§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Lord Wright of Richmond: rose to call attention to foreign and Commonwealth affairs in the context of the United Kingdom presidency of the European Union; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, first, I welcome the long and distinguished list of noble Lords who have decided to take part in this debate. This is the first full debate on a foreign affairs subject since the debate on the Queen's speech in May last year. I am honoured to be allowed to open the debate at a particularly appropriate time; that is, towards the end of the first month of our presidency when we have an opportunity to take stock in the light of the Government's first four weeks in that role.
§ I add a particular welcome to the decision of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, to make his maiden speech in this debate. Having had the honour to serve under his ministerial supervision, both during his time as Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and later as Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, I look forward with keen anticipation, as I am sure does the whole House, to what he has to say this afternoon. I look forward also to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.
§ These six months of our presidency are likely to cover not only some crucial economic decisions in the European Council—for instance, on the future of economic and monetary union, the start of negotiations on reform of the common agricultural and regional policies and launching the next phase of enlargement—they are also likely to face us with some exceptionally difficult and dangerous challenges in foreign affairs.
§ This afternoon I propose to concentrate on an area of the world to which I devoted much of my professional life; namely, the Middle East, where developments in Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Turkey and Palestine are raising some fundamental questions and challenges for British and European foreign and defence policies, and indeed for Europe's relationship with our American allies.
§ First, I want to speak briefly about the opportunities with which our presidency presents us in building and maintaining our influence in Europe, and in achieving greater co-ordination in Europe's global policies, to ensure that the European Union responds quickly and effectively to world events and crises.
§ My personal experience of the process of European political co-operation has convinced me of the increased influence which our diplomacy can exert if it is practised on a European, rather than on a strictly national, basis. I believe that European political co-operation gives added credibility to our diplomacy worldwide, both bilaterally and in international fora, including of course the United Nations. Our influence and credibility with our partners in the European Union come not only from the attitude which we adopt towards European questions or the extent to which we play, and are seen to play, as leading members of a team; they also come from our long history and experience in dealing with problems worldwide. We can only exploit 234 that experience and expertise if we maintain a Diplomatic Service of high calibre and with global coverage.
§ I have spoken before in this House of my admiration for the way in which my successors in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been able, within a budget that has fallen in real terms by 12 per cent. over the past five years, to meet the increasing demands on the service. Twenty-nine new posts have been opened since 1990 to protect and promote our interests in the new countries formed by the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. But the cloth is stretched very thin. I am told that, of the 221 posts with which the Diplomatic Service now covers 189 countries, 101 posts have four or fewer UK-based staff; 23 have only one and 25 are staffed solely by local staff.
§ While I acknowledge the outstanding contribution which locally engaged staff in the Diplomatic Service make to our commercial and consular interests, I would question whether this extent of reliance on non-UK-based staff any longer represents a truly global political presence. The figures certainly fall far short of what our French and German partners maintain around the world. I hope that the Minister will agree that a global presence is not only a vital ingredient in protecting and promoting our national interests, whether political, commercial, economic or consular, but that it is essential, if we are to maintain our credibility with our partners as a serious global player, and if we are to fulfil our current presidency responsibilities with conviction.
§ But resources are needed not just to staff diplomatic and consular posts, or indeed to staff new posts as and when required. There are the challenges of peacekeeping operations, as sudden crises arise: the need to take part in United Nations observer teams; the increasing need for what is now known as preventive diplomacy to ward off unforeseen and unforeseeable crises. In short, there is a need to maintain and to fund a truly global foreign policy. All these require a degree of financial flexibility on the part of the Government as a whole and not just from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
§ I understand that the Foreign and Commonwealth budget now represents no more than one-third of 1 per cent. of total government expenditure, even including the BBC World Service and the grant-in-aid to the British Council. I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has adequate access to the Treasury reserve for unforeseen peacekeeping operations and that we now have sound and flexible structures in place to provide for the funding of preventive diplomacy, and that these are considered in terms of our comprehensive international interests rather than sunder the narrow concept of departmental budgets.
§ I have sometimes heard noble Lords speak of our Commonwealth connections, and indeed of our so-called special relationship with the United States, as though they were in some way a preferable alternative to our membership of, and commitment to, the European Union. As someone who believes that our role as a leading member of the European Union is now, and 235 must remain, the central pillar of Britain's foreign policy, I nevertheless believe that our Commonwealth relationships and our relationship with our United States allies can be an essential element in maintaining our influence and credibility as a global player in the eyes of our European partners.
§ Our relationship with the United States has sometimes been depicted by our French friends as an Anglo-Saxon "Trojan horse" within the walls of Europe. I firmly reject any such picture. But it is important, if our relationship with the United States is to add substance and value to our membership of the European Union and vice versa, that we do not give the impression—as I fear has too often been the case in the past—that we are prepared to give uncritical support to all American policies. Nor is that the way in which we can hope to influence the United States Administration or Congress.
§ Nowhere is this so true as in the Middle East where Britain has longer experience than possibly any other country outside the area and where the belief that we are the "poodles" of Washington is having a damaging effect on both our political and economic interests in the region.
§ In addressing the Middle East today I do not want to concentrate narrowly on the Arab-Israel dispute, even though the present stalemate in pursuing the Oslo accords is possibly the most dangerous crisis facing Europe and the world at this juncture. I was sorry not to be able to take part in the debate in this House on 15th January. But I have noted with pleasure the statement of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on that occasion, that Her Majesty's Government are fully and actively committed to the search for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, a peace with justice and a peace with security. I have also noted her reply to the Question of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, this afternoon.
§ Earlier comments by myself in this House on Arab-Israel issues, including Israeli settlements and Jerusalem, have provoked claims that I am "anti-Israel". I hope that I have no need to assure the House that that is simply not true. Part of my deep concern about the policies and actions of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Government is precisely that I believe they will cause—no, they are already causing—grievous harm to Israeli interests. It is not a question of being pro or anti-Israel, or indeed of being pro or anti-Arab. The policies of Mr. Netanyahu seem to me to pose serious threats to the security of Arabs, Israelis and indeed of all of us. I know that many Israelis, and indeed members of the Jewish community in this country, share that view.
§ Nevertheless, my own contacts with the Middle East have convinced me that there is a dangerous degree of resentment and despair in the Arab world, not only at the actions and policies of Mr. Netanyahu's Government, but also at what many Arabs see as the double standards which the West in general, and the United States Congress in particular, adopt towards the problems of the region.
§ The remarks of Mr. Netanyahu on leaving Israel for Washington last week, as reported in the press, show the extent to which he knows that he can rely on the support 236 of Congress and indeed of the American media, in snubbing such pressures as the Administration tries to bring to bear on him. I fear that the Middle East has become a matter more of United States domestic policy than of foreign and defence policy. In the present turmoil of American domestic politics and with the prospect of military action in the Gulf, that is potentially a very dangerous situation indeed.
§ Even those Arabs—and there are many of them—who fear and deplore the behaviour of President Saddam Hussein, nevertheless ask why the West concentrates its attacks on Iraqi failure to observe Security Council resolutions when they hear no criticism of Israel for her failure to observe repeated Security Council resolutions demanding her withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. The Arabs hear frequent references, as they will have done from those noble Lords who spoke in the debate on 15th January, about the threat to Israel from her neighbours. But I have heard many Arabs, including those most critical of Saddam Hussein, complain at what they regard as the double standards adopted in the West towards a country which is at present in illegal occupation of territory in Lebanon, in the West Bank and in Jerusalem, and which is applying settlement policies which British Ministers have repeatedly condemned as illegal—a description which I do not think any recent United States spokesman has been prepared to apply to them.
§ Of course we must continue to be tough on terrorism, wherever it happens. But given the degree of resentment which exists in the Arab world—and to some extent in the wider Islamic world, which is still smarting from the treatment of Moslems in Serbia and Bosnia—I believe that we must be equally tough on the causes of terrorism.
§ At this point, I should like to pay tribute to the way in which the British presidency was able to lead the recent troika mission to Algeria, thereby at least getting a foot in a door which has hitherto been kept firmly closed to outsiders. I am glad to hear that the Algerian Foreign Minister is to visit London. I hope that we can continue, as the presidency, to press the Algerian Government to take more effective action to bring the terrible massacres to an end.
§ One of my reasons for concern about the degree of resentment in the Arab world is not to make an anti-Israeli point, but to emphasise the extent to which it has eroded support in the United Nations Security Council for our policies towards Iraq. One of the lessons of the Gulf War, as I remember very clearly, was the need for a concerted and sustained diplomatic effort, both in capitals and in the United Nations, to maintain support for the coalition's military and political action—and that was a crisis in which there was international consensus over a very clear objective; namely, to expel the Iraqi armed forces from Kuwait.
§ That support is just as necessary today in our attempts to get Saddam Hussein to comply with United Nations resolutions and weapons inspections. Congress has called for unilateral military action, if necessary, in the Gulf. I believe that any military action without very 237 clear objectives, and without either the support of the Security Council or the practical assistance of the Gulf states, could be both politically and militarily disastrous.
§ I have noted the remarks of the noble Baroness the Minister in response to Questions in this House two days ago about the military objectives of such action, but I am bound to say that I am still unconvinced. Have either the objectives or the consequences of a military attack been clearly thought through? Have colleagues on the Security Council been consulted on either? Have the implications of a successful, or partly successful, military attack against installations containing lethal materials such as anthrax—if that is indeed one of the objectives—been fully assessed?
§ To return to the Arab-Israel peace process, of course we all hope that the Americans will succeed in their attempts to revive it. Certainly, no attempt can be successful without the sustained efforts of the United States Administration. But the Arabs know that behind the Administration is a deeply biased Congress, and I do not believe that we shall be serving our national or European interests if we give our Arab friends, or, indeed, our Israeli friends, the impression that we are prepared merely to give the Americans uncritical support from the sidelines. I therefore share the hope, expressed by some noble Lords in the debate on 15th January, that we shall now, in our current presidency capacity, take steps to involve the European Union more directly in the peace process.
§ As your Lordships know, the European Union is already by far the largest provider of aid to Palestinians. I believe that only with the direct political involvement of Europe, and a determined attempt by the European presidency to persuade all parties to stick with the process outlined at Oslo, can there be any hope of reviving the peace process or, indeed, the Euro-Mediterranean process.
§ The Middle East is only one area where I believe that Europe could and should be more actively engaged, and where I hope that the British presidency can give a firm and even-handed lead in exploiting the very considerable economic and diplomatic potential of the European Union.
§ However, I do not want to talk about the Middle East solely as an area of conflict. It is, of course, an area of vital economic and commercial interest to the United Kingdom and to Europe—to a far greater extent than to the United States. Noble Lords will have seen that there are some grounds for optimism in the recent speeches and interviews by President Khatami of Iran, to which I hope that the European Union, under our presidency, will give a suitably measured and positive response. I am glad to note from ministerial statements that we continue to oppose the extra-territorial legislation of the D'Amato-Gilman Bill.
§ The Middle East is, of course, one of the parts of the world—although only one—where Islam is the dominant religion. I am sure that other noble Lords will share my apprehension that the tragic events in Algeria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan will encourage the myth—and I profoundly believe it to be a myth—that 238 Islam represents the threat of the future and that Moslems have somehow filled the "threat vacuum" left by the break-up of the Soviet Empire.
§ That myth was propagated by a much-publicised article five years ago by Professor Huntington and later repeated in a misguided public statement from Mr. Willi Claes, then Secretary-General of NATO. By contrast, I have myself witnessed the extraordinarily favourable reactions in the Moslem world to attempts by. for instance, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, to correct these myths.
§ I believe that that misrepresentation of one of the great monotheistic religions of the world is having not only a damaging effect on our interests, and on the interests of the West, among countries which have traditionally been our friends and where we are credited with having a close understanding of their culture and society; it could also have a damaging effect on the attitudes of our own rapidly growing Moslem communities in this country. I commend to the House an authoritative and deeply disturbing report produced at the end of last year by the Runnymede Trust, entitled Islamophobia—a Challenge for us All. Copies of that report are available in the Library of the House.
§ Our imperial history has given us, or should have given us, ample experience of dealing with inter-faith differences and misunderstandings. To talk of an Islamic threat to the West is as offensive to the Moslem world as would be their claim that sectarian killings in Northern Ireland illustrated a threat from Christianity to the civilised world. We are not alone in the European Union in having a rapidly expanding Moslem population. North Africans in France; Turks in Germany; and the influx of Albanians and Kurds into Italy, all argue for a rational and balanced approach to the problems set out in the Runnymede report.
§ That report deals primarily with Islamophobia as a domestic British problem. I believe that it should be seen as a potential, or rather actual, European problem which could have dramatic implications for Europe's political and economic relationships with much of the Third World. I hope that, here again, we can begin to tackle what is essentially an ethical problem as a challenge to our presidency of the European Union, a challenge on which I believe we are uniquely qualified to give a lead. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Lord Healey
My Lords, I should first like to thank the noble Lord. Lord Wright of Richmond, for raising this matter today; and not, if I may say so, a day too soon. I thank him also for what he said particularly about the Middle East and the Moslem world.
At the moment the whole world is moving towards the Millennium with the outlook steadily darkening. There are lame duck presidents in both Washington and Moscow. Russia is sliding into anarchy, dominated by criminal mafias. The United States has an impotent administration, but still a very robust economy. On the other hand, the recent Asian crisis increases the probability of a crash on Wall Street. because the financial systems of the United States are far weaker 239 than its real economy. I am glad that the Foreign Office is taking advantage of the meeting in April to bring European and Asian countries together to discuss these problems.
On top of all these dangers is the growing risk of another war in the Middle East and/or Near East. That war could bring revolution in the Gulf states and have a tremendous impact on both the supply and price of oil. I believe that this provides Europe with both an opportunity and a responsibility that it cannot afford to ignore. The most interesting aspect of recent changes in the Middle East is the very substantial increase in the influence of Turkey, which is now an important player in the Balkans and south central Asia as well as the Middle East, and revives memories of the Ottoman Empire of the past. Turkey is now a major influence in Bosnia. Its influence there will increase if the Americans, as seems all too possible, finally withdraw their troops in June this year.
There is growing tension over Cyprus with the threat of military action by Turkey if Russia provides missiles to the Greek Cypriots. In a speech this week Mr. Primakov reasserted Russia's intention to do so. There is a real risk of conflict with the Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia, which is another possible front in which Turkey may intervene. Turkey has already invaded north west Syria in pursuit of the Kurds in the PKK. It is developing steadily closer relations with Netanyahu's Israel. I have nothing to add to what the noble Lord said about recent worrying developments in Israel, save that the activities of Mossad deserve to be watched very carefully. Within the last week Mossad has spread false stories about arms in Iraq which the CIA has had publicly to deny, and recently it has tried to assassinate a Palestinian leader in the neighbouring Arab country of Jordan.
It is surprising to me that the United States has chosen this moment to emphasise its military links with both Israel and Turkey by joint naval exercises in the East Mediterranean. There is no question but that these exercises create immense embarrassment to the West's friends in the Arab world, particularly Egypt and the Gulf states. All of this takes place at a time when the most urgent problem facing us is posed by Saddam Hussein's refusal to co-operate with the United Nations team charged with ensuring the destruction of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Like the noble Lord, I had a good many misgivings about the British Government's assertion that they would take military action against Saddam in the next few weeks if Saddam did not give in to UNSCOM. Such action, if not endorsed by NATO and the United Nations, would be highly dangerous to all our friends in the Arab world. It is by no means certain that any such action would be effective. During the Gulf War the West and its allies spent 45 days bombing military facilities in Iraq, but they destroyed fewer Iraqi weapons than have been destroyed by UNSCOM since the end of that war.
Economic sanctions against Iraq or any dictatorship are ineffective because a dictator can always blame the foreigner for the sufferings inflicted upon his people. 240 Democracies are the only countries against which economic sanctions are effective, as Britain proved very clearly when it gave into American sanctions over the Suez War in 1956.
At the moment there is no real prospect of changing Iraqi policy unless somehow or other Russian diplomacy, allied with the threat but not the execution of military sanctions, produces a shift in Iraqi policy. The one certain matter is that if Britain is not prepared to exercise its own judgment in this matter and defers in advance to anything that the United States decides to do, disaster will follow.
There is one area in which I believe hopeful developments are under way in the Middle East. It now looks as if the United States is beginning to recognise that it cannot afford to treat both Iraq and Iran as enemies. I am delighted to see that Europe. led by Britain, is trying to re-establish reasonable relations with the Khatami regime in Iran. Turkey has already established relations by accepting a pipeline through Iran from central Asia into Turkey and the sea. I believe that there is now an opportunity, if we take seriously the words uttered by Mr. Khatami over several months, to explore every possibility of doing this. Undoubtedly in the short run this will cause us some embarrassment with the United States, but I believe that the time has come when a determined initiative by Europe and Britain, acting together, can shift American policy for the better. I hope that when my noble friend replies she will be able to confirm my optimism in this regard.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Lord Hurd of Westwell
My Lords, I am grateful, although a little nervous, for the opportunity to address your Lordships for the first time. I am particularly glad to do so under the auspices of the noble Lord who opened this debate with whom I worked closely and congenially on these matters for many years during which I came to rely greatly on his calmness, his experience and his wisdom.
We live in a world of nation states none of whom can by themselves ensure the prosperity and security of their citizens. That is why success in foreign policy depends on success in building and making a success of partnerships. Britain belongs to more partnerships because of the scope of its trade and historical friendships than any other country. Although we are far from being a superpower, we remain a world power. I believe that the key partnership for us among many is that between Europe and the United States. That partnership is strong and successful in the NATO area. I do not believe that it is yet skilful enough in handling crises that arise in the world outside the NATO area.
The United States is the only superpower and is likely to remain so. We are lucky in our superpower. Occasionally Americans overstep the mark. In particular, occasionally Congress must be resisted if it tries to foist laws and policies on us with which we disagree. But that does not seem to me to be the real danger of having America as the only real superpower. The real danger is not overweening ambition but occasional loss of interest by American attention 241 wandering away from the problems of the outside world because of the fascination and success of that remarkable country or distractions such as the present ones that make us anxious about the scene in Washington.
But Europeans are in no position to reproach the United States in these respects. We are not yet a valid partner of the United States in these efforts. We as Europeans are not coherent and therefore not persuasive. Following the example set by the noble Lord, I should like to refer to the three linked problems in the Middle East. With regard to the Arab-Israel dispute, for several years the United States has taken the lead. When I had responsibility for these matters, I always discouraged those at home or in Europe who tended to criticise from the sidelines the peace process under way. I was not in favour of the European Union duplicating, or complicating, what the United States attempted to do; nor do I do so now.
As the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord Healey, have reminded us, the energy of the United States in the peace process has been faltering recently when confronted with the stubbornness of the present Prime Minister and Government of Israel. The peace process has begun to slide downhill, week by week, towards violence and chaos on the West Bank, with the danger of renewed war. The European Union pays a good deal towards the peace process but plays little political part in it. I hope the noble Baroness will amplify what she said the other evening and again this afternoon about her intentions.
The second problem is Iraq. The aims of the United States policy are right, but are weakened by its policy on the Palestinian question. Her Majesty's Government are right to support those aims, but they would be more effective if they were part of a coherent European response, with Europe acting as a valid partner.
We are not engaged in some vendetta against Saddam Hussein, tyrannical and cruel though he is. We are engaged in an enterprise to prevent the spread of desperately dangerous weapons of mass destruction into his hands. There is no doubt about his ambitions or his record, and there should be no doubt about the resolution of the international community to maintain the process of monitoring, inspection and destruction which the Security Council has authorised.
On the third, linked, question it may be that the noble Lord, Lord Healey, is right, that there has been a softening of attitudes under President Khatami and the Government of Iran. We need to probe cautiously their attitudes towards terrorism; towards the Gulf; towards the Arab-Israel process; towards their own acquisition of nuclear weapons; and their attitude towards the unacceptable forms of Islamic fundamentalism—for example, the fatwa against the British writer Salman Rushdie.
These matters need to be probed, but probed by the United States and Europe acting in tandem. If we try to set about this separately, then each of us will be confounded because the Iranians will divide us and profit from the division.
242 These are three linked dangers. They shift shape, like the kaleidoscope, day-by-day. They will not wait to be managed while there is some leisurely investigation of the private life of the President of the United States. Nor will they wait for the endless pontificating about procedure upon which so much time is spent in the European Union.
I hope the Government will use the presidency to change gear in Europe, away from discussing procedure towards confronting substance. It is not easy to get agreement on these matters; but your Lordships will know from your own experience that if you discuss small matters all the time you are sometimes condemned to indefinite disagreement and nit-picking. However, if you set yourself to tackle the fundamental problems under the pressure of evident danger you can produce agreement where you did not necessarily expect it.
Her Majesty's Government have that opportunity in the European presidency and during the Prime Minister's forthcoming visit to Washington.
Finally, a word about the Security Council of the United Nations. It is an essential organisation—not because it always carries out every enterprise, but because, under international law, it is the authoriser, the legitimiser.
Here too there is something of a power failure. I draw the attention of your Lordships and the Government to the report written by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, Words to Deeds, about strengthening the United Nations enforcement capabilities. As would be expected from that author, it is an unpretentious report, full of practical wisdom and suggestions. I hope that the noble Baroness will say something about the Government's intention to carry these ideas forward in Europe and New York.
There are many matters, including foreign affairs, on which we should joust between parties, in this House and in another place, but this essential problem is not one of them. I hope that we on these Benches, as we have done, can sustain Her Majesty's Government in these efforts provided that they sustain the partnership between Europe and the United States, on which depends not only our security but the success of any efforts we may make towards a safer and more decent world.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to rise immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, and to congratulate him on his maiden speech. I first met him when he was the political secretary to Sir Edward Heath; I then learned to appreciate him, as I am sure many other noble Lords did, as a first-class novelist. I hope that he will have a little time, now that he is in the House, to return to the excellent novels which he used to write. He then became a holder of many of the great offices of state, the last being that of Foreign Secretary. We look forward to hearing much more from him in the House.
I have listened to three speeches which all emphasised the importance of greater European co-operation as a context for British foreign policy. That is what the debate is about. I agree with almost the whole of the 243 speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, although I was not entirely sure that his commitment to founding a truly global foreign policy for Britain had the underlying rationale of what a truly global foreign policy for Britain is about.
For my sins, I have to lecture to 20 year-olds about British foreign policy from time to time. Most of them think that the idea of an independent British global foreign policy is something which is more suited to discussion in your Lordships' House than with students of the younger generation. We have to explain to them what British foreign policy is now founded upon.
As the defence spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, I am doing my best to follow the strategic defence review and I look forward to it emerging. We have been told that it is going to be foreign policy led, but it is not entirely clear where the foreign policy is leading it. There have been conversations about extending power across the Indian Ocean, but a remarkable absence in recent statements about the strategic defence review of weapons to the European framework or the European dimension of British defence. That does seem a little worrying.
We are talking in the context of the UK's European presidency. We have been in the European Union now for 25 years during which time there have been a succession of British Foreign Secretaries. The noble Lords, Lord Callaghan, Lord Carrington and Lord Howe of Aberavon, were among the great enthusiasts for what they saw as the practical co-operation which European political co-operation provided. In almost all cases they held back from further institutional development, afraid of being tied down by treaties and greater institutionalisation and afraid of admitting to Westminster and the British press how far in reality we were engaged in multilateral co-operation with our neighbours.
The same has also been true of defence. Co-operation between the British and Dutch is one of the closest defence relationships we have, and yet it is almost entirely unknown in this country.
Some years ago in Paris I heard from a French Minister that the Franco-British defence dialogue was going extremely well. I came back to London and asked a friend in the Foreign Office "What is happening? What is this thing about a French-British defence dialogue?" I was told, "Yes, it is going very well but, whatever you do, do not tell Sir Nicholas Bonsor", who was then the chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee.
It has been an underlying problem of British foreign and defence policy over the past 20 years that our governments have been reluctant to admit how European, how multilateral, British foreign policy has become.
Now, after the Treaty of Amsterdam, we are discussing the strengthening of the machinery of common, foreign and security policy. I understand that as regards the proposal to set up a policy planning unit, the British are suggesting that it should be small with preferably no more than half a dozen staff, and only long term, while most of our partners are asking for a 244 larger central unit. Perhaps the Minister will say something about our attitude to strengthening the CFSP when she replies. The same applies to the whole concept of the European pillar within NATO and the strengthening of the WEU.
The other long-term characteristic of British foreign policy has been our commitment to a special relationship with the US. In his Guildhall speech last November the Prime Minister—if I remember correctly—remarked that if the French and the US stand together, there is little we cannot achieve. That was in the context of talking about the problem of Iraq.
I take it from the three previous speakers that there is a general consensus in the House that if Britain, the USA and the other west European states stand together we can achieve a great deal more. Furthermore, the British voice in Washington is heard a great deal more clearly if it is part of a coherent European perspective. There are limits to how far Britain should allow itself to be seen to be the USA's most loyal follower, or, perhaps, as, on the occasion of the bombing of Libya, the USA's only loyal follower.
A number of us are worried that as regards Iraq it again looks as though it is the Anglo-Saxons standing firm for their perception of world order even if no one else is behind them. I was a little worried when I saw the Written Answer to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, the other day that one of the UNSCOM teams had 16 members of whom no fewer than 14 were British or American. Given the American ambivalence towards the UN, that seems, to say the least, tactless. It feeds Arab paranoia about western values. We would do much better to place that within a broader multilateral context.
I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, said about American domestic policies, and the perceptions of the Middle East to which they give rise—the linkage which is made in the American press and in Congress between Israel, Iraq and Iran, and the perception of Turkey as a friend of Israel against the Islamic world, which again is an example of how the Americans now see the politics of that important region differently from how we see it. The loss of support for the West in the rest of the Arab world, to which that has led, is something about which we should be worried.
We need a concerted European approach to American opinion. As an adviser to the Transatlantic Policy Network, I have met a number of congressmen and senators in the past few months. I am struck by how many of them are new to Congress; how little they know about Europe or the Middle East; and how far their perceptions of fair burden-sharing and multilateral co-operation are different from ours. We need a concerted European effort to redefine the transatlantic relationship if we are to hold that vital relationship together. We need the Americans, and we should therefore be working together to manage our unavoidably different interests and to strengthen our common interests.
Common foreign and security policy is not an easy row to hoe. In many ways the French are extraordinarily incoherent about what they want out of the European 245 security and defence identity—either their re-integration into NATO or a common foreign policy when it does not always suit immediate French perceptions. The German Government were confused about the defence dimension, although the presence now in Bosnia of 2,000 German soldiers suggests that the German Government are now pulling their full weight. We, too, have contributed to that confusion over the years. I hope that we will use our presidency to strengthen European common policies, and even to support European common actions rather than, as we have so often done in the past, drag our feet.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for initiating this debate, and, in particular, for drawing attention to the role of relations between faith communities, and within faith communities, in internationalaffairs. If the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, is nervous when addressing this subject, your Lordships can imagine what my feelings must be when speaking to such a gathering. Without posing as an authority on international relations, perhaps I may draw attention to the importance of oneof the few non-governmental networks which has a Europe-wide significance and a considerable popular base and potential.
Last year, as the leader of the Church of England delegation, I attended the second Europe-wide Christian Oecumenical Assembly, which met for the first time in Basel in 1989. In that year, with events in the East rapidly unfolding, the atmosphere was euphoric, but as an echo of the comments made by noble Lords this afternoon, the atmosphere at the conference last year, which was held in Graz in Austria, was much more sober.
Participants from all over Europe—from Sicily to the Urals, including no fewer than1,200 young Romanians—made for an exciting week. At the same time, the tensions between different ethnic and linguistic groups, which have surfaced since the Marxist-Leninist tidereceded, were obvious and frankly expressed. In the event, it was not even possible for the Russian Patriarch to meet the Pope as had been planned as a prelude to the assembly.
The theme of the assembly:Reconciliation—Gift of God and Source of New Life",was in those circumstances clearly timely. It confronted the Christian Churches in Europe with their own responsibilities and gave them an opportunity, particularly courtesy of the German media, to address others.
In a small attempt to translate that theme into concrete terms here in Britain, a partnershipinvolving myself, Cardinal Hume, and a moderator of the United Reformed Church is currently at work converting the church of St. Ethelburga in the City of London, which was reduced to rubble by the Bishopsgate bomb, into an international centre for reconciliation and peace. It is intended that that centre should have close working relations with other similar ventures in Europe, and we 246 are already in touch with institutions such as the Peace Centre in Maputo in Mozambique—one of the newest members of the Commonwealth. The centre has a fascinating specialty: it fashions cast-off weapons from the civil war into furniture.
In addition to those concrete initiatives. I, like so many other noble Lords, welcome the emphases of the British presidency, identified by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in a recent speech:employability, flexibility, entrepreneurship and equal opportunities".I hope that Ministers will be much alive during the period of the British presidency to the potential of the faith communities as active social partners within the EU and as vital potential bridge builders between the two hemispheres of Europe, East and West.
The Foreign Secretary has commented also on the justifiable concern felt by many people world-wide about the environment, and that up to 14 million people in Europe alone are suffering from the effects of ambient air pollution. Here again, faith communities have a contribution to make. Last October, I was a participant in a symposium on the problems of the Black Sea region, which brought together scientists and religious leaders under the joint patronage of the Patriarch of Constantinople and Mr. Jacques Santer. After an inauspicious start, when we were stoned by Turkish Grey Wolves in Trebizond, a dialogue was opened up that included not just some of the most distinguished marine scientists in the world but Jewish, Moslem, Christian and leaders of other world faith communities. Here was an event which drew the faith communities together in common action on a common challenge. We are now in the process of trying to translate that symposium into terms which will have an impact on community attitudes in countries where there is often a well-founded tradition of distrust for the initiatives of authority.
I hope that the Church of England itself will be an active rather than a grumbling participant in that process. I remember vividly a visit I made to a rather dilapidated church and a church warden observing rather sadly to me, "You know, Bish, I think it's inertia that keeps us going".
I do not think that that is a wise policy in the face of the challenges that confront us in a Europe where tensions are resurfacing. While secular institutions are developing rapidly in Europe there is also a parallel process of institution building between the Churches. There is the Conference of European Churches with its headquarters in Geneva. That is a meeting place for the Churches, East and West, providing a forum where the Russians can put their case and, for example. listen to their critics. That conference has just been strengthened by amalgamation with a Brussels-based organisation which relates specifically to the institutions of the EU. There is a parallel Roman Catholic structure bringing together the episcopal conferences under the presidency of the Cardinal of Prague.
Churches should be equipped to make a contribution to fertilising the moral imagination in a continent which has been partly shaped by Christian ideals and 247 institutions. We are all faced with the challenge of how to convert the moral imagination of many individuals into energy for change and hope. and, unfashionable as it is, careful institution building, not least to make further inroads into the East-West divide in Europe, is part of the answer. I believe the re-invigorated Commonwealth is a hopeful example of what can be achieved.
§ 4.3 p.m.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to be the first to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on behalf of the whole House on his maiden speech. We have long looked forward to hearing from him. His theme of faith communities, reconciliation and peace and institution building between the Churches was one which we all found most interesting. We shall look forward to hearing him on many occasions in the future.
He indicated, unlike my noble friend Lord Hurd, who I would also like to congratulate, that he was not perhaps an expert on foreign affairs but I believe that he is an expert on art and literature, at any rate of the Mediterranean world, having been a Swan Hellenic lecturer for many years past. He has been a regular visitor to Russia and is also very knowledgeable about French and Russian culture and language. One thing about him, if I may say so, is that he does not suffer from inertia.
I too would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for introducing this debate today, and to say how much I valued his wise advice when I was a Foreign Office Minister. He has touched on many of the great issues which confront us in the world, particularly in the context of the United Kingdom presidency of the European Union. I was most interested in his comments on the Middle East and in particular about the Moslem faith.
This afternoon, in my capacity as President of the West India Committee, I would like to raise the whole issue of the European Union and the Caribbean. This is, I recognise, a relatively small part of the world in the context of the big issues that have been raised and there is, of course, a danger that it can be marginalised. Yet the countries of Spain. France, and the Netherlands all have a direct interest in the Caribbean. We ourselves have longstanding links through the Commonwealth.
I was pleased to hear Lord Wright's recognition of the importance of Commonwealth links. Of course, we have direct responsibility for the dependent territories in that part of the world. As I say, there is a danger that the Caribbean can be marginalised. I have noticed that small islands can easily be forgotten but can cause a quite disproportionate amount of difficulty if something goes wrong. One needs only to look at the Falklands; this last summer the tragic situation in Montserrat, a tragedy which continues; the situation in Grenada, and I hardly think we need say anything to the Americans about their relations with Cuba.
This afternoon I should like to touch briefly upon three specific issues where Britain's interest and the future development of EU policy should. I believe, 248 better coincide. The three concerns relate first to those islands in the Caribbean which are dependent upon bananas, to Cuba and to the dependent territories. In each case I believe that a more sympathetic approach taken during the British presidency will not only materially assist the Caribbean region but will also make clear the positive role the Government can play in helping to develop the EU's Caribbean policy, thereby enhancing Britain's position in the region.
Two weeks ago the European Commission put forward proposals for changing the single European market for bananas in the light of the 1997 WTO appellate ruling that the existing regime discriminated in favour of the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. As your Lordships would expect, the ideas that the Commission have developed to resolve this issue are complex. You will be relieved to hear that I have no intention of going into them this afternoon. But what I would like to say is that there is a very great danger that the EU's approach is a compromise that will neither please those who want further trade liberalisation or those who argue for the need to protect small. vulnerable economies in developing regions such as the Caribbean. The real danger for us all is that if this one staple crop in a number of islands disappears, farmers will take to growing crops such as drugs, for which, of course, there is a ready market.
Unfortunately, bananas have become an issue around which important aspects of the new global trade order are being resolved. The EU solution has been to try to please all parties by proposing a system that may work, but only as a transitory mechanism to a new liberalised global market early in the next millennium which will be based on quotas and a programme of technical support.
The problem is that this compromise takes little account of the realities on the ground. Farmers in the Caribbean operate on a cash basis. They need to know where their income is coming from if they are to invest. We need to find the longest possible life for some kind of transitional new regime and encourage a much more sympathetic approach to enlarging the funding available. In other words, we need a period of certainty during which there is a gradual and stable transition with bananas to more diversified economies.
May I now just touch on Cuba. Europe here has a common position in its approach to Cuba. But despite that, I sometimes feel that our partners understand better than we the importance of a flexible dialogue with the Cuban Government. I believe that Britain now has a unique opportunity to take forward proposals which would place the United Kingdom at the forefront of the European debate about Cuba, about its place in the Caribbean region and its relations with Europe.
May I suggest to the Minister that we could respond favourably to the new proposals that are being put forward by the Cuban Government that would link new credits from ECGD with the gradual settling of commercial debt. Britain could lift its declining trade with Cuba and at the same time couple this with ministerial visits from the Foreign Office, the DTI, and the DFID. We could talk in detail about the matters of 249 concern to ourselves and the European Union. We could extend invitations particularly to the future leadership and to the reform-minded younger Ministers. We could cement a long-term relationship which would benefit not only ourselves but the Cuban people. We really want to find a sound basis for moving on to matters of concern with regard to civil and human rights.
I conclude by saying very briefly a few words about the dependent territories. As I understand it, the Foreign Secretary is to make a statement on a policy review in the very near future. In the European context, it is far from clear whether Britain has undertaken the consultations necessary with elected leaders in our overseas territories about what they require from the post-Lome arrangement. We sometimes forget that it is the British overseas territories which make Britain a Caribbean nation. Together with the Dutch and French overseas territories and DOM, it is those micro-states which continue to link Europe with the Caribbean. I believe that for far too long we have treated matters of concern in those areas as matters to be managed rather than as an issue of partnership in which elected governments have as much at stake as we do.
It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate what plans the Government have to consult with the governments of our overseas territories on their post-Lome requirements and an indication of the way in which, during the British presidency, those views will be incorporated into both an EU negotiating mandate and the development of an ACP position.
Time does not permit me to go into any more detail on those issues. However, I hope that I have indicated clearly that Britain. bilaterally and in the context of the European Union, has a continuing and important role to play in the Caribbean in at least three ways during its presidency. I hope that it will show the leadership in the Union which is expected of it quite particularly by the leaders in the Caribbean itself.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, I too congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on his wide-ranging maiden speech. I congratulate also my noble friend Lord Hurd on his eloquent maiden speech. It seems to me curiously appropriate that I should be in a position of being able to congratulate my noble friend Lord Hurd on his speech since. 45 years' ago, I made my own maiden speech in another place—I refer to the Cambridge Union and not to the House of Commons—in his presence.
In this ninth winter after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the United States as the one super power, a variety of issues will occur to your Lordships as the most important. Some noble Lords will discuss whether it is possible, and if so how, to restore the great alliance which defeated Iraq in 1991. Others will wonder whether perhaps, following the speech of my noble friend Lady Young, we should adopt a different policy towards Cuba; or whether we should perhaps give further support to the European Commission represented by 250 Sir Leon Brittan or, indeed, His Holiness the Pope in recent statements criticising the foolish American policies towards economic relations with Cuba.
I myself like to see the British presidency of the European Union being marked by a solution to the Gibraltar problem along the lines of the proposals made by the Spanish Foreign Minister that we should make a move towards joint sovereignty of the peninsula in the manner of Andorra.
However, those are detailed although important matters. There is one critical question which we should consider, especially if the Prime Minister is really aspiring to lead Europe in the long term. That is a matter which haunts most of the other questions that are likely to be raised and, indeed, have been raised in this debate.
That ghost is a ghost of the future. Some noble Lords may feel that it is inappropriate to speak of a ghost if it is not related to the past. But 150 years' ago Karl Marx described how the spectre of communism was haunting Europe. A spectre is undoubtedly haunting British attitudes towards the European Union in 1998; that is, in my submission, the growing realisation that, if we really wish to be taken seriously in Europe, and certainly if we wish to lead Europe, we must, sooner or later, reconsider both publicly and privately, intellectually and militarily, our relations with the United States. We should neither expect nor desire the special relationship, which has certainly served us well up until 1989 or 1991, to survive in its present form in the future.
I listened very carefully to the eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, and I was not comforted. I did not feel that the special relationship and our relations with Europe are so perfectly balanced as they should be. For a long time, I have thought that in this country we have sought to get the best of both worlds in relation to our friendship with the United States and our association with the European Union. The consequence has been that we have failed to find an appropriate identity in our post-imperial age.
I have no doubt that I shall be assured by ex-Ministers with great experience, and perhaps by present Ministers, that nothing should ever occur which would alter our important military and security arrangements with the United States. All the same, I cannot believe that, in the long term, we should be forever resigned never to take any interest in or collaborate in the defence arrangements within the European Continent, which have so interested France, which country has initiated a great deal, as was remarked by my noble friend Lord Wallace, and which are bound to have a long-term future. My noble friend Lord Hurd suggested that some kind of European dimension would be the best hope of reviving the alliance against Saddam Hussein.
In another context, I cannot help feeling that we might wish at some stage—the idea may seem extravagant but it is possible—to invite a contemporary continental European statesman to take the chair of an Irish peace-seeking committee in place of an ex-American senator.
Those are all details, even if important details. I should like to insist before your Lordships that we should wish to see a sea change in our attitudes towards 251 Europe and towards the United States. As noble Lords will recall, there was a famous exchangein 1944 when Churchill told de Gaulle that if he ever had to choose between the open sea and the continent, he would always choose the ocean; and if he had to choose between America and Europe, he would always choose the first. I submit that our generation of Europhiles—that is what we are called and I do not mind that expression at all—should seek to reverse the direction explicit in that great story.
That is not to argue that we should oppose America, nor that we should be anti-American, or reject America. But I suggest a new priority. In relation to the Europe of the future, we are witnesses to, and participants in, momentous intellectual and moral processes. We cannot fully see the combined effects of them at this time, but we should not judge their benefits by recalling what worked in the past during the Cold War, during the Second World War, the memory of which is still so remarkably warm in our culture, or during the days when Britain had an empire on which the sun never set.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, during the course of his remarkable and perceptive speech, my noble friend Lord Wright devoted a section to the relationship with Islam. It is on that subject that I should like to concentrate for the next few minutes in strongly supporting the ideas and the views that my noble friend put forward. Indeed, as the Government develop their role as president of the European Union, I hope that the Foreign Secretary and his advisers might have time to study some of the aspects of the eastern question in Europe in the 19th century, especially in so far as they are relevant to this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Healey, referred to the Ottoman empire, which, as he implied, was at the heart of the eastern question. However, as my noble friend clearly suggested, the current contemporary dialogue between the Islamic and the non-Islamic world, and more especially between Islam and the Judaeo-Christian cultures of Europe and the West, is now becoming a matter of increasing importance and urgency.
At present, this is largely a dialogue of the deaf, characterised on both sides by a failure of tolerance and understanding. That arises in the West from such misconceptions as the failure to recognise that revolutionary movements like the Black Moslems in the United States have nothing much to do with Islam, apart from the borrowing of a few bits of selective rhetoric from the Quran. There is also a tendency, especially in our media, to use the phrase, "Islamic fundamentalism", as a synonym for terrorism or extremism whereas, of course, a fundamental belief in Islam is no more sinister or threatening than a fundamental belief in Christianity. On the other hand, misunderstanding in Islam arises from a perception of democracy among some followers of Islam as being in conflict with the sovereignty of God, separating the faithful from the "ungodly" western society.
So far as concerns the West, there is no excuse for ignorance. There are more than 10 million Moslems living in western countries; there are about a million in Britain. and the number is growing. The British Islamic 252 community has been growing and flourishing, especially in thelast 30 to 40 years. There are nearly 500 mosques in Britain and, as His Royal Highness Prince Charles said recently in a speech to the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies, popular interest in Islamic culture is growing in this country. Thousands of UK citizens live and work in Moslem countries, but, as the Prince of Wales remarked, distrust between the cultures, and even fear of each other, persist.
However, that does not apply only to Britain. It is a feature of life in several European countries; indeed, we have already had mention of the terrible sufferings of the Moslems in former Yugoslavia. We need not be reminded that fear, prejudice and bigotry are still poisoning international relations. With the end of the Cold War, it might have been supposed that the chances of global peace and stability had substantially increased. For a time, events in the Middle East provided further cause for optimism—perhaps, as we have already heard today, too much optimism.
Yet, the dangers have not disappeared. Indeed, as my noble friend mentioned in his speech,there are people both in the Islamic world and in the West who advance the proposition that,with the end of the central struggle of the 20th century between capitalism and communism, thegreat conflict of the 21st century will be that between Islam and the West. That seems to me to be a dangerous over-simplification. As a military historian, I have made a long study of the causes and origins of conflict. They are complicated and many-sided. They include the ambitions of unscrupulous and dictatorial leaders; economic rivalries; the collapse of established societies; and so on. However, the most persistent underlying causes of conflict aredistrust and fear, based often upon a failure to understand the aspirations of other societies and the sensitivities of other cultures. That is especially significant today in the relations between Islam and the West. These, of course, date back centuries to the days of the Byzantine empire and were exacerbated in the time of the Crusades. They are now mainly characterised by a sharply different approach to the concept of theocracy. Islam does not recognise the exclusive jurisdiction of any lay authority in the conduct of worldly affairs whereas, in the West, although we do sometimes recognise moral imperatives in the conduct of worldly affairs, many decisions are taken outside and independent of religious precepts and principles. That is an important difference which is not always fully understood.
In Britain, which is a multi-cultural society, there is often still misunderstanding of that difference, which occasionally, I fear, leads to an apparent lack of respect for the dailypractices of the Islamic faith, and to actions and words which may seem unremarkable within our own culture but which cause deep offence to Moslems. At the same time, it must be said that we have the right to expect those of the Islamic faith who come to live in our society to respect our history, our culture, our religious traditions and our way of life. While Moslems have a right to be themselves within their own religious faith, they also have an obligation to integrate themselves into the community in which they live.
253 Medieval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time. It was an example to the rest of the world. However, it is a matter of great regret that today we in the West do not perceive tolerance as one of the outstanding virtues of Islam. That view is not confined to the West. Recently, in my presence, a distinguished Islamic diplomat quoted from an article he had contributed to a French political journal in which he wrote that the cherished Islamic traditions of courtesy, tolerance and hospitality were temporarily in eclipse. That was an Islamic diplomat speaking.
Another fruitful source of misunderstanding and frustration is the ignorance on the part of many of the extent to which there is much common historical experience shared between Islam and the West. As Prince Charles said in his speech at Oxford, the West should recognise the great contribution of medieval Islam to the making of modern Europe—something which is not often recognised by modern historians. Further, not just in the political and cultural fields, without the work of many Moslem scholars the development of western science would have been seriously impaired. On the other hand, sometimes in the Islamic world—and I have had personal experience of this—there is a reluctance to accept that the West has also made serious contributions to the human condition. There is a tendency among some Moslems to concentrate on those aspects of western behaviour and culture which are at best inexplicable and at worst offensive to Islamic sensibilities.
Relations between Islam and the West are at a crossroads. In my view, it would be tragic if, as my noble friend suggested, we were now to accept that they are set on some kind of collision course. We need now to consider seriously ways of stimulating and encouraging a serious dialogue. The West will have to get rid of some of its stereotypical prejudices. Above all, western commentators and journalists must learn not to extrapolate the utterances of extremists into some false perception of Islam as a whole.
There is much that we can now do, in co-operation with the countries of Islam, to solve some of the really serious besetting problems of poverty, hunger and disease in the developing world. For over half a century those problems were largely overshadowed by the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the West. It would be a tragedy if they were now to be overshadowed by a failure of comprehension and communication between two great religious and cultural traditions.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Janner of Braunstone
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for what he has just said. I agree with every word. As a Jewish leader, it has been part of my life over the past few years to try to promote precisely what he has said. I call in aid what the noble Lord, Lord Wright, said about Islamophobia. I have been on two occasions to Jordan as part of a parliamentary delegation to help them to set up an 254 inter-parliamentary council against islamophobi a to match the Inter-Parliamentary Council Against Anti-Semitism, over which I preside.
I have also educated myself since Oslo. In the world in which I grew up as a Zionist leader we had no contact with Arabs and very little with Muslims. But since Oslo I have made it my business to try to find out how people live and how they think. I have been extremely kindly and courteously received. I have travelled to Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, the Yemen, Oman, Qatar and even to Saudi Arabia. I find that I have a great deal in common with people there. Part of our common bond lies in the past, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. has said. The golden age of the Jewish people did not occur in a Christian land nor indeed in a Jewish one; it occurred in Spain at a time when it was ruled by Muslims. Those three great religions have a great deal in common, as they do with others. I believe that one great contribution that Britain can make during its presidency of the European Union is to try to look for what we have in common and to search for the common ground and not to attack each other for what we perceive to be our differences. We should try to find ways in which we can work together and help others for whom the peace process is even more essential than for ourselves to achieve that end.
Recently I spent a week in an Israeli Arab town. Sakhnin, in Lower Galilee, where I tried somewhat unsuccessfully to master the Arabic tongue. I know that in all these Arab places the vast majority want peace. They want it as much as the people of Israel want and need peace. The problem lies often with the systems of government and with the people who rule them.
In most of the countries in that region, rulers are not elected. In Israel, they are elected. One of the problems the Israelis have is that they have elected people for whom most of us would never vote, just as we in Britain elected people for 18 years for whom I did not vote and whom I desperately tried to get rid of.
As the noble Lord, Lord Healey, said, we have to recognise that in many places we are dealing with dictatorships and that is not the same as dealing with democracies. As the noble Lord, Lord Healey, also said, we have to recognise that when you are dealing with democracies you have to deal with the people whom the voters in those democracies have seen fit to elect to office. Whether you like them or not, whether you would vote for them or not, you have to deal with them.
I would not have dreamed of voting for Netanyahu as I deplore many of his policies. But the fact is he is there and he has been elected. If we want to take part in the peace process, it is no good just attacking him, or indeed those Americans who support him, or people in this country who support him. We have to try to find a way to help him to achieve peace while keeping his own cabinet together as long as his government lasts.
As I said, most people in all these countries want peace. The people want security; certainly that is the major concern of people who live in Israel. Family and friends of mine are afraid to go on buses or go to supermarkets. They do not know when the next bomb will go off. But that is not a result or a creation of 255 Netanyahu's government; it existed in the time of Peres. The suicide bombs led to the election of Netanyahu's government; otherwise, Peres would have been Israel's prime minister today.
This is a complex and difficult problem. It is one which we cannot just get rid of by saying, "If we give the Palestinians whatever they seek, this will go away". That is not the case, and that is their problem too.
I was a convert to the concept of a Palestinian state, after Oslo. I now believe firmly that unless and until there is a Palestinian state there will be no full peace in the region. That is the view of the Israel Labour Party and it is my view. But you cannot have a Palestinian state except under conditions in which their Israeli neighbours are able to live in peace with them; where Israelis are satisfied that their lives and those of their children will not be even more endangered than at present; and where they do not feel that by giving up territory they are merely providing ground from which their enemies can leap more easily into their towns and villages to cause more havoc, harm and death. In my respectful view, we must find ways through our EU presidency to assist this process and to work with both sides.
We must try to get rid of some of the stereotypes referred to so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I am president of an organisation called the Maimonides Foundation, which seeks to establish and foster relations between Muslims and Jews, here and abroad, because if we do not understand each other we shall get nowhere. We must start with individuals. In my belief the problem of peace lies not so much with the people because they cannot have it even if they want it—but with those who lead them and rule their countries and with the relations that they establish.
I learned this in an odd way. Many years ago, I was invited to visit President Sadat in his villa on the Nile. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, will have visited that place often. President Sadat was at that time making vigorous verbal attacks on Menachem Begin with whom he was seeking to make peace. When I asked him why he was doing that, he said, "You do not understand, but my friend Menachem Begin understands. He has his constituency and I have mine. We have to bring our constituencies behind us. He and I will make peace".
The sadness of Washington to me was that Netanyahu met Clinton and Arafat met Clinton but Netanyahu did not meet Arafat. They were together in the same city but they were not brought together to talk. The talks were conducted through intermediaries. The minds did not come together. They helped towards a condition of trust. Our Prime Minister has an outstanding talent. People identify with him and they like him. He has a way with people. I hope that we can get results precisely through the good will that he could create and which he is so good at creating.
I have enormous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Wright. I have worked with him in other spheres for many years. I know that he thinks there are double standards in the US Congress. He knows that they think that he has double standards. That will not get us very 256 far. I sometimes wonder whether if he were made a United States senator there would be a balance in Congress. But of course he would have to sit for Arkansas. He would not get elected in New York or California. But wherever he sat. I am sure he could do a great deal of good and bring light and some laughter to the United Sates Congress.
I say, with respect, that it does not help to slam the US Congress. It is much more helpful to do what the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, has done and stress the importance of our partnership. I pay tribute to him and to his maiden speech. He was president of the Cambridge Union the term after I was and we have been sparring partners for many years. I note that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, is to speak after me. I am sandwiched between two people whom I have held at political arm's length right through my political life. They are both my friends. I am pleased to have the opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, on his maiden speech.
The Middle East was the focus of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wright. I turn to other speeches. With respect I profoundly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, as regards giving up the rights of Gibraltarian citizens to their sovereignty without their consent. In my view the situation in Gibraltar is the same as that in the Falklands. I even ventured to suggest in my maiden speech that Gibraltar might send delegates to our Parliament, with no voting rights, in the way that the dependencies of the United States send non-voting delegates to the US Congress.
Europe is a great family of peoples. If we can in some way as a family act as catalysts and bring people together, our presidency will be worthwhile. We can bring peace to parts of the world where there is none. If we can act as catalysts, if we can get rid of some of the stereotypes, then, when our presidency is over, we will look back on it with pride.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Howe of Aberavon
My Lords, as another member of this all-party Cambridge mafia. perhaps I may say how pleased I am to be taking part in the debate in which we have heard notable maiden speeches from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and my noble friend Lord Hurd. The noble Lord will remember that he and I, and the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, spoke together for the first time from the front bench in the Cambridge Union exactly 49 years ago. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Janner, was lurking on the other side.
I wish also to join with others who welcome the debate so well and effectively introduced by the noble Lord—perhaps I might say my noble friend—Lord Wright of Richmond on whose guidance and support I depended throughout my time in the Foreign Office, and not least when he was Permanent Under-Secretary. I am glad that he widened the scope of the debate and even so left it realistically placed in the perspective of the European Union and the British presidency. He was right to point out that the world in 257 which we live is much more hazardous than it might have seemed at the end of the Cold War or when Francis Fukuyama pronounced the "end of history".
The noble Lord, Lord Healey, drew attention to the hazards to be found in the former Soviet Union. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and I have for some years been in a partnership together in the Republic of Ukraine. I fear that our attempts to offer economic advice in that quarter leave it still finding it very hard to establish confident foundations for the future, much to our regret.
As the noble Lord, Lord Healey, pointed out, in Russia there is a continuing and uneasy balance between the struggle for economic reform and sheer lawlessness. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, made plain that throughout the broad areas of the Middle East there is trouble to be found around almost every corner.
I endorse what has been said by several speakers about the need for us to try to re-establish an effective relationship with Iran. One of the happier moments of my life when I was Foreign Secretary was to achieve just that with the Iranian Foreign Minister, only to have it blown out of the water within three weeks by the pronouncement of the fatwa which has hovered over us ever since. We shall need together to work patiently to make progress in that direction.
In the Asia/Pacific region—it has not been mentioned—the problems that loom most large at present are economic. In a sense it is reassuring to see the increasingly important and engaged role of the People's Republic of China upon whom we depend not only in that region but in the United Nations.
I hope that I may be allowed to digress for one moment to say a word about Hong Kong. I know that what I say in this respect has the support of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, because we discussed it recently. It is important to praise the remarkable stability in that territory despite all the recent economic difficulties. Credit for that is due undoubtedly to the Chinese Government who have been following the spirit as well as the letter of the Joint Declaration and have given real substance to the concept of autonomy for Hong Kong. Credit is due also to the Chief Executive, Tung Chee Hwa, for his steadiness and calm in a challenging situation, plagued by avian flu as well as an economic crisis. Finally, a tribute is rightly due, I think, to the Hong Kong Civil Service, under Anson Chan and Donald Tsang in particular, for their remarkable demonstration of how to move from loyal service to one government to equally loyal service to their successor. Long may they all continue as they have so well begun.
If one turns to look at the broader picture, it is true, as others have pointed out, that only one superpower remains: the United States. But our partnership—Britain and Europe alike—with the United States is of huge importance. When Raymond Seitz was ambassador—he wisely refrained from using the words "special relationship"—he described the relationship of the nations concerned as an intercontinental one, which is why the link between Europe and the United States is 258 so important. But it would be unwise as well as unfair to lean too exclusively upon the leadership of the United States.
The Financial Times yesterday referred, remarkably, to,the obvious reluctance of the US body politic either to assume the burdens of world leadership or to accept the constraints of a consensual world order".One should realise that such an anxious state of affairs is far from abnormal. Europe is not the only continent where competing national or factional views make it difficult to achieve and sustain a common foreign and security policy. Only a few months ago, in the autumn edition of the National Interest James Schlesinger, an experienced former servant of the United States Government, said that in his country,ethnic groups"—he cited Armenian, Cuban, Greek, Irish and Zionists—have acquired an excessive influence over foreign policy—to the extent that—it can scarcely be said that we have a foreign policy at all".
That is serious commentary. No doubt it goes too far. But driven by that fragmented background the United States response all too often takes, or threatens to take, the form of sanctions, frequently extraterritorial and unilateral. James Schlesinger points out that during President Clinton's first term the United States imposed or threatened unilateral economic sanctions 60 times against 35 countries that, taken together, make up 42 per cent. of world population.
There is no room for doubt against that background that we European nations need to get our foreign policy act together. Public opinion in all our countries, and in the United States, wants to see a collective determination by European Governments to speak and act more decisively, more urgently and, above all, more coherently on the world stage.
In last week's Economist the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said that Britain should "champion that cause"; and he was quite right to do so. As regards what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said, I do not think that we need to become embroiled, as my noble friend Lord Hurd said, with any further discussion of procedural change. Effective European foreign policy needs neither treaty amendment nor extension of majority voting, but. above all, political leadership. The United Kingdom has unique diplomatic and military strength to bring to that cause, if we do so in practical partnership with our French and German allies. And nowhere, if I may say so, is that more necessary than in the Middle East. If we were to achieve that, it would not undermine but strengthen the Atlantic alliance.
Moreover, it is a field in which British talk of leadership in Europe is reasonably credible and convincing so long as it is asserted, as it should be. reasonably modestly. It would lend conviction to our management of the rest of the presidency agenda: to establish a credible route map for enlargement; to sustain the pressure for institutional change in that area to make enlargement possible; and to reform the CAP. But, above all, the biggest challenge to our convincing role in Europe is in our handling of economic and 259 monetary union. I commend the analyses of that—there have been two already from the noble Lord, Lord Currie: and a second one due shortly from my noble friend Lord Kingsdown. Their message is this: it is going to happen. In the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Currie, it is,a crucial but uncertain venture [in which] nothing is inevitable".The range of possible outcomes could be between triumph and disaster. On any view it is outstandingly in the British interest that it should succeed.
On all sides, therefore, a growing number of people in this country want us to achieve that. They echo the phrase again used by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who is sceptical enough about the whole exercise that,our task as a country is to keep genuinely open all our options on the Euro for the years aheadon the basis that,five years or more is an eternity".The struggle to keep that option open, for which my right honourable friends John Major and Kenneth Clarke fought so hard, has been well worth fighting for. It is important that that option should be real. It is important that the Government and the country should prepare themselves to be able to join, and to promote public acceptance of that objective.
In the context of the United Kingdom presidency the key challenge now to Her Majesty's Government is to spread agreement among our partners on the urgent and continuing need for supply side reforms and flexibility, above all, but not only, in labour markets. That is why the United Kingdom presidency in that context is so crucial, because we are there at the beginning, not the end, of an important journey. If Her Majesty's Government show courage in exploiting their own more positive attitude to press (on other governments as well as upon themselves) the essential reform agenda if EMU is to succeed, then they will indeed be able to count on the support of all those who are committed not to the flamboyant rhetoric but to the modest reality of British leadership in Europe.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord Weatherill
My Lords, I cannot speak with the same knowledge or wide experience of foreign affairs as former Secretaries of State or the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, to whom we are indebted for this debate. I rise to draw attention to the plight of Tibet. In doing so, I must declare an interest as patron of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Tibet and of the Tibet Society.
We are rightly proud of our parliamentary tradition of settling our disputes by "parley" rather than by the sword—indeed, we constantly seek to persuade other nations to follow our example.
When the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, it was because of,His consistent resistance to the use of violence in his people's struggle to regain their independence".Since 1959, His Holiness, together with some 100,000 of his countrymen and women and children have lived in exile in India—and all honour goes to India for taking them in.
260 In September, I visited Dharamsala, and during my discussions with the Dalai Lama he told me that one of his great problems was to restrain young Tibetans in exile from taking up arms in their struggle to return to their homeland. They say that unless and until they do so, the world will continue to turn a blind eye to their plight. I am sure your Lordships will agree that we who preach and practise the same non-violent approach as the Dalai Lama have a moral obligation to give him our positive and practical support.
Four weeks ago, the International Commission of Jurists published a long report (some 370 pages) drawing attention to the continued repression and the gross abuse of human rights in Tibet. It is the latest of several reports. To its credit, the European Parliament has long supported the Dalai Lama's approach of reasoned negotiations with the Chinese Government and his policy of non-violence. As recently as 15th January, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling upon the Council and the Commission to appoint a special representative for Tibet,responsible for doing everything possible to carry out the European Union's demands as regards civil and political rights in Tibet with a remit to monitor developments there".The United States Government recently appointed Mr. Gregory Craig as special co-ordinator for Tibet with a remit to promote substantive negotiations between the Dalai Lama and the Government of the People's Republic of China.
The All Party Group on Tibet, as the Minister will know, has had several meetings with the Minister of State in her department, Mr. Derek Fatchett, and we have been greatly encouraged by his robust approach to the problems of Tibetans in exile.
The United Kingdom's presidency of the European Union provides an ideal opportunity positively to promote the appointment of a European special representative for Tibet to carry out the resolution of the European Parliament in full.
My diary contains at the start of each week a quotation. This week, it was by Francis Bacon. It read:He who deemeth small things beneath his state will he too small for what is truly great".It may be true that in relation to the other problems and dangers to which other noble Lords have drawn attention the plight of Tibet is a small matter and not therefore a particularly high priority. But it is not a small matter for the people of Tibet and those in exile.
I hope that your Lordships will agree that for our country it is a moral duty that we should practise what we preach. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give us that assurance today. For the people of Tibet, it would be a truly great thing.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Taverne
My Lords, there are many important issues for the British presidency. They have been outlined in a number of notable previous speeches. I listened with particular fascination to the immensely authoritative speech by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, in introducing the debate.
261 I wish to advert to what must still be the central issue of our presidency; namely, the attitude of the Government to monetary union. It is our attitude to monetary union which will determine the influence we have over the policy of the European Union, over our relations with the United States and indeed events in the Middle East.
I wish to examine three different problems that confront us at the present time. The first is that we are not, and will not be, members of the crucially important so-called Euro X committee, which will almost certainly evolve into a very powerful committee, the kernel, as it were, of the European Union and will have an influence that goes far beyond fiscal matters. We shall be excluded from key decisions on fiscal policy; we shall be faced with decisions taken by that kernel.
But our influence and the effects of exclusion will be mitigated if it is clear what our intentions are, and if we are more ready to commit ourselves to monetary union than we have been so far. In a sense it raises what is perhaps the most fundamental objection to our moving in that direction. The gut objection of the opponents of monetary union in this country is that a move in that direction would inevitably be a move to political union, and that the Euro X committee is a first step in that direction. It is argued that we cannot have a single currency without a political union and without a single government—that we cannot have one without a European superstate.
Factually, that is not so. We have had the example of Ireland, which was a member of a monetary union with Britain and which could remain neutral. However, I leave that point aside. I wish to examine two more basic answers to that first problem.
The European Union is in itself a unique and unprecedented institution. The single market in its present form is a unique phenomenon. Never before has there been a single market with institutions to support it, such as the European Commission and a whole network of regulations to enforce and control competition within that single market, without there having to be a single government.
Similarly, the move towards a single currency is unique, with a strong co-ordination of fiscal policy which need not by any means lead to a single government. There is no reason why an effective co-ordination through the Euro X committee could not be sufficient to co-ordinate fiscal policy to support the policy of the central European bank.
But there is an even more fundamental objection to the argument that this move is inevitable, based on the attitude of member states. There clearly cannot be a European superstate without the consent of all the members in it. France has very much the same objections as we do to the idea of a federal superstate. The French are just as jealous of their national history and independence as we are. If we were members of a monetary union, we, too, would have a power of veto over any further moves towards a superstate.
But perhaps the most interesting objection is the attitude of Germany itself. Of course, one can quote 262 Chancellor Kohl and his many statements that he wishes to see a political union and a federal Europe. One can quote speeches by Herr Tietmeyer. But what many of the opponents have not noticed is how German attitudes have changed.
What happened at Amsterdam? One cannot move to a European superstate if the right of veto is retained. What happened at Amsterdam is that the Germans voted against the extension of qualified majority voting on some issues and we supported it—a rather ironic state of affairs. The Germans voted against it because of the pressure of the Länder. In effect, Herr Kohl admitted that the Germans have had to modify their aim of a federal Europe because there was not sufficient support for it.
Let me look at the second obstacle. The obstacle that has been raised particularly by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer is the question of convergence. Our present lack of convergence, the difference in the British economy, should not be overstated, although there is a lot in it. If our aim is clear, if our aim is to join and is declared to be such, we will see the same kind of convergence in this country as has happened in other European states. For example, why do short-term interest rates matter much more in this country than they do elsewhere in the European Union? Because we have had a much higher rate of inflation. Those who have mortgages will sensibly choose variable mortgages, if there is a risk of inflation. Those on the Continent who have seen a record of much lower inflation have gone for long-term fixed mortgages.
We should remember the experience of the Netherlands and Ireland, two countries whose economic cycle has been completely out of whack with those of the rest of Europe. The Netherlands has had a boom for a number of years; Ireland has had an extended boom and a very fast rate of growth. They see no difficulty about linking themselves to a single currency. Indeed. the Netherlands has had 10 years' experience of a fixed currency in relation to the deutschmark and has prospered considerably over the past 10 years.
Let me turn to the third and most serious obstacle, which is the exchange rate. In a way it is odd that this was not mentioned by the Chancellor when he made his Statement on 27th October. My understanding is that we cannot join a monetary union unless for at least two years our exchange rate has been stable in relation to the Euro. The prospect could well be that with our being excluded and our future being uncertain, there will be even more speculation affecting the pound than we have seen so far. It may be possible that we do not technically need to join the ERM. However, my view is that we should join the European exchange rate mechanism as the best form of showing our commitment to the European monetary union, and the best way of reducing the value of the pound and promoting its stability. Preferably we should do so, if we can negotiate it, at the central value of the pound of around 2.60 deutschmarks.
Of course there would be outrage at such a suggestion. Is it not true that our membership of the ERM was a disaster? It is important to slay the myths in our relations with the ERM. The main cause of our 263 discomfort is that we joined the ERM at an unsustainably high rate of exchange. Our partners sought to dissuade us, we broke the rules, we disregarded their advice and we paid the penalty.
The second myth is that it was only because we left the ERM that our recovery started. In fact, it had started before we left the ERM.
The third point which needs to be made is that the ERM was always a rather unsatisfactory halfway house without rates being fixed, which made it potentially a paradise for speculators if a currency's level was unsustainable. With the much wider band, it is now a much safer one and it is much more viable now that the final fixing of the currencies has come so close.
If it was clear that we too would join a monetary union and that the level of the pound was sustainable, then joining the ERM would probably be the best way of avoiding the instability of the pound which would be a real threat in the coming years while we were outside the monetary union.
Our influence in the European Union has recovered since the Government changed Britain's stand from what was basically hostility to constructive co-operation. But in the end our influence during the course of our presidency will depend on our attitude to the EMU. For once, I somewhat differ from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, who stressed the fact that we should keep our options open. If we create uncertainty, if we are seen to dither and not to make up our minds, then eventually Mr. Blair will end up in exactly the same position as Mr. Major.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Lord Gillmore of Thamesfield
My Lords, I hope I shall be forgiven for committing what I understand to be a minor breach of convention at this stage in the debate and say what an immense pleasure it has been for me to listen to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell. It was a distinguished and typically perceptive speech and I am pleased to be taking part in the debate with him.
It is also for me something of a novelty. In my previous incarnation our discussions took place in somewhat more private circumstances and on more public occasions my role, as I understood it, was perhaps to be seen but extremely rarely to be heard.
The United Kingdom presidency comes at a critical moment for the future of the Union. For years ahead, economic and monetary union, its institutional underpinning and its practical consequences, including its impact on the vitally important plans for enlargement of the union, will dominate the debate in Europe. Many of our European partners have already demonstrated that. by immense efforts of political will and a readiness to face tough decisions, radical reform is possible. But this process is far from finished. The necessary reform of Europe's labour and product markets, the transformation of the common agricultural policy and of the Union's regional and structural funds, will continue to create economic and, above all, social stresses which will test the fabric of member states.
264 But although they are well known, they are not the only dangers. There is in this process of adaptation a risk that the Union will become self-absorbed, wrapped in the complexities and strains of its own internal restructuring. It is here that the United Kingdom has a significant role to play; a role for which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, pointed out, it is well equipped. The task is to ensure that self-absorption does not become endemic but that the Union remains open and outward looking and plays its full part in the world. Like the noble Lord, Lord Healey, I therefore also particularly welcome the fact that the second ASEM conference, bringing together the countries of Asia and the Union, will take place during our presidency and under our chairmanship.
It is on that relationship between Europe and Asia that I wish to concentrate for a few moments. There is, I believe, a direct linkage between the Union's developing dialogue with Asia and the process of the Union's own internal reforms. The present crisis in most of Asia's financial markets highlights a range of problems that Asia is far from alone in struggling with.
Much has been written in recent years on the process known as "globalisation", a newish word in the lexicon of international debate. It is undeniable that the integration of capital markets across the world has developed at an astonishing pace. To quote one example, a little over 10 years ago 190 billion US dollars a day passed through the hands of the world's currency traders. By 1995 that figure had risen to 1.2 trillion US dollars. Yet for all the dramatic changes, the integration of capital markets throughout the world has not yet reached the levels that we achieved early in the 20th century. In short, the process is far from completion and the certainty must be that it will continue.
The European Union cannot simply opt out of the management of this secular change. To pick up the words used in the elegant and thoughtful maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. inertia will not keep us going. As a matter of enlightened self-interest, the Union must learn to cope and adjust. So too must all of the industrial and financial centres of the world, not least in the countries of Asia. We all face a steep and dangerous curve of learning and adjustment. That process will be extremely painful. There are no simple answers and no right models. It is not a question of there being a European, an American or an Asian solution, let alone one based on European, American or Asian values.
For all their differences, Asia and Europe can learn from each other. There is little doubt, as Asia's crisis has shown, that domestic economic management is all important and that one country's domestic economic management is everybody else's international interest and occasionally everybody else's international nightmare. Transparency, political openness, sound and credible regulation, accountability, integrity and freedom from corruption are the crucial elements. Thus, the good governance of the financial institutions of the state and their sound and efficient regulation is vital.
265 What has that to do with the European Union? One of the lessons of GATT—and now the World Trade Organisation—is that free trade and open markets are part of a paradox. Just as deregulation led to the creation of a whole panoply of semi-autonomous regulators, so free trade, for all that it is free, requires a comprehensive body of rules. As a recent article by the chairman of Unilever said,these rules will have to be rigorously invigilated and energetically enforced and, to the distaste of some, this process requires supranational institutions to enforce those rules".The Union must play its part in the formulation of a sensible and enforceable rules-based system. None of those issues is likely to reach a solution during the presidency of the United Kingdom, but I hope that the Minister will confirm tonight that Her Majesty's Government will seek to use the ASEM conference to place them firmly on the agenda and at the forefront of the Union's preoccupations.
In spite of the fact that the United Kingdom will regrettably not be able to take part in the first wave of economic and monetary union, during their presidency Her Majesty's Government can set a tone and, to some extent, lead the way towards a Union which avoids inward-looking incestuousness and seeks to play its proper role in the world. It is not a question of teaching lessons. Europe has many to learn and much to do to stimulate the openness and transparency of its own financial and product markets. The coining dialogue with its Asian partners offers an important point of departure.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, in wishing to speak briefly in this debate I am greatly embarrassed that I must ask the House to forgive my absence in the latter stages of the debate and the winding-up speeches. The Worshipful Company of Engineers, whose invitation as reply speaker I accepted many months' ago, is my only reason for not remaining here tonight.
Despite that difficulty, it seemed about time—according to many of my colleagues—that I made my second maiden speech. This is my first ever from the Back Benches of your Lordships' House and I must admit that, like the right reverend Prelate who made such a notable maiden speech and my very good noble friend Lord Hurd, I, too, am nervous tonight. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for initiating the debate.
Many of your Lordships will speak about the United Kingdom and its leadership of Europe at the moment, particularly in relation to the difficult but essential questions of our membership of the European Union and monetary union. I remain convinced that we were right to join the Common Market in 1973 and I was proud to be Britain's Europe Minister for three-and-a-half years in the late 1980s. I also know well from the last two presidencies what exertions have to be undertaken to get the European ideal to work in the best interests of our people. I hope, therefore, that the Minister, in 266 responding tonight, will outline how the Government intend to take every opportunity to pursue a co-ordinated and thoughtful policy in their six-month leadership of the European Union.
We all know that the European Union is far from perfect as an organisation. But the same can be said of almost every international body. However, it is the duty of every member government, and particularly of the presidency, to monitor every action from Brussels and to ensure that we get the best value for money from our joint actions. I for one—keen and passionate European though I may be—know the shortcomings and know that there is a long way to go to achieve that best value for money. We must give more attention to acting together to make sound policy decisions within the Council of Ministers than perhaps we have done in the past. I hold myself to blame for that. But we must also be sure that we look into the future, as many noble Lords have said tonight. We only have a chance to make Europe our Europe by being fully engaged and I have no doubt that that must be done for the sake of the British economy, for trade, for employment and the environment and particularly for the sake of future generations.
I am not an economist. I shall not go into the sort of detail that the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, mentioned in relation to economic and monetary union. But I have no doubt, not only for Britain's industry but also for Britain's people, that there will be a certain disadvantage if we remain permanently outside monetary union and some disadvantage in remaining outside until the second wave of entrants, which we now know to be the case. The Government are cautious in their approach. I hope that they will not be too cautious. We need to remain engaged in this debate and to have a hand in the rules by which economic and monetary union is decided, even though that looks difficult being outside the X Committee.
My purpose in speaking tonight is to turn the attention of the House to the Commonwealth and Africa; to the opportunities and particularly the dilemmas faced by Africa, my adopted continent. Far too little is being done by the European Union to open up the real trading opportunities for African nations. Most Africans wish to see the basis of their development as trade. They want to make sure that the agreements following Lome actually work to give them entry into the European markets. They want to see a successful conclusion to the free trade agreement with South Africa in the light of the WTO. This is a first class chance for the British presidency to play a much greater role than we are seeing at the present time in opening up trade for African nations with the European Community.
I must declare my interest as an independent consultant to the World Bank. It is in that context that I have spent a number of weeks in southern Africa since May, discussing how African countries can realise their potential through all types of training for both the public and private sectors. Most Africans are, by instinct, entrepreneurial. But few of the overall population have had the opportunity of even the educational training that we take for granted. The women particularly gain tremendous dividends from investment in their industry in Africa. Our European Union is not doing sufficient. 267 I hope that during their presidency the British Government will stimulate even greater European assistance to Women in Development in the Commonwealth and particularly in Africa. All my expertise tells me that that will bring greater dividends and faster development.
I am well aware that this is not a development debate. But it is an essential part of foreign policy. I realise that the Government have split the two departments. I say to the Minister and to the Prime Minister, with whom I discussed this almost a year ago, that I hope the two departments will work much more closely together than seems to have been evident in the past few months.
What is essential, if international bodies are not to spend an increasing amount of their time and our budgets in conflict prevention and resolution, is that those developing countries must be helped to have a greater capacity to run their own countries peacefully, democratically, more efficiently and profitably for their nation. That is only going to be achieved by closer working relations between the developed nations and their European friends.
Last night we debated the situation in Zimbabwe. Perhaps I may say a word in that context. For many years after independence, President Mugabe did a good job in reconciling the diverse interests of the country. If the British presidency of the European Union does anything in the next few months, I hope that it will he to work for a speedy, courageous decision, which will take account of the problems and concerns of all the people of Zimbabwe. This situation can be resolved, but it needs a good deal of effort by friends of Zimbabwe to do so.
I wish to just touch on two other troubled areas tonight. Information in this House has been one of the greatest values I have placed on our debates here. Efforts are now being made in Rwanda by President Bizimungu and Vice-President Kagame to resolve the problems. There is far too much alarmist and foolish talk about that country. After four hours of talks last Saturday, I do not believe that there is another genocide in the making. The problems are great, but they are not insoluble. Again, the European Community under our presidency can do much to help the leaders of that country.
In Sierra Leone the people are suffering not only the trauma of past conflict but the human rights abuses of the current junta which ousted the democratically-elected president. I welcome the Government's appointment of a former British Ambassador to help bring about the resolution of this tragic situation. In that most difficult task I hope that we shall have the fullest support of all our European partners.
In conclusion, the task of foreign affairs is always complex: it is one that I have much enjoyed. But it is in our best interests that the European Community and Britain pay greater attention to the Commonwealth and to Africa. I hope to be able to continue to do so in a private capacity. I wish the Minister well in her efforts in doing that.
§ 5.23 p.m.
The Earl of Carlisle
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey. I particularly appreciated her earlier points about Britain's role in Europe. I understood her to say that she regretted some of the unfortunate acts that happened during the period of office of the last government whereby our European partners saw us as a penny farthing to a Rolls-Royce. I thank very much the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for his masterly introduction. I hope that I do not misquote him. He said that our diplomacy can be enhanced through the European Union.
I believe that, as a nation and as an offshore island of a great continent of 14 members of the Union, not only will Europe be enhanced, but we shall also be enhanced by the process of transforming the European Union through enlargement. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, sounded a warning bell. I now declare an interest. I have lived for two-and-a-half years in Estonia. Our embassy there consisted for two-and-a-half to three years of one ambassador, one consul and one-third of a defence attaché who served all three Baltic states. About a year after he had been appointed, the ambassador came to me one day and said, "I have wonderful news. No longer do I have one-third of a defence attaché in my embassy, I have one-half of a defence attaché." What happened was that Helsinki and Tallinn shared: and Riga and Vilnius shared.
If we starve the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of funds it will not be able to do the job as well as Ministers and the nation want. I believe that we have reached a bedrock in cuts to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Council and the ODA. Although the British Council is an independent body, I believe that it is still a projection of how this country is seen by the rest of the world as well as Europe. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give us an assurance at the end of the debate that there will be no further cuts to the Foreign and Commonwealth budget. Perhaps she will also tell us in what ways Ministers in the Foreign Office require to see greater funds put into our embassy work abroad.
I commend the maiden speakers. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. In April 1995 I was standing in Tallinn town hall—Tallinn is the capital of Estonia—surrounded by the president and members of his cabinet. There were also present six ambassadors to Estonia. I was hosting a small reception which I gave as regards the British contribution to the United Nations' peacekeeping battalion, the Estonian company. Over the fax machine had come the text of one of the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. I shall probably misquote, but the gist of it was this: who could ever consider Britain or the United States chucking a nuclear bomb on Russia to save, let us say, Estonia? I believe that that demonstrates that all Ministers must be very careful how they handle the eastern and central European nations at this very sensitive moment when they seek to come into our Community.
I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his admirable maiden speech. I suspect that time did not permit him to mention the Porvoo declaration. In the 269 summer of 1996 the most reverend Primate, who is not in his place today, led a group of bishops from all the Anglican communities to Tallinn to take part in a service where the noble Lord, Lord Eames, preached the sermon.
The Porvoo declaration laid the foundations for the Lutheran and Anglican communities to share worship. It led the way over the European Union, NATO and other organisations. Long may the Anglican Church continue to lead from the front. We look forward to hearing from the right reverend Prelate very often on many different subjects.
I declare an interest. I am secretary of the British-Estonian Parliamentary Group. I speak after one of its members and before another; namely, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, whose speech I am very much looking forward to hearing as he is highly regarded in eastern and central Europe. In order to put this group of all-party politicians from both Houses together, in conjunction with the committee, I had to put forward a statement of purpose. I suggested—this was accepted—that our aims should be to enhance Anglo-Estonian relations, to assist in the process of bringing Estonia into western European institutions, and to facilitate the exchange of information between both groups.
Could not that simple project be extended to the Government in their dealings with the European Union during their presidency? We are 28 days into our presidency. I am a rotten mathematician, but I think that that means that we have 152 days to go. But where is the statement of purpose? I hope that at the end of the debate we will hear a statement of purpose from the Minister. Perhaps it is in that burgeoning folder I see. We all greatly respect the noble Baroness for her work representing the Foreign Office in this House for the past eight months.
If we do not hear a statement of purpose from the Minster, perhaps I may assist her by presenting one now. First, I wish to see us enhance our relations with our European Union partners which were, I am very sad to say, seriously dislocated during the past 18 years. Secondly, I wish to see us do all in our power over the next five months—and, indeed, beyond—to bring the hundreds of millions of people who are our European cousins, brothers and sisters into the European Union. I should like that to happen as quickly as possible. Some are talking about decades; some are talking about years. I hope that it will be only a few years before the first five-plus-one are admitted as full members. Thirdly, I wish to see us attempt to build bridges with the Russian Federation. I believe that all of those processes must take place concurrently. It must be in the interests of the Russian Federation to have a strong eastern and central Europe. If we can achieve that and enhance also the security of those 10 nations, we shall, I hope, have established something for future generations.
Of course, our presidency of the European Union can enable us to help to eliminate poverty, hunger, international crime and the persecution of minorities, but until our European house is in order—I go back to 270 the beginning—we cannot, in the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, count for much in the world.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords. I welcome the debate not only because it has brought us the treat of the very wise opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, who rightly reminded us that we must have a foreign policy machine which is effectively resourced—that is essential; not only because the debate has also brought us the excellent maiden speeches of my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell and of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the Back-Bench maiden speech of my noble and very good friend, and sponsor, Lady Chalker of Wallasey; and not even because the debate is timely because of our presidency of the European Union, but particularly because I believe that Europe, and particularly those parts of Europe that comprise the Union, is about to confront a series of huge, new challenges for which it is totally unprepared and about which there has been very little debate. I refer in particular to the financial and economic turmoil in South East Asia—from which I have just returned this morning, so I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I sound a bit bleary—which is of an immensely serious nature, but which is not yet fully understood here, in the West, to judge by some of the rather airy-fairy and cavalier comments about what has been going on there.
I shall return to the subject of Asia in a moment, but I should like first to say something about the European question generally. I have always regarded myself as strongly pro-European. I have a dream of a greater Europe which stretches from the Atlantic to the River Bug and which embraces the brave Baltic states, about which we have just heard from my noble friend Lord Carlisle. I have never found any difficulty in combining that pro-European stance with an economist's caution—perhaps "scepticism" is too strong a word—about the whole euro project and the attempt to impose on this area, this non-optimal zone, a single currency when there is no real convergence of economies—and that is quite aside from the British position. Whatever the Maastricht formulae say—even they have had to be fudged—the reality is that they are still very different economies. It worries me that, far from being able to be a good European and support the euro, one could find oneself in the contrary position. The euro could end up being a divisive force and not at all in line with the kind of Europe that I have always wanted to see.
The real need in Europe is for a very strong strategy of liberalisation and of deregulation, pushing the expansion of the new membership very hard indeed, with flexibility in the labour markets and CAP reform. If, as I understand it, that is the content of the Government's policy and if that is what Mr. Blair means by taking the leadership in Europe, I totally support it—that is entirely the right way forward for a strong and positive European policy—just as I supported it when it was put forward by the previous government when I urged it on those of my friends who would listen.
271 Above all, what Europe, particularly continental Europe, now needs is some economic growth. Continental Europe needs that right now in 1998 if it is to get the water lifting and the great boat of the euro afloat and off the slipway on 1st January 1999, which is certainly what is planned and what is coming. The countries of continental Europe need more growth. They need that if they are to escape the enormous levels of unemployment in their economies. In Germany, unemployment is now much higher than it ever was under Hitler. Unemployment is very high in France, leading to colossal social tensions. They need growth if they are to get away from that. As I have said, they also need growth if they are to launch the euro. They now need growth to meet a new challenge: the backwash of the turmoil in Asia. It is coming and it will inevitably dominate our presidency and the ASEAN meeting in April.
Perhaps I may share with your Lordships my impressions of the area after my brief visit to South East and East Asia. Many of the leaders to whom I spoke regarded the whole situation as a nightmare. They spoke of holding their breath during the Chinese New Year to see whether the situation will resume its full awfulness as soon as the New Year break is over. It seems to me that the question of whether it is just a regional crisis, which will still have some effects, or a global crisis, is a very narrow call.
Four conditions have to be met—they are by no means certain to be met—if we are to avoid the effects of what is happening in that part of the world (which, after all, accounts for 30 per cent. of the entire GNP of the globe) driving into all our western economic affairs. First, the huge Japanese economy has somehow to start moving again. I do not think that it will do so for some time. Even now, the reforms that they are trying to push through are beginning to be talked down by whispering Japanese politicians who are saying that it is too difficult. However, it is essential that Japan at the very least rolls forward at a modest pace rather than stagnates or moves down into real contraction and deflation. That is possible. I hope that it will not happen, but it is possible.
Secondly, there is the Hong Kong peg. If that goes—I am sure that Tung Chee-hwa, his excellent team and his very effective monetary authority are absolutely determined that it should not—the pressure will be colossal. I know that they say that Hong Kong is a service economy and that it is not therefore so much a question of manufacturing prices, but the prices of similar goods all around Hong Kong have fallen dramatically. The pressure will be very difficult to resist.
Thirdly, there is also the question of China. Zhu Rongji is a very able man who understands the markets. He says, "We are not going to be pushed off our position. We are not going for another devaluation of the Renminbi and the Yuan, as we did before", but the Chinese have the Koreans on their backs. The Koreans have similar exports and they are very tough. Once the Koreans have got some of their debts under control again, they will cut or halve salaries and have much tighter living standards in order to compete. The Won 272 is now worth half its former value and that will knock similar Chinese exports very hard indeed. The pressure on China will be colossal.
Fourthly, in Indonesia anything can happen. In the past 24 hours there has been a slight breath of hope, but there is a very dangerous political situation in that country. They are very near riots. There are dangers of food shortages in Jakarta and after Ramadan a new crisis may break out. I am not sure that the latest idea to roll over private sector debt will either he agreed or if agreed will reassure people for very long.
We cannot push all of these matters aside. Even if all of them turn out right, the impact on Europe will be felt. We shall sell less to these countries. The corporations are already beginning to mark down their prospects in that respect and have noted that demand is falling. There will be imports from Asia which initially will not be cheaper because they have to pay their import costs with more expensive foreign exchange. Oil is cheap and becoming cheaper. I believe that they will re-adjust quickly and that cheap imports will come into Europe and hit European and American production very hard and very soon. I believe that that will come as a great surprise to some of the pundits who have said that nothing like that can happen. We know already that direct foreign investment from Asia is drying up. Projects by Samsung in the North East are being cancelled. There is a real danger that that will cause further damage to our economy.
I urge noble Lords not to underestimate the Asian economic strength. It should not be written off as some journalists have done as though the Asian miracle is over. It is not. Asian power is enormous. It can recover from these difficulties. If it does not recover it will damage us, if it does recover it will damage us somewhat. We must be prepared for that. We must have a very strong, resilient and open European structure. If our leadership means anything in Europe it means keeping to the fore openness, resilience, the expansion programme and reform of all the arthritic structures which have made Europe a protected and inefficient zone. That is the real leadership needed in Europe and that is what we should put first.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, our European way of life, so long as it lasts, is highly valued not just by ourselves but by large numbers of our friends all over the world, including refugees from many countries who have made Europe their home. Although we are an island nation, historically we have been outward-looking and welcoming and even able to absorb other cultures, at least since Norman times. This open-mindedness has been reflected by the Foreign Office. But, as a post-colonial power, have we recently become too diplomatically reticent to give our former colonies and distant allies the attention they deserve and once received?
We have been ticked off for meddling, as in the case of Kashmir last year, but I believe that where we can we should take every opportunity within Europe on behalf of the developing world to encourage and assist 273 the countries where we have had a particular experience. In the case of Africa, Algeria is a good example provided we act together and the Algerians allow us to help. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said, we could do more as Europeans to support our friends in the African Commonwealth, notably Presidents Mandela and Museveni who have tried to inspire a new African leadership, entrepreneurial spirit and grass roots democracy, and persuade the French to do the same. We could do more in the Middle East to convince our Moslem friends that in our new European role we are not just the creature of the Atlantic Alliance. Somehow we have to combine these roles, but we can do more as Europeans. For a start, in the Middle East we can convince our European partners and Russia that we are looking beyond the psychological war with Saddam Hussein. We could discuss the economic and humanitarian problems of the Iraqi people alongside human rights and compliance. We should be aware that Iraq is now one of the poorest countries and that the oil-for-food deal is not working adequately. We merely toe the US line which seems to be drawn somewhere between Jerusalem and South Dakota. As a nation we are hardly Europeans yet. How can we join EMU when we have scarcely learned any European languages, let alone speak them; when our suspicions of French diplomacy continue; when we rarely take German holidays; and competition for world trade and contracts is as fierce as ever? We still have a lot of ground to cover
Our new Government have made a brave and promising start in international development. I was present today at international Question Time and was impressed by the large attendance of young Members of Parliament—a rather larger attendance than on these Benches. I hope that the Government will keep their stated objectives in the White Paper within the European framework, especially during the coming Lome negotiations with 71 mainly African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. Human rights is an important new initiative provided it is coupled with the relief of world poverty which is now a strong foreign policy objective in its own right. Surely, we can expect European coherence in that.
As has been rightly said, development has its own ministry and new leadership, but this does not mean that aid is divorced from foreign affairs. On the contrary, it means more interdepartmental co-operation which is something that the non-governmental organisations have urged for some time. The Treasury's continued interest in debt is to be welcomed, especially the Government's lead in the Paris Club on Mozambique last weekend, but this needs to be extended. It is an urgent priority for the least developed nations, as Oxfam, Christian Aid and the Churches quite rightly remind us, and will continue so to do.
An economically stable society means a sounder political system and a safer world. This is not in doubt. Yet we are not pulling our weight among the DAC countries either financially or politically. Debt apart, we have not taken a lead as have some other countries in raising the issue of poverty above the level of regular 274 EU and UN meetings. The prospect of Tony Blair, or even Gordon Brown, becoming our Willy Brandt still seems a long way off. There are urgent problems in the third world which seem far away but in the end will affect us. Civil wars, drought, poverty and AIDS also involve us. Diplomacy must now cover a vast range of social and economic issues that affect developing countries, including trade. There is concern among NGOs and church agencies that the liberalisation and globalisation process has forced developing countries into a straitjacket which is not in their best interests; in other words, to achieve financial results before they have advanced socially and politically.
The early process of structural adjustment caused havoc in Africa. While generally favoured by OECD aid donors, it led directly to hunger and starvation through austerity measures and required new aid mechanisms to help them recover: extra programmes of assistance, Lome, debt relief initiatives and 20:20 programmes which have been important but wholly inadequate. The new WTO rules and the latest Multilateral Agreement on Investment are just more waves of globalisation breaking over vulnerable societies and taking more power away from third world governments. I very much welcome the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Gillmore, on this subject. The International Monetary Fund and multinationals should not presume to fill the vacuum of good government and strong leadership. The thesis that globalisation automatically brings liberalisation and democracy in Africa as in Eastern Europe is difficult to sustain. While decentralisation and democratisation sound good to western ears—and some Asian ones—they can also contribute to the breakdown of fragile economies. This can be an impossible dilemma for traditional diplomacy. How does one reconcile the need for good governance and human rights at the centre and top and the urgency of strengthening local institutions and civil society at the grass roots?
Perhaps the Minister with her particular experience will confirm that the new management seeks people with a real commitment to change and social justice in other societies. This process is not a threat to Europe as we know it but an extension of subsidiarity and devolution to the developing countries where we are working for improvement.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak immediately after my old friend, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who made a characteristically optimistic and well-informed speech. It has been a remarkable debate. It started with two interesting and challenging speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord Healey, and has continued largely at the same level.
The Carnegie Commission recently launched at Chatham House its report on Preventing Deadly Conflict. It came to the conclusion that what causes deadly conflict within and between states is injustice and frustration. That statement is self-evident to all who 275 have given the matter any attention. That is why justice is not an optional element in security and stability and why frustration can never he eliminated or even silenced by the use of force.
Before I talk about Europe and the Middle East, I would point out that the Carnegie maxim applies also to international organisations, and perhaps especially to world organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the proposed multilateral agreement on investments. If these bodies impose social injustice and the abandonment of national autonomy, and thus of national democracy, they will be actively promoting frustration. If their doctrine sends to the wall those who have nothing to sell, they are machines for the creation of injustice and frustration and therefore, eventually, of deadly conflict. Let us hope that that is not how history turns out.
Our debate draws attention to the role of this country as the current president of the European Union. It will be a test for us to do that well, given the long-standing differences between the United States and most of the continental members of the European Union about Iraq.
The crux of the question is whether the existing UN Security Council resolution on Iraq is sufficient to legitimate a renewal of military action, or whether another is required. The United States is sure that it is sufficient. Russia is sure that it is not. France is strongly drawn to the Russian position and, considering the successes in recent years of Franco-Russian diplomacy, one can see why. I understand that decisions may even have been reached this afternoon, and I would welcome news about that at the end of the debate if possible.
In the Middle East injustice flourishes. It is harboured, and sometimes energetically pursued, by some governments there as both national and international policy, more cruelly and dangerously than elsewhere. Consequently, frustration also flourishes there and those whose frustration leads them, in the language of the Carnegie Report, to violence and confrontation see further violence being ceaselessly urged against them.
What are ordinary Iraqis to do except despair? And the Kurds? Bombing chemical and biological weapons factories and stores is not going to help much.
The present grim situation did not come out of the blue. All people are blind, and none so blind as the supremely powerful. Part of the American blindness, with which we so often align ourselves, is that we divide up situations which are closely linked, which are even identical in some respects, each of which separately embodies injustice and frustration and thus produces deadly conflict. Thus we limit the breadth of our vision and the ease with which we can recognise injustice and frustration.
Overall, there is an American tendency to embrace the Huntington thesis—which Lord Wright has effectively demolished this afternoon—that a war of the civilisations is on the way: the West (including both Christendom and Judaeoism) against Islam, for instance. This frankly idiotic piece of futurology is being promoted by those for whom conflict—because they 276 make and sell the weapons and can avoid having their own blood shed—is an acceptable, even an agreeable vista.
The greatest concentration of the situations is in the greater Middle East. This vast area includes, above all. the new Caspian oil province and Turkey; therefore, the oil pipelines; therefore, Greece and Cyprus; therefore, the European Union. It is also bedevilled by the expansion of NATO's presence into central Asia. Here is the overall context of both the UNSCOM/Iraq dispute and the United States' approach to Iran.
Then there are the "rogue states", our supposed enemies. The United States lists Iraq. Iran and Libya as rogue states to be feared and disciplined. They engage in international terrorism and torture; they threaten and attack their neighbours; they seek weapons of mass destruction and platforms from which to deliver them and they embrace religious fundamentalism. Today, objectively, Israel is therefore a rogue state, engaging conspicuously and freely in all those activities. But the United States will not say a harsh word which is publicly audible.
There is the peace process—Oslo—in which the Palestinians' rights to land and autonomy. neglected for nearly 50 years, were at last accepted and signed for by Israel on the White House lawn. This has now turned into an ignoble barney between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Netanyahu. The real situation—the one in which Israel imposes injustice and frustration on the Palestinians, on the Lebanese, on some Syrians and on the Jordanians—is ignored.
None of these peoples were responsible for the original appalling injustice against the Jews which led to the founding of the state of Israel. Moslems—Syrians, Saudis and Iranians—all believe that the Jones/Lewinski affair is promoted by the "Friends of Netanyahu". Mr. Netanyahu was indeed visiting his various friends in Washington last week before his meeting with President Clinton. This belief could be pure paranoia or it could be a true perception—we shall not know for quite a while—but what matters politically is that it is believed and makes life harder for all those who want peace.
Next, Iraq and UNSCOM. Iraq's nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction have become part of a battle between the Security Council and Iraq, though the nuclear part is now apparently won. Israel's failure to get rid of its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction—mostly funded by or from America—and its failure to abide by UN resolutions are forgotten by the United States. They are remembered by all of Israel's neighbours. They are the cause of Saddam's drive for weapons of mass destruction in the first place and any others there may be or have been in the Arab world.
Again, we choose to wash our hands of the collateral damage done to ordinary Iraqis by our embargoes, about which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke so eloquently a couple of days ago. Clearly, there are those in the United States who wish to use military force against Iraq. Iraq is not poised to attack at the moment, so this would be either punitive for past actions, which the UN Charter does not allow, or it would be what the 277 Pentagon calls pre-emptive counter-proliferation; that is, an attack on facilities thought to be part of a potentially proliferatory capability.
Do we want the United Nations Security Council to go down the road of pre-emptive counter-proliferation without further thought? I believe not, for its other name is aggression. Before that, there must be a new discussion and a new resolution in the Security Council that does not provide a precedent for pre-emptive counter-proliferation.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Baroness Ludford
My Lords, I want to address in particular the need for a common European foreign and security policy, and for coherence between all the external responsibilities of the EU. It is just as well that we have an opportunity to debate the CFSP today, since we will not have it when we debate the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, giving effect to the Treaty of Amsterdam, because that Bill does not include Article 1 of the Amsterdam Treaty, which relates to amendments to the Treaty on European Union—the one which covers the CFSP. Nor does the Bill include the protocol on the relationship between the CFSP and the WEU and Nato.
The research paper of the other place on that Bill carefully notes:To add [the new treaty] as a whole would. in some respects, he tidier but this would breach the principle so far upheld by British governments, that it is important to maintain the distinction between the 'intergovernmental' and 'Community' aspects of any European treaty".What does that augur for progress under the British presidency towards greater substance for the CFSP, greater coherence for EU external action as a whole, or achieving public support for an effective common policy?
It is made clear in the treaties since Maastricht that the Union's objective in external policy is to:assert its identity on the international scene. in particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence".Those are strong words: the EU is expected to "assert its identity" on the international scene. The challenge now is to translate those words into action and realise the full potential of Europe's weight in the world—indeed, to assert a European security and defence identity. Until now the problem has been that the intergovernmental procedures have been better suited to the co-ordination of national policies than to the stated purpose of implementing a common policy. That is different.
There has also been a stunning lack of political will. leading to failures, such as in Bosnia. Member states have taken positions determined more by the type of Europe that they wanted than with the purpose and scope of a European foreign policy. It would be encouraging to think that the new Government might concentrate on the needs of that policy, and not, "pontificate on procedure". in the phrase used by the noble Lord. Lord Hurd.
278 I had the privilege recently of hearing the Italian Prime Minister, Professor Romano Prodi, speak at the LSE. He outlined all the substantive economic and political reasons why:Europe will play an increasingly significant role on the world stage",and:will have to develop a truly global vision".He thus lamented:the Common Foreign and Security Policy has not yet really started".I read that a Union-wide action plan on Kurdish refugees was being formulated between diplomats and experts in police co-operation, immigration and asylum, for approval by foreign ministers on Tuesday. That must have involved both Community competence and intergovernmental competence under the Maastricht provisions on the CFSP and police co-operation. There is no doubt already a great deal of employment for Foreign Office lawyers in working out the legal bases and format of any decisions. So far as I can see, it could be even more, not less, complicated in future, because the UK has opted out of the Amsterdam Treaty's shift of immigration and border control powers into Community competence.
Any future discussion may involve five headings: Community competence for trade and economic matters; Community competence for asylum; UK opt-out of Community competence on asylum; Union intergovernmentalism on foreign policy; and Union intergovernmentalism on police co-operation. We should try to explain that to the public.
If the present Government are no better than the previous one in wasting energy, nit-picking over competence, they will not make progress towards the treaty goals of strengthening the security of the Union, preserving peace and strengthening international security. Surely there can be no "People's Europe"—the Government's goal—without working to achieve security for our citizens at home and internationally, enabling our citizens to understand what the EU is doing along the way.
Security, as other noble Lords have said. needs to be interpreted in the widest sense—to cover not just defence or even confidence-building or arms-reduction measures under the CSCE or the UN; it should encompass and co-ordinate policies on free trade, economic prosperity and financial stability, environmental sustainability, migration, tackling crime, and furthering democracy and human rights, including women's rights, all of which are goals of the Union under the treaties. We need what the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, in the context of domestic policy called "joined-up policy".
I should like to see the British presidency anticipate the ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty in two respects, which would promote coherence. It could encourage practical implementation, in advance, of the future duty on the Council of Ministers and Commission to co-operate in helping the Union,ensure the consistency of its external activities as a whole in the context of its external relations, security, economic and development policies".279 Previously, noble Lords may be surprised to hear, there was no duty on those two main European institutions to co-operate.
The UK presidency could also encourage shadow implementation of the new powers under the treaty to decide on "common strategies" under the umbrella of which the common positions and joint actions will be drawn up. Developing common strategies is a power of great potential value. It is one which could be exciting and far reaching in its impact, not merely in co-ordinating Union activities in the various fields, but in hooking public opinion into the debate on Europe's role. Would it not be an excellent application of the "People's Europe" concept if, at the beginning of each presidency, there were an open televised debate on perspectives for progress in the CFSP, perhaps with foreign ministers meeting Members of the European Parliament and national parliaments?
For foreign policy to be effective, the policies must enjoy popular support. The political capital currently perhaps squandered on defending some EU activities which are of a dubious relevance could be regained by showing how effectively Europe could be a force for good in the world. What better time than now, while the world holds its breath to see whether Britain and America will take military action against Iraq, to achieve a European code of conduct on arms sales with real teeth to stop arms sales to repressive and dangerous regimes and real parliamentary accountability. What better atonement for past British mistakes in weapons sales to Saddam Hussein, and apparently showing his officials how to make weapons with anthrax.
It would surely not be difficult to rally public opinion to the idea of much closer working between the EU and the WEU to undertake humanitarian, peacekeeping, even peacemaking tasks—the so-called Petersburg tasks.
I shall not speak about the Middle East because others have done so, but what better time than now to develop a long-term strategy on relationships in the Mediterranean area, especially fostering the economic progress of the Maghreb and encompassing the improvement in understanding between Christianity and Islam. The most fertile recruiting ground for the extremist terrorists in Algeria are the slums of Algiers, with their millions of disaffected and unemployed young men.
Looking at Asia, surely the priority is not to sell more weapons, capable of internal repression, to the discredited regime of President Suharto in Indonesia. It is to do all that we can to stimulate trade, to secure respect for human rights and democracy, and to stabilise exchange rates by punching our collective weight in international forums such as G8 and the IMF. Such weight will increase hugely once we have a single currency which will start to match the dollar. One of the best moves the UK Government could make under their presidency is to make real progress towards Britain jointing the Euro.
Finally, foreign and security policy under the British presidency of the EU would be improved were Gordon Brown to announce in his March Budget a significant 280 increase in funding for the BBC World Service, to include funding for its co-operative broadcasts with other European external services, so that the voice of the EU is heard more loudly and convincingly throughout the world.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, my first instinct is to extend my sympathy to the Minister. She faces summing up on a debate in which the speeches have varied from matters of great seriousness and, in the case of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, information which is valuable to us all, to a speech such as the one we have just heard, which reminds me of nothing so much as the kind of thing that was talked about by the League of Nations in the 1930s. I thought that we had grown out of that sort of thing. But the other reason for my sympathy, and perhaps a more important one, is that the noble Minister has had so little oratorical support from her own Benches. I would hardly take Lord Kennet's usual expressions of paranoia about Israel and the United States as much comfort there. But not only has she had few speeches, I would point out that the Benches behind her have, for the most part, been empty. That is not, I think, what Lord Salisbury meant by "splendid isolation". It is, after all, very important that members of a governing party should show an interest in foreign affairs. Otherwise, how will the points made by two former Permanent Secretaries of the Foreign Office about the weakening of our representation overseas be corrected? It is necessary that there should be support in the governing party for an adequate budgetary provision for foreign policy.
Having expressed my usual sympathy, may I now proceed to the topic. I find myself, not unusually, wholly out of sympathy with almost every speech that has been made and, in particular, with the speech, which I much admired in its composition, of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. It is my view that far from doing a lot as president of the European Union for the coming six months, the less we do the better.
As the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, pointed out, the experiments in foreign policy hitherto made by the European Union have, on the whole, been unsuccessful. How can the European Union make an important contribution to a situation as dangerous as that in the Middle East—and here I agree with other speakers—when a country as close to Europe as Algeria baffles their attempts to prevent massacre? In Europe itself many people would say that, on the whole, the role of the European Union in the former Yugoslavia was an impotent one until the power of the United States was brought to bear.
I do not think that one should be surprised about that. We have constantly had it pointed out to us—indeed, it was pointed out in several speeches, leading perhaps to different conclusions—that the individual member states of the European Union have their own interests, their own policies and their own outlook. Therefore, it is somewhat presumptuous when Britain suddenly says "Oh, we have six months, we are going to be their leader". If we are to be their leader then British proposals, British interests and British views would 281 have to chime in with at least the majority of members of the European Union, and that does not appear to be the case.
I think that is particularly important in relation to a topic on which other noble Lords with greater competence in these matters have spoken; namely, the proposed single currency. It appears to be the case that the current leaders, if you like, in Europe, the Franco-German combination, regard this as the main task before the European Union over the next few months, even exceeding in importance enlargement and even relations with other continents.
My view is that although Britain is in the unfortunate position of having to preside over these discussions—and I agree it has no opt-out here—the degree of its input should be minimal. I am convinced that the project of a single economic and monetary union for an area stretching from Lisbon to Leipzig is bound to be disastrous. There is no way in which one can see an area of that kind following similar or, indeed, identical monetary and fiscal policies without creating social tensions which would possibly even lead to international conflict if it was felt that the pressure to perform, to make economic policy in certain directions, arose from pressure from more powerful neighbouring countries. The best we can hope for is that at the end of six months we will not be any nearer to that and it will be for others—God help the Austrians who preside next—to see the thing through.
Similarly, it is always nice to think of doing things, if one is a government, which one can do something about. My feeling is that one can do nothing about Europe. We have been talking about reforming the common agricultural policy ever since we became part of the EU. We could do something in Commonwealth countries. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to the Caribbean, and I have talked in this House about bananas before. But there is something other than bananas which is related to Europe. As was pointed out to me recently by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, it is felt in British possessions or dependencies in the Caribbean that it is wrong that they have to pay overseas students' fees when they come to this country whereas those in the French possessions in the Caribbean, because they are regarded fictitiously as part of metropolitan France, are treated as though they were British. If we could look at a few matters like that, and there are possibilities in other parts of the Commonwealth, we would do much better than going in for grand projects which may only lead to pain.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Lord Bridges
My Lords, the terms of the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond invite us to consider issues of external policy which arise in the context of our presidency of the European Union.
I wish to draw attention to one such issue which I believe to be of considerable importance relating to our policies in central and eastern Europe. These policies involve both the European Union and NATO. We shall 282 be launching negotiations to enlarge the European Union during our presidency and, if I am not mistaken, Parliament will, in the first six months of this year, be invited to approve the ratification of the protocols which have already been signed to admit the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary to NATO. The issue which I wish to raise this evening will therefore be exactly at the point of intersection referred to in the Motion.
The enlargement of the European Union was recently debated in this House in December on the basis of a report prepared by the sub-committee of the European Community Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. It examined in some detail the financial consequences of enlargement. It was an excellent report and won the general endorsement of those who took part in the debate. So it may be appropriate in this debate to say something about the security issue which will arise in the context of the NATO enlargement. I hope that we may be able to debate these matters more fully when we receive the Government's explanatory memoranda on these protocols under the revised procedure regarding the so-called Ponsonby rule agreed by the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, in the last session. It is not clear to me whether the Government plan to propose the establishment of a scrutiny committee for that purpose, but that might well be considered.
Unlike some other security treaties, notably the Brussels Treaty establishing the Western Europe Union, the North Atlantic Treaty does not irrevocably commit its partners to come to the immediate military assistance of one of their number in the case of external attack. Nevertheless, by ratifying those protocols, we shall embrace the three acceding states from central Europe under the general security protection which the NATO umbrella provides.
The question that I put to your Lordships is whether that enlargement of NATO is wise. The external frontiers of those three states have been the subject of successive military campaigns in the past century, ever since the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and, in the lifetime of most of us here this evening, the infringement of the German-Polish frontier in September 1939 provided the casus belli of the Second World War.
I have read recently that the three Baltic states also intend to apply for membership of NATO. Having admitted their southern neighbours, it may be difficult for us to deny them. By admitting the three Baltic states to membership, NATO would however extend its broad security protection to zones overlapping the frontiers of the former USSR. It may be the case that the Russian Federation and the Ukraine have accepted in principle the concept of the inviolability of frontiers but, as far as I know, they have not accepted explicitly the current frontiers and their unease at the present enlargement of NATO is quite evident.
Of course, we have no reason to believe that the present rulers of Russia entertain any latent objectives as regards regaining their lost territory. But I fear that we may be providing some grounds for a future 283 nationalistic Russian tendency if we do so. Historically, many of those territories, and particularly the Baltic states, have been under Russian control. Many Russians would like to see a return to the status quo. For them. the events of 1941 are not so much an unhappy distant memory; rather a recurrent nasty dream. Their feelings about what happened in 1941 are similar to what we feel about 1940. but are even stronger.
Western policy in that area appears to be based on the principle that, however grave the horrors of the past century, the only way in which to prevent them in future is to draw the lines where they now stand and to stick firmly to the status quo. If that is indeed our policy, we need to make it rather clearer and to state it more frequently than in the recent past.
In my own reflections on that subject in the past few years, it has seemed to me that we need a security organisation of a different type—a grouping of states committed to peace and to finding practical solutions, particularly to the problems involving nationalities, minorities and frontiers. Its task would be to build confidence among its members which would come to believe that they could use that organisation and the trust that they had created with the other partners as a means to provide the peaceful resolution of disputes.
I believe that France did make such a proposal a few years ago but we said that we did not like it. I do not quite know why. Something of that kind exists in the OCSE, the successor to the CSCE. However, although it has been an invaluable and useful mechanism by providing the link by which NATO forces are made available in Bosnia, under the overall authority of the Security Council, OCSE does not seem to have much public recognition, mutual commitment or clout. It is possible that some of the new organs created by NATO, such as the Co-operation Council or the Partnership for Peace, could develop in the way I have described, but I doubt whether that is happening at present.
My fear is that central and eastern Europe is at present a security vacuum. Since the collapse of the Warsaw pact, there has been no regional security organ. We have happily consigned the Cold War to the dustbin of contemporary history, a receptacle which must now be full to bursting point. But we have not yet replaced the frozen and horrible certainty of the Cold War with anything durable and worthy of confidence in that critical region.
I suggest that it is an important issue calling for close attention and action by the British presidency. Last week the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, presided at a remarkable function at the Foreign Office which marked the publication of two new volumes of documents about east-west relations in the early 1970s. The theme of one volume was the gestation, birth and growth of the Helsinki process. That was a task at which her department laboured at the time with considerable success. My suggestion is that the moment may have arrived to take up those issues again. If, in the course of the next six months, we can chart a policy for our successors in the presidency to follow in relation to central and eastern Europe, we shall have done something really useful.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, spoke about the opportunities which are presented by our presidency. Every noble Lord who has followed him has suggested ways in which we could exercise the opportunities of our presidency to make maximum use of it. The one exception was the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, whose policy of extreme faineantisme did not commend itself to noble Lords on his side of the House. He should have looked at the expression on the face of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, as he was speaking. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was in splendid isolation not only from the House as a whole but also from noble Lords who have spoken on his own side, every one of whom addressed the positive opportunities of which the noble Lord, Lord Wright, spoke in his initial speech.
There have been so many suggestions that if the Government took them all up, there would need to be a presidency of six years rather than six months. I wish that we had that opportunity. However, let us see what we can do within the six months. I wish to make a couple of extremely modest suggestions in connection with the work of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the next session of which begins in Geneva on 16th March. I have been in contact with the noble Baroness about both the suggestions that I intend to make.
My first suggestion concerns the work of the UN rapporteurs. There are two categories of rapporteur. First, there are the country rapporteurs; and secondly, there are the thematic rapporteurs who deal with individual human rights violations such as extra-judicial executions, freedom of expression, religious intolerance and so on.
In the case of the country rapporteurs, whether or not they receive an invitation from the state to which they are assigned, they produce reports which are presented to the human rights commission. But the thematic rapporteurs must wait to be issued with an invitation by the state concerned. Sometimes that can take a great many years. For example, in the case of India, the rapporteur on extra-judicial, arbitrary and summary executions has been waiting since 1993 to be invited to India in spite of the fact that in November 1995, the Indians said that there is no objection to his visit and that the necessary arrangements would he made in due course.
There was one case in the last session of the human rights commission where thematic rapporteurs looked into the state of affairs of a country; namely, Nigeria. The two rapporteurs on extra-judicial executions and the independence of judges and lawyers conducted a joint study and made a report in consequence of a decision of the 52nd session of the commission. That shows that it is not necessary and is not a sine qua non for the state concerned to agree to such an investigation.
It has been suggested to Mrs. Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, that the special rapporteurs and working groups should have the power to conduct such investigations in urgent country situations suo moto, whether or not the state concerned
285 is willing to facilitate the arrangements for a visit. If we did that, that would enable them to make an analysis of material which is already published in the media by international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, together with any evidence which they could obtain from exiles or even, in some case, informants within the country and then to report their findings to the following meeting of the commission.
In particular. that would enable the commission, when it meets next on March 16th. to have an evaluation of the appalling massacres in Algeria, which have already been mentioned. M. Pierre Sané, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, felt that the situation there was so serious that he asked for a special session of the human rights commission to examine the massacres, but this may not have been feasible for practical reasons. The next best thing would be to ensure that when the commission does meet on March 16th it has before it an analysis by the special rapporteur.
Such an extension of the mandate of the special rapporteurs and working groups would, if it takes place, have resource implications which would have to be considered. They are very difficult to predict in advance when we know that all special rapporteurs and working groups are already operating at full stretch. It is important that the budgetary problems of the US Centre for Human Rights are relieved, and that its accounting system is improved—and I know that the Government have been helping in that respect—so as to show clearly how much is spent by each of the special procedures.
In recent years, new mandates have been created without any corresponding increase in the total budget of the centre, and the result has been that some of the mechanisms, the working group on arbitrary detentions, have been unable to look in detail at human rights abuses drawn to their attention. If all the countries which have been requested to issue invitations were suddenly to comply, the centre would be unable to deal with the workload. Therefore, one important goal that I suggest the Government should adopt during our presidency would he to put the centre on a sound management and financial basis. That is a modest goal which should be accomplished within six months.
I mention that many countries did not respond to the request for invitations, but no composite list is published by the UN Centre for Human Rights at the beginning of each session to show when requests were made for visits and how long they have been outstanding. It is extremely difficult to gain such information. Indeed, I tabled a Question which the Minister was unable to answer. If such information were to be published, it would be an incentive to the countries to comply with the request. It would focus attention on the ones that are not co-operating with the mechanisms and would enable the commission to look at the list at the beginning of every session.
I asked the Government whether, in view of the violence in Algeria, and the disappearance of an estimated quarter of a million people in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, they would call for a special meeting of the human rights commission, as 286 suggested by Pierre Sane, and whether, given the fact that human rights and humanitarian emergencies arise regularly throughout the world, they would propose that the commission meet twice a year. The noble Baroness replied on 3rd November last, saying:We have no plans to call for a special session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, nor do we intend to propose that the Commission routinely meet twice a year".—[Official Report, 3/11/97; col. WA 270.]However, the noble Baroness then went on to remind me that the commission retains the option to meet exceptionally between its regular sessions.
Since then, we have had a number of phenomena of which I shall give your Lordships just a few examples. There has been the recurrence of mass murder in Rwanda and allegations of the extrajudicial killing of at least 800 people in Iraq. Moreover, in Indian-held Kashmir, only the other day, it was reported that 23 Pandits, including women and children, were slaughtered by masked gunmen in a constituency of the Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah on India's Republic Day, and in Columbia there was a massacre at La Horqueta in November, which was reportedly the work of a paramilitary group. Obviously the rapporteur cannot be in all those places at once, and yet the extent of mass murder throughout the world, and the invariable violations of other human rights which accompany those situations, cannot be left in the in-tray, sometimes for years. If we are in earnest about the Mission Statement of the Foreign Office; namely:We shall work through our international forums and bilateral relationships to spread the values of human rights, civil liberties and democracy which we demand for ourselves".then our first priority must be to strengthen and extend the capacity of the UN Human Rights Centre to conduct investigations, preferably on site, but if necessary without the co-operation of the governments concerned, and bring the results promptly to the attention of the international community through the human rights commission.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lord Shaughnessy
My Lords, it is indeed timely that we should today be considering the implications of ongoing Commonwealth and foreign policy as the United Kingdom assumes the presidency of the European Union. The possible development of further political and economic integration during the ensuing six months is more than likely to alter, I suggest, the complexion of this country's political and economic relationships within the Commonwealth to some degree and perhaps in the broader global international arena.
In March 1996, the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, after considering the future of the Commonwealth, concluded:The Commonwealth is acquiring a new significance in a rapidly transforming world and United Kingdom policymakers should bring this major change to the forefront of their thinking … From the United Kingdom's point of view, this transformation offers potential which it is essential that we exploit with vigour and imagination".
However, parallel to the expansion and evolution of the Commonwealth, the involvement of North American commitments both politically and economically in 287 Europe has continued in the post-World War Two era. The establishment of NATO in 1949 can, I think, be fairly considered to have been a precursor of the European Union, comprising, as it did originally, nine Western European nations in addition to the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.
Since that time, the US and Canada have been continuously involved in European affairs. For 28 years, from 1964 to 1992, Canadian troops kept the peace in Cyprus between Turkish and Greek elements in that Mediterranean island. Indeed, Canada is the only member of the United Nations to have participated in every UN peacekeeping effort since then. In fact, Canada still maintains a peacekeeping force of 1200 troops in the Bosnian sector south-west of what used to be Yugoslavia. Further, Canada, in mutual support with the United Kingdom, spearheaded the international treaty to abolish anti-personnel landmines, following what has become known as the "Ottawa Process".
Time does not permit the recitation of United States involvement in Europe since the inauguration of the Marshall Plan, but suffice it to assert that US support to Europe in peace and in war cannot be described as wanting in times of crisis. As the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, said, the main danger in our relations with America is not opposition but lack of interest.
Despite the reservations expressed by my noble friend Lord Wright—who introduced this debate in an exemplary fashion— concerning what I might term the "poodle factor", I have cited these instances of North American involvement in Europe now, and at the outset of the UK leadership of the European Union, in the fervent hope that the focus on increasingly defined shared economic, political and cultural interests with the Trans-Atlantic community will be given a high priority.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Chesham
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for initiating this fascinating debate today. I wish to be rather more specific than many other speakers as to some practical steps that should be taken by the Government over the next five months. It appears to have escaped the notice of some people that we are already one month into the six months of the presidency.
I understand that the long promised review of the dependent territories is still not available and will not be available in time for the dependent territories conference on 4th February. I find that quite extraordinary. I have given the Minister notice of my next question. Can we be assured that her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will not refer to the results of the review in his keynote address to the conference on 4th February, bearing in mind the requirement expressed in paragraph 27 of the ministerial code that,When Parliament is in Session, Ministers will want to bear in mind the desire of Parliament that the most important announcements of government policy should he made, in the first instance, to Parliament"?I am sure that noble Lords will agree that this review will represent "an important announcement".
288 Noble Lords may wonder why I have asked this question in the context of today's debate. I can assure noble Lords that it is relevant in relation to the conflict between Spain and Gibraltar. It may be helpful to your Lordships if I were to outline political activities in this connection over the past few months. Spain has applied to join the NATO command. The Foreign Secretary immediately reacted to this and indicated that Britain would use its veto to stop Spain's membership unless and until the Spanish Government withdrew their restrictions on military and civilian aircraft on the approaches to Gibraltar airport. He further asked that the sea restrictions should be lifted.
What has happened? At the meeting of NATO held in early December Her Majesty's Government would appear to have capitulated and have agreed to allow membership on condition that Spain cannot participate fully in the NATO structure until such time as the restrictions on military aircraft are lifted. There is no mention of civilian aircraft and no mention of the sea. Where does Gibraltar now stand vis-à-vis its NATO command? Will this be removed to Spain? Will Gibraltar remain a British military base and lose its NATO status? Whilst NATO is not directly associated with the EU presidency, this is a moment in time when Her Majesty's Government could exert pressure on Spain in a move to resolve the Gibraltar situation.
In the meantime the continual, well documented harassment continues. I refer to Spanish claims to sovereignty; delays at border crossings; the 350 telephone number; the non-recognition of Gibraltarian ID cards and passports etc., etc. The UK presidency offers an excellent opportunity to bring these items forward towards resolution. The Minister in a recent debate on Gibraltar in this House stated that she would be happy to take further the issue of Gibraltarian disenfranchisement for European elections. Has she done so, and what has been the result?
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, said he believed that we should look to a solution on Gibraltar based on the Spanish proposal of joint sovereignty. Will the noble Baroness repeat the assurances of this and previous governments that the question of sovereignty is up to the Gibraltarian people and is not negotiable?
I now leave that point and go slightly farther afield. In common with my noble friend Lady Young, I wish to encourage Her Majesty's Government to secure EU agreement to negotiate a waiver from the WTO rules. to maintain the current Lome preference to the ACP countries for a 10 year period, and to safeguard the livelihoods of smallholder banana producers by guaranteeing sufficient market share to those countries' economies which critically depend on the EU banana market, whilst providing comprehensive support for economic diversification. On a recent trip to the Caribbean I was surprised to discover that one of the easier forms of diversification is the growing of vegetables particularly for the cruise liner market. I am informed that all cruise liners are revictualled in Miami. Is that perhaps a consequence of the Helms-Burton legislation in the United States?
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, we have had a fascinating debate so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. We have also enjoyed two excellent maiden speeches. So many points have been made that it is tempting to respond to what has been said rather than say something different. However, the debate concerns foreign and Commonwealth affairs and therefore I feel I should say something about an area of the Commonwealth I know something about and which is important; namely, south Asia.
South Asia is important as it contains two nuclear powers; one is an actual nuclear power and the other is potential. Both have refused to sign international treaties which forbid nuclear testing and have taken a determined stand. They are in a state of at least tepid, if not hot, war with each other. India and Pakistan are engaged in hostilities at an altitude of 18,000 feet. There are daily shootings. This situation needs to be watched. I do not think that the EU presidency is at all designed to consider former interests of any country other than France. France is the only country to have its former colonies looked after by the EU. I believe that Commonwealth interests are likely to be neglected by the EU. I hope that while the Government are occupied with the EU presidency they will not take their eyes off the situation in south Asia as, in terms of foreign policy, it is an important region for us. It is also a potentially dangerous region, given the likely change of government in India and Bangladesh and the rather delicate situation in Sri Lanka. There is also the consideration that about 1.5 billion people live in the area. Therefore we ought not to take our eyes off it.
The Commonwealth as a whole is a global sub-system; it reaches across all continents. It is difficult to encompass Commonwealth interests within the framework of the EU presidency but we ought not to miss the opportunity offered to us by the Commonwealth for across-the-globe diplomacy. I refer to Iraq and many problems with regard to Islam. There are in the Commonwealth a number of Moslem countries which could be of assistance through quiet diplomacy if we encounter problems in the Middle East. That kind of lateral thinking may be helpful. The Commonwealth is useful in terms of facilitating diplomatic channels and it is a region which is of great economic interest to us. For those reasons, as I said, the Commonwealth should not be neglected while we are concentrating on the EU presidency.
I wish to mention another issue to which reference has been made. It is development in the context of the presidency. I am astonished that the debt of highly indebted, poor countries, which amounts to no more than 5 billion dollars, should be such a tough nut to crack. International agencies have been unwilling either to write off, or do something drastic about, the debt of those countries. Yet 45 billion dollars can be found overnight for badly made private loans by commercial banks. How can those banks find 90 billion dollars for bad debts by relatively rich countries? I do not begrudge those countries 45 billion dollars; we all have to pay for bankers' mistakes. But it is somewhat astonishing that the 5 billion dollars has been left standing.
290 I know that the Government have done sterling work. I urge them, however, during their EU presidency, to push much harder. One country reluctant to agree to a generous settlement of the debt problem is Germany, both in the IMF and the World Bank. I believe that the problem of debt can be tackled more vigorously.
I was fascinated by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who referred to the Asian crisis. It may look a serious crisis, especially to those in south-east and east Asia. To some extent there is a problem of confidence. It is difficult to say whether we are at a precipice and going down, or at a turning point. However, the fundamental strength of south-east or east Asian economies is such that if the IMF does not mismanage the financial confidence problems, I am sure that within a year to 18 months most of the south-east Asian economies, with perhaps the exception of Indonesia, will return to prosperity.
The return of south-east Asian or east Asian economies to prosperity, as the noble Lord implied, is in our interest. They are competitors, but their prosperity is important for our prosperity. We should not regard them as rivals. Nor should we celebrate in a quiet way the fact that they are on a downward slide. I believe that mistakes were made. We have learned that while the IMF has been watching jealously the amounts of public indebtedness, it has not watched the figures as regards private indebtedness. In a globalised financial market, private indebtedness is a much bigger problem than public indebtedness. In contrast, the IMF, which is unwilling to forgive public indebtedness, is willing and able, and is even cajoling people, to write off large private debts. Private debts may have to be written off, and some banks may have to go bust. That is a fact of life in a private market economy. But unless there is massive mismanagement, I believe that we shall see the return to prosperity of the south-east Asian economy.
The noble Lord, Lord Wright, and many other noble Lords, referred to Islamic fundamentalism. It is clear that Islamophobia is a bad thing. Like all such doctrines of hatred, it arises from ignorance and prejudice. But when one talks about Islamic fundamentalism, as with Christian fundamentalism or Hindu fundamentalism, it has nothing to do with religion. It is a secular political programme by certain people to capture the government of a country and to change policies in a certain direction. Part of the current problem of the United States arises from Christian fundamentalism; but I shall not go into that. It is important that Islamic fundamentalism is doing most harm to Islamic countries. It is undermining the stability of modern, progressive Islamic countries such as Egypt and Algeria. It has undermined Afghanistan; it has almost ruined Iran. When we take a stance on Islamic fundamentalism, it is important to remember that we should be encouraging democratic forces wherever they are.
Paradoxically, in some cases, as in Algeria, if a fundamentalist party wins an election, we should let it govern and not stand in its way. The big mistake in Algeria was made at the beginning. We are now suffering because the nature of Islamic fundamentalism was not understood.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I wish to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. I particularly enjoyed his remarks about the need to know and understand the variety of cultures and the different kinds of Islam which make up the Islamic world.
In the time allotted to me I intend to speak about the issue of human rights in the European Union countries and, noble Lords will not be surprised to hear, particularly in Germany.
It is, of course, becoming more and more difficult to separate foreign affairs in respect of Europe and the impact which domestic affairs in European countries have on our relationships with those countries. There are, of course, precedents for concern about the internal affairs of other nations by the FCO: and I hope that the Minister will take to heart what I have to say about Germany.
The House may recall that in the debates on the Queen's Speech of October 1996 and May 1997, and also in an Unstarred Question in December 1996 on human rights in Europe, I referred to the report of the Ad Hoc Committee to Investigate Discrimination against Ethnic and Religious Minorities in Germany, for which I was the rapporteur. Minorities we interviewed included such Christian Churches as the Christian Community Church in Cologne. We were told that those churches were similar to the Holy Trinity Church in Brompton, the Kensington Temple and the Vineyard Churches which are, I think, evangelical churches in London.
I do not propose to repeat what I said previously. Many noble Lords, including several who now sit with the Minister on the Government Front Bench, were appalled at our findings and supportive of our endeavour. I have continued to monitor the situation in Germany and have become aware of the way that certain German political elements are using the European institutions to try to turn the clock back on human rights in the countries of the Union.
We were disappointed by the initial response of the British Embassy in Bonn that it,did not recognise the picture you paint of discrimination".But I received a more helpful reply from the Minister who is to reply to the debate. In a letter of 1st September 1997 the noble Baroness pointed out that those who believed they had suffered discrimination had recourse to the courts. That is of course true as far as it goes, but it begs the question of why so many cases are brought by the German authorities against those tiny minorities. There have been some good signs recently, with good German court decisions. But the Jehovah's Witnesses are still unregistered although the movement has been trying to obtain registration for a long time.
The German Government have developed their strategy of discrimination to quite an art form. It includes training courses for judges, prosecutors and even law students to sensitise them against the rights of minorities. These are a regular feature of German legal life. On the evening following the launch in Bonn of our German edition, in June of last year, we were privileged 292 to attend a meeting organised by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation to warn the people of Dusseldorf against the generalised danger from Sekten.
The guest speaker at this meeting was Gunter Beckstein, the Interior Minister of Bavaria. Although the convenor of the meeting gave a veiled warning to those present that members of a British committee investigating discrimination were in the audience, Gunter Beckstein had worked himself up into quite a frenzy of incitement to hatred by the time the meeting ended. Noble Lords may wonder whether the audience consisted of poorly educated skinheads; but they would be wrong. It consisted almost exclusively of well-heeled and apparently well-educated, solid and prosperous German citizens, and they lapped it up. The House, and the Minister, should be aware that the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which, as noble Lords will know, is the think-tank of the Christian Democrat Union, is actively encouraging discrimination.
There is only one thing that the religious minorities in Germany want. It is for the government, and the religious hierarchies working with and through the government, to abide by and apply Article 4 of the German constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion and belief. That was the very clear message of a memorable speech by Pastor Terry Jones of the Christian Church Community of Cologne at the launch, in Bonn last June, of the German edition of the Ad Hoc Committee's report.
I have been interested to read recent British press coverage of events in Germany. Noble Lords may have seen the article in The Times of 12th January by Roger Boyes, which began with these words:There is a raw wind gusting through Germany. Its cold edge became apparent again last week when the Government and the Opposition agreed to new legislation allowing for the bugging of private apartments.
Detectives will he able, if the draft goes ahead, to eavesdrop on doctors, psychiatrists, social workers and journalists. The point is to crack down on organised crime. But the legal resources about to be made available to the police are out of all proportion to the goal". It was interesting to note that he quoted from the report of the Ad Hoc Committee. Three of the incidents we reported were mentioned in the article.
The situation in Germany today is that the government, the opposition and the people have moved so far to the right that it is irrelevant what the political parties are called. In the World Report on Freedom of Religion and Belief, from the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, the editors, Professor Roger Boyle and Dr. Juliet Sheen, make a startling observation. In the introduction—not even in the section on Germany, which is, as noble Lords can imagine, damning enough in itself—they state:In Germany, democracy is used as an ideology to enforce conformity …It has been dismaying to find that the state, and some of its politicians and people, are using what are known from the past to be well-worn paths of discrimination and intolerance".On the same day that the article by Roger Boyes appeared in The Times there was an article by Ian Traynor, writing from Germany, in the Guardian. The headline to the item was:Big Brother and friends are still watching in Germany".293 He describes the same legislative initiative as Roger Boyes, but adds:Only a last minute revision scrapped provisions for the bugging of confession boxes".Ian Traynor has also reported on the rising tide of Neo-Nazi sentiment in former East Germany, describing "no go" areas declared by young thugs and quoting the mother of one as saying that she thought punk rockers should be gassed.
We may just shrug our shoulders and think, "Oh well, Germans will be Germans"; and of course it is true that traditions of democracy have many cultural roots. But there is one important distinction of which we may not be aware because we take our own basic assumptions for granted. We in the Anglo-Saxon world assume that the state exists to serve the individual. That is not so in Germany, where the Hegelian model prevails. The contrary view to our own, correlating with Hegel's scornful disdain for the individual and his or her rights, is that the individual exists to serve the state—hence the obsession with conformity and the informer state which Ian Traynor describes so vividly in the article from which I quoted.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lord Moore of Wolvercote
My Lords, I should like to follow other noble Lords in supporting most strongly the remarks of my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond in his excellent introduction about the Diplomatic Service, in which I once had the privilege of working for a short period. It is a splendid service, and is enormously admired throughout the world, reflecting great credit on Britain. I trust that the Government will ensure that it is properly funded.
There are two ways in which I hope it will be possible to use our presidency of the European Union. The first is to press the case for the enlargement of the European Union to include some of the eastern European countries—a process which will ultimately underline the absurdity of a federal European state. One of the undesirable features of the pressure for an early implementation of EMU is the danger that the imposition of stringent monetary conditions to enable EMU to come into effect will be used as an argument for delaying enlargement. We went to war in Europe for Poland. Poland is now free, and a European Union without her makes little sense. Here I must confess to a certain amount of prejudice, having been a prisoner of war in Poland during the war and having experienced at first hand the indomitable courage of the Polish people.
The second way in which I should like us to use our presidency is this. Although my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond has set his Motion in the context of the UK presidency of the European Union, I am glad that it refers to "Commonwealth" as well as "foreign affairs". I have always personally maintained that Britain has a unique role to play as a link between the Commonwealth and the European Union, 294 to the benefit of both groups, and of course to Britain as a world trading nation. The Prime Minister will he coming to the presidency having just chaired an extremely successful Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh. Great credit for that is due both to him and to the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku and his team. The British Government's support for the UK Year of the Commonwealth and for the Centre for Commonwealth Non-Governmental Organisations was very welcome and, I think, has brought an increased awareness in this country of the significance and importance of the Commonwealth to us.
But this CHOGM was chiefly notable for producing a Commonwealth Economic Declaration, which reflected the realisation that political advance must be matched by economic progress, enabling member countries to compete effectively in global markets and to attract investment. But it was more than a declaration. Action is to flow from it. A trade and investment facility is to be set up in the Commonwealth Secretariat to assist developing countries to play their part in the globalisation of world trade. Also, a Commonwealth business council has been created by the Commonwealth Business Forum to encourage greater private sector investment in the promotion of trade and industry in the Commonwealth. I have a personal interest, in that it has at last brought to fruition a recommendation we made from the Commonwealth Conference at Cumberland Lodge as long ago as 1991 for the establishment of a network of business organisations throughout the Commonwealth.
It has taken time, but at last the Commonwealth is beginning to appreciate the potential of the part it can play as a global trading group, based on its enormous advantages of shared language, education and law. So there could not be a better time for Britain to hold the presidency of the European Union, as a major member of both the Commonwealth and the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, made that point.
For example, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said, there will be an excellent opportunity for Britain to work for an acceptable successor to the Lomé convention since 36 of the 70 African. Caribbean and Pacific members are also members of the Commonwealth. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, Britain can also encourage the European Union and the World Trade Organisation to accommodate the legitimate interests of the ACP banana producers and to support the full implementation of the Uruguay Round arrangements.
It is very important that the European Union should not become too inward looking. Britain, with her worldwide position and experience, can play a valuable role in bringing home to her European colleagues the vital importance of a global outlook and of establishing a multilateral trading system within the World Trade Organisation. On this the economic interests of us all will ultimately depend.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lord Bethell
My Lords, it is a rare opportunity to own the presidency of the European Union and it is becoming ever more rare. At the outset, it happened to Britain every four-and-a-half years. Soon it will be once every 10 years and then once in a blue moon. So I hope that we will take the matter seriously. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what she proposes to highlight as the themes of our British six months. While we heard various ideas put forward by Mr. Cook in the early part of his appointment in May, I am not sure yet exactly what he plans to do between now and 30th June.
I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who said that we in Britain punch a little bit above what might be presumed to he our weight. For six months we are a little heavier than we are naturally. Therefore, I hope we can get some really good punches in during the next few months. I wish to congratulate the noble Lord on his excellent maiden speech earlier this afternoon.
There was a certain amount of fanfare about the ethical nature of the Government's foreign policy a few months ago. I looked for some sign of how that ethical human rights dimension would be resolved. I hope that something can be done about it during the first half of this year, because we are stronger now than we have been or will be for some years as a representative of the European Union.
Is there any prospect of arms sales being covered by some kind of code adopted by the 15 member states, in order that we can in some way control the human rights violators who are our natural customers in the buying and selling of armaments? It would be excellent if I could be assured that some progress was being made in that direction and it would be discussed in the conference in March, to which we are all looking forward. That conference is a feature of our presidency and I look forward to hearing exactly what will be discussed at it and who will come. What is the latest news about Turkey? Will its representatives be here or not?
I have seldom had a good word to say about Russia in this House. That country is still in serious violation of human rights, particularly as regards those who serve in the army and those who come before the judicial system, either as convicted people or pre-trial. But I must congratulate the Russian Government on having taken seriously the undertaking that they gave regarding the death penalty when they joined the Council of Europe. Many people have been sentenced to death in Russia in the past year or two, but President Yeltsin has not allowed a single execution to take place since that undertaking was given. That is in great contrast, may I say, to his Ukrainian colleague who last year allowed 15 executions to be carried out in the Ukraine. I think it would he appropriate for the presidency, within its political machinery, to make it clear to the Ukraine that it cannot remain a member of the Council of Europe while that spate of executions continues. I realise that the Council of Europe is a separate institution, but we can have considerable influence on it.
296 Furthermore, I would like the presidency, if it can find the time, to form a common view on the notorious Nikitin case in Russia and make it clear that the case must be solved before President Yeltsin comes to this country for the G7 meeting in March, I believe.
Many of those matters can be dealt with not by banging the table as we used to do when we were angry with the Soviet Union, but by offering help—by offering training to the Russian police, advice over the prison system and advice as to how to avoid violations of human rights. Unlike the past, such advice is often welcomed by the government of Russia, the way things are now. They would like to do more and they would welcome our assistance in the matter. That, I believe, was what Mr. Blair found when he went to Russia in October. I only wish that on that visit he had raised other individual cases, apart from that of Miss Henderson, who was, after all, convicted of a drugs offence.
I look forward to seeing what the Secretary of State will do to fulfil his promised emphasis on the human rights dimension. I trust that he will report about it, among other things, to the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament and to plenary in June this year.
Several noble Lords mentioned the problems that we have with Iran. I believe that this could be an important moment between the EU and Iran. It would be a mistake, as we sometimes suspect the Americans of doing, simply to place the two countries, Iran and Iraq, on one great level of supreme evil. There is a new president of Iran and it may be possible to do business with him, as Mrs. Thatcher said about a Soviet president some years ago.
We suffer from two diplomatic problems. One is the Mykonos bomb in Berlin which caused the whole of the EU to downgrade its diplomatic representation with Iran. The other is the Rushdie case which caused us, the British, unilaterally to downgrade our diplomatic representation. At the moment we, the British. have as representatives here not an Iranian chargé d'affaires but, if there is such a thing, an Iranian sub-chargé d'affaires, two below an ambassador. It would be good if we could find some way of restoring full diplomatic relations between the 15 and Iran at ambassadorial level. Then we might be able to test whether the new president adds reality to the kinder, more gentle words that he recently uttered.
What are we going to do about Turkey? Several noble Lords mentioned the problems we have with that most important ally of ours—but such problems! We have Cyprus, the treatment of the Kurdish minority, the recent ban on the welfare party, the removal of people from the Turkish parliament, including a recent prime minister, Mr. Erbakan, the measures taken against journalists and trade unionists. This afternoon I learnt of the stoning of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I congratulate him also on a truly excellent maiden speech. The army and the police seem to be out of control and there is widespread corruption in the political system. The Turkish Government have very little respect, I am sorry to say. for the European Union, seemingly it is one of the few countries with which we 297 get on badly. I hope that we shall be able to discuss Turkey with the United States and make progress with the problem.
In conclusion, I wish the Government well. They go as leaders pro tempore of the 15 into debate with themselves and with third countries. Thanks largely to the wise husbandry of the previous administration, they lead a rich country with strength, and to an extent more strength than was previously the case. I wish them every good chance in the next months and hope that we shall be able to achieve some of the points that I have outlined.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
My Lords, it is a pleasure to have listened to so many wonderful speeches and I begin with that of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. He shared some of his profound expertise and lifetime's knowledge with us today and I thank him for that. I have the pleasure of hearing him from time to time at work, now in Chatham House at the Royal Institute. He exposed only a fraction of what he knows and how willing he is to share it with us.
It has also been a great honour to listen to two maiden speeches, those of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London both of whom, in their different ways, enlarged our understanding and will no doubt do so on many more occasions in the future.
We speak today in the welcome context of a declared ethical foreign policy by this Government. I say immediately that I do not intend to make the mistake of feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, did not practice an utterly ethical foreign policy every single moment that he was Foreign Secretary. Nonetheless, to have the elected body politic making that statement sets the tone for this Government's foreign policy and particularly for our EU presidency, which I welcome most warmly.
A characteristically gloomy note was struck by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. But we must have cynics among us, without them it is all too easy. How otherwise are we to have a bit of challenge? I did not share one scrap of his uncharacteristically, possibly waspish, comment about the excellent speech of my noble friend Lady Ludford. I do not know what came over him; perhaps he wanted his tea. For the rest, his wonderful gloom about the European Union's capacity to become the equal partner in the benign exercise of power globally, for which President Kennedy called in 1963, and his touching faith in bilateral intervention and in stand-alone sovereignty warmed my heart and woke me up to challenge him.
I remind the noble Lord of President Kennedy's statement. He declared in Frankfurt in 1963:We look forward to a Europe united and strong, speaking with a common voice, acting with a common will, a world power capable of meeting world problems as a full and equal partner".Surely, that is the objective of our own and successive European Union presidencies. That is our task; that is what we are here for; that is why we are in politics.
298 I disagreed profoundly with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in relation to his desire for an anti-partnership philosophy. Partnership and co-operation, not confrontation, are well proven ways of advancing la culture de la paix, with its inherent tolerance for difference and consequential practice of the full complement of human rights.
We heard a saddening intervention for nine minutes from my noble friend Lord McNair on an intra-European Union problem regarding the lack of freedom to worship in a member state. Let us remind ourselves that we are not immune from intolerance. There is no wondrous magic in unity; there is no vaccine by which every single resident of the British Isles is immune from intolerance. We are part of the global economy, of the global culture, and we catch those bugs just as easily as anyone else.
I give the noble Lord, Lord Beloff—who has become my admirable target today—an example of where co-operation works. The Minister was on her feet late last night responding to a well-informed debate in your Lordships' House on Zimbabwe. The noble Baroness. Lady Chalker, whose work many of us admire, mentioned Zimbabwe again today. With globalisation it is an international problem. Many predications of disaster were laid before us last night. But today the professional partnership of the International Monetary Fund worked its green-backed magic and a 176 million dollar loan found a temporary and welcome solution to the problems of land reform in Zimbabwe. Indeed, all elements have been satisfactorily agreed, even the land reform programme of the government which gave us such problems last night. That will be implemented within the rule of law, safeguarding agricultural productivity, in consultation with the farmers, looking after the welfare of the 180,000 agricultural workers, concentrating on marginal land—that wonderful thing—and within the constraints of the government's budget limits. That is a good start, at least for this year. With our Foreign Secretary as president of the Council of Ministers, we are in a perfect position to lead and to bring an incorporation of the donor conference on land reform which we promised at Lancaster House in 1979, as we touched on last night, with the United States of America which will, too, continue the poverty reduction programme we put in bilaterally from the United Kingdom.
Further south another form of partnership has been in practice recently. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found a new way, thanks to the newly elected parliament of South Africa, to tackle the aftermath of bloody civil war. Perhaps we can look south and see in our presidency whether there might be a lesson of replication there too for the European Union. I think of Bosnia; I think later, once the discussions have been successful (for which we all hope and pray) of Northern Ireland; maybe even of post-Saddam's Iraq. Or is that too much to hope for?
The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, in his magnificent speech, touched on three key themes on which I also work in a small way. He mentioned the Arabo-Persian Gulf conflict, the Maghreb, and Islam in Europe. Those are critical points. The Foreign Secretary, 299 Robin Cook, in his speech on US foreign policy towards Iran, pointed out that as a nation we are opposed to the Iran-Libya Sanction Act and, as a member of the European Union, we do not believe that isolating Iran is the right response.
Iran, in the USA's sometimes naïve cowboy and Indian philosophy of foreign policy, has become the enemy. Dual containment is not simply a touched-on possibility, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, seemed to imply; it is an actuality. It is something that is inconvenient, expensive and incompetent. It is simplistic. If possible, we should use a portion of our energies in our presidency to renew our relationship—trading, personal and political—with Iran, which has been strong and powerful for several hundred years.
We should redouble our efforts to encourage the US to abandon all pretence of continuing its dual containment policy towards Iran. We should do all possible to resolve the bilateral problems that have been put on our plate by blasphemy. We should remember how important blasphemy is to real worshippers of whatever faith. We should try to overcome an issue that has gone well past its sell-by date—the Rushdie problem—and I beg the Government, if they can, to have some thought about a restitution of the Iraqi marshland problem.
Why? In the context of Iran I ask the Government to remember that Iraq was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war as well as in the Gulf War with the invasion of Kuwait; that the prisoners of war in Iraq—10,000 of them—are Iranian as well as many hundreds of Kuwaitis. In fact one-third of the marshlands to which I refer are actually inside Iran and by the Ramsa Convention, all nations, since the mid-1970s—the convention was signed in 1974—have been forbidden to hold back water in such a way that it is drained from the lands of other nations.
I have put forward a big package of requests. Duel containment is not working. It puts us in a position which is hostile to Islam, which is one of the great religions of the world. Islam is something that is within the European Union and is now part of our people's heritage. Islam is not an enemy.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Thurlow
My Lords, I am not going to follow other noble Lords in adding to the agenda of recommendations for what the British presidency should undertake. The noble Baroness has quite enough already in her list. Much as I should like to, I am not going to follow the noble Baroness in a fiery response to a previous speaker, although that livens up our debates very much and we are grateful.
I shall pursue the theme that was taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Moore, as regards an aspect of Commonwealth affairs following the recent Edinburgh conference. This is the first general debate that we have had since that heads of Commonwealth government conference.
For me, as a humble worker at the coalface in Commonwealth relations for nearly 40 years, it has been refreshing to see the change of atmosphere in this 300 country in the past two or three years in relation to the Commonwealth and its significance. We owe that to a considerable extent to the remarkable report of the Foreign Affairs Committee under the noble Lord, Lord Howell, two years ago. It made more than 60 positive recommendations, many of which have been accepted by successive Foreign Secretaries.
The aspect that I wish to focus on is the dynamo for continued, valuable, constructive, collective, Commonwealth action. Most of our relations with Commonwealth countries have been bilateral with particular countries. But for the past 30 years the collective efforts of Commonwealth countries have been conducted under the auspices of the Commonwealth Secretariat. I remember when it was set up. My office was very cautious about its creation. We welcomed it, but we were cautious because we thought that it would get out of hand and create embarrassing problems and make showy gestures.
The opposite has been the case. The Commonwealth Secretariat has adopted a low profile and undertaken a great deal of extremely hard work which gets very little attention. It has gone from strength to strength. Like every institution, it has had its problems. Perhaps it got a bit flabby. The staff was cut back by about 15 per cent. about three years ago. It is now a very lean organisation indeed and extraordinarily good value for money. How much money do we put into the core political and administrative functions of the Commonwealth Secretariat? This country subscribes one-third of the total budget. According to my arithmetic, that adds up to under £5 million a year. That is not an enormous problem for this country.
I recognise that there is always a problem, and rightly so, when trying to increase anyone's budget, but especially in this case because if British Ministers wish to contribute more to the Commonwealth Secretariat, it can only be done under present ceilings by raiding some other part of the Vote of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Naturally, that results in a defensive tendency. I have talked with Ministers about this in the past. For understandable reasons, in recent years the stance has been very defensive indeed when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Vote has been consistently cut back. That has happened as long as I can remember.
When I was responsible for dealing with administration I remember having to identify three posts which were to be abolished. That was very difficult indeed. We have learnt of the large number of additional posts that we have taken on with the breakup of the former Soviet Union. Resources are desperately strained.
What can be done about it? It is no good thinking that the budget of the secretariat can be increased in this field by passing the hat round in the private sector. That is quite a fashionable tendency, which I endorse, but in this particular kind of work one cannot expect the private sector to ante up. It will for particular projects. In the past few years the secretariat has managed to get helpful contributions from the private sector; but we cannot really expect to turn to it for the immensely 301 valuable, inconspicuous political work which the secretariat does in exercising good offices in fending off conflict by pre-emptive talks in so many low profile, but very important diplomatic fields.
That brings us back to the old question of resource. I ask the noble Baroness to do what she can. It is nearly two years now to the next heads of government meeting. New demands were put on the secretariat at the last meeting without increases in real terms for funding the core political and administrative work. I ask her to do everything she can—in the face of what I know, from personal experience, is enormous difficulty—to get more money for the secretariat. We get wonderful value for it. By enhancing the influence, growth and development of the Commonwealth the secretariat enhances our influence. As has been pointed out, one of the dimensions of our membership of the European Union is to bring a wider global perspective to some of our partners who have not shared our historic connections in the past.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I enter such a debate which has featured so much worldly experience, wisdom and expertise of the highest calibre. It has been a privilege to listen to the contributions, and especially to the maiden speeches. It is also a privilege for me to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate because I freely confess that I am no expert in foreign affairs. I know marginally more about budgets, constraints and the Treasury—and all that I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is that we have carefully noted what the noble Lord, Lord Wright, said about the problems. The noble Lord will no doubt have noted that the present Government are constrained by a Budget and by figures which were determined by the party of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, when it was in power.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I have no doubt that the figures are those of the previous government, but it was a voluntary action on the part of the new Government to adopt them. Nothing in the constitution compelled them to do that.
§ Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
My Lords, if my memory is correct, during the election campaign the present Chancellor stated that, if elected, the new Government would live within the former government's public expenditure figures. This Government have sought to keep that promise, on the basis of which they were elected.
I return to my main point. I am a former trade union official who does not have a great deal of experience at the diplomatic level, but as a union official I have had the opportunity of spending time with workers from around the world and with workers' representatives. As with diplomats and politicians, invariably when we come together on a global basis the theme is the common one of seeking to ensure that we have peace, that we work together for security and that, to achieve that end, we work together for economic progress, which is the basis of those other aims.
302 Now that we have a change of government, perhaps I may suggest to my noble friend the Minister that we might now be able to take advantage of an opportunity which perhaps latterly has not been taken advantage of to the greatest degree. I refer to the fact that the Labour movement on a worldwide basis has an opportunity to build links. We have a good reputation and a good record for doing substantial work in terms of working for change and peace in South Africa. The Labour movement has sought hard to bring the warring factions together in Cyprus. We have done the same in Ireland. The same is true in many other parts of the world—notably, in the Middle East where efforts have been made to encourage the Israeli trade union movement. Histradut, and the Palestinian workers' representatives to try to build bridges. That is an area where over a number of years and for ideological reasons, that opportunity has not been developed as much as it could have been. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, was always a helpful Foreign Secretary and I am not making any criticism of him.
International activities also give us an opportunity to learn about how others view us in a changing world. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, referred to our imperial past. I believe that that was the only mention of it. From my experience, others around the world still seem to view us as continuing to be weighed down to some extent by our past. They see us as weary travellers, still carrying some excess baggage, still not accepting ourselves for what we are now and perhaps trying to punch rather too hard for our current weight. Some feel that, as yet, we have not quite come to terms with our new position or determined our new role in the world.
I am sorry that many who say that, and many I have met over the years, have not been here to hear today's debate. I have found it most heartening. On all sides, we have talked about moving forward in a role based increasingly on co-operation and partnership with others, especially in Europe. Although there are still many problems and incoherences in many areas of European policy, there is nevertheless an opportunity to move forward. The European Union presidency gives us the opportunity to try to give a lead in that direction.
It is particularly heartening for a newcomer to your Lordships' House that the general thrust of today's debate—even on EMU, which I know is such a sensitive subject—has none the less pointed in the right direction and in the direction in which I think that all of us believe that we shall move. It is merely a question of timing. I share that line of argument.
My contribution, like that of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, is to give support to the Government—I hope that we have all been doing that—and to sustain them in their efforts. I unashamedly speak up on behalf of the fresh approach that we have been witnessing in the past few months. Time and tide have meant that the new Government have been given the opportunity of a fresh start—and it has been a good start. It has not been perfect, but the Government are making progress. I trust that that progress will be maintained through the UK's presidency of the European Union.
303 The Government should build on some of the major initiatives on which they embarked when first taking office. I believe that those initiatives have support out there, in the streets. They have captured people's concerns in a number of areas. Interest in international affairs has been heightened and people's appetites have been whetted in a way that we have not seen for quite some time, probably because of the preoccupation in recent years with internal fighting over Europe.
I cite as an example the Government's momentum with regard to arms control and disarmament, and especially the action that they have taken and the work that they are undertaking to secure a total ban on landmines. In that context, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join those on this side in applauding the actions taken yesterday by the Secretary of State for Defence and his announcement about landmines. That statement was greatly welcomed—and not only by parliamentarians. It was well received on the streets of this country.
I welcome the efforts to promote British exports and to boost British jobs. I believe that the FCO could play an enhanced role. If money is saved in some quarters, I would argue that that is a worthy area into which redeployed resources could most usefully be used for the benefit of all of us.
I hope that the Government will not lose sight of the Prime Minister's earlier statements in New York on Britain giving a lead with regard to the quality of the environment and in pressing for specific measures to protect the environment. I pray that the Government will continue to push for the environment to be higher up the international agenda.
I hope that support will be given for continuing to put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy initiatives. As the noble Lord, Lord Bethel], mentioned, that is controversial in some quarters.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I only wish that poverty could be given greater prominence on the Government's agenda. I hope that in due course, as our coffers improve, the issue of poverty will move higher up the agenda so that, in partnership with others, we can make a greater contribution to helping the impoverished throughout the world.
Those are fresh approaches, as was Robin Cook's decision to open up the Foreign Office to the public. That was a welcome move. It gave a strong, good signal. I welcome and commend the efforts that the Government have made to open up the FCO so as to allow greater opportunities to women and the ethnic minorities. I welcome particularly the recent appointment of Limbert Spencer as an adviser on those issues. Those are all moves in the right direction. I hope to see more of them.
We have an opportunity to make a fresh start—indeed, it is already underway. We now have some very important tasks ahead in the coming months. I greatly welcome the changes in attitude towards the Commonwealth and the fact that countries are now queuing to join rather than wishing to leave. I hope to see the Government working for reform of the UN. I hope particularly that they will work in partnership with 304 others in Europe. We have great opportunities ahead of us. I commend all those noble Lords—the majority—who have generally spoken so forcefully in support of government policy.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ The Earl of Limerick
My Lords, coming in as the last Back Bench speaker—the 31st wicket down—when the survivors in this debate await the winding up speeches, what is there left for me to say'? There have been so many well-informed, wide-ranging contributions since the noble Lord, Lord Wright—in other connections, my friend and colleague—opened the debate with a masterly speech nearly five hours ago.
I shall put aside the temptation to follow some of the interesting lines that have been opened by earlier speakers and offer a few reflections of my own. The first concerns the practicability and achievability of any objectives that we may wish to set. It is not a matter of mere strength. If we think of what the super powers have failed to achieve in pursuit of their policies, the Americans in Vietnam, the Soviets in Afghanistan and the fact that seven years after the world combined in the cause of the liberation of Kuwait Saddam Hussein is still in power in Baghdad, we have sufficient evidence of that. I believe that it is a matter of leadership and working towards a consensus behind the goals identified by that leadership.
Britain has considerable influence in Europe, albeit it could and should be greater. I believe that part of it rests on our position at the centre of the Commonwealth. Consider its breadth. It has 50 members who represent more than 25 per cent. of the 189 nations of the world. It transcends continents, cultures, race and religion. It is not based on dominance, military or financial, or preference, imperial or material; it is based on shared objectives, although as with every extended family there are occasions when there is reason to rebuke other members of the family for what they have done, or perhaps what they have not done. It is also based on a recognition of mutual advantage.
It is striking that the membership of the Commonwealth is growing. Not only the re-joiners—Pakistan and South Africa—but also the new joiners—Mozambique and Cameroon—see advantage in being fully paid-up members of the club. Will this influence continue? I believe that it will with just one caveat: the cement as regards the Commonwealth has the monarchy at its core as well as its head. Any threat to the monarchy is probably also a threat to the Commonwealth.
My other substantial concern goes very wide. I refer to the collective ability of nations of the world to manage the process of long-term change. Changes are inevitable and arise from the causes that have always underlain them: competition for habitable and fertile land, water resources, access to raw materials and trade outlets. Sadly, they arise also from conflicts between ideologies and religions. Individually or in combination, these forces will give rise to what I believe will be the greatest threat to stability in the 21st century. I speak of the mass migration of peoples: those who flee from floods, famine, genocide or persecution.
305 That takes us to the practical problems. At national level there is the problem of absorbing refugees, both political and economic, and displaced people. At international level one has the old dilemmas that faced the United Nations and, before that, the League of Nations. First, how does one stop powerful nations from bullying less powerful nations? Secondly, how does one devise institutions of sufficient flexibility to adapt to these changes? One obvious role for a supra-body is to deter any country from transgressing onto the territory of a neighbour. Some countries are fortunate in their boundaries and none more so than the United Kingdom. One concedes that there may be minor bickering along Hadrian's Wall or Offa's Dike but no one can argue with the ocean. Major mountain ranges and rivers may also serve as natural demarcations, although riparian dwellers may have more in common with those on the opposite bank than with their own remote hinterlands.
What happens when history unfolds so that historical boundaries are no longer appropriate? Some boundaries, notably in Africa, are no more than lines in the sand decreed by far-away powers with minimal local familiarity. Other boundaries are overwhelmed by events as in Rwanda, Burundi and Yugoslavia. Behind all of those situations lies human suffering sometimes on a massive scale up to and including large numbers of deaths. The way to mitigate suffering may not always be to enforce the statufigrs quo. Analysis and logic may decree that some flexibility in modifying the boundaries will better serve the purpose. To screw down the lid of the powder barrel is to court a bigger explosion.
It is the absence of flexible mechanisms and any appropriate will to develop them which troubles me. I have heard nothing today to encourage me in that regard. I am a realist. I expect no solution to this question tonight, or even this century, but I believe that it is worthy of serious thought.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, it is often said of this House that it is uniquely valuable in assembling an extraordinary amount of knowledge and experience and bringing that to bear on some of the problems that confront this country and our world. I believe that we owe a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for having introduced a debate that is truly in that tradition. It is a debate in which a number of distinguished former Foreign Secretaries as well as former distinguished Permanent Under-Secretaries at the Foreign Office and other departments have taken part. It is a debate from which those of us who have sat through almost all of it feel they have greatly benefited.
At The Hague on 20th January the Prime Minister said:On external policy, the EU must be both effective and seen to be effective internationally. Political will, not hot air".The Prime Minister and his Government have four great tools to use in establishing a significant and distinguished UK presidency of the European Union. All of those tools have been spoken about today. The 306 first is the Foreign Office itself. It often attracts criticism and sometimes deserves it, but the sheer quality of our Diplomatic Service is still remarkable for a medium size country. The second very valuable tool is the World Service of the BBC which, even today, is responding to new challenges, for example by developing a whole set of programmes on the issue of enlargement and the accession of new candidates to the European Union. Any one of us who for a long period of time has stepped outside the shores of these islands knows the extraordinary reputation of the BBC and in particular the World Service. We would be infinitely foolish to throw that away.
The third of the tools that we have is the British Council. That too we could use much more widely than we do.
The fourth, to which my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire referred, is the armed services. Over recent years they have been able to make a distinguished contribution to international peace. As my noble friend said, the problem is that the European dimension in the new study of defence forces in this country seems to have been, to a great extent, neglected.
We have obviously benefited greatly in this debate from the authority and wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell. We expected nothing less and look forward to his contributions in many debates to come.
I knew less what to expect from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. He unquestionably contributed a significant dimension to our deliberations. What he had to say about communities of faith has planted a seed of collaboration and reconciliation which has a strong potentiality.
I now refer to the four crises facing the European Union, each one of them serious, to which noble Lords have referred. The first is the crisis that concerns the Middle East at the present time. A recent development of a troubling kind is the proposal by the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu, to phase withdrawal from the territories that fall within the Oslo accords. The Oslo accords are the one bridge to peace in the Middle East between Israel, Palestine and her neighbours. It will be dangerous and frightening to resile from those accords. I pay tribute to the courage and the thought that many in Israel have brought to bear on these issues, in particular the previous government in agreeing to the Oslo accords and now attempting to sustain them as an opposition party.
The second crisis is in Iraq. I was troubled by a tendency to underestimate the significance of Iraq's decision once again not to collaborate with UNSCOM. Iraq has a potential for both biological and chemical weapons which is of great concern to those of us who wish to see global peace and order.
I share the concern of many noble Lords and Members of Parliament in another place who have discussed the effects of the sanctions against Iraq. It is important that Iraq is a signatory to UN resolutions under which it has agreed to open its weapons production to inspection and to destroy bacteriological and chemical weapons. Iraq presents us all with a troubling dilemma at the present time.
307 The first point I make to the noble Baroness the Minister—who has the herculean task to responding to this debate—is whether, in the light of what the Minister of State said in another place earlier this week about the need to pursue every diplomatic path towards peace, it might be worth considering an urgent meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers to consider whether any other approach to Iraq might conceivably be successful before the end of Ramadan brings with it the possibility of military action.
Thirdly is the continuing crisis in Bosnia. We do not know whether the United States will continue to keep its forces in Bosnia after June, although recent indications are considerably more encouraging than they were last year. As noble Lords have said, it is important that the partnership between the European Union and the United States should become more equal. The United States is increasingly distracted with its own concerns. The recent and pathetic concentration of the United States' media on the President's private life is just one more example of the way the United States can be distracted from its role as a world power.
I am a great admirer of the United States and believe it is an essential element in maintaining world order but, disturbingly, Congress is out of touch with many world events and tends to be driven by pressures from congressional districts and specific interest groups. As a result it sometimes does not make the wisest judgments about the necessity for peace and order in our world.
As to Bosnia, I say two things. The first is to congratulate the Government most warmly for the steps they have taken to ensure that European Union aid now goes directly to Republika Sryska following the appointment of the new Prime Minister, Mr. Dodik, who has already greatly encouraged those of us who hoped for a peaceful outcome in Bosnia by the strong stand he has taken on the return of refugees and religious tolerance. This remarkable man has set up a shadow Cabinet which might be described as bringing together the spiritual communities of Islam and Christianity in Bosnia. The shadow Cabinet has within it three Moslems, three Croatian Christians and three Serbians. It is a remarkable and brave thing to have done and it is very pleasing to see that our Government, as the president, has encouraged the EU to allow its aid to flow to Republika Sryska.
As I remarked to the noble Baroness the Minister during Questions today, the other step that needs to be taken to assist the possibility of a breakthrough in Bosnia is, unquestionably, the arrest and detention of the war criminals in that country. If they are not arrested and detained that will tell the whole world that one can do exactly as one pleases and con the world powers and democratic countries into accepting that by the simple act of defiance.
As to Algeria, I agree with the many noble Lords who have referred to the extreme danger of characterising Islam as fundamentalist, intolerant and likely to present a threat to the peace of the world in the course of the next century. Algeria is a terrible story of massive deaths and killings, amounting to 40,000 in the past couple of years. We cannot simply stand back and wash our hands of it.
308 Because the Maghreb poses serious threats to the peace of Europe as well as Africa there are two things we need to do. The first thing is to make it clear that, in addition to the fundamentalist forces and the military government, there are groups in Algeria, like RND and others, who are desperately trying to be heard in their support for democratic institutions. It is incumbent on the European Union and the British presidency to do whatever we can to encourage and assist those courageous Algerians in trying to recover democracy in their country.
Finally. I want to refer to some of the global issues to which the noble Lords, Lord Gillmore, Lord Desai, Lord Howell, and others referred. Glohalisation threatens us with the sweeping away of the fragile structures of order that have been set up. or it offers us a huge opportunity to begin to forge global rules. The noble Lord, Lord Howell. was right when he said that the Asian crisis is much more serious than we have so far allowed for. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, was right when he said that we need to look at the issue of world debt.
One part of the issue of world debt is the huge debts run up by countries that purchase arms and have never paid for them. They will now expect the taxpayers of the UK, the EU and the US to pay for arms they should never have received. In that context, I invite the Minister to say a little more than has been so far said about the exciting initiatives by the Foreign Secretary which he summed up in a letter to me on the 29th December, when he said that he would be seeking a non-legally binding EU code of conduct on arms exports. I can think of nothing more urgent. I wish the Minister and her colleague good speed in trying to bring that about.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, it is a humbling moment for me to congratulate, on behalf of these Benches, two very fine maiden speakers, both speaking from a lifetime honed with experience. I can do no more than offer my sincere congratulations, and the view from these Benches that the House will continue to be enhanced by their significant, serious, and thought-provoking contributions.
This has been an enormously informative and valuable debate, for which we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Wright. We all agree that presidency of the EU is both an honour and a challenge for any member state. It places an imperative on the host country to offer leadership and guidance, most particularly in the arena of foreign affairs, and to demonstrate a co-ordinated and effective voice for Europe on the world stage. On behalf of the Opposition, I wish the Government success in fulfilling that vital obligation.
Today, the constantly shifting sands in the hourglass of global political geography demand different regional priorities, and some of yesterday's challenges, even those of only half a decade ago, have been replaced by a new set of no less complex challenges which require the international community to rise to them with diplomacy and initiative. In a year when the UK will also chair the G8 summit and host the second 309 Asia-Europe summit, which will be on European soil for the first time, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of their golden inheritance, granted in no small way by the work of many of the noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon—an inheritance which allows this country to stand tall and command respect for its views and influence with our partnerships and colleagues in Europe and at the UN, among the Commonwealth countries, and in our transatlantic relationship.
Yet it will not be enough to live on the interest of that legacy. For the Prime Minister to lead Europe on the world stage in the way he envisages, he and the Foreign Secretary must be equipped with the tools of decisive leadership and skilled co-ordination, and they must combine quiet diplomacy with effective action in order to address the myriad international issues of today and tomorrow.
Your Lordships' sheer breadth of knowledge and insight on some of those very issues has allowed us to circumnavigate the globe many times today, and if it would not detain your Lordships' House for an unpardonable length of time, I would willingly retread some of that ground and risk burdening the Minister with a raft of questions on the lead the Government intend to take on some of the compelling issues currently facing the international community. However, I will not. As has been rightly pointed out, the Minister already has a sufficiently Herculean task.
Suffice it to say from these Benches that we would appreciate the opportunity to hear the Minister outline the Government's plans on some of the key issues of the day: the complicated issue of Turkey's accession to the EU; progress on the ratification of the ground-breaking comprehensive test ban treaty, designed to end nuclear weapons testing and explosions for all time, and the Government's prognosis on its early ratification by all states; progress on reform of the UN, so that it can meet the challenges of the next century; reaching agreement on the EU mandate for negotiations on a successor to the Lome Convention, highlighted this evening by my noble friend Lady Young; the military option to address Iraq's continued defiance of the will of the international community. given President Clinton may well be held hostage by the fact that tough military action against Saddam Hussein's renewed sabre rattling could be perceived as a cynical attempt to deflect public attention from his domestic crisis; the unresolved Kurdish problem; the promotion of democracy and good government in Africa, particularly in the Great Lakes region—a point well made by my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey—and. finally, I should like to ask for a commitment of the Government's enduring support for that beacon of fair and respected news coverage—the BBC World Service—the point being well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby.
Nor do I intend today to discuss the critical challenge of the historic and vital process of EU enlargement and the accession process which will begin under the auspices of our presidency, and through which we will fulfil our promise to the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. I have no doubt that the Minister, noble 310 Lords and I, will have ample time to rehearse those arguments during the imminent scrutiny of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill which shortly comes before your Lordships' House.
The issue of human rights is critical. In many of the countries that we have been discussing—as was wisely pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—the perpetrators of human rights abuses rightly earn the condemnation of the international community. The victims, however, deserve the action of the international community. During the UK presidency of the EU we must lead in terms of specific action to ensure that the international community continues to keep faith with all those who suffer human rights atrocities. For the human rights of the people of Iraq, the people of Algeria. as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, pointed out, and the people of Myanmar are regularly abused whether by the actions of terrorists or by their own governments.
The Opposition welcome the Prime Minister's statement that,to support free trade, human rights and democracy and to play a major role in the great international issues of the day [requires] political will, not hot air".The UK presidency now offers the opportunity and the obligation for the Foreign Secretary to take a lead in voicing foreign affairs policy, and to be judged by his deeds and not his words, by his substance and not his rhetoric. I would point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, that the Minister of State has long since made it clear that, despite the rhetoric, there would be a seamless transition from the ethical foreign policy of the previous government—namely, that of critical dialogue and constructive engagement—combined with strong international pressure, when he said in another place:In the vast majority of cases, we will strive for a constructive engagement … Putting it crudely, there are sticks and carrots and there are difficult tactical choices to he made … Within that framework of engagement, we are keen to ensure that, as an important agenda item, there will he discussion of human rights".—[Official Report, Commons, 3/6/97; col. 305.]The Opposition could not agree more, but would add that a critical dialogue does not in any way imply the acceptance of a regime or its legitimacy, but if the Minister insists that the Government's ethical foreign policy is a new and original departure from previous UK policy, perhaps she will tell the House where it will result in examples of stronger action on behalf of the Government towards perpetrators of human rights abuses, which would not have taken place under the previous Government. I know that the Minister will agree that human rights should be above party politics and remain a key element of Britain's leadership during the term of its presidency of the EU.
My noble and learned friend Lord Howe rightly pointed out the importance of economic policy in the development of Asia and the Pacific. If we focus on just one small country in the central Asian region, Kyrgystan, we witness an entrepät in the region, coming at the crossroads for potential trade among its neighbours, a country which, through strong leadership and a remarkable record of bringing all its multicultural people together in a pluralist democracy, has led to the emergence of a new state which seeks co-operation with 311 the West, like so many of the countries that emerged after 1991. We can watch an economy being built on the premise of our model of private sector regeneration. Of course, that model is being moulded into one appropriate for the local people—in this case, the Kyrgyz people.
The underlying point for us in this debate today, and for the Government, is to offer assistance to the newly emerging nations of central Asia, being built on the premises of a pluralist democracy and private sector-led economic growth. This requires a high policy priority because the support to these countries will have far reaching consequences in central Asia where the political and commercial evolution of these countries is currently the focus of Western Europe but also very important to the United States, Russia and China.
In response to the noble Lords, Lord Wright, Lord Healey, Lord Hurd and Lord Chalfont, among many other of your Lordships, I know there is unwavering consensus between the Front Benches and throughout your Lordships' House that the UK's commitment to the Gulf and to peace in the Middle East should be total and absolute. There is much consensus too, not only on the critical importance of peace but also on the route to that ultimate goal. Despite the change in Government, the UK's position on this crucial issue will. I hope, remain unchanged. The outcome of the peace process in the Middle East must offer permanent peace on the basis of security for the Israelis, and prosperity, justice and self-determination for the Palestinian people based on respect for international law.
No one can doubt that the Middle East peace process is in grave crisis, bereft of political will and impetus, drained of dynamism and impetus. Without a rudder or a compass, the crisis-buffeted process is half capsized. As each day passes with no progress we seem further away than ever from attaining that elusive but priceless prize of peace.
The latest Washington round of bilateral talks between President Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat respectively have brought scant reason for optimism. The meetings only served to highlight Palestinian paralysis in the face of Israeli intransigence, while the influence of the United States has proved unable to break the stalemate. In this context I think it is very important to consider what assessment the Government makes of Hanan Ashrawi's remarks on a Palestinian delegation to Washington when she asked for more European involvement in the peace process, and I quote:as they have a more even-handed policy when it comes to our rights".Will the Government confirm that while we respect the United States guiding of the peace process, and while we pay tribute to the vision of President Bush after the Gulf War and President Clinton's achievement on the White House lawn, the UK must make an active contribution which corresponds to our historical links with the Middle East and the high expectations of those in the region who look to this country? Will the Government confirm that, particularly during our presidency of the European Union and at this critical 312 time for the peace process, our role is not just to support but to weigh in effectively at appropriate moments in the negotiations and to mobilise the European Union to do the same?
And so we need to use the UK presidency of the European Union to seek to negotiate to unblock the impasse and to ensure that the efforts of those who have worked so tirelessly and that those who, both named and nameless, famous and unknown, have given their lives in the quest for peace process did not do so in vain.
We all agree that the UK has a proud tradition of carrying out its responsibilities throughout the world with honour and respect. Provided the warnings of the noble Lords, Lord Wright and Lord Moore of Wolvercote, are heeded about the need for a well funded FCO Vote, including the Diplomatic Corps, the British Council and the BBC World Service, we will be able to continue with this work.
As noble Lords on all sides of the House have stated, this is a time to act and to demonstrate the truth and strength of the UK's principled policies. This is the time to lead by example. In this way the UK will use its presidency to contribute towards achieving lasting peace and widespread prosperity throughout a world searching for geo-political stability in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. On behalf of the Opposition I wish the Foreign Secretary well in his momentous task.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, it is a great privilege to close this splendid debate on foreign and Commonwealth affairs in the context of the United Kingdom presidency of the European Union. The subject is always fascinating and particularly timely in the first month of our presidency. May I add my voice to those of the so many noble Lords who have thanked the noble Lord. Lord Wright of Richmond, for initiating the debate. Lord Wright left the FCO before I joined but I have been grateful for his kind and wise advice to a very inexperienced Minister on a number of occasions since May 1st.
We are also privileged that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, should have chosen this occasion for his maiden speech in this House, having served with great distinction in another place, especially in his six years as Foreign Secretary. His was a powerful and thoughtful speech entirely fitting for such a distinguished statesman.
May I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. His argument about the role of faith communities is, I believe, an immensely important one in promoting knowledge and understanding which are the bedrock of reconciliation and peace amongst the peoples of the world, the conclusion, I believe that the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Janner, also reached in their contributions.
One of the first tasks of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on taking office was to publish a new mission statement for the FCO. Our over-riding mission is, of course, to promote the national interests of the United Kingdom and to contribute to a strong world community. We are pursuing that mission to 313 secure for Britain four benefits through our foreign policy: security, prosperity, quality of life and mutual respect.
Since taking office we have made real progress in all four areas. On security we have agreed a landmines ban and signed the Ottawa Convention. We have established new criteria for arms sales to other countries. And I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Bethell and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that we are working to agree in our presidency a common EU code on arms transfers. We have started the process of NATO enlargement and created a new relationship between NATO and Russia. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that NATO enlargement does not seek to threaten or isolate Russia. I am aware that some elements in Russia nevertheless resent NATO enlargement. But NATO wants a real partnership with Russia and we believe that the NATO-Russia Founding Act signed in May 1997 established a co-operative basis for our future relationship. We are also working with the Ministry of Defence in the Strategic Defence Review examining Britain's defence requirements from first principles. May I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that the review is foreign policy-led and based on a thorough assessment of risks and challenges facing the United Kingdom. Together these will help lay the foundations for a secure Europe in a more peaceful world.
Secondly, prosperity: we have put employment at the top of the EU's agenda. We are promoting exports and attracting inward investment. We enjoy close and profitable trading relations with countries all over the world. We are furthering free, fair and sustainable international trade and economic relations. The Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh gave the Commonwealth a business promotion role as the noble Lord. Lord Moore of Wolvercote, reminded me and it is a role upon which we intend to build. All of these help to create British jobs.
Thirdly, the quality of life: we signed the European Union's social chapter guaranteeing the same rights for British workers as their Continental colleagues. May I remind my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe that at the Kyoto climate change talks my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister, played a leading role in securing international agreement to tough targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
We have helped fight the drugs trade in the Caribbean and signed an agreement with the Russians to work together against organised crime. We have worked with the authorities in Asia to combat child abuse. For example, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Philippines during his visit there last August and we are carrying out police training in child protection techniques in Thailand.
Our consular staff, as always, are looking after British citizens in trouble overseas and keeping in especially close touch with kidnap victims' families at home.
Fourthly: mutual respect. As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, suggested, we have indeed put human rights at the centre of our foreign policy and started important 314 human rights dialogues with individual countries, including China. We called and ran the London conference on Nazi gold, helping establish a sound body of facts. We shall donate £1 million to a new fund—a UK initiative—to help needy victims of Nazi persecution.
We are promoting free media in Bosnia and helping to bring war criminals there to justice, including the courageous action by British SFOR troops to detain indictees and transfer them to the International Tribunal in the Hague, a vital activity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, reminded us. We are working for the establishment of an international criminal court. And I am delighted to inform your Lordships that the United Kingdom has today ratified the additional protocols to the Geneva conventions, a clear signal of our commitment to fundamental humanitarian principles.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has set out a vision for Britain:It is to make this country pivotal, a leader in the world".In the Government's comprehensive spending review we are looking at all aspects of the FCO's work to ensure that we are resourced: to achieve the Prime Minister's vision; to secure the Government's international objectives; and to provide consular and commercial services to the British people.
I should like to add my voice to the many this afternoon and this evening, including the noble Lord, Lord Wright, the noble Lord, Lord Moore of Wolvercote, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who have paid tribute to the British Diplomatic Service. The men and women who staff our 221 posts in 145 countries are real individuals who rely on their creativity and sense of humour as much as on their professionalism, expertise and dedication, often in difficult and dangerous conditions.
The Government have made it clear that they want the UK to be a pivotal player in a strong world community. I assure the noble Lords, Lord Wright and Lord Thurlow, and the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, that our diplomatic resources will he deployed to meet that objective.
As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said, we want to create an FCO which is representative of a modern, diverse Britain, drawing on the talents of all sections of the community. We have therefore taken steps, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, reminded us, to help women and men combine their careers and domestic responsibilities; to encourage the recruitment of staff from minority ethnic communities; and to make it easier to employ people with disabilities in the UK and overseas. Those are all high priorities and we have made real progress.
At the same time, we are making the FCO more open and accessible. Foreign policy affects everybody, as this afternoon's debate has shown. The Government want to hear as many different ideas and points of view as possible. And we want to make it easier for the public to get information from and about the FCO.
My ministerial colleagues and I have invited journalists, academics and non-governmental organisations to several open seminars on issues from the 315 strategic defence review to human rights. We have recently published two volumes of documents on British foreign policy well before the usual 30-year time limit.
Given the cogent points which she made about our presidency, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, will be pleased to learn that on Monday my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, chairing his first meeting of EU foreign ministers, opened the EU's doors to members of the public who watched the council's open debate via a live video link. And my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe took part in an interactive debate about the UK's presidency work programme with several hundred journalists across Europe from the Canaries to the Urals.
Those are just some of the steps we are taking to open the EU's workings to greater scrutiny during our presidency and to bring more openness and transparency to the whole business of government.
The main aim of our presidency is to show Europe working for the people of Europe, to make them more prosperous, safe and free. Our presidency concerns are the concerns of the people we represent: above all—jobs, economic reform, tackling crime and protecting the environment. We want to combine economic dynamism with social justice, via a new Third Way between unbridled individualism on the one hand and old-style corporatism on the other.
We will be moving forward the EU agenda, especially as the Union prepares for EMU and for further enlargement, not forgetting the important subject of the reform of the CAP. And we want to restore the people's faith in an EU that can speak and work for them on the world stage, where the EU can and should be a major player, as so eloquently argued by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon.
As the noble Lord, Lord Gillmore of Thamesfield, reminded us, the second Asia-Europe meeting is to take place in London at the beginning of April. We hope that that will reinforce economic co-operation and take forward political dialogue and develop the people-to-people contacts between Europe and Asia which are so important.
In that context perhaps I may take up some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. Her Majesty's Government are very concerned and deeply interested in the resolution of the financial problems in Asia. We fully support the programmes of reform of the IMF and World Bank which were agreed in Asia. Current problems in Asia are indeed of global concern and require a global response. It is essential to keep the IMF at the centre of action, with the United States and Europe working together.
The UK has made a significant contribution. We are a major shareholder in the IMF. We have contributed to Korea's second line of defence. We have encouraged our commercial banks to roll over Korean debt. And we have a role in co-ordinating the European response as chairman of the G7/G8 during the course of the EU presidency.
316 I apologise if I do not manage to answer all the questions raised by noble Lords in this far-reaching debate. Where I am not able to do so, I assure the noble Lords that I shall write to them.
In his speech to open this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Wright, spoke from his very great personal experience of the Middle East.
I can assure the noble Lord that the Government do intend to use our pivotal role as EU president and as a close ally of the United States to develop EU and US efforts to secure a just and lasting peace in the region. We shall support US efforts to reinject momentum and ensure that EU views are heard in Washington.
But I disagree with the suggestion, as reported by the noble Lord, that the West is pursuing double standards in its actions towards Israel and Iraq. In both cases, we insist on respect for international legality and the implementation of Security Council resolutions.
With Israel, the negotiating process laid down at Madrid and Oslo is based on Resolutions Nos. 242, 338 and 425. Despite the difficulties facing the peace process at present, negotiations continue. Our efforts must go into sustaining those negotiations, which offer the best prospects for the parties involved.
But Iraq is different. There is no negotiation. The best interests of the countries in the region will be served by ensuring that Iraq complies with all relevant Security Council Resolutions and that UNSCOM is able to complete its job. Those are the objectives which the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, pointed out. After all, Iraq is led by an aggressive dictator who has actually used weapons of mass destruction against his neighbour and his own people.
I entirely agree with the noble Lords, Lord Wright and Lord Chalfont, that Islam, one of the world's great religions, dose not pose a threat. We enjoy excellent relations with many Islamic countries around the world and benefit greatly from the contributions British Moslems make to this country. We must remember too the contribution of the Islamic countries in the Commonwealth, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, reminded us.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, referred us to the final report, Words to Deeds, of the international task force chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. The Government are deeply committed to international peacekeeping and conflict prevention. We welcome this interesting and thoughtful analysis and are studying it carefully.
I turn now to points raised on the Middle East peace process. We believe that the current US led negotiations provide the best forum for progress. That is also the view of the Arab leaders closely connected with the peace process. So we shall continue to consult closely with the US to ensure that the EU's views are clearly understood in Washington during the course of our presidency.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, asked for a little specifity in that respect. Perhaps I may make the following points about some initiatives which we are pursuing, among 317 others. It is not an exhaustive list but it is, I hope, an illustrative one. We are seeking to facilitate agreement on the opening of the Gaza airport, on construction of a seaport and on the establishment of transit arrangements between Gaza and the West Bank. We are also seeking to monitor closely the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and their actions in East Jerusalem. At the UK's initiative, the EU has engaged Israel in a dialogue aimed at finding practical ways of reducing the damage to the Palestinian economy caused by measures which Israel believes are necessary for its security. There has been the appointment of the EU special envoy for the peace process, Mr. Moratinos, which has enabled the EU to play a more active role in promoting the resumption of negotiations. Like the noble Baronesses, Lady Nicholson and Lady Williams, I hope and believe that we can make progress. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I believe that we must keep trying to address the issues in which we believe.
The question of Iraq was also raised. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord Kennet, raised points in that respect. Let us be clear: we are not ruling out any options, including the military option. However, we are actively pursuing every possible diplomatic solution to the problem. We all hope; indeed, I am sure that those of us who do so are all praying for a diplomatic solution. It is not sensible at this stage to speculate on the possible nature of military objectives. The House cannot expect me to speculate in that way. It would be counter-productive and, I beg to suggest, it would not be in the best interests of the troops in that area.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked about contact with our EU partners over Iraq. We believe that the UN Security Council should take the lead in the diplomatic initiatives to resolve the current situation. We discussed Iraq with our EU partners who all agree that Iraq should comply with the relevant Security Council resolutions.
The noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond, Lord Healey, Lord Bethell and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, all raised questions about Iran. Current EU policy is based on the decisions reached by EU Foreign Ministers on 29th April 1997 at the General Affairs Council meeting. However, in the light of encouraging political developments in Iran, the GAC council announced a review of EU policy on 26th January 1998.
The EU and the US share a common assessment of the threats posed by Iran. As we now hold the presidency of the European Union, we are determined to work for greater transatlantic co-operation in our shared areas of concern. But, of course, there are differences between our policies and those of the US, especially over extraterritorial legislation and over the prescription. We do not believe in isolating Iran. Our long-term goal is not containment of Iran but the containment of Iran's unacceptable policies.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked about the follow-on in Bosnia after SFOR. We welcome President Clinton's announcement in December, echoed in his 318 State of the Union address last night, that the US will, in principle, provide troops to a follow-on force to the NATO led stabilisation force. I hope that that answers the specific point raised by the noble Baroness.
The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, asked specifically about the attendance of Turkey at a meeting in March. We hope the Turkish Government will decide to take part in that important meeting.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, raised questions about the United Nations. Her Majesty's Government believe that modernisation of the United Nations is essential. We support the Secretary General's reform package. We shall use the EU and the G8 presidencies to carry forward our points on these important reforms.
The noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, raised questions about the role of the Western European Union. The WEU is developing its capacity to handle European crisis management tasks and plays a key role in building the European security and defence identity within the Atlantic alliance. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, asked about our relationship with the US in that respect. We believe that our relationship with the US complements our role and our relationship with the EU and that the two are mutually supportive in that context.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised points about our friends and colleagues in the Caribbean. I have much sympathy with her worries on the question of the future of the banana regimes. The fragility of the Caribbean economies and their vulnerability to illegitimate alternative sources of income—that is, money generated from drugs or money laundering—are indeed great worries. Therefore, we are holding a special meeting in the Caribbean in three weeks' time to discuss these issues, among others, with our Commonwealth colleagues and members of CARICOM.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, also raised questions about Cuba. The point about ECGD credits is currently under consideration by the Treasury. I should remind the noble Baroness that, although no visits are planned as yet to Cuba, Ministers do not rule out such visits in the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, asked about the dependent territories review. Despite what noble Lords may read in press reports, there is no question of the Foreign Secretary announcing a major policy change on 4th February. The issue remains under active consideration but no decisions on the issues that the noble Lord raised have yet been taken as regards this important and complex issue. I should also tell the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, that my right honourable friend made it clear after the Brussels process talks on 10th December that there is no compromise on sovereignty against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. I hope that that is a sufficiently unequivocal statement for noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, raised questions about Tibet. This is area of continuing concern to many in Europe and elsewhere. We welcome the recent agreement by the Chinese to allow a delegation of EU ambassadors to visit Tibet soon. We can then make an assessment of the situation.
319 The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, raised questions about DFID. We have signed up to the internationally-accepted development goals, notably the halving of the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2015. The Development Assistance Committee has welcomed the new initiatives of Her Majesty's Government and has said that it views DFID as one of the most important, innovative and professional agencies in the developing world.
The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Bethell, raised questions about human rights. I should like to make it clear that the UK will take a leading role in our presidency at the 54th session of the Commission on Human Rights in March and April. On behalf of the EU, we will table a range of draft resolutions on thematic and country issues and we will make a range of statements about human rights issues. We will be working within the EU to prepare positions for the commission which clearly reflect the importance that we attach to human rights.
It is nine months since this new Labour Government came to power. In foreign as in domestic policy, they have been nine months in which the Government have begun to carry out their contract with the British people. We are proud of our achievements. As the noble Lord, Lord Taveme, reminded us, Her Majesty's Government are beginning their presidency of the European Union, having established a new relationship for Britain with its European partners. It is a relationship that responds to people's needs—a relationship built on co-operation, not conflict, and a relationship which looks forward to the opportunities of the 21st century, not backwards to the memories of the 19th. As the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, said, the solutions may not be obvious, but we must still strive to find them.
That, in itself, would be achievement enough. But there is much more; for example, on landmines, on NATO enlargement and on the new relationship between NATO and Russia. There is also the rebuilding of our important relationship described by the noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy, and by my noble friend Lord Desai, with our partners in the Commonwealth and the importance of putting human rights at the centre of our policy.
Throughout all this we have sought, and we shall carry on seeking, to work for the British people and to make sure that what we do is understood by them. As part of this policy we are opening up the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and making it more representative of modern Britain. This mission will continue. The next few months are a time of great opportunity for this country with our EU presidency, the Asia/Europe meeting and the G8 summit in 320 Birmingham. Solutions to the huge range of problems we have discussed this evening may not be easy to find, but it is our duty to keep searching for those solutions and to fulfil our vocation as a pivotal force for good in the world.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord Wright of Richmond
My Lords, this has been an important and wide-ranging debate. I repeat what I said at the beginning; namely, I feel honoured at having been allowed to introduce it. I am extremely grateful to the many noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. We have had excellent speeches and two quite outstanding maiden speeches.
My colleague and fellow member of Chatham House, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff—indeed I think he can claim to be the senior member of Chatham House—paid me the implied compliment of having listened to every word I said, because he said he did not agree with a word of it! Perhaps I can return the compliment and say that I agreed very much with one point that he made. I hope it is proper for a Cross Bench Peer to make this remark. I share his disappointment that only five Members of the Government Benches felt able to take part in this debate. I think we would have benefited from more contributions from that source.
I would particularly like to thank and congratulate the Minister on the comprehensive, courteous and extremely skilful way in which she has summed up this debate. I thank her for her kind remarks to me. Although it is now—heavens!—nearly eight years since I retired from the Diplomatic Service I wish to express my warm appreciation for her kind and complimentary remarks and the reassurances that the Minister has given us about the Diplomatic Service and its resources.
As I have the Floor, I hope I may quickly raise one point which has really little to do with the European presidency, but it is a subject on which I have asked several questions over the past few years without getting very satisfactory replies. I wish to thank and congratulate the Minister on a Written Answer which she has given today to the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, on the ratification of the additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions. I am glad to inform the House—if it is proper for me to do so—that the noble Baroness stated that,ratification of the two Additional Protocols of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 for the Protection of War Victims are today being deposited with the Swiss authorities in Berne".
§ I thank the noble Baroness for that.
§ I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at seven minutes before nine o'clock.