European law enshrined in British law and all our partners have European law enshrined in their laws. I do not believe that that expression is satisfactory. So I suggest that the Government propose to the European Commission that there should be something in the nature of a new Durham report to discuss how these issues are to be satisfactorily resolved. Noble Lords will recall that after the revolt of Canada in the 1830s Lord Melbourne's Government asked Lord Durham, a member of that government, to write a report as to how Canadian self-government could be managed in the context of Canada remaining part of the British empire. That report led to the idea of dominion status. We need something very similar now.

I believe that I have time to make two further points. First, as one who was in favour of the withdrawal of Britain from UNESCO, I support the Government's proposal to return to that organisation. I know personally the present director-general, Frederico Mayor, and I am aware of some of the changes he has been able to introduce. Secondly, I should like to ask the Government whether, if they are looking for a new zone in which to introduce a breath of fresh air—which they are anxious to blow in the dustiest corners—they will look again at the issue of Gibraltar where the idea of two-flag status is now far more likely to be entertained by the Spanish Government. I believe that that would lead to a lasting solution to that thorny problem.

7.59 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, I should like to join with those who have focused on NATO in their remarks. Summits with the Russians in Paris the week after next and without the Russians in Madrid in July are fast approaching. Decisions about enlargement, how best to deal with the Russians and further restructuring of the military organisation and posture are anticipated. Before this Government adopt all of these proposals I hope that they will give the arguments which underpin them very careful consideration, in particular their attitude to the growing involvement with Russia.

Media reports of NATO concessions in order to keep the Russians sweet are worrying. The gracious Speech devotes a mere four lines to NATO. The WEU is not even mentioned. The other place, we hear, is not even debating those issues. The comments made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House in his opening remarks were helpful and useful, but they were inevitably brief. All that is pretty thin gruel upon which to feed a debate on those important issues.

The political thrust for NATO enlargement, even by two or three newcomers, has gathered speed. A point of no return has been passed. New members will join. But linked with that are the increasingly enthusiastic efforts made by the Secretary General of NATO and the USA to bring the Russians on side. There is a danger that the price NATO will pay to keep the Russians sweet may be too great. Today's Telegraph says that Mr. Primakov hailed yesterday's agreement with Mr. Solana on a NATO-Russia founding act as "a victory for Russia".

For 40 years NATO'S existence was predicated upon providing a credible defence of members' territories against a Russian-dominated Warsaw Pact threat. The death of the Warsaw Pact and the victory of the Cold War for the West left NATO with an uncertain future. In the changed strategic setting a new vision and a new vitality were called for.

But with the disappearance of the threat, the military rationale for NATO has been sidelined, apart from Bosnia. Today it is a politico/diplomatic imperative to find a new purpose, sometimes described by that tortuous phrase beloved of diplomats, if not the military, a defence and security identity", for Europe. More precisely, it is to encourage continuing Euro-Atlantic co-operation and security and to bring together a wider and ever widening community across Europe. Fine words, but do they spell out a new way forward for NATO's military forces?

The whole military structure, and the forces which the member states provided for their common defence, were driven in the past by the Cold War threat. Since the end of the Cold War the previous Government spent considerable time and effort on adjustments to our Armed Forces. What will the new Government now give the military as planning assumptions against the background of the new, enlarging NATO and no doubt UN calls for support? Let me guess at a couple.

With a doubtful and distant threat, and one unlikely to endanger the UK or our vital interests, will they say that our overall contribution need be no greater than the average of the other major alliance nations (excluding the USA)? On top of that there will, will there not, they will say, be scope for new MoD economies. That particular orange never runs out of juice. More can always be squeezed out. Will that approach appeal to the new Ministers and their Treasury officials? Will it be dressed, in the words of the gracious Speech, as reassessing, our essential security and defence needs"? Will the Government go down that path or will Ministers recognise that the Armed Forces have had a bellyful of cuts, reorganisations and major redundancies? The previous Chief of the Defence Staff stressed repeatedly the importance of a period of stability—stability to rebuild morale and allow all the changes introduced to be seen through to a sensible conclusion. I am saddened that the Government are to embark upon a further major size and shape defence review, albeit, as they claim, foreign policy led. Past defence reviews failed so often to deliver what their authors expected because a new review had been put in hand before the previous one had been properly implemented and seen through to a successful conclusion.

The services are stretched—indeed, undermanned—to carry out all their commitments today. If cuts there must be, let them be in the area of commitments. In a burgeoning economy of good job opportunities, the services will remain hard-pressed to keep up their numbers unless those commitments are eased.

Let me return for a moment to the Government's military planning assumptions. Will they direct that we must continue to play a key military role in support of NATO and UN out-of-area operations? I hope so. Our all-regular Armed Forces are very good at that. Our seat on the UN Security Council probably depends in part upon our special ability to deploy military power and its support worldwide. But do not over-commit or be tempted to over-commit our stretched forces.

Finally, let me return for a moment to the drive to formalise a close relationship with Russia. The Helsinki discussions between President Clinton and Mr. Yeltsin verged on giving the Russians a say in NATO's future, not just in relation to the immediate problems of enlargement but in any matter which might concern them. That could even involve the security of NATO territory—historically the raison d'être of the alliance. Today's media reports talk of further concessions by NATO's Secretary General. What steps have the Government in mind to ensure that the Russian presence within and alongside NATO does not become a blocking mechanism—a blocking mechanism which could spay NATO as a security and defence shield for its original members?

The Russians could not achieve their objective of dismembering NATO throughout all the years of the Cold War. Goodness knows they tried to do so. It would be a tragic fate for NATO if the Russians were able to neutralise the alliance from within and achieve what they never managed to do through the 40 years of the Cold War.

We seem to be taking it for granted that Mr. Yeltsin, let alone his successors, or those in the Ukraine who come to power, are now attuned to NATO's new aspirations, are henceforth willing to participate as collaborators in ensuring our territorial security and that of our NATO allies (old and new). That is taking a mighty gamble. Russian expansionism has a long, long history. It goes back not just years but centuries.

I hope that the Government will urge restraint on the US and others who seem to be willing to take so much on trust. While we await developments, this is not the time to be rushing into yet further cuts and reorganisations within the alliance's headquarters and command structures. The current arrangements are only just beginning to settle down and show their paces. It seems to be too early to start over again on reorganisations.

No doubt if asked the military authorities will deliver. They are expected to do that. They will rise to any challenge. But those who set them the mission should be aware that there is much to lose—in motivation, in efficiency and in morale—from over-frequent changes to military tasks and dispositions. Now is not the time to be going down that path. Are not the new Government committed to their predecessor's spending plans for defence over the next three years? That leaves little scope for major change.

I look forward to strong words of reassurance from the Government on those vital issues for our peace and security, on their vision for the future of NATO and our Armed Forces. Ministers have yet to show the understanding, enthusiasm and early commitment in those fields that they have so commendably shown over the plight of sick veterans of the Gulf War.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Taverne

My Lords, the difficulty about this debate is that there are a number of quite separate themes which do not necessarily overlap. I listened with great fascination to many most instructive and wide-ranging speeches about the future of our defence and NATO, like that just given by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. However, I shall be speaking about our relations with Europe. The future of our relations with Europe are absolutely crucial to the future of this country as a whole.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, who is no longer in the Chamber, I am delighted by the first moves that the Government have made, especially as, like the noble Lord, one of the bones of contention between myself and the Labour Party when I left it was its attitude towards Europe. Although there have been some very encouraging moves to start with, the real test will come with the decision over monetary union. There are many people who are genuinely very much pro-European but who declare themselves sceptical about monetary union. In the long run, those two opinions will be incompatible. I say that because if we do not take part in monetary union, which is the direction that the others will take, we will be isolated and unable to be at the heart of Europe. The Government seem to recognise that fact and have certainly declared themselves in favour of monetary union in principle. However, their present stand is, "Yes, but not yet"; or at least, "It is unlikely that we will join in the first wave but we may well join in the second wave, say, in the year 2002".

On the face of it that seems to be a reasonable attitude and a sensible one, but the reasons for it are questionable. It should be recognised that the dangers of that attitude are very real. The first is the argument of, "Let's see if it works". That is not a very effective argument because it is unlikely that we shall know any more about the workings of monetary union by the year 2002 than we do now. In fact, the first years of a monetary union are likely to he the most turbulent.

Secondly, there is the argument which states, "Well, we may not qualify". If we do not qualify, we do not qualify. But if we wish to join the first wave, there is very little doubt that we can qualify if we wish to. Indeed, we are as likely to qualify as Germany or France. The third argument is that we are not ready. That is partly true. The City has certainly made considerable preparations for monetary union because it realises that, whether we are in or out, it has to live in the Euro-world. On the whole, multinationals have prepared carefully for monetary union. However, no work of any kind seems to have been done in the public sector. If the Government are genuine in the desire of at least maintaining the option on joining in the first wave, that work must start at once; otherwise we shall be ruled out for reasons which will be totally indefensible.

I shall not go through all the reasons but a fourth one, and one which to my mind is the most important one for caution, is that sterling is at present too high. It would be an error to lock in at the present rate of sterling. Although stability of currency is one of the greatest advantages of a monetary union, it seems dangerous for us to lock in at the present high rate of sterling. That is a problem which is not easy to solve. In my view what we should do before we face the decision about monetary union—indeed, what I hope Mr. Brown will do when he has to face such a decision—is to join the European exchange rate mechanism at a central rate of 2.50 DM. That means that our present rate would be within the 15 per cent. limit which is now allowed with the ERM and which of course makes it a much easier mechanism to join than when we were in before at much too high a rate. When the actual decision comes to lock the currencies in, we could then argue that we should lock in at the central rate. That is certainly the argument that the French are advancing. If we locked in at the central rate of 2.50 DM, that certainly should give us the stability that we seek. In itself, joining the ERM should have a downward pressure on sterling and a downward pressure on long-term interest rates; and, indeed, might well achieve the kind of objective which much of our industry wishes to see.

However, the main point that I wish to make is that the policy of, "Yes, but not yet"—the policy of saying, "We will join in the year 2002"—is fraught with danger. It is perhaps a danger that our partners do not truly appreciate. It is a political danger. Many of our partners appear to be saying to the present Government, "As long as you commit yourselves you can join in the second wave. We do not mind". But let us look at the politics of it. What would be likely to happen? The Conservatives, as an Opposition, would almost certainly strongly oppose such a move. I am not speaking of Mr. Clarke, but the rest of the Conservatives. All the other leadership candidates who are at present on parade are strongly opposed to monetary union (certainly to joining in the first wave).

The press would continue strongly to oppose our membership of monetary union. Indeed, every trouble that we faced would be blamed on the decision to give up the pound. Ministers would be obsessed and absorbed by their own affairs. It is extremely unlikely that Ministers would actually be campaigning and giving a strong political lead in favour of the principle of joining monetary union. That is what life is like. Ministers concentrate on their immediate tasks. What would be needed to offset the pressure of the Opposition and the pressure of the press would be a strong political lead, backing the view of the trade unions—the TUC, for example, is in favour—and backing the view of industry, which has become increasingly committed to our joining and will become increasingly scared about being left out of a monetary union when that union looms immediately ahead.

We would then have a position in which public opinion would continue to be hostile because there was no political lead; indeed, it might even harden against. Then, when the next election loomed, the Government would get cold feet and say, "No, we can't join in 2002". One could see that happening in the last election. As the election process went on, scared about the new found support from the Sun slipping away and scared about the hostility which they detected among the public against the principle of closer integration with Europe, the Opposition (the Labour Party)—the present Government—became more sceptical as the campaign went on. The result could well be that, against their better judgment, they would rule out joining even in the second wave. If we do not join in the second wave, there must be doubts as to whether we will ever join at all. As a result, Britain would be isolated in Europe.

We need more than fine words; we need a boldness of decision. When that decision comes to be taken, which I suspect will be in the autumn at the latest, I hope that Mr. Brown for one will be as bold as he was in deciding to opt for the independence of the Bank of England. If the Government were bold, they might well be favourably surprised by the amount of support that that decision would receive.

8.18 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I begin my speech by warmly congratulating my noble friend Lord Moynihan on his outstanding, wide-ranging and stimulating maiden speech. I warmly welcome the Government's commitment in the gracious Speech to make the, promotion of human rights worldwide … a priority".—[Official Report, 14/5/97; col. 8]. I also welcome the Foreign Secretary's claim that we have a moral responsibility to provide help when confronted with evidence of disasters and atrocities.

I therefore take this opportunity to raise some urgent issues based on first-hand evidence of violations of human rights in two of the countries where I am currently working: Sudan and Burma. I appreciate that the noble Baroness opposite, to whom I offer my congratulations on her appointment, may not be able to answer such questions this evening. However, I know that the people who are suffering so greatly in those countries will be hoping for a positive response in due course, as their expectations have been raised by the principled commitments which the Government have given.

I was in Burma with the Karen and the Kareni people at the end of last year. I have been to Sudan three times this year, to southern Blue Nile and eastern Upper Nile, to the Beja people of eastern Sudan, to Bahr-El-Ghazal in southern Sudan and to the Nuba Mountains. I went with Christian Solidarity International (CSI), a human rights organisation working for victims of repression, regardless of their creed, colour or nationality. Our priority is to reach those people who cannot be reached by other aid organisations.

Many major aid organisations such as United Nations organisations and the International Committee of the Red Cross can only visit people with the permission of a sovereign government. This limitation creates serious ethical and political problems because governments victimising people within their own borders often do not give this permission and their victims are therefore denied both aid and advocacy. Often in war zones, deprived of essential medical and food supplies, these people are thus among the most destitute and neglected people in the world.

My two examples illustrate this problem. CSI has chosen these areas, inter alia, because their people are suffering massive human rights violations perpetrated by regimes which simultaneously impose a "no go" policy for major aid organisations. First, I shall discuss Sudan. In the cruel calculus of man's inhumanity to man, Sudan ranks as one of the greatest tragedies in the world today. The civil war waged by the fundamentalist, totalitarian National Islamic Front regime has caused the death and displacement of millions of its own people. The toll is rising. In southern Blue Nile and eastern Upper Nile, where Christians, Moslems and Animists live together, the Government have recently adopted a scorched earth policy. Villages are bombed by Antonov aircraft and helicopters. Ground forces then attack, systematically burning all homes and crops, and stealing or slaughtering livestock. We walked for mile after mile through the charred remains of deserted villages. This policy has this year alone created at least 50,000 more displaced civilians living without shelter, scavenging for roots and nuts. Many are dying. They are now facing an increasingly severe famine and are denied help from UN Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS).

The Beja Moslem people in Kassala region are suffering from a similar crisis created by their own government. They are being deported from their villages and are trying to scratch a living in harsh desert conditions with no access to their homes, crops or water supplies and no shelter in the cold desert nights. Only a few weeks ago we were in the Nuba Mountains, where government forces are attacking civilians with low flying helicopter gunships, flying at 50 to 100 feet, mowing down women and children. There, too, government troops burn homes, crops, churches and mosques, forcing people to flee to the mountains, often with no access to water supplies. Many have no clothes in the cold rainy season.

The government of Sudan have also encouraged the enslavement of black Africans. In Bahr-El-Ghazal we visited many areas which had suffered from slave raids by militia armed by the Sudanese Government and encouraged to fight against the African communities. It may seem unreal to talk about slavery in May 1997 but there is no doubt about its existence in Sudan. We have taken many independent witnesses and journalists who have produced detailed and graphic reports. We estimate that tens of thousands of African Sudanese are now enslaved.

However, I leave Sudan on a slightly happier note. CSI has adopted a twin track policy in response to slavery in Sudan. First, we led a peace and reconciliation mission to the north-south borderlands, with Arab Moslem political and religious leaders from the north, including Mubarak El Mandi, together with elders from Bahr-El-Ghazal. They held historic talks with local Arabs, encouraging them to spread the message that this war is not a legitimate jihad and that it would be better for all, both African and Arab, to live in peace. I am pleased to say that when we were last in the region a few weeks ago we were told that there have been no further slave raids. We also assisted local communities to redeem over 300 women and children who had been enslaved and we witnessed their joyful reunions with their families.

However, there are still far too many people enslaved and far too many people in Sudan, not only Christians but also Moslems and Animists, who are suffering and dying at the hands of the totalitarian regime in Khartoum. Many Arab Moslems are suffering in the north, with arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and extrajudicial executions. Also many men and boys have been abducted and forced to serve in the government army, often to fight against their own people. Their families rarely see them again as they are typically put in the front line where they are the first to be killed.

I hope I may ask the noble Baroness two questions with regard to Sudan. First, will the Government do everything possible to put pressure on the Sudanese Government to desist from these violations of human rights and to open up all of Sudan to aid organisations and to human rights monitors? Secondly, in the meantime, will the Government consider helping aid organisations which are prepared to take supplies essential for survival to those people who cannot currently be served by organisations such as UNOLS or ICRC? One such organisation is CSI. Here I must declare an interest as president of CSI-UK and as a CSI volunteer who has been working with people in Sudan suffering at the hands of their government.

If our Government continue their present policy of limiting their aid to UNOLS, many thousands more Sudanese civilians will perish in the coming weeks. We know that now in southern Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains people suffering from famine are receiving no food. They are dying from disease and receiving no medicine; they are suffering from cold and have no clothes or blankets. I hope very much that this Government will be more flexible in their aid policy and give some resources to organisations which are able to reach innocent civilians who will otherwise die of avoidable starvation and disease in the weeks ahead.

I turn briefly to Burma, where the Karen and other ethnic minorities, as well as political opposition groups, are suffering at the hands of the SLORC regime. In December we visited the Karenni and Karen peoples. Government troops have been systematically deporting Karenni civilians from their villages, compelling them to go to relocation camps which are virtually concentration camps. Foreign NGOs are not allowed access. Some of the Karenni who had escaped described conditions in the camps. Many people are dying; food is inadequate, there is widespread disease and no medical care. Those who flee cannot return to their villages because SLORC troops have mined their homes. They are therefore forced to live in the jungle, which is a harsh environment, especially in the rainy season. A few have managed to cross into Thailand, where they join the thousands of other refugees, including tens of thousands of Karen people, who have had to flee across the border to avoid capture by SLORC troops within Burma. Many Karen who have been captured have been tortured, murdered or forced into slavery. Recently the SLORC regime has also stepped up its military offensives against the Karen. Those offensives have been so successful that by the end of March the Karen KNU forces retained little of their own territory.

These military successes by SLORC troops have forced 20,000 more Karen to flee to Thailand. But even across the border they are not safe. Their camps have been attacked and people have been killed, injured and terrorised. Their homes and food supplies have been burnt. There is also widespread fear that the Thai authorities may repatriate them to Burma, where they are likely to suffer again at the hands of the SLORC regime. I therefore hope I may ask the noble Baroness questions which are rather similar to those I have already raised with regard to Sudan. First, will the Government join the United States and other nations in applying political and economic pressure on the SLORC regime to comply with international human rights conventions, to desist from its brutal violations of human rights of its ethnic minorities and from its repressive policies against political opposition groups and individuals such as the courageous Aung San Suu Kyi?

Secondly, will the Government do something to ensure that urgently needed humanitarian aid reaches those most in need in Burma? Aid organisations working with the Burma Border Consortium are doing valiant work with refugees in the camps on the Thai-Burmese border. But many Karen and Karenni trapped inside Burma are in desperate need of aid and are currently beyond the reach of agencies working in the borderlands. Will the Government press the SLORC regime to open up all of Burma to aid workers and human rights monitors? Until it does so, will the Government provide some resources for organisations to reach those in need who are at present unreached? Finally, will the Government request the Thai authorities to provide more effective security for the camps along their border and allow UNHCR to maintain a presence there to monitor the situation and to provide necessary assistance for the vulnerable people now living in those camps?

I am aware that many siren voices representing trade interests counsel against any measures which might risk damaging diplomatic or trade relations with regimes such as those in Burma or Sudan. However, I take hope from the Foreign Secretary's commitment to an ethical stand on human rights. I realise that there are many complex political, economic and ethical issues involved in achieving an appropriate and principled balance in policies which reflect inherent tensions between the protection of human rights and perceptions of the "national interest". But I do not think that it is in the long-term interest of any nation to allow commercial interests completely to override concern for human rights.

In so far as the Government fulfil their commitments to promote human rights, they will earn the gratitude of many people who are currently suffering severely and the respect of all concerned with peace and justice. Although these may seem intangible rewards, they are priceless and, I believe, will ultimately serve the "national interest" more powerfully than short-term diplomatic expediency or economic gain if it is bought at the expense of human rights.

I conclude by wishing the Government success in their endeavours concerning human rights indicated in the gracious Speech, and by promising my support for any measure which will help to alleviate the agony of the repressed people of Sudan, Burma or other parts of the world who are suffering so grievously from these violations of human rights.

8.31 p.m.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, proposes to wind up at the end of today's debate. I join with others in congratulating her on her ministerial appointment. I hope that she will not take it as a reflection on her earlier service in government when I wish her every success in now finding herself in the best department in Whitehall. My noble friend Lord Gillmore has rightly drawn attention to the loyalty which the noble Baroness can expect from the Diplomatic Service. Given her past experience, she will know better than anyone the importance that Ministers should from time to time publicly recognise and be seen to reciprocate that loyalty.

I should also like to congratulate the Government on the welcome and positive start which they have made in the European debate. If we are to wield our influence and promote our interests effectively, both within the European Union and more widely, it is vital that we should not only work and co-operate closely with our European partners but that we should be seen as co-operative and fully committed Europeans. No doubt there will continue to be important differences between ourselves and other members of the European Union, as there are between even the most committed federalists among our partners. No doubt there will continue to be from time to time unwelcome activity by the European Commission, the European Court of Justice and the European Parliament. But I hope that the leading role which has been signalled in the gracious Speech will lead to a change of tone and attitude, and indeed substance, in the public perception of Europe. We are part of Europe. Our strategic, economic and commercial interests are now so vitally involved in Europe that it is high time that we came to regard our European partners as partners and not as some threat—like those swastikas which push across our television screens in the replays of "Dad's Army".

But it is not only on European questions that a new attitude will promote our interests. The former United States ambassador in London, Mr. Raymond Seitz, has I think been quoted in this House before as saying that Britain's role in the European Union is indispensable to our relationship with the United States. I do not myself doubt that Japanese and other foreign investment in this country is closely related to the commitment of our membership of the single market, even though other factors of course play a part. And speaking as a former ambassador in Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service, I can assure your Lordships that our influence with host governments, when we speak as one of 15 members of the European Union, is much the greater for being seen to be a joint and co-operative effort. If we are constantly seen to be out of step, or standing on the perimeter, as the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, put it, as has happened too often in the past, our influence and interests in the rest of the world, including the Commonwealth, will be significantly reduced.

In speaking about our worldwide interests, I appeal to the Government to make the best possible use of the unique and cost-effective resource which they have available to them in Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service. I hope that the noble Baroness, as a former colleague in the Home Civil Service, will need no persuading of the role which diplomatic posts, including the home civil servants who serve in them, can play and are keen to play in promoting our commercial, political and strategic interests round the world. I hope that the Government, who have emphasised the importance of investment, will accept that continued investment in what has been acknowledged even by a former French Foreign Minister to be the best diplomatic service in the world is a global asset of crucial importance to the continuing security and prosperity of this country.

Since my retirement six years ago, I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to see from the perspective of the private sector the benefits of a continuing global foreign policy and the role which our diplomatic posts and departments in London can play in promoting both visible and invisible exports and in encouraging inward investment. There has rightly been much emphasis in recent years on the growing importance of commercial work in the Diplomatic Service, on which some 34 per cent. of all Diplomatic Service staff abroad are directly engaged. But I hope that the Government will not forget that the effectiveness of diplomatic staff abroad ultimately depends on their political and personal contacts with and understanding of their host governments and the people of influence in the countries in which they are serving; and their consequent ability as resident representatives to give our businessmen and investors the political advice which they need from our missions abroad, in both identifying business opportunities and in concluding commercial and economic agreements.

Many people derive their impressions of British embassies abroad from visits to the big capitals—Paris, Washington, Rome, and so on. They are accustomed to a certain style of diplomatic representation. It is less well known that over a hundred of our posts now have four or fewer UK-based staff, and some only two or one. Indeed, a few have none and are solely staffed by locally engaged personnel. I would certainly pay a warm tribute from my experience as Head of the Diplomatic Service to the work which those locally engaged staff do. But I believe that a decent face of Britain to the world needs to be properly equipped to look after our interests, to assist Britain abroad and to promote our trade. I fear that we may have reached the point where in many countries the job cannot be properly done.

The gracious Speech has emphasised the priority which the Government propose to give to the promotion of human rights and to the fight against terrorism. The gracious Speech also contains a welcome undertaking that the Government will promote efforts for a durable peace in the Middle East. In this connection, there is one aspect of human rights which I should like to draw to the Government's attention; namely, the continued construction of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories. Your Lordships will be well aware of the deplorable decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu's Government to proceed with the illegal construction of the Har Homa settlement in Jerusalem, in spite of strong protests by others and expressions of disapproval from many Israelis and from Jewish and other friends of Israel in this country. The Israeli Government were nevertheless reported at the end of last week to have reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Not only do these illegal settlements constitute a serious breach of Palestinian rights; they are also putting at risk the whole Arab-Israeli peace process.

When I raised this issue with a group of American congressmen recently they argued that we should be paying more attention to Palestinian extremism and terrorism rather than to the construction of, as they put it, a few Jewish homes in Israel's own capital. They also showed no sign of grasping the serious and dangerous implications of the congressional resolution to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. These attitudes not only beg important questions about the status of Jerusalem, which remains to be settled at a later stage of the peace process; they also ignore the fact that there can be no greater encouragement of terrorism and extremism than a continuation of Israel's present settlement policies both in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank. I hope that the closer co-operation with our European partners which appears to be a very welcome part of the Government's foreign policy will increase our effectiveness in dissuading the Israeli Government, both directly and via the United States Administration, from pursuing their present, highly provocative settlement policies. I should add an important point. I believe personally that in the longer term these policies are not in the interests of the Israelis themselves.

Finally, I should like to refer to the proposal that has been attributed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in various press interviews; namely, to set up a foreign policy forum which would bring together academics, outside specialists and commentators to provide alternative policy advice. If I may declare an interest as chairman of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the resources available to Chatham House are, in my view, well placed to contribute to, if not to provide, just such a source of independent advice. While Chatham House as an institution is bound by its charter to take an independent and non-political line on international affairs, the human resources on which it can draw, both from this country and from abroad, cover the widest spectrum of background analysis and viewpoints. As I have said in a personal letter to the Prime Minister, Chatham House is ready to collaborate with this Government, as it has done on a non-partisan basis with all governments since its foundation in the early 1920s, and to put its considerable, and internationally respected, intellectual resources at the disposal of the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers and officials, with whom we already enjoy a close and productive co-operation, in a very full and exciting programme of research, publications, meetings and conferences.

In conclusion, I return briefly to the question of Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to the need to make Europe better understood. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, echoed that sentiment when he talked of the "education of public opinion". The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said that "the European Union could and should be of enormous benefit to this country". I urge the Government, who have already demonstrated a certain flair for public relations, to take positive steps to persuade public opinion that this is indeed the case.

8.44 p.m.

Lord Eatwell

My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House reminded us that the gracious Speech declares: My Government will work for the early and successful enlargement of the European Union". With all due respect to the desire of Cyprus to join the European Union, the term "enlargement" refers predominantly to the 10 central and eastern European countries formerly oppressed by communist dictatorships that have applied for membership; namely, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Enlarging the Union to the east is a desirable, indeed, noble project. It echoes the role that the European Union played in making democracy secure in Greece, Spain and Portugal after those countries had thrown off the dictatorships that oppressed them. Enlargement is an important component in reshaping European security from Ireland to the Urals and beyond.

Yet the policies of the member states of the European Union, including, I regret to say, the policies of the United Kingdom, at least up until 1st May, suggest that enlargement will be neither early nor successful. On the contrary, current policies towards enlargement are likely to produce delay, division and disillusionment—a dangerous cocktail for countries just now consolidating their market economies and fledgling democracies.

The problem is that the predominance of the political motivation for enlargement in West and East has tended to downgrade vital economic issues. The economic debate, such as it is, is dominated by the portrayal of enlargement as an expensive challenge to the West, demanding reform of the CAP and the structural funds so that EU budget constraints are not breached. So far as the economic impact on the East is concerned, enlargement has been described to me by the senior responsible official in Brussels as "just another accession fundamentally indistinguishable from the earlier accessions of Greece, Spain and Portugal".

That approach is a serious economic error, which in turn threatens severe political dangers which could easily de-rail the positive political goals of governments in East and West. The rapid enlargement of the European Union is not just another accession proceeding along well-worn paths. The early enlargement called for in the gracious Speech poses enormous, unique economic challenges to the applicants, challenges which must be overcome if there is to be the successful enlargement that the gracious Speech desires.

Enlargement is not just another accession for four major reasons. First, unlike all earlier applicants to join the European Union, the central and eastern European countries are today conducting a unique transformation from over-industrialised state-directed economies to newly industrialised, newly service-providing market economies. They are attempting that wholesale economic transformation in a highly competitive global market-place that is quite different from the cosy, protected markets which cushioned western European reconstruction after the war. They are also very poor. If Poland, one of the most likely countries to join, were to grow at a steady 5 per cent. a year, it would take that country nearly 20 years to reach the same income per head as Greece, the poorest member of the EU today. Indeed, all the applicants are poorer than Greece.

Secondly, unlike all earlier applicants, the central and east European economies have very limited experience of competing in international markets, poorly developed and inexperienced legal and commercial infrastructure, a small and inexperienced entrepreneurial class, and ill-defined labour market institutions.

Thirdly, unlike all earlier accessions, the new applicants face a European Union which is itself going through a period of dramatic institutional change. New applicants must accept a degree of economic integration, including monetary integration, which is far greater than anything experienced by previous applicants.

Fourthly, unlike all earlier accessions, the distinction between those who join and those who do not join could create a serious new economic and political divide in Europe. The rejection of a membership application may have very damaging consequences for the economic and political development of the country concerned. The very people who have campaigned for democracy and the free market will have been rebuffed and may be seriously weakened at home. It is therefore vital that rejected applicants have a place in European structures that minimises the risks of political backlash.

Enlargement will shape the future of the entire continent. It is therefore vital that, instead of treating the applicants as supplicants, we should recognise that the European Union and the 10 applicants are partners in that historic task.

The omens are not good. In May 1996 the applicant countries all received an enormous questionnaire, divided into 23 chapters corresponding to the Commission directorates, which had to be returned three months later. This was supposed to give the Commission enough information to offer an opinion about which of the applicants was qualified for membership. The questionnaire was a dismal portent for the conduct of enlargement negotiations. Not only were many of the questions absurd, and the time given to answer them much too short, but also the questionnaire embodied the dominant theme of a one-sided relationship between the European Union and the applicants. There is also good reason to believe that those preparing the Commission's opinions have become mired in detail and are losing sight of the Continent-wide interest in enlargement.

If the goals of the gracious Speech of early and successful enlargement are to be achieved, that one-sided approach must be replaced by a political and economic partnership between members and applicants dedicated to building a successful social market economy throughout Europe.

As far as successful applicants are concerned, that requires a concerted strategy to build economies capable of competing in the single market. That strategy must define entirely new transition arrangements in trade, investment and the development of industrial and financial infrastructure appropriate to the peculiar economic and institutional problems of central and eastern European countries.

As far as the unsuccessful applicants are concerned, there should be a redefinition of the concept of the European Economic Area or, rather, the creation of a new version of the economic area appropriate to central and eastern Europe. As noble Lords will know, the current economic area encompasses the prosperous mature democracies of Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway as well as all the EU members. The creation of something like the EEA to involve non-Union members in central and eastern Europe will require a new definition of economic and political obligations both between the non-EU members and the Union and between the non-EU members themselves.

Successful enlargement also requires that the present members of the European Union commit themselves to a timetable of prior reform, notably to the CAP, the structural funds and the political organisation of the Union. It is no good, after all, entering into detailed negotiations with potential members if there is no clear idea of what they are being offered and to what they are committing themselves.

The wide variety of enormously difficult issues involved in enlargement suggests that the pursuit of that goal by traditional diplomatic means may prove to be a trap, heralding the possibility of indefinite delay. By its very nature diplomacy requires the detailed negotiation of a myriad of potentially contentious issues. There are an extraordinary number of vested interests in both current member states and applicant countries which will, under current arrangements, be given ample opportunity to derail the negotiations and undermine the policy of Her Majesty's Government as expressed in the gracious Speech.

A device is therefore required which will avoid this diplomatic trap while dealing with all the complex issues involved. In fact, the European Union has two time-honoured devices for making progress on major questions: reports and timetables. The Treaty of Rome was itself based on the Spaak Committee report. Similarly the 1985 Commission-wide paper on the completion of the internal market, the report which bears the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, led to the Single European Act and the 1992 deadline for the completion of the single market. The Delors report on economic and monetary union provided the three-stage programme which was embodied in the Maastricht Treaty.

A timetable similar to those which had been used so effectively by the Union in the past is therefore required to provide momentum to the process of enlargement. The timetable will essentially be a statement of the issues which are to be faced and the means by which they are to be overcome.

Next month the Commission will present its response to the 10 applicants from central and eastern Europe and Cyprus. The present members have promised to start negotiations with the applicants after the end of the IGC, most likely sometime during the first half of 1998. The period between the response and the opening of the negotiations is vital. It provides the opportunity for implementing the approach via a report which has historically been so effective in the development of the European Union.

I therefore wish to propose that an ad hoc committee be established, drawn from member states and applicants and chaired by a suitably distinguished person, charged with preparing within a year a report to the 25 governments of the present EU members and the applicant states. The report should deal with, among other things, pan-European infrastructure and communications; money, banking and payments relationships, including the relationships of non-members with the euro zone; energy and power; environment; competition policy; agriculture, and so on. The report should also consider the dynamics of the enlargement process and how countries move from one stage to another.

The timetable in the report should specify what steps must be taken by existing members and applicants prior to the commencement of full entry negotiations and how those steps are to be co-ordinated. This will necessarily include a timetable for the completion of national internal reforms, economic and political, required before meaningful negotiations can commence. The committee should also consider what should be the new relationship with unsuccessful applicants and how candidates which are unsuccessful in the first round can be prepared for later success.

It may seem rather odd to be suggesting a new report at this stage when negotiations are likely to begin in 1998. In particular, it might be feared that a new report would be a means of delaying European enlargement. In fact, I believe that a new report is necessary: first, to confront the wide range of economic and political issues that I have outlined, which far transcend the needs of just another accession; and, secondly, to avoid the delay which is inherent in the trap of diplomacy. Most important of all, the new report should be the means of building the mutual confidence and respect necessary for the early and successful enlargement of the European Union.

8.58 p.m.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in saluting the noble Baroness in her new responsibilities. She will be of great assistance to her new department, with her intimate knowledge of the workings of Whitehall.

The gracious Speech declares the intention of the Government to seize the opportunity of the Edinburgh meeting of the heads of Commonwealth governments to increase co-operation with other Commonwealth governments. For 30 years our relationship with other Commonwealth governments at these meetings has been clouded by controversies, mainly over southern Africa, which generated personal bitterness and certainly negative feelings among our Ministers towards what had become for many years an embarrassing biennial occasion. These difficulties have now passed and there is a new atmosphere at Commonwealth heads of government meetings, which gives the Government, with its declared intentions to make the most of close co-operation, a great opportunity.

The Government have a long tradition of close ties with Commonwealth leaders. Going down memory lane, I recall coming every afternoon to this House in 1949 as Secretary to the Leader of the House, who was also Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, when this country and India together formed the Commonwealth in its present pattern.

The main vehicle for collective co-operation, co-operative projects, within the Commonwealth is the Commonwealth Secretariat. Most of the daily work of the office in dealing with Commonwealth countries, of course, is bilateral, but the collective projects are the responsibility of the Commonwealth Secretariat to organise and execute, carrying out the policies set at the biennial meetings of heads of government.

Over the 30 years of its life, the Commonwealth Secretariat has built up an extremely effective organism and cost-effective administration for a very wide and varied range of services capable of responding rapidly and flexibly to new and urgent demands. But the secretariat can no longer meet the demands on it as its resources are fully employed. Indeed, it is over-extended. In recent years, it has had greatly to reduce its staff. I daresay a shake-up is a good thing in any organisation every now and then. But the time has now come to move forward again and the secretariat simply has no means by which it can accommodate any new demands that the heads of government at Edinburgh may wish to place on it.

I suggest that there is a rising recognition in public opinion that our historic Commonwealth links add up to a national asset that holds out great opportunities and should be cherished and developed. As the noble Lord, Lord Gillmore, said, it represents a unique and undervalued institution. That more positive public attitude is reinforced by the shift of economic gravity towards Asia and the Pacific Rim, with all the enormous growth potential of its huge growing market. We tend to forget that in India alone the prosperous middle class represents a consumer population of some 250 million people. So, let us maintain and give new energy to our Commonwealth links and acknowledge that the Commonwealth Secretariat is the main mechanism for co-operation in collective projects.

But it is constrained in its limited resources. It receives demands in the fields of peacekeeping, monitoring of elections and providing training and experts to reinforce new democracies, demands that it can no longer meet. There are also new areas of opportunity opening up the whole time, opportunities to provide invaluable help to other developing countries. For example, in the increasingly sensitive field of the environment, the Commonwealth has for seven years successfully established an infrastructure in the Caribbean for management of the marine environment. Effective control of ocean resources is now recognised as necessary and there is a pressing need for similar arrangements to those in the Caribbean in the Indian Ocean. Seven countries around the Indian Ocean, including India and South Africa, need help to monitor their ocean resources. But if that is to be met, it requires new resources for the secretariat far beyond the existing budget capacity.

Again, the secretariat has become a kind of respected, trusted and friendly aunt for small states. One of the phenomena of the past 20 years has been the tremendous proliferation of very small states on the international scene. Vulnerable and ill equipped for external relations, they enormously value the help that the Commonwealth Secretariat gives to them in many directions. Let us take the problem of money laundering, which is of great importance to us all. Some of the small states are trying to cope with extremely difficult pressures in the money laundering field and need the kind of advice that the secretariat can arrange.

I could go on quoting examples such as the training of officials, self-help schemes for the poor, youth schemes, help to promote women's activities in public life, schemes in the health field, the training of professionals, student exchanges. In all those fields, nothing more can be undertaken without more resources. What value for money we get from those funds that are allocated to the secretariat! Let us take the comparison between the monitoring team that the Commonwealth sent to Bangladesh, which cost £150,000, and the team that the United Nations sent for the same purpose, which cost £6.5 million. Not only is the work done very efficiently and economically, but from the point of view of this country there is a multiplier effect. We contribute to core activities 30 per cent. of the secretariat's budget. That means that for every £1 that we contribute, £2 are put up by our Commonwealth partners.

Therefore, I trust that at Edinburgh the Government will give a lead in proposing a very substantial increase of resources, to enable the secretariat to respond to the growing demands and thereby move forward as a vibrant, flexible and cost-effective means of the closer co-operation that the gracious Speech envisages.

9.11 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Richard, Leader of the House and Lord Privy Seal, on his new appointments. I am sorry to see that he is not in his place since I also wished to congratulate him on his strong stance on defence. I wish too to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, on her new appointment and on the new location in this House.

It has not been so much a landslide as an avalanche and I think Members in both Houses are still trying to find out where they are, where they sit and who is who in the new hierarchy. For the Back Benchers in this House, except for the ever present sword of Damocles poised over us hereditary Peers—of which the noble Lord the Leader of the House reminded us today so courteously and chillingly—it is much easier because all Peers are noble and, although we are not supposed to say this publicly, we are all friends, on whichever Benches we sit.

Noble Lords will be aware that I never speak for very long, for various reasons, two predominating. The first is that I am always shy and nervous and my knees shake, and the second is that I do not wish to take up too much of your Lordships' valuable time and well-known patience. Noble Lords will also know that ever since I have sat in your Lordships' House I have always been saying the same things on defence, first, reiterating the importance of defence to our nation and people as a whole; and, secondly, emphasising the very high calibre, dedication and professionalism of all Her Majesty's Armed Forces, many of whom I have been privileged to meet under the aegis of the Defence Study Group.

Like the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Redesdale and the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Craig of Radley, I too have reservations about defence reviews, which, in my experience, are a euphemism for cuts. I am delighted that the gracious Speech said we, will retain strong armed forces, including the nuclear deterrent". It is the first part of the sentence on which I shall speak.

Defence, my Lords, is about people. We are defending the people of Britain against any outside attacks which may ensue. We are also using our forces to defend the peace of the world, both in Northern Ireland and Bosnia Herzegovina and in many other places. And, however well supplied with weapons and back-up teams and finance, our Armed Forces consist of splendid and highly-dedicated people, whose interests with us must always be paramount.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, will, I know, have plenty to say on the actions of the new Government in looking into the Gulf War Syndrome, and I support her thoroughly. This is very good news, which delights us all and augurs well for the new Administration. I hope they will also bear in mind what we have been saying for the last 10 years, that the Armed Forces of this country are undermanned for the amount of tasks which we require of them and that they do not need further cutbacks.

As 1997 is the year of the seafarer, the War Widows Association of Great Britain is holding a service at Greenwich. I would like to quote a reading from St. Augustine, read by the widow of an Ordinary Seaman: People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering. I have been talking about the importance of the people in our Armed Forces; I think St. Augustine is talking about the importance of the people in God's world.

9.16 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness the Minister on her appointment and offer my best wishes for her work here.

I return to the subject I addressed on the occasion of the previous Queen's Speech debate on foreign affairs on 28th October 1996 and look again at the increasingly harsh discrimination and persecution being experienced by a wide spectrum of ethnic and religious minorities in Germany. In doing so I hope that the new Government will be prepared to look harder and more clear sightedly at the human rights situation in Germany, more so than the previous Government, who apparently preferred to sweep these matters under the carpet. I am pleased to see the emphasis on human rights in the gracious Speech, and I hope this emphasis will also be present in negotiations with our European partners.

I will not detain the House with a restatement of what I said on that occasion. But I will say, for the benefit of the noble Baroness who is to reply to this debate that I formed what we called an ad hoc committee to investigate discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities in Germany. I was joined by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and by a professor of philosophy, a senior lecturer in the sociology of education and a writer and lecturer on religious affairs.

We were in Germany at the end of September/beginning of October 1996. We interviewed representatives of 14 different religious and ethnic minorities and one group based on educational and family principles. The Germans use the word "Weltanschauung," meaning "world view", to describe such groups which are afforded the same protection as religions under the German constitution.

Our findings make disturbing reading. We were very disappointed with the reaction to them of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, and the former British Ambassador to Bonn, who I believe is now retired. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, who replied to the debate for the Foreign Office on that occasion was disturbed by our report and puzzled by the response of his colleagues. I hope I am not misinterpreting his feelings.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to the "democratic deficit" in Europe. The words could equally be applied to German political and social life. I do not want anyone to think that I am criticising Germans as people. The problem is that despite Germany's comprehensive and well thought out democratic constitution, there are considerable blind spots, and it is to those blind spots that the ad hoc committee directed its attention.

We also discussed the situation there with two very experienced academics, one of whom was involved in political re-education after the war. I know that the phrase "political re-education" has unfortunate connotations, historically speaking, but in this case it was Professor Krumholz who was re-educating young Germans who had grown up during the war from the Nazi ideology in which they had been indoctrinated to more democratic ideas. Over the past 20 years or so he has become increasingly disillusioned and even bitter at what he sees as the betrayal of those ideals and ideas and of the German people by the political and religious establishments in Germany. This sense of betrayal has increased since reunification. The human rights NGOs, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch/Helsinki have also done some excellent work on the plight of ethnic minorities. In that context we have seen the repatriation of Vietnamese and Bosnians from Germany.

There has until recently been a dearth of material which examines the discrimination and persecution by state and church authorities. The 1995 report by the Churches Human Rights Forum, written by Suzanne Gee, has been very helpful. The two-and-a-half pages devoted to Germany are a useful introduction and the whole report also puts the situation in Germany in its European context. As far as I know, the ad hoc committee's report is the most comprehensive and detailed look at the problems facing religious minorities in Germany that has ever been carried out.

Noble Lords will recall that since we reported on our visit to Germany last year there have been incidents which made the newspapers here and one indeed assumed the status of a minor international incident. I am referring to the report in a leading German newspaper which made a rather unfortunate reference to the former Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind. Anyone who thought indulgently that this was an unfortunate but insignificant journalistic slip is very wide of the mark.

The point of the remark and of the article was that the journalist thought it was amusing and odd that someone of Jewish background should quote the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, an example of intellectual apartheid which makes sense to a certain kind of German but not to anyone else. This was in fact a small seismic crack in the crust of respectability that holds back the emotional and political pressure against minorities. Noble Lords may also recall that the German tennis player Boris Becker has left Germany for good because he and his family suffered intense harassment because his wife is a black woman.

I recently spoke to a representative of the Bruderhof, a Christian agricultural community, which left Germany in 1937 to escape persecution by the authorities. They re-established their community in Germany in, I think, the 1980s. Within the past few years they have again felt the need to leave Germany because of bureaucratic harassment and have settled on a farm in southern England.

The noble Baroness the Minister, once she has had time to study the papers and the report, whose second edition will be published in a few days' time, will not be surprised by my disappointment with the reply I received from the previous Administration. I am pleased that the new Government intend to strengthen the laws on data protection and access by individuals to information held about themselves. This is admirable and contrasts starkly with recent legislation in the German Land of Schleswig-Holstein.

Under this law members of as yet unnamed religious minorities may be targeted for removal of the data protection safeguards. The new law further provides for a documentation centre to disseminate personal information—precisely that information which the new British Government intend to make less accessible to others—to government—national, state and local—to the mainstream churches, to public bodies and to private businesses. Any democratically minded person would be disturbed by this, and especially if their government are bent on economic and political union with the Federal Republic of Germany.

In fact, several of the laudable policies outlined in the Queen's Speech run directly counter to the active and determined policy and legislation of the German Government. Your Lordships may be moved to speculate at the future course of harmonisation. Will these policies—I am talking about the human rights policies—be sufficiently important for the new Foreign Office team to champion them in the face of German hostility to them? Does the principle of subsidiarity obtain in the field of human rights?

There is one debate to which the publication of the ad hoc committee's report has made quite a contribution. This is the question of whether there are parallels between the self-evident persecution in today's Germany and the persecution of Jews and other minorities in the early 1930s. We have been criticised for making such comparisons. I will not rehearse the arguments for and against, but I would like to make one point. There are those who seem to believe that history stopped at a certain point in the 1940s and that no comparison could possibly be justified. Nobody except the Holocaust revisionists (whose views are unfortunately becoming more and more respectable in Germany), would wish for an instant to detract from the suffering of the Jewish people. Perhaps I may put it this way: history is more of a river than a snapshot. History rolls on as a succession of moments in the present. We need to detect the direction in which it is flowing and seek to direct that flow along democratic channels. We can be sure that the enemies of democracy are assiduously working in the opposite direction.

9.25 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I would like to invite your Lordships on an imaginary European tour. We might start through Warsaw, St. Petersburg, Kiev, before crossing the Caucasus mountains and visiting Tiflis and Yerevan. We might return through Sarajevo and Tirana, ending perhaps with Budapest. During a journey of this kind, would your Lordships feel that you were in Europe? Where else would we be, or have the wounds of Stalinism and the Cold War detached us from the eastern half of our heritage? Have we got a vision for the reintegration and reconciliation of the eastern and western parts of our continent?

I suggest that there is a key idea which should guide the reconstruction of Europe. That is the idea of the open society or, as some would describe it, the civil society. It is open because it does not reject new ideas. It allows the peaceful expression of religious, political and scientific views. It welcomes minorities of many cultures and allows no individual or ideology to monopolise the truth. Such a society is civil because it makes possible the building of civilisation and the development of cultures based on freedom of association and expression. Whether it is called open or civil does not matter a very great deal. What I am talking about is a state of affairs which is inescapably plural. It is committed to the methods of democracy in order to make possible the fullest civil participation and to prevent aggression, war and oppression.

What Eurosceptic, or even Europhobe, can object to peace and democracy from the Atlantic to the Urals? Is it not rather an ideal to which all can subscribe? This ideal has of course been expressed in many documents such as the United Nations Declarations on Human Rights and the European Convention. Such documents are of great importance, but they need institutions to monitor, protect and uphold their provisions. The machinery in the form of institutions is largely already in existence. I believe that it is up to us to ensure that the machinery is fully effective throughout Europe. If genocide and ethnic clearances take place in our continent, how can we reasonably condemn them when they occur in Africa or Asia? It must surely be our priority to put the European house in order before we start to preach to others.

I shall just briefly name the key European institutions. They are NATO, the EU, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Much has been said about them tonight. No doubt I could say a good deal more, but I shall refrain. I simply say this: I would like to see all the European institutions becoming inspired by the vision of open, civil and democratic societies. I wish that the institutions would specialise and concentrate their efforts on those subjects wherein each is strongest and best equipped.

I ask Her Majesty's Government how they view such a harmonisation of effort towards a common goal. Will they seek to make open societies the aim of the European institutions both in Europe and in the countries coming into association, such as Turkey and the Middle Eastern and North African states? Will they seek effective penalties for failures in upholding human rights?

I warmly welcome Her Majesty's Government's support for the enlargement of both NATO and the European Union. I support the Foreign Secretary's search for an ethical dimension in foreign policy. What could be more ethical than open and democratic societies throughout Europe? If the common good of the whole people is the proper object of domestic policy, open societies throughout Europe are the proper aim of foreign policy. It is clear, I think, that free parliaments are not enough in themselves; we also need free media, independent judges and the rule of law.

9.31 p.m.

Lord Grenfell

My Lords, it was a great pleasure to listen to the eloquent and authoritative maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. I look forward to hearing from him in the future. It is a great delight to congratulate my noble friend Lady Symons on taking up her new functions on the Front Bench. I am sure that she will serve us all very well.

I was moved to intervene in this debate on the gracious Speech by a profound sense of relief that we now have a government who are committed to a policy of active co-operation with the rest of Europe. A fresh start, with a fair wind". as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary characterised it, is certainly long overdue. The new Government are to be congratulated on taking immediate, concrete and positive steps to begin to set right our relationship with our European partners. The signing up to the Social Chapter closes a period when the irrational fears of a few frustrated the reasonable interests of the many. The Government's quick action bodes well for progress in creating a Europe in which the optimum well-being of the citizen becomes the yardstick by which we measure the Union's performance.

Perhaps I may be permitted also to congratulate my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his historic decision to give the Bank of England operational responsibility for setting interest rates. He has made it clear that the decision was taken on grounds of domestic policy and increased credibility in the financial markets—and quite rightly so. While that move falls short of meeting the requirement in the Maastricht Treaty relating to central bank independence as a condition of participation in EMU, it cannot but reinforce our message to our European partners that the option to join at any time does, indeed, remain open, even if participation in the first wave remains unlikely, as the Chancellor again stated on Monday in Brussels.

I also very much welcome the assurance given in Paris this week by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary that the Government, holding the Presidency of the Union in the first half of 1998, will do everything in their power to make sure that the single currency gets off to a good start whether or not we are part of it.

I am sure that in the course of this Session there will be welcome opportunities to discuss once again the pros and cons of British participation in monetary union. Today I shall confine myself to a single but, I think, significant aspect of the issue. It is not a matter of the single currency's intrinsic merits, of which I have long been persuaded; it is rather more the manner in which we shall seek to arrive at the ultimate in or out decision. It is the Government's policy that any decision about Britain joining the single currency would be determined, by a hard-headed assessment of Britain's economic interests". This wait-and-see policy is founded on the venerable axiom that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but with a slight variation in meaning if we are not in the first wave, namely, that other countries who are in the first wave will be putting their spoons to the pudding first while we await their verdict on taste, texture and digestibility, which we hope to find instructive. While that is a perfectly acceptable practice, we need to be aware that a substantial quantity of pudding may have to be consumed before the proof emerges. As the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, has already noted, conventional wisdom is that it will take quite a while, measured in years, before the full beneficial effects of monetary union on participating countries' jobs, inflation, exports, investment and other economic activities can be meaningfully quantified.

In the early stages experience will likely differ from one country to another. Teething problems in the system, which it would be unreasonable to exclude as a possibility, will make early accurate assessments difficult. If it takes time for those countries undergoing the experience to arrive at a meaningful measurement of the impact on their economies, how much longer will it take, and how much harder will it be, for a country outside the Euro zone to arrive at its own necessarily speculative conclusions? We know enough already about EMU to be able to grasp the mechanics of its operation and to list the planned and expected benefits in broad terms, but to know more we will have to wait. The wait will not be short. We need to be very careful that any benefits foregone in waiting are not so great that they cannot later be retrieved on joining. I pray that the Government will take that into account when considering the optimum moment to seek the people's consent.

Therefore, the question that arises is whether it best helps the Government, the Parliament and the people—the three indispensable pillars of our process of decision-making on monetary union—if the decision is to be based upon the sole criterion of economic self-interest. Economic self-interest is a crucial test but it cannot and should not be the only one. To enter monetary union will to a large degree be an act of faith, especially on the part of those in the first wave. But that faith should be rooted in the expectation of sustained political stability in Europe derived from increased prosperity in a well-functioning single market facilitated by a strong and effective single currency; in other words, while looking to our economic self-interest in assessing the merits of EMU we need also to look beyond it to the broader political benefits.

When my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary told his French and German partners last week that he wanted Britain to be a leader in Europe, it struck me, gratifyingly so, as another clear confirmation of this Government's intention to play a full role in the construction of a strong union of closely co-operating independent states. Perhaps from now on Britain will no longer be seen as the member who mostly asks what the European Union can do for it but as the member who more often asks what it can do to help promote the common interests of all the people of Europe. If that spirit can also inform our national debate as we move towards a decision on monetary union, I believe that the issues will become clearer and the decision easier to make.

It is as well that the new Government will be representing Britain in what it is hoped will be the closing stages of the intergovernmental conference. Many of the issues to be resolved both in the IGC and afterwards, such as the reform of decision-making procedures, the powers of the Parliament, the reform of the CAP and the structural funds and the completion of the single market, will be crucial to the successful and timely enlargement of the Union. I do not wish to address those issues now, but on four other issues I offer the following brief comments.

First, I fully support the Government's insistence, along with Ireland, on a permanent opt-out for the abolition of border controls. These two island nations have no choice. Secondly, I am happy that the Government will look constructively at ways of improving co-operation in matters of common interest in the area of justice and home affairs—the third pillar. There seems to me to be ample scope within the present architecture to enhance and broaden co-operation without changing the intergovernmental character of the pillar. Broadening and enhancing co-operation is one sure way of reducing divisive pressures to communitize.

Thirdly, I am delighted that a Bill will be introduced to incorporate the main provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. That well becomes a government deeply committed to citizens' rights.

Fourthly, on the matter of defence arrangements, I support the Government's position, which was also the position of the previous government, concerning the relationship of the WEU to the EU and to NATO. Britain is in good company with the neutral nations of the union in resisting pressure to integrate the WEU into the EU as its military arm. But the Government's argument, I hope, presupposes a strong WEU as well as a strong NATO. Here I wish to leave the precincts of the EU and enter for a moment the transatlantic area. This is my final point.

I was sorry not to be able to participate in the debate on NATO enlargement initiated by my noble friend Lord Kennet on 14th March last. I shall not try your Lordships' patience by saying now what I would have said then. Suffice it to state that I have never been more than lukewarm about NATO enlargement, and while I must accept the fact that it will go ahead, I have grave doubts about the timing and the manner in which it is being pursued. It is not enough to claim that an enlarged NATO will stand us in better stead if Cold War tensions between Russia and NATO states should be revived. We should not be risking creating the conditions for that revival in the first place.

There is however one aspect of NATO enlargement which my noble friend Lord Healey raised, which has been receiving less attention but which, if I may seek to persuade noble Lords of it, requires very careful consideration; that is, the question of how the costs are to be met and shared. Independent estimates by respected analysts of the likely costs over the next 12 years vary widely, as my noble friend Lord Healey observed, but Survival, the journal of the Institute for Strategic Studies, has argued convincingly that an estimate of 27 billion to 35 billion dollars over the next 12 years is a reasonable one. That is one of the lowest independent estimates, but it is still a lot of money.

There is much hostility in both Houses of the US Congress towards NATO enlargement and the vote in the Senate will be crucial. The odds nonetheless appear to favour President Clinton having his way in the end, but the price may very likely be a minimising of the American contribution to the cost. According to the Institute for Strategic Studies, the US would expect to pick up some 15 per cent. of the estimated 9 billion to 12 billion dollar cost over the next 12 years in ensuring that new members could work with existing members. But the US sees also the new members and the European allies bearing almost the entire 18 billion to 23 billion dollar cost of restructuring and modernising the new members' forces and strengthening current members' ability to project military force abroad. Thus, the current and new European members would be expected to pick up some 90 per cent. of the total cost of enlargement, with new members as a group putting up 800 million to 1 billion dollars a year and current European members as a group over 1 billion dollars.

The US has a point when it reminds us that it already spends 4 per cent. of its GDP on defence while Europe spends only 2.4 per cent. Some may say that it is only fair that Europe should bear the bigger burden for enlargement. But can it, and will it? I know of few, if any, European governments who will be happy to have to find several extra hundreds of millions of dollars equivalent per year in their defence budgets, especially among those worrying about budget deficits as monetary union approaches. But my bigger worry is for the new members. Among the likely first entrants progress is being made in reducing the share of public expenditures in GDP, but it has been a long and hard-fought battle to deal with the terrible fiscal legacies of the communist past, and it is far from over, as the struggle to meet the costs of providing social protection for vulnerable groups, to cite just one example, amply demonstrates.

Is all this to be thrown into jeopardy by the costs that they must bear for entry into NATO? Is this what they need at a time when they are facing up to the measures required of them for membership in the European Union? Indeed, my noble friend Lord Eatwell spoke forcefully of that challenge. Are larger arms-buying programmes to put at risk the financing of schools and hospitals, social security and environmental protection? These are serious questions that we, as well as they, have to face. It is simply not acceptable to dismiss the enlargement costs as marginal. In central and eastern Europe reversing the process of reducing fiscal aggregates is a recipe for disaster. I humbly urge Her Majesty's Government not to let this issue of burden-sharing be shunted off onto the sidelines in the euphoria of the Madrid Summit this July. It must be grasped now. I make that plea as one who believes firmly that instability in eastern and central Europe is far more likely to follow from dashed economic and social expectations than from fears of a return to Russian hegemony.

This Government have a formidable series of challenges to square up to in the global arena, but the gracious Speech has reinforced my conviction that Britain's foreign relations and security concerns are in excellent hands.

9.46 p.m.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, I was somewhat disappointed that no mention of our national security and defence was made until towards the end of the third page of the gracious Speech. I was even more disappointed that the other place has decided not to debate foreign affairs and defence matters at all in its Address on the gracious Speech. Nevertheless, I welcome the statements that the Government will ensure a strong defence based on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and promote international peace and security; and that strong armed forces, including the nuclear deterrent, will be retained.

However, I am concerned that the Government are intending to carry out a long and involved defence review to reassess our essential security interests and defence needs. With all the time that such reviews take, with all the additional expense involved and with all the uncertainty and demoralising effects that these reviews bring to service personnel, I wonder whether that is the best approach. It is this subject that I wish to bring to your Lordships' attention this evening.

Since 1990, the whole spectrum of defence management and the long-term costing programme has in effect imposed an annual running review on defence requirements. The Armed Forces have been submitted to Options for Change and the defence costs study and they now need a period of stability, combined with commitments from the Government, to dispense with a very prevalent feeling among servicemen and women that their futures are so uncertain that they should leave and take up other careers in civilian life. The country cannot afford the loss of any more of these highly trained and professional service personnel—any further reductions will decrease efficiency standards in the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force and the overall defence of the United Kingdom and our associated interests will be placed in jeopardy.

If this review is to go ahead, the Labour Party manifesto states that it will consider how the roles, missions and capabilities of our Armed Forces should be adjusted to meet the new strategic realities. It proposes that the review should be foreign-policy led, first assessing our likely overseas interests and commitments and then determining how our forces should be deployed to meet them. The annual running review since 1990 has covered these matters and has made changes where and when it has been necessary. The existing defence policy relates to the protection and security of the United Kingdom and the 14 dependent territories; the insurance against a major external threat to the United Kingdom and her allies; and our contribution to promoting the United Kingdom's wider security interests through the maintenance of international peace and stability under the auspices of the United Nations. This would appear to cover the new Government's manifesto commitments too. The defence roles defined in the Labour Party manifesto are a repeat of existing defence policy, albeit worded in a different way. So, what are these new strategic realities and why the need for yet another review causing turmoil to our Armed Forces when it is difficult to see what new strategic realities will emerge from a Foreign Office reassessment?

Any defence reassessment should be commitment and capability driven. However, there has been and there continues to be a trend in Europe and elsewhere to reduce defence expenditure. I hope that the proposed review will not provide the excuse for us to reduce our expenditure to show alignment with other European countries. I am tired of hearing that if Europe can reduce its defence expenditure we should follow it. Surely we should be setting an example to these countries, showing them how concerned we are about defence matters. Although it is unlikely that we shall increase our defence expenditure, at least we can keep it in real terms at its present levels.

I remind your Lordships that last year the Select Committee on Defence was so concerned about the defence budget that it first refused to recommend the 1996 White Paper on the defence estimates unless Ministers guaranteed that there would be no further reductions. Secondly, in a more recent report, it stated that any further reduction would place the defence of the realm in jeopardy. There can be no further reduction in personnel nor in the training and equipment programmes if we are to retain our Armed Forces at high efficiency and expect them to win battles in the future. Already the Army is suffering a degree of skill fade from its Priority 1 role as a result of having frequently to undertake a number of other important tasks such as Northern Ireland, Bosnia and United Nations peacekeeping duties, which will continue to erupt in this volatile world.

What are the threats and risks that face us against which we should construct our defence policy? The likelihood of conflict in the world is increasing and there is no reason to believe that territorial or ethnic disputes are on the decline. The reverse is true. There are many examples throughout the world which support this. In the future it is likely that more conflicts will take place over natural resources such as minerals, water and oil. Our planning must continue to assess the likely flashpoints in the world. At a recent assessment there were 53 potential crisis points, 17 of which are within 200 miles of NATO's borders. There are 20 countries outside NATO which already possess ballistic missiles and today parts of NATO territory are within the range of some of them. Over a dozen countries have either the capability to deploy chemical or biological weapons or have development programmes which are at an advanced stage. There are about 35 countries outside NATO which are equipped with up-to-date, modern and sophisticated tanks and artillery. Some 40 countries have air forces with modern offensive aircraft and 30 countries have submarine forces outside NATO. The current phase of peacekeeping operations must not take our eye away from the vital and most important role for our Armed Forces, that of training for and being equipped for high intensity combat.

We should remind ourselves that only six years ago in 1991 we were fighting in high intensity operations against Iraq with large numbers of tanks, artillery, ships and aircraft. In the future if United Kingdom and NATO's interests are threatened, it is more likely that that will lead to high intensity operations. It is relatively simple to adjust to internal security and peacekeeping roles if our Armed Forces are trained for high intensity conflict. It is impossible to construct a force for those sorts of operation if it has been trained only for internal security and peacekeeping roles. It is therefore vital that we retain our high intensity fighting capability, show a lead to other NATO countries, and ensure that NATO keeps its military deterrent capability through its commitment to hard defence. It is against these real and existing threats to our security that we operate our defence plans.

So what sort of defence policy should the country adopt? We are an island nation depending on free global trade, worldwide investment and international commerce, with an essential requirement to keep our sea lanes open and free from interference. We have internal security problems in Northern Ireland and we have committed responsibilities to our dependent territories spread around the world, some of which are in, or close to, turbulent areas. We also have our UN peace-keeping responsibilities. There should be no change to our policies regarding the protection and security of the United Kingdom and dependent territories; the insurance against a major external threat to the United Kingdom and our allies; and the promotion of the United Kingdom's wider security interests.

Any change to these policies puts at risk the agreed conclusion that our security can best he guaranteed through collective defence measures. If we wish to remain a leading force in Europe and a well respected member of NATO, we must retain the Army in Germany. If we wish to continue to have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council we must go on providing troops for peacekeeping duties. If we wish to continue to be a leading member of the European Union, the Commonwealth and the Group of Seven, our defence policies must remain as they are. These fundamental current policies can always be adjusted as situations evolve in the future.

In conclusion, we do not need some long and cumbersome defence review involving all departments of the Ministry of Defence and all three armed services which will inevitably be damaging to service morale and provide more uncertainty for serving personnel. Currently disturbance, turbulence and conflict occur so fast in this volatile world that our policies and capabilities must be designed for our forces to react rapidly to any situation. I should have thought that the Foreign Office would be constantly reviewing the likely world flashpoints with our commitments to which the Ministry of Defence reacts. If this is not the case, then let the Foreign Office in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence carry out a study to reassess future policy and commitments. But at this stage it should not become a full-scale defence review.

The most appropriate defence and security policy in these uncertain times should be broad in scope, evolving and changing on an annual basis in accordance with world affairs. I see no need to dispense with our current policies and commitments. Our Armed Forces are structured for flexible response, with the capability of being quickly "tailored" to meet any specific operation. There can be no further reductions to our personnel, equipment and training if the Government wish to ensure the security of the realm. As a nation we are justly proud of the members of our Armed Forces and the upright way in which they conduct themselves. I pay a great tribute to all our servicemen and women who have implemented our defence policy in a most efficient and successful manner. Their superb level of training, professionalism and team spirit makes them the envy of the world.

9.59 p.m.

Lord Weidenfeld

My Lords, I should like to apologise for having missed the earlier part of the debate, and sadly, the maiden speech due to having returned from abroad only a few hours ago. Since the election I have had the opportunity of visiting the United States and several European capitals and of sampling comments and reactions to the political changes in Britain. Those reactions confirm my long-held belief that a new tone and style in our European policy, a convincingly co-operative yet firm and reasonable attitude in our dealings with our neighbours, might represent a quantum change and induce more understanding and sympathy.

Indeed the first policy statements in interviews given by the Foreign Secretary have been well received, not only by old friends but even by those European Anglo-sceptics and Anglophobes who, though fewer in number and less abrasive than our more extreme native equivalent, would concede that there may be a real chance of progress. At the same time nobody has illusions that the right honourable gentleman and his ministerial team will not robustly fight their corner.

It was gratifying to hear Robin Cook, in Herr Kinkel's presence, talk so warmly of the British Government's resolve to make a trilateral cordial alliance between Britain, France and Germany a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Perhaps I may be permitted to recall the interventions of various noble Lords, including my own, in the debate on the Address last October, which dealt with the central role that a new relationship with Germany and France must play in future foreign policy.

The noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, rejects that idea, and there are of course many problems to be faced when conceiving of the formula postulated by such a policy. A great deal of backlog has to be cleared away. The partly understandable but largely inexcusable election hysteria in some of the media and on the hustings in dealing with the institutions and leading statesmen of our European neighbours is, we hope, now behind us. There is no vindictiveness left abroad. Chancellor Kohl's remark that "a Europe without Britain is a mere torso" reflects the genuinely held convictions of the German political class.

Of course, the trilateral idea must inevitably raise eyebrows. Italy, a country comparable in size and living standards to our own on the one hand, and the chorus of the smaller countries in Europe on the other, would raise objections. It would therefore be a tremendous challenge for our foreign policy makers to convince on the one hand France and Germany to perceive the great advantages of such a closer link while at the same time making it clear to all that what is intended is not a high-handed executive directorate but a continuous, consultative forum harmonising the views of those three powers which demonstrably have political, strategic, moral and material assets of towering importance—assets that could be fully employed for the benefit of all European partners. That will become perhaps even more plausible and necessary as we enlarge Europe and want to make the European Union at once more governable and less bureaucratic.

The Government's strong emphasis on human rights, on a humanist ethos, has already found a very positive resonance across the Channel, particularly in Germany. The Germans are now intent on defining for themselves their own future role as their federal capital is moving actually and symbolically from the Rhine to the Spree, a 50-minute car ride from the Polish frontier. What, politicians and think tanks ask themselves, will be the mission of the "Berlin Republic"? The Kohl Government's answer is that Germany must remain a functioning democracy, a standard-bearer of the pragmatic humanism and bridge-building between political and cultural communities in Europe and in its eastern and southern hinterland. Those aspirations converge with the stated aspirations of the new British Government.

In this context I wish to take issue with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McNair. I share his horror at any form of ethnic or racial aberration and transgression and endorse the activities of the committee responsible for ongoing monitoring. However, when it comes to a summary condemnation of the Germany of today, the Germany of the Kohl era, I must strongly contradict him.

It so happens that this morning I had the privilege of delivering an oration as a guest of the Central Council of German Jewry presenting the Leo Baeck prize in honour and commemoration of one of the great, saintly German Jewish religious leaders who spent years in a death camp. The prize was given to Chancellor Kohl for his unrivalled contribution to ethnic, racial and religious peace. I have for six years worked with Chancellor Kohl and through the good offices of the Bertelsmann Foundation on a German-Jewish dialogue. The energy, involvement and commitment which the German Government—whether it be the President of the Republic, the head of the Bundestag or members of the government, mainly Chancellor Kohl—devote to this task is remarkable and is recognised by German Jewry and leaders of committed Jews all over the world, including Israel. I would go further and say that this has a bearing on our European policy. We can say quite openly that today the Federal Republic is one of the greatest flag bearers of applied humanism and a country that is the largest single absorber of immigrants and the second largest payer of foreign aid. Let us have a sense of perspective and realise that, unlike other European countries, there is not a single extremist leader of the racist right in the German Federal Parliament.

Lord McNair

My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene since he referred to my speech? I am very grateful to him. As far as individual transgressions are concerned, I would agree. Unfortunately, this is not a question of individual transgressions. We are talking about a wide range of groups and a wide range of social and political pressure. I was very grateful for the noble Lord's support when he read our report. I did not make a blanket condemnation of Germany, I simply said that there were things to criticise and things which the new Government might like to take up with the German Government. Nevertheless, I respect the noble Lord's views.

Lord Weidenfeld

My Lords, Britain's firm stand on border control and defence policy is to be welcomed and, I believe, will also be understood abroad. As for the common foreign policy, I hope that this Government will, on the question of majority voting, make it plain that on the whole voting should be restricted, and remain restricted for a long time, to issues concerned with implementation of joint action. Great Britain has still a host of traditional relationships with certain countries and attitudes to various contentious issues that still differ from the one or other European partner. Those traditional relationships must not be unduly interfered with or jeopardised. There is still much to be done before we can talk of a truly common foreign policy in every nuance of the word. Even to someone who might consider himself a Euro-maximalist rather than a Euro-minimalist, a cautious step-by-step progress in the so desirable ultimate integration of Europe is more prudent than a plunge into uncharted terrain.

I will say a last word on the encouraging remarks about the important role of the British Council and the BBC World Service within the framework of a new British foreign policy. These are among Britain's most undervalued assets. They are not only time-honoured projectors of British culture, standards, values and proven objectivity; they are also indispensable channels through which we can recover lost ground. The secret of the success, for instance, behind the close Franco-German friendship is not just the political will in the Elysée Palace and the Federal Chancellory but the result of systematic and costly cultural programmes of youth exchanges and deep interpenetration of the two countries' educational systems. This pays its dividends. I believe we should heed this lesson and use and develop our existing strengths and tools so that we may reap the benefits and allow them to contribute to making Britain a really leading and important factor in Europe.

10.09 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

Like others, I should like to begin by offering my warm congratulations to the new Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. It is a formidable task to have to answer the first major debate of a new Parliament under a new Government. I well remember when I became a new Minister at the Foreign Office after 13 years in opposition the feeling of excitement and, I am bound to say, trepidation that I had at that time. I do not believe for a moment that the noble Baroness suffers from trepidation at all because, after all, she was the leader of the First Division Association, where her membership were nothing but Whitehall mandarins. I hope that she enjoys her service in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is a very great department of state, as much as I did in my time.

I should also like to congratulate the Government very warmly on the gracious Speech and the mission statement of the Foreign Secretary, as well as on the immediate actions that they have taken to transform the climate of relations between Britain and the outside world, particularly with our European partners. Their whole approach has met such a positive response from other members of the European Union that it proves beyond doubt how much the previous government had run down our pool of good will and equally how much the rest of the European Union wants to have a British Government that is playing a strong and positive part in the work of the European Union.

But honeymoons do not last very long. It has been one of the most remarkable features of this debate and an achievement of the Government that the voice of the Euro-sceptic, often so loud in your Lordships' House, has not been heard at all tonight. But, as I said, one cannot rely on honeymoons lasting for too long.

I myself want immediately to express some of my feelings about the limitations of the Government's policy towards Europe. I am disappointed that they take such a very old-fashioned and vigorous view about frontier controls. I know that we are an island. I remember one French politician who came from the island of Corsica and in the French Assembly referred with passion to the fact that Corsica was an island and moreover an island entirely surrounded by water. We are in that situation but we now have a Channel tunnel. I still regard as my favourite definition of British foreign policy Ernie Bevin's description of being able to go down to Victoria Station without a passport and buy a ticket to where the hell you liked.

The other day, despite the Government's reticence in these matters, I had the experience of going down to my local international station in Kent, buying a ticket to the middle of France and travelling to the middle of France without at any time showing anybody a passport. So there is hope. But I hope that the Government will be a little more adventurous there, as I hope they might be on matters such as foreign policy and defence co-operation. These are difficult matters and there has to be gradual progress, but I hope that they will be imaginative about them.

But, of course, economic and monetary union is the big test. As has been said in this debate, Britain has for too long had a reputation for sometimes being sympathetic in principle to developments in the European Union but always saying that it prefers to wait and see and join later. If the Government are serious about wanting to be one of the leading players in the European Union on level pegging with France, Germany and other active members of the Union, then in my view to wait and see simply will not do.

Economic and monetary union decisions must finally be taken on an economically sound basis without any fudging of the economic criteria that have been set up. I think I will carry the noble Lord the Leader of the House with me, in view of his long experience, like mine, in Brussels, in saying that in the European Union, although it is important to get the economic foundations right, it is political will that gets things moving. Economic and monetary union is as much a matter of political will as it is of getting the economics right. The Government say they are serious about wanting to take their place among the ranks of leaders of the European Union. If the criteria are observed, the other major players go ahead on the basis of those criteria and the United Kingdom Government feel that they can conform to those criteria, then it is vitally important, if they want to remain a leader, that they join in the first wave.

In the election, the Labour Party manifesto put the matter clearly, stating that there are three options for Britain in relation to Europe. One would be to try to withdraw; the second is to be on the sidelines; and the third, which the Government now say they firmly espouse, is to be one of the leading players. I believe profoundly that it is possible for us to be in with the first wave, and if we decline to do so and prefer to wait and see we shall find ourselves on the sidelines.

Apart from economic and monetary union, the two other major issues are the enlargement of the European Union and the associated issue of the enlargement of NATO. It is taken too simplistically for granted in the Western world that the enlargement of either the European Union or of NATO is a good thing and we do not need to do much more about it. I was interested in the serious speeches made about the policy and cost issues associated with the enlargement of either NATO or the European Union. I listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Wallace said about that to my noble friend Lord Healey and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. I have listened to the latter on the subject over the years with a particular degree of respect. There are serious issues to be thought through in relation to the enlargement of NATO which I do not believe have begun to he thought through adequately.

Equally, on the European Union, I understand from the figures I have seen that if, for example, merely the Visegrad countries were to join the European Union at the turn of the century, by itself that would mean an increase of 70 per cent., within the present framework, in the budget of the European Union. When we look at the effect on the structural funds, I notice that in May last year the Economic and Social Committee considered the consequences. It said that one effect would be that: some regions that presently qualify for [structural support under] Objective I will find themselves ineligible… At the same time, some countries, presently recipients of cohesion support from the EU budget, may find themselves net contributors". The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, is not in his place but he was right in saying that a fresh approach needs to be made to some of the problems if we are to have effective enlargement in circumstances in which the costs are tolerable.

So far, some simple questions which apply to both NATO and the European Union are unanswered. They are these: what contributions could the applicants make? What changes are required to accommodate them and at what cost? Serious work needs to be done on that and I hope that the Government will take the lead there.

The Government have ahead of them during their first year of office two major opportunities for showing leadership in world affairs. One is the presidency of the European Union in the first half of next year, and the other, earlier, opportunity was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and others, namely, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh. I make only one reference to the content of that meeting. I hope that the Government will take a lead in trying to ensure that really effective action is taken by heads of government on the situation in Nigeria. There is what is called a Commonwealth Action Group, which has been around for a long time. It has earned itself a reputation as the "Commonwealth Inaction Group". I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to get matters moving there.

The general point I wish to make is that there will be one common aim at both the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and during the European Union presidency. The aim is to have a British initiative to try to get the maximum co-operation in various international fields. I think particularly of what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said in his excellent speech about reform of the United Nations. Both the European Union collectively and the Commonwealth collectively could play a role in bringing about a more effective reform of the United Nations under its new Secretary General.

On these Benches, we particularly welcome the emphasis on human rights and the environmental aspects of foreign policy. My noble friend Lord Avebury mentioned many details concerning that aspect. He believes that perpetual pressure is the only way to get results and the Minister can look forward to much more of it from the very expert background he has on these matters.

I am as aware as anybody who has had responsibilities in the past for foreign affairs that the Government face the difficulty of balancing the inevitable realities of competing national interests, competition in the export field, including arms exports, and concern about human liberty within various national regimes. All those have to be balanced one against the other.

The best way forward for a British Government that aspires to play a positive and constructive role in these matters—as I am sure the new Government do—is to try to do so in co-operation with other nations, in co-operation with our partners in the European Union, in co-operation with our partners in the Commonwealth and through the United Nations. On these Benches—and I am sure much more widely throughout the country—hope will be high that the aspirations of the mission statement of the new Government on foreign affairs can he achieved without too much dilution in the face of the harsh realities of the international world.

10.21 p.m.

Earl Howe

My Lords, in common with other noble Lords, this is the first opportunity that I have had to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, to their respective positions on the Government Front Bench.

The Leader of the House comes to his new appointment after an immensely distinguished career at the Bar, in government, at the United Nations and as a European Commissioner. I fear he may think me a little presumptuous in congratulating him on reaching this new high water mark in his life. Nevertheless I do so most warmly. I am sure he will discharge the duties of his office, both in this House and outside, with the fair-mindedness and breadth of vision which we know him to possess.

The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, takes up her appointment after a relatively short time in your Lordships' House. That in itself speaks volumes for her abilities. We know her to be a highly capable and professionally-minded person, and I congratulate her on obtaining an office of state which she will undoubtedly occupy with distinction.

I join other speakers in congratulating my noble friend Lord Moynihan on his excellent, lucid and persuasive maiden speech. It is splendid that he is amongst us and I hope that we shall see him in our midst frequently.

I was struck yesterday by how often the mention of the nation's interests featured in the gracious Speech, almost as though there were a point to prove. I am not cavilling at that in the least, but if there is one debate where this Palmerstonian theme must be ever present it is surely a debate on foreign affairs and defence. What divides or unites us is the way in which each of us defines what British interests actually consist of—whether the issue is the single European currency, UNESCO, the UK presence in Bosnia or the overseas aid budget.

I confess to being disappointed that, with the exception of some European Union issues, foreign and defence policy hardly featured at all in the recent general election campaign. Had it done so, more people might have shared the perception of many of us on this side of the House that there are more questions than answers posed by the Labour Party policy pronouncements. Our first task of the new parliament, in this and subsequent debates, must be to seek out and obtain those answers.

Nowhere is the lacuna in our knowledge of government policy more apparent or more serious than in the area of defence. Some of the pronouncements that the Government have made are encouraging as far as they go. They have restated our commitment to the NATO alliance, to maintaining the Trident nuclear deterrent and, before the general election, to ordering the Eurofighter as the next generation of combat aircraft for the RAF. But alongside all that is a pledge which can only cause those on these Benches to worry acutely. That is the pledge—a long-standing one it has to be said—to carry out an immediate defence review. We are told next to nothing about the scope and scale of the review except that it will be foreign policy-led with, if press reports are correct, active Treasury involvement.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when he was Opposition defence spokesman, predicted that the review would have painful consequences. I do not believe I can be alone among your Lordships in reacting to these messages with a shiver down the spine. I do not dispute the right of any government to modify the size and shape of our Armed Forces in the light of changes to the security environment. That is a perfectly responsible approach and it is one which we in the last government adopted with notable success and notable balance following the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. We now have Armed Forces that are structured and configured to meet the tasks that may and indeed do face them in the very altered and uncertain world in which we now live. They are equipped with some of the world's finest military hardware to tackle anything from a major coalition operation, as in the Gulf, to localised humanitarian aid. They are trained to undertake high intensity conflict, because it is only that standard of training that will see them through all types of possible military tasks.

The annual Statement on the Defence Estimates has in recent years gone into detail to demonstrate how each of the elements of our Armed Forces can be matched to the tasks we require them to carry out. The question on which there has been a deafening silence is: which of these tasks do the Government think needs reviewing? Indeed, to echo my noble friend Lord Vivian, what are the changes to the international environment which lead the Government to believe that "our essential security interests", to quote the gracious Speech, should be defined differently?

The silence on this was palpable until two days ago, when the Secretary of State for Defence indicated on the radio that a general war in Europe was no longer a task that the Armed Forces needed to prepare for. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Secretary of State has pre-empted the findings of his own review. But what is he saying? If he is saying that Russia is no longer a military threat to Western Europe, that is patently true. If, however, he is saying that Britain no longer has a role in the defence of Western Europe and need not train for it, I find that deeply disturbing and fundamentally wrong. For a start, where in all this is a sense of responsibility to our allies in NATO? What does it say about our command of the allied Rapid Reaction Corps?

The worry that we on these Benches have always had and will continue to have is that the defence review will not be so much about revalidating or altering foreign policy as finding ways in which to make substantial cuts in the defence budget, an objective overtly espoused by large sections of the wider Labour Party? It cannot be stressed too strongly how misconceived and damaging such cuts would be.

Whatever the Secretary of State may have done, I do not wish or expect the noble Baroness to pre-empt the conclusions of the defence review in any reply that she may give today. However, can she tell the House a little more about the review's terms of reference? Can she say what will happen to current defence procurement projects, such as Challenger 2, as well as pending procurement decisions while the review is in progress? Most importantly, what message can she give to the men and women of our Armed Forces to reassure them about their future?

The reduction in the size of all three services that has taken place over the past few years has been a necessary process, necessary as a consequence of a greatly altered strategic environment. Great credit attached to the Army, the Royal Navy and the RAF for the way in which in human and logistical terms those changes were managed so successfully. But it was inevitable that, while that downsizing process was going on, it brought with it uncertainty and a measure of insecurity for servicemen and women. That in turn, as has already been said in this debate, had a negative impact on recruitment. Do the Government recognise how undesirable for service morale it would be to raise the spectre of further cuts either in manpower or in equipment just when the services need a period of stability?

Perhaps I may revert briefly to the international dimensions of this issue. How will the review hope to take account of the future shape of the NATO alliance? In a few weeks' time the Madrid Summit will take some far-reaching decisions about the enlargement of NATO. Decisions about who among the applicant countries should join are quite properly ones for the alliance as a whole to take. We are likely, however, to see invitations issued to a small number of countries to become new members with formal entry dates pencilled in for 1999 or shortly thereafter. Importantly, the military cost implications of the accession of new members have yet to be worked out. If NATO is to remain, as it surely must, the bedrock of our security and if fundamental questions on the future shape of the alliance and the contribution of its members remain in the air, what hope have the Government got of reaching definitive conclusions about UK defence needs without extending the timescale of the review to one of years rather than months?

I ask these questions half rhetorically because I simply do not think that it will be possible to conduct a root and branch evaluation of our defence needs between now and the end of the year and come to neat, clear-cut conclusions which take account of NATO enlargement. Indeed, that point underlines the basic flaw of having a review of this kind at all. Defence planning is something that evolves constantly; it is long term in its focus. It takes account of hypotheses, possibilities and uncertainties. Its gaze is always on a moving target. Its horizons are not always identical to those which help to crystallise our foreign policy.

A review of foreign policy is something which any new government are entitled to undertake, but I urge the Government to pause, and to pause long, before they alter any of the fundamental building blocks of our defence capability. Our duty to provide sound defences for our country and our duty to our allies need no restating, but any assessment of our defence needs must also recognise Britain's global economic interests and in particular our heavy dependence on trade and investment overseas. It must also recognise our responsibilities towards our dependent territories and towards the large number of UK nationals living around the world. It is for those reasons that the furtherance of our interests depends critically on maintaining a world that is stable, humane and law-abiding. Because of that, our foreign policy must remain global. It is therefore self interest as much as moral duty which demands that our Armed Forces retain a global reach.

The Armed Forces that this Government inherit have never been better equipped nor better trained. Having had the honour of serving as a defence Minister for the better part of two years, I am absolutely convinced that in this country we can boast of armed services which for quality are second to none in the world. The Royal Navy has the newest and most capable fleet that it has had for 100 years. The Army and the RAF too have benefited from a continuous programme of modernisation, all of which we have been able to afford as a result of the Front Line First initiative, which rationalised the support elements of the forces and redirected the money saved towards equipment programmes.

The new Government talk in terms of maintaining strong Armed Forces but give us cause to fear that radical—indeed damaging—changes may be on the agenda. I hope that they can live up to the aims they have publicly aspired to in the gracious Speech and prove the doubters wrong. The interests of this country demand no less.

10.35 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, it is a privilege for me to close this foreign affairs, international development and defence debate on the gracious Speech. The past few hours of debate have been fascinating. Many subjects have been raised and I apologise in advance if I do not manage to answer all of the points made and questions raised by noble Lords. Where I have not managed to do so, I assure the House that either I or the Minister for Defence Procurement will write separately where appropriate.

I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for his maiden speech. It was, indeed, a distinguished maiden speech which was elegant, well argued and beautifully delivered. I am sure that we shall have some fun in the future discussing the noble Lord's views on competition and privatisation. However, I noted with pleasure that the noble Lord could support virtually all the points in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's mission statement about interdependence, the environment and democracy. I congratulate the noble Lord warmly on his maiden speech. I am sure that we all look forward to his contributions to our debates in the future.

Opening the debate, my noble friend Lord Richard described this Government's policies on the European Union, defence and the North Atlantic Alliance. Many noble Lords subsequently raised those and other issues of importance. I shall outline the principles which form the basis of the Government's approach to foreign development co-operation and defence policy. The priorities include providing security for Britain based on the North Atlantic Alliance and giving new impetus to arms control and disarmament; making Britain a leading player in a Europe of independent nation states; working for Britain's prosperity, making maximum use of Britain's embassies and High Commissions to promote British exports and boost British jobs; pushing the environment up the international agenda; fighting poverty around the world, and securing the respect of other nations for Britain's contribution to keeping the peace and promoting democracy around the world. Our policy must have an ethical dimension, with human rights at its heart.

I make no apologies for repeating that point, despite what the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said earlier. The noble Viscount was in slight danger of re-rehearsing a whole range of election arguments—possibly to see whether they would work better a second time around. Sadly for the noble Viscount, if the reaction of the House was anything to go by, they will not. Most breathtaking of all was the noble Viscount's argument that the current Government somehow evinced what he described as "embarrassing arrogance". I found that a bit rich from a member of the previous Government when a Minister in that administration said on 28th February 1996 to the Select Committee on the Public Service in another place that accountability for some public services was "paraphernalia".

Perhaps the noble Viscount would like to think again about some of the points he made in relation to a view which is, I know, widely held in the backwaters of his party about the effect on jobs of signing the social chapter. The noble Viscount's views are not shared by all sorts of companies which have decided to come to Britain, for example, Nissan, Sony, and Siemens, the chief executive of which specifically stated that he did not think that the social chapter was a threat to the thousands of high tech jobs which are coming to the north-east of England. Nonetheless, I thank the noble Viscount for his contribution which served to remind us of why so few people voted Conservative at the last election.

I turn now to the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford who gave us a timely reminder of the fate of so many poor people throughout the world. The Government have immediately introduced a clear change by giving development the high priority it deserves. I join the tribute paid by the right reverend Prelate to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, for her tireless work for poverty-stricken people throughout the world. The present level of global poverty and under-development is unacceptable: 1.3 billion people live in absolute poverty. The Government are committed to combating global poverty and working for a safer, decent and environmentally stable world.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said that development issues entered into the mainstream of this Government's decision-making. He was right. My right honourable friend Claire Short has been appointed Secretary of State for International Development. A separate department has been established. Work will begin immediately on a White Paper that sets out how through more coherent policies we will tackle global poverty and promote sustainable development. We shall consult widely. At the same time, we shall review the existing programme to ensure that the resources available for development are used most effectively and are targeted on our central objectives. We must and shall make measurable progress. We will deliver real benefits to the poorest people in the poorest countries. To this end we shall engage positively with all our development partners and the international community. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has already announced this week that the UK will rejoin UNESCO. The costs of rejoining will be met from the contingency reserve in the development budget. Future plans will be considered at the time of the next resources round.

The gracious Speech also referred to our aim of achieving a successful transition of Hong Kong. This is among the heaviest and most immediate overseas responsibilities placed upon the Government and it is one that we intend to fulfil to the best of our ability. The Government are committed to working for the well-being of Hong Kong in accordance with the Joint Declaration, not just in the next six weeks but in the months and years to come. Our engagement in Hong Kong—its success, liberties, lifestyle, 3.5 million British passport holders and huge range of other British connections—will matter greatly to us. So, too, will China as a country of great and growing importance. We will speak up when we should in areas such as human rights, but that should be in the context of a much more wide-ranging and constructive relationship than has so far been achieved.

The United Kingdom continues to invest a huge amount in Bosnia both in manpower and resources. We shall continue to play a leading role in the international effort to build a just and lasting peace based on the Dayton Agreement. The Government are committed to the goals of a multi-ethnic, democratic and united Bosnia and Herzegovina. In particular, we will insist on compliance by the authorities in the region with their obligations to surrender to the tribunal in The Hague persons indicted on charges of war crimes. That many of those accused are still at large is a matter of great regret.

My noble friend Lord Judd referred to the Great Lakes region of Africa which has been the subject of a complex and appalling tragedy. Britain will seek to play a constructive role. Our immediate concern is the plight of the refugees.

The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, referred to the situation in the Middle East. The Government give wholehearted support to the peace process. No lasting peace is possible without respect for international legality and the Palestinian need for justice, self-determination and economic well-being as well as Israel's need for security. The Oslo process based on the formula of land for peace offers a realistic way forward, as its originators so boldly realised. With our EU partners we shall do what we can to help break through the current deadlock, complementing the efforts of the United States.

The United Kingdom will be active in the search for peace, reconciliation and human rights in many other regions. In doing so we shall work not just with international organisations such as the UN but within those organisations to help them become more effective in their tasks. We shall work to enhance the UN's ability on peacekeeping, conflict prevention and poverty reduction. We shall push for early resolution of the UN's financial problems and play a full part in the debate on its reform. We shall be active in other international fora. As the gracious Speech indicated, the UK will be host to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the G7 Summit and the Second Asia-Europe meeting. All are organisations to which we attach great importance. All are opportunities for Britain.

I shall address a couple of further points before I turn to the matters raised during the debate. First, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has asked me to give a high priority to equal opportunities in the FCO, both in respect of women and ethnic minorities. Some people see the FCO as hidebound and old fashioned. I and my ministerial colleagues know of course that it is not, but we want to accelerate the process of change in the office so that its staffing better reflects the make-up of modern British society.

It gave me great pleasure when my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced earlier today that normal trade union rights would be restored at GCHQ. He announced that the conditions of service of staff at GCHQ have today been changed. They once again have the freedom that they previously enjoyed to join a trade union of their choice. It gives me pleasure to welcome his action to right a very long-standing wrong.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, raised the issue of landmines. The Red Cross estimates that there are 120 million such mines laid across the world and that they kill or maim someone about every 20 minutes. Often the someone is an innocent child at play. The Government are determined to do all that they can to rid the world of those ghastly weapons. We shall seek to win agreement to an effective legally binding international agreement to ban their use, stockpiling, production and transfer worldwide. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced last week that he will begin work with French and German colleagues and with other interested countries to achieve a total and effective ban on landmines.

My noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, also raised issues relating to weapons of mass destruction. The Government will be resolute in seeking to reduce the threat from weapons of mass destruction. We have as a goal the global elimination of nuclear weapons. We shall press for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced and verifiable reductions in such weapons. When satisfied with the verified progress, we will include British nuclear weapons in multilateral negotiations.

The noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Redesdale, the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Craig, the noble Lord, Lord Vivian and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked about our plans for re-assessing our essential security interests and defence needs. As the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, said, our forces are among the best in the world and have performed with great success in difficult operations in recent years. The Government are committed to a strong defence, but it needs to be relevant to Britain's requirements in a changing world.

Ministers have made it clear that the strategic defence and security review will be foreign policy led. We intend to give the Armed Forces a stronger sense of direction and to ensure that they match the challenges of the 21st century. I hope that noble Lords will give their support to that process, because the Government do not need any lecture upon the importance of morale for their public servants, including the Armed Forces.

We welcome the agreement reached yesterday between the NATO Secretary-General, Señor Solana, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Primakov, on the text of a joint NATO/Russia document to which reference was made by the noble Lords, Lord Healey and Lord Wallace of Saltaire. We hope that it will now be endorsed by NATO members and Russia and lead to a summit in Paris on 27th May at which the text will be signed by President Yeltsin, the heads of state together with the governments of NATO countries and Senor Solana. I also hope that the first priority cited by the noble Lord, Lord Carver, will be met shortly. I give way to my noble friend.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for allowing me to intervene. I should like to ask a question of which I gave my noble friend advance warning. When may we hope to know what is in that agreement?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as soon as that agreement is available it will of course be available for public consumption. However, I cannot at present give my noble friend an exact answer about when it will be so available. I shall write to him as soon as I have that information.

I can further assure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, that this Government will play a full and responsible part in the process of change that NATO is currently undergoing. We welcome the new task that NATO is taking on, exemplified by the successful NATO-led operation in Bosnia, where 5,000 British troops are playing a vital and respected role. We are looking forward to the Madrid summit, where we expect the first candidates for membership to be invited to begin negotiations for accession. We believe that enlargement of NATO and enhanced co-operation with countries which are not invited or which do not wish to join will deepen security in all of Europe, extending across the continent the peace, stability and habits of close co-operation that NATO embodies.

The noble Lords, Lord Grenfell, Lord Taverne and Lord Weidenfeld, concentrated upon European issues. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, does not really expect me to be quite so bold as he urged me to be in his speech. I believe that we shall have the opportunity for the debate that the noble Lord suggests in due course. However, I can say that this Government have shown their determination to improve competitiveness and to promote employment across Europe by the establishment of a competitiveness task force led by Sir David Simon which will seek to break down the remaining barriers to business in the single market. As the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord Gillmore, said, he will be ably supported by the FCO diplomats and staff, whose commitment and dedication is already evident to my ministerial colleagues and myself.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, raised questions about information from European colleagues. We have made it clear that we have the determination to make the EU more democratic, transparent and relevant to ordinary people. This means facilitating the scrutiny of EU legislation by national Parliaments. It also means that the activities and operation of the EU must be made more accessible and comprehensible to its citizens. We will be supporting proposals in the IGC in both those areas. We are also looking at further initiatives that we might take to achieve greater openness in the EU.

Several noble Lords raised the question of the BBC World Service; they included the noble Lords, Lord Gillmore, Lord Redesdale and Lord Weidenfeld. The World Service has a vital role in increasing the respect and goodwill that there is towards the United Kingdom. We shall examine very carefully the future funding requirements of the World Service. We intend to ensure that the reorganisation of the BBC has no adverse effects on the service's output. The British Council is the UK's principal agency for cultural relations and an integral part of our overseas efforts. It is a first class organisation which is making a huge contribution to the respect in which this country is held.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised a number of questions on human rights. My colleague, Mr. Henderson, has already issued the statement in relation to Turkey to which he referred. The noble Lord has written to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary with a number of suggestions concerning the Harare Declaration and CHOGM. We are currently studying the papers that he has sent and will send him a detailed reply shortly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised questions in relation to Burma and the Sudan. I listened carefully to her knowledgeable and moving contribution. I shall read it again in Hansard and write to the noble Baroness. I thank her for the manner in which she put forward her case.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, was warm in his appreciation of current government policy and action in Europe. In view of the sharp contrast he may find with the policy of his own party, perhaps I might go so far as to invite him to consider whether he might like to cross the Floor of the House again.

In closing, I wish to say that in this debate the Government have set before your Lordships their vision of Britain's new foreign policy. We have today described some of the ways we intend to achieve our goals. This is a Government who believe in taking a lead to secure our objectives. Our aims are clear, coherent and achievable. Our foreign policy will be active, dynamic and resolute. We shall be active in taking a leading role in Europe to get the best possible deal for the British people. We shall be dynamic in working for peace and to prevent future conflicts and we shall be resolute in working around the world for human rights and for sustainable development.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until Monday next.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until Monday next.—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

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

House adjourned at four minutes before eleven o'clock.