§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Baroness Pitkeathley—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
"Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, it is a privilege for me to open this important debate on the last gracious Speech of the current millennium. The Government's aim in the Queen's Speech is clear: to set out a radical and reforming programme of legislation built around enterprise and fairness and creating a modern Britain. I look forward to the debate and, in particular, to the maiden speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. I am sure all your Lordships wish them well.
I know that the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, signalled their intention of making more general comments. But from these Benches we recognise the importance of opening the debate on foreign and defence policy by addressing foreign and defence policy issues and recognising Britain's important role as an effective international partner. We shall go on developing those themes in the current year.
In addressing these issues we are building on action to secure a platform of economic stability and steady growth. Last week my right honourable friend the Chancellor set out the Government's economic programme for enterprise and fairness. Yesterday the gracious Speech laid out a parallel strategy for our legislation this year.
The legislative programme is large—28 Bills in all, with Bills for enterprise, including promoting e-commerce and better regulation; Bills for fairness, including greater protection for children and decent pensions for all; and Bills to modernise Britain aimed at improving democracy and opening up Whitehall. Not only is this a large agenda, it is also a bold agenda. It is an agenda which continues to reflect the priorities set out in the Government's manifesto— crime, welfare, transport, education and health. And as my noble friend the Leader of the House made clear yesterday, it is an agenda which the Government are determined to secure in both Houses of Parliament, whatever tactics may be deployed in an attempt to 26 frustrate it. I am sure that we will demonstrate our coherence and vision, which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, seems to doubt so much.
Enterprise, fairness and modernisation are central to the approach the Government have taken in relation to Britain's foreign and defence policy. Those policies are rooted in the Government's vision about Britain's place in the world, both today and in the future. This Government intend to deliver a foreign and security policy and international development programme which are radical, modern and forward looking.
This Government are convinced of the need to engage fully and actively as part of the international community in the debates which will shape the world in which we live during the next century. Those debates concern the future shape and role of the European Union; the need to improve Europe's security and defence capability; and the many other changes that face us in the new millennium, from tackling international crime to facing up to environmental and humanitarian problems and tackling world poverty. The debates are a crucial dimension in developing our agenda for a modern Britain built on enterprise and fairness.
We live in an interconnected and interdependent world. We cannot opt out of these discussions. To do so would be to abrogate our ability to influence events. That is not Britain's way. Our way is to contribute, to be partners, to sustain our friendships and to forge new alliances while such relationships can contribute to peace, stability, social justice and a better and more prosperous life. That is true at home and it is true in our international life too.
Our role is a vital one, as one of the largest and most populous European states; as the world's fifth largest economy and a major trading nation; as a member of the UN Security Council, the G8, NATO and the Commonwealth; and as the possessors of probably the most respected Armed Forces in the world.
Since this Government came to power we have made clear that we want to use the resources we have to benefit the people of this country, of Europe and of the world. Crucial to this is promoting international stability: everything else, our security, prosperity and human rights, flow from this. We will engage with any country where we can make progress through dialogue to meet these objectives, particularly with those countries who believe, as we do, in freedom and democracy, in the rule of law and in human rights.
Stemming from this is a determination to help those in poverty in the world. Justice demands that people in poverty be given the opportunity to improve their lives. Reducing poverty is a clear responsibility of the international community. It is important because it is right in itself but it is also vital in promoting stability. Tackling poverty is one of the major ways of preventing conflict, avoiding confrontation and reducing organised crime. These issues are issues on the streets of London among young people with drug problems and they are issues on the streets of every city in the world. So we are committed to the UN's target 27 of halving the proportion of the world's population living in abject poverty by 2015. This means helping a billion people cut of poverty within 20 years. The target is visionary and it is achievable, but only if we adopt the appropriate policies nationally and internationally.
One of this Government's major achievements has been to forge a new role for Britain in Europe. Our strategy, clear from the start, has been to make Britain a leading partner in Europe. Europe is fundamental to Britain. In 1997 the people of this country made a simple and crucial choice. They chose to elect a government who wanted the European Union to work, not one that wished that the European Union did not exist; a government who would build effective relationships with our European partners and use them to benefit Britain, not one who chose to be marginalised, shouting instructions from the sidelines. Above all, the people of Britain chose a government who would work constructively to build an open, effective and enlarged European Union.
Perhaps I may tell the House about the kind of European Union we are working for. It is one which extends stability and prosperity across our continent, ending the false divide of the cold war, and in so doing opens new markets and new investment opportunities for business; a Europe which takes effective action through closer police co-operation to combat cross-border crime and drug trafficking; and a Europe which can have a clearer voice in the world and make a more effective contribution on the foreign policy stage.
It is because Britain is committed to the success of the EU that we are also committed to reforming it. Economic reform is one of the biggest challenges facing Europe. It is vital that Europe should prosper as much in the next century as it has in this. This Government are working actively and constructively with our partners to put together an economic strategy which will best serve Europe's interests in the years to come, starting at the special Council meeting in Lisbon next March which will discuss European economic reform.
But Europe still has a long way to go. In October last year the Prime Minister called for a fresh debate on Europe's security and defence arrangements. He said that it was time for Europe to live up to its responsibilities on the international stage and time for our economic and political weight to be matched by a stronger foreign and security policy. Since then the Kosovo crisis has reaffirmed the need to make changes. While today the majority of KFOR troops are Europeans, commanded by a European NATO commander, it was American military power that provided the lion's share of our capability during the Kosovo crisis itself.
With all too few exceptions, Europe's armed forces are still structured to meet the requirements of the cold war rather than the requirements of the next century. They are static when they need to be deployable. They are hampered by their reliance on national fixed infrastructure when they need to be sustainable for long periods in theatres of operations. They are focused on single tasks when they need to be flexible.
28 So we need to pull more weight. We all need to modernise to respond to the changing world. We need to address this by reforming our institutions and by looking at the capabilities of our forces themselves. This is why the United Kingdom and France launched a joint defence initiative at the end of last year. This year we have made progress with that initiative, working together as Europeans and with our American allies to begin to pull together structures that will allow Europe to play its proper role in the world.
But none of this changes the fundamental importance of NATO. I know that noble Lords opposite will question my noble friend Lady Scotland on this issue when she replies to the debate. I know that because they always do. So let me anticipate the question from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. I assure the House that NATO is, and must remain, the cornerstone of our defence and security policy, and will be the only organisation for conducting collective defence in Europe.
I am sure that we all wish the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, well in his new role as Secretary General of NATO. He was a terrific Secretary of State and I have no doubt that his expertise, talent and commitment will be highly valued in NATO.
NATO will also be the organisation we will use for many crisis management operations, in particular those where Europeans and Americans wish to act together. But at the same time we must he able to provide an additional capability which will allow the EU ready access to NATO assets to act in support of a European crisis management operation where this is appropriate. The work which this Government are leading with those countries which share our values and enjoy our freedoms will, by improving the effectiveness of its European pillar, strengthen NATO as a part of a whole.
I am pleased to say that Britain has led the way with the Strategic Defence Review, which was announced last year and is now being successfully implemented. The SDR points the way ahead on the sort of armed forces which Europe needs to meet the challenges of the new century. It is a radical and far-reaching modernisation of the way we can manage and deliver defence in the world in which we now live.
Overshadowing everything we have done in defence and security this year was the conflict in Kosovo. This was not a conflict we sought. It was not a conflict we wanted to see take place. But it was a conflict that once engaged upon, we were determined to win. With our allies in NATO, we are working hard in Kosovo now on the restoration of the country, reconstructing its towns and villages, putting back together its businesses and its communities, helping to revive its character, its spirit and its people. That we are able to do so is a testament to the people in Kosovo. They saw their country being destroyed. They saw their homes and their communities being ripped apart. They saw their friends, relatives and loved ones being subjected to appalling atrocities and malevolent murder in the most sustained, vicious and brutal demonstration of ethnic cleansing in Europe for half a century.
29 This was not a conflict of politics or of positioning; it was not a conflict of economics or of expediency. This was the most simple and yet the most profound of conflicts. It was a choice between action and inaction; between responding to the most fundamental cry for help and standing aside from that cry. It was a choice between right and wrong.
NATO's member countries took a decision to stand together, and to stand together for Kosovo. We sustained that decision. We laid down the objectives we were determined to fulfil; we stuck to those objectives and we secured them.
Do not forget that we did so against a received wisdom—some of it expressed in this House, sometimes very passionately—that the strategy and the tactics that we had adopted not only would not succeed but could not succeed. I believe that, in spite of these views, NATO kept its collective nerve. I am proud to say, too, that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was central to the maintenance of that steadfastness.
Kosovo is a good example of foreign policy, military action and international development working well together: military action as the execution of foreign policy and securing its objectives—which were in turn helped towards fruition by deft diplomacy, led for Britain by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary—and international development to help build a post-conflict society.
We restored the peace in Kosovo. That, together with conflict prevention, is the key role we identified for our Armed Forces in the Strategic Defence Review. We have sustained that role in Bosnia, in the NATO-led peacekeeping force which has done so much to restore civil institutions, stability and prosperity to the people of a country which was only a few years ago riven by ethnic conflict, hatred, violence and brutality.
But these roles of defusing conflict are not limited to our immediate sphere of influence in Europe. Like many countries across the world, we believe that we have a responsibility to play a part in securing stability where regional conflicts place it under threat.
We have given strong support to the efforts to take forward the Middle East peace process. The Government believe that the election of Ehud Barak has created a new window of opportunity for the peace process to move forward, and we look to all parties involved in this complex and long-standing conflict to spare no effort in working for its resolution.
I was in the Middle East only last weekend, talking to our friends in Jordan. Our strong relationship with Jordan is a further example of how Britain is helping to increase the prospect of real stability in a region steeped in a tangled history of sometimes bloody conflict. In his last visit to this country earlier this year, King Hussein of Jordan asked my right honourable friend the Prime Minister what Britain could do to help increase Jordan's security. The Prime Minister responded positively and swiftly. Last weekend I saw some of the results, including the Challenger tanks that Britain has given to Jordan which I believe will help 30 sustain that country's ability to defend itself. Jordan's new king, Abdullah, has already made an impressive start, following in his father's footsteps as a force for peace, stability and moderation in the region.
Of course, Saddam Hussein continues to pose grave risks to his neighbours and to the international community, especially with his attempts to develop biological and chemical weapons in defiance of successive decisions of the United Nations Security Council and in defiance of his international obligations.
I am sure that noble Lords will recall that before the no-fly zones were established, Saddam Hussein made extensive use of helicopter gunships against the Kurdish population in the north as well as attacking Shi'a Muslims in the south. I can assure noble Lords that coalition activity is strictly limited to proportionate self-defence against carefully selected military targets. It is initiated only when coalition forces are directly threatened. Should Saddam Hussein cease his attacks on our aircraft there would be no need for us to take this defensive action. The only alternative to allowing our pilots to defend themselves properly would be to give up patrols and leave the Kurds and Shi'a Muslims exposed to Saddam's full might. This we are not prepared to do.
We have been working intensively over the past few months to reach agreement in the Security Council on a new, comprehensive way forward on Iraq. This approach would pave the way for the resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq, improve the humanitarian effort and address the issue of Kuwaiti detainees. We can take satisfaction that Britain has played a major role in looking to restore unity on Iraq in the Security Council.
But with Saddam Hussein vigilance will be our watchword. We have made it clear that our differences are not with the Iraqi people. We do not seek conflict— but neither would we shirk from it if again it proved to be necessary.
Of course, our forces are making a significant contribution to the Australian-led international force to East Timor, demonstrating once again our commitment to contribute speedily to international efforts to produce peace and stability and to supporting the United Nations. We were able to respond to this crisis quickly because the Strategic Defence Review has encouraged more joint working between the services so that they are able better to provide a quick, flexible and appropriate response to unexpected developments. By pooling our resources, by breaking down traditional barriers, by putting together in this case the right combination of naval power, infantry and air transport, all under joint command at short notice and ready to act on the far side of the world, we were able to demonstrate the validity of our modernised approach.
If I may, I shall now pay tribute to our servicemen and servicewomen. I know that it is always traditional to do so in these debates, but I do so in a particularly heartfelt way because I now have a growing knowledge of what our servicemen and servicewomen do. British 31 troops are welcome in many parts of the world in dealing with crises and disaster because they are complete professionals. They are superbly trained; their codes of conduct and their fairness in dealing with civilian populations are widely acknowledged as second to none. For example, following the return to civilian rule in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, the MoD, the DfID and the Foreign Office are actively engaged with both Governments in helping to rebuild their countries after years of terrible suffering. Our troops are playing a crucial role in that rebuilding. This is indeed joined-up government in action. It is making a real difference on the ground.
I am happy to say that our Armed Forces are now forming partnerships in providing advice and training to the armed forces of friendly states, advising on organisation—including, of course, the importance of democratic control—and helping to promote peaceful and Stable Societies.
Given the Scale and breadth of this activity, concerns are raised in many forums, including ministerial ones, about overstretch in our Armed Forces. May I make it clear that the Government fully recognise the importance of this issue. With the advice of the senior personnel across our military services, including Sir Charles Guthrie, a distinguished and forward thinking Chief of the Defence Staff, the problem is being addressed. But it is vital to understand what the problem is.
There are two components in any staffing shortages—rates of recruitment and rates of retention. On recruitment, we have made significant and impressive progress, the best in the Army in the past decade. On retention, the picture is far more complex. Many of our trained personnel leave the Armed Forces for family reasons. The Government are tackling this in a number of different ways. They include implementing guaranteed post-tour leave to allow personnel to spend much-needed time with their families. We have doubled the telephone allowance so that personnel are now able to speak to their families for up to 20 minutes a week at no cost, wherever they are in the world. We are taking special steps in the Balkans to allow, people to keep in touch by e-mail—"electronic blueys", as I understand this facility is known.
Moreover, the Government are, of course, constantly reviewing our troop deployment. For example, in Bosnia conditions have improved to the extent that this year it has been possible significantly to reduce the size of the NATO-led peacekeeping force, allowing us to reduce our troop commitment from some 4,500 to around 3,300 by the end of the year. As I was able to report to your Lordships only last week, whereas we had almost 13,000 military personnel committed to the NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Kosovo earlier this year, our deployment currently stands at under 5,000 and is due to reduce to fewer than 4,000 in the next couple of months.
Another important component of Armed Forces policies is the absolute commitment to equality and diversity and to developing a culture within the Armed 32 Forces that accepts recruits from all sections of the community. I am encouraged that the services are in the forefront of progress in the public sector, but I am also shocked by some of the isolated cases of bullying, intimidation and harassment which still occur. The only acceptable standards in the Armed Forces are the very highest, and we shall be absolutely ruthless with anyone who does not live up to those standards. Wherever it occurs, racism is as unacceptable In Her Majesty's Armed Forces as it is anywhere in the country.
Our commitment to our people applies not just to the regular forces but also to the reserves. I have heard it said—sometimes from those who should know better—that this Government do not care about the reserves. That simply is not the case. As the SDR recommended, we are in fact using them as never before. We are integrating our reserve forces more closely with their regular counterparts and we are ensuring that they are properly manned, equipped and trained and that they have proper resources. Reserves are not there simply to be counted. They are there to be involved and I am pleased to say that that is what is happening.
As the gracious Speech announced, today saw the First Reading of the Armed Forces Discipline Bill. The Bill makes some adjustments to the procedures for administering discipline in the services, bringing under judicial control decisions concerning detention pending charge and trial. It also introduces a right of appeal for those whose discipline cases have been dealt with summarily.
There will be plenty of opportunity over the coming weeks for your Lordships to scrutinise this measure and I do not propose that we should anticipate the Second Reading debate today.
The gracious Speech also mentioned our overseas territories. We shall take forward our offer of British citizenship in our relationship with those territories, for whom we have not only a particular responsibility but also a very great affection. As the former Minister responsible for those territories, I am particularly pleased about that, and I know that my successor, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will pursue that matter vigorously. Those territories and our other friends in the Caribbean are very much in our thoughts and prayers as Hurricane Lenny approaches them in the next couple of days.
Overseas, the OSCE is meeting today and. of course, Chechnya will be near the top of the agenda. I know how many of your Lordships have expressed concern about the volatile situation there. Her Majesty's Government will pursue every means available to help to bring peace to that troubled part of the world.
As the gracious Speech made clear, the values engendered in all of us of democracy, the rule of law and human rights are at the heart of our policies. Both at home and abroad, fairness and enterprise are the bedrock for peace and prosperity. The problems which the world faces are complex, diverse and numerous. From the troubled relationships of our good friends India and Pakistan, to the seemingly endemic violence 33 in the Great Lake area of Africa, from the emerging democracy in Indonesia to the international fight in South America and Asia against the drugs trade, we are indeed faced with huge challenges. But we are determined to respond in the way expected of us by the people of Britain. Our record demonstrates that. The people of this country hate oppression; they value fairness and decency and want to see Britain as a force for good in the world. I believe that we shall be better equipped to face the range of international challenges with a modern foreign defence and international development policy; a policy which sees Britain playing its full part in resolving international issues; and a policy which has at its heart the security of this country.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion for an humble Address, at the end of the Address to insert, "but regret the failure of Your Majesty's Government to reduce the burden of taxation and regulation and deplore the incoherence and the lack of vision of the measures proposed by Your Majesty's Government for the coming Session of Parliament".
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the amendment to the humble Address standing in my name on the Order Paper. I do so conscious that this has not been done for some three years. Indeed, it has not been done by our party in 50 years and more since the war. That I do so is perhaps a sign of what we may see in this Session: a more confident and a more assertive House of Lords. It is a House shorn of that mythical, massive, in-built Tory majority that we used to hear about so much. Scarcely one-third of this House is Conservative. It is a House that was the deliberate creation of the Government's flagship Bill last Session; a House that has been described as "more legitimate" by none other than the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. If we are now politically correct, even in the noble Baroness's eyes, we cannot go far wrong.
At this juncture, on behalf of the whole House, perhaps I may say what a pleasure it is to congratulate the noble Baroness on her birthday today.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, it is an important milestone and I very much hope that her family will take her out for a splendidly organised celebration this evening. We have had our differences in the past and we shall no doubt have them again in the future. However, this afternoon I declare a cessation to any hostilities and I wish her again a very happy birthday.
During the rest of this debate I look forward also to the many maiden speakers whom we shall hear. I hope that we shall hear from those speakers much again in the future.
Today I am not particularly interested in the question of the legitimacy of the new House. The fundamental reason why I move this amendment is 34 that it is high time to subject this Government's performance to far more critical scrutiny in this House. That is, and always has been, the role of your Lordships' House. We are not going to disrupt the Government's business. I scent in that a new Labour lie in the making. What we shall do is to carry out our duty of scrutinising and revising.
This Government now have a record, and that record is not a good one. The tax burden is up; red tape and regulation are up; and the number of spin doctors and policy wonks lurking in No. 10 at the taxpayer's expense is up. However, so much of what is happening is not living up to fine words. Where is the beef? Come to mention it, where is the beef? It is certainly not where it should be—on the bone, on the dining tables of Britain and France and Germany. This issue represents another bumbling, bungling foreign affairs fiasco of the kind that we have come to know so well. And we, Great Britain, are supposed to be influential in the chancelleries of Europe. When shall we have a parliamentary Statement on what has happened in relation to beef?
Back in year one of this Government—and how long ago that glad, confident morning now looks— amid the tawdry and pathetic wrangling and gerrymandering over the mayoralty of London, it all started with promises. The trouble is that wherever one looks—helping savers, reducing taxes, putting 5,000 more policemen on the beat, strengthening the family, waiting to see the doctor—the promises are still just that—just promises; words, words and more words. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, said yesterday, is it not time that the Government began to reconnect with the real world? By the way, do the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and her colleagues on the Front Bench still have that dog-eared pledge card in their pockets? I rather doubt it. I suspect that the noble Baroness is far too sensible for that. However, I bet that later on this evening they will be rifling through their desks trying to find it just in case the people at Millbank read this debate. So much for year one—the year of empty promises.
In year two, the Prime Minister declared that it was to be the year of delivery. We all remember that phrase, "the year of delivery". But why are we still waiting for the delivery? Is that why we have a half-baked Post Office Bill in the gracious Speech? I have to ask: where is the delivery? Old people in pain are waiting longer to see surgeons in our hospitals; disabled savers face penal denial of the help for which they have paid; people's savings have been despoiled and 10 million future retirements impoverished; grant-maintained schools have gone; poor children have lost assistance for the best that education can provide and grammar schools are now under threat; and small firms, the backbone of our economy, are groaning under a burden of new regulation. And now what is happening? The Government are setting up a new committee to catch the old committee that was supposed to be trying to stop all the other committees regulating too much. It is a comic opera. "There was an old woman who swallowed a fly" has nothing on it. It would be ridiculous if it was not so sad.
35 The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has just reported that small companies of up to 10 people are now paying almost £2,000 a year more because of new Labour regulation. Slightly larger firms of up to 50 employees are paying nearly £5,000 a year more on average just to fill in forms and respond to regulators. Frontier industries that we desperately need, like IT consultants, are being hounded from pillar to post. A million small traders are sitting up until midnight filling in the Government's forms. The cost is estimated to run into hundreds of millions of pounds. That comes from a Government who claim to be the friend of business and who claim to be deregulating.
It is no good claiming that when you have a Queen's Speech like this, one which will launch a mass of new regulations on utilities, on financial services, on farmers, on landowners, on transport, on motorists—you name it, they regulate it. Where old Labour controlled through nationalisation, new Labour controls through regulation. They are like reformed alcoholics: throwing out the old-fashioned whisky and reaching for a trendy new cosmopolitan cocktail. But the result is much the same—a "We know best" Government, and they love telling us about it.
Now we are told that it is time for the countryside to sit up and be thankful because there is going to be a new committee for rural affairs. That will have them setting up statues of the Prime Minister in Norfolk, Devon and Shropshire. The countryside is groaning in agony, and what does this gracious Speech give it—the right to roam, and of course a free hand for a Bill against fox-hunting. This is a government of urban dwellers for whom the countryside is a giant theme park on which to impose their values; not a place where millions of people live, and struggle in order to make a living. Who made the countryside what it is today? It was not Labour Ministers with three homes but working farmers, country dwellers and, yes, even caring landowners. They made the countryside what it is, but this Government hit them where it hurts; time after time after time. It is country people who know the value of the motor car; and thanks to this Government, they know the cost of driving, too. It has never been higher—not in any country of the world.
This gracious Speech contains as its crown jewel a transport Bill. Apparently, the Deputy Prime Minister has been fighting for this Bill for more than three years. A transport Bill will do nothing for the motorist and little for anyone else. What will the Bill do for all those older people who need a car to run to the shops and carry the shopping? It will tax them. What will it do for town centres and the small shops and markets when people take their custom elsewhere'? It will close them. The only people who will rejoice at a tax on town centre driving will be the owners of the out-of-town supercentres—Wal-Mart; Sainsbury; the big battalions that are this Prime Minister's favoured friends.
I warned yesterday about the potential size of the transport Bill. It is an incoherent Bill at the heart of an incoherent programme. What possible relation is there between the regulation of railways, buses and the 36 future of air traffic control? It is certainly not an integrated transport policy. The Deputy Prime Minister has been searching for that for three years and, like the North Pole in Winnie the Pooh's great expedition, it is yet to be found.
The gracious Speech shows that if the Government are the party of the people, it is certainly not country people. It is not the motorist. It is not savers, for whom this speech does nothing. It is not taxpayers, who now face a tax burden soaring ever higher. It is not teachers, who face new burdens in the classrooms. It is not families, who will find family life further undermined by the speech. Will this gracious Speech help any of those people? No, I think it will not. It is a speech that will give more power to the people who sit on the backs of other people. It is a Magna Carta for the regulators, the new agencies and the inspectors. It is manna to the single issue campaigners who bask in government favour. But on the great things that count—health, schools, choice and family— it is silent. It deals with fur and foxes and councils wanting to promote homosexuality to young children. But where is the concern for our old people and for those who are sick?
The Government now have an established character. It is a bossy, fussy, meddling character that is fully reflected in this incoherent and grossly overloaded gracious Speech. At home we see it in a political correctness running out of control. I detest bigotry and I loathe discrimination, but if the Government lose touch with the common sense of the British people in telling them how to live and breathe—whether about race or sexuality or about what they can think, wear or eat—they will be in danger of damaging the very objectives that they hold dear. One cannot enforce tolerance by restrictive legislation, by a mentality that sees evil and hears institutional evil where there is none. One cannot uphold liberty by banning things one does not like. The doctrine of subjective and selective liberty is one that is ultimately a threat to liberty itself. We should bear that in mind when we look at some of the provisions that we are promised in this Session of Parliament.
Among the measures at which we will want to look extremely carefully are the proposals on freedom of information. This amounts to a freedom to have the information that Ministers want you to have. We will be looking to extend the Bill and I hope that we will be joined by Peers from all sides of the House. We are also deeply worried by the restriction on the right to trial by jury. We know that the Prime Minister's mania for modernisation has run from Britain—last week to the Commonwealth, yesterday to the United Nations, and no doubt in future to the rest of the world. But are there not some ancient things worth preserving and is not the right to trial by jury one of them? I must warn the Government that they will have trouble from this House with the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Moynihan will wind up tonight on defence and foreign affairs. But having heard the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, I must ask what has happened to the ethical foreign policy. I salute the opening of the way to bring China into the 37 WTO. That will do more for the world economy and for freedom in China than a thousand homilies from the Chancellor or the Foreign Secretary. It could be one of the seminal events of our times. How ironic that it comes almost 10 years to the week of the crumbling of the Iron Curtain. We need constructive engagement with China. But did that justify the fawning and kowtowing to President Jiang Zemin on his recent visit, or the heavy-handed policing? I do not think so. All of us have in mind the unfolding tragedy in Chechnya. I also acknowledge the moving words of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on Kosovo. But what happened to the Blair doctrine? Has it been shelved because Russia is strong and Serbia was weak? Why is President Jiang Zemin as gut-warmingly good as former President Pinochet is gut-wrenchingly bad? Is it because China is strong and Chile is weak; or is it because the ethical foreign policy is so much humbug and hypocrisy? I do not mind Her Majesty's Government pursuing our national interest—
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way on the question of China. Does he not agree that one must have some concern and understanding of China's position? There are two things which worry China. First, it wants stability and it remembers the horrors of the Red Guard and the Cultural Revolution of Mao. Secondly, it wants not to fall into the chaos that Russia fell into after the revolution of Yeltsin. That is why China is not as forthcoming on freedom of information and so on as it should be.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I have no trouble in agreeing with much of what the noble Lord has said. I welcome the moves to bring China into the World Trade Organisation. My point concerned the Government's stated objective. One of the first things the Foreign Secretary did when he came to office was to declare an ethical foreign policy. Increasingly, as the months and years go by, we are seeing more muddle, more humbug and more hypocrisy. I want the Government to pursue our national interests but I do mind when they set themselves up as latter-day Palmerstons; the world's gunboat diplomats, with a fraction of the power and none of the logic. Down that route danger lies. I should like to see that admission from the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, when she winds up the debate later this evening.
This new imperialism of ideas will one day meet its nemesis. If a message is sent out that we will hit the weak and ignore the strong, then the weak will draw only one conclusion from that. They shall need to make themselves strong and doubtless our ethical Foreign Secretary will be happy to sell them the arms to do so. We would be wise to plough that furrow with a good deal more humility and caution than this Government have shown so far. We must live by international law or it will not only be us who rue the day.
We have begun the third Session of Parliament. The time for this Government to blame their predecessors is past. The time to say, "Give us more time", is over. 38 The buck now sits very firmly on the desk labelled, "Prime Minister". We have reached the watershed of the first and, I hope, the last Blair government. This incoherent, interfering, regulating bossyboots of a Queen's Speech will make far more enemies than friends. Good. However, it will also do much to worsen life in this country and little to improve it. I regret that, because the Government have missed all too many of the issues that matter. This Queen's Speech advances the pet ideas of the few from the comfort of high office and neglects the concerns of the many in ordinary homes up and down this land. That is the reason why I have sought to move the amendment. It is an important step forward for this House. On Wednesday evening when the amendment comes to a vote I urge the House to accept it. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion for an humble Address, at the end of the Address to insert "but regret the failure of Your Majesty's Government to reduce the burden of taxation and regulation and deplore the incoherence and the lack of vision of the measures proposed by Your Majesty's Government for the coming Session of Parliament".—(Lord Strathclyde.)
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, as ever, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has been robust and ebullient and was genial in his reference to the birthday of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. However, when I consider his amendment, I wonder whether on this occasion he is being pushed from behind. Despite his reference at the start of his remarks and once again at the finish, I do not believe that the noble Lord's heart is in it.
I should like to quote from an article published on 17th November in the Daily Telegraph concerning the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. It stated that the noble Lord was to make a political comeback that had been planned by William Hague. The article stated that Mr Hague,plans to use the House of Lords to launch more aggressive attacks on the Government".Party sources said that he would be,promoted to a prominent front-bench job within the next few months".The article uses a telling expression, because all noble Lords know what the phrase "unidentified sources" means in such circumstances. The article stated:Although there is no threat to Lord Strathclyde … the former Scottish Secretary is set for a major post".Finally, the same source said that it would be,unlikely that Lord Forsyth would be leader in the interim House".If I were the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I should be very worried indeed by those remarks. I believe that all noble Lords are familiar with them and know precisely what they mean.
However, we should not worry too much about the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. As I recall, his leadership as Secretary of State for Scotland resulted in no 39 Conservative MPs being returned there at the last election. Equally—if I may distribute largesse in every direction and bring some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—if in the end his time comes and we must say goodbye to the noble Lord, he should remember the fate of the noble Lord, Lord GascoyneCecil, (if we may now call him that now) whose dismissal by William Hague a year ago made him a hero in this place and elsewhere. For that reason, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has a bright future ahead of him, either carrying on here where he is much loved, or moving to the Back Benches where his fame will grow daily.
I shall say nothing further about this "Scottish civil war" or the involvement of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. Hitherto I had assumed that the noble Lord was deputy to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It may be that if the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has not got his eye on the position of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, perhaps it is the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who is for the chop.
A good deal in the gracious Speech could be opposed, and there is even more where an opinion may be reserved. We shall examine the Bills with very great care as they are published and play our usual part in their scrutiny. However, I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that this is not the time for the Conservative Party to use its temporary majority in this House—a majority it holds only because of the Weatherill amendment—before the balancing of parties takes place. The Government are committed to that course. This is not the time for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to use a Conservative majority in order to defeat the Government. I shall explain the significance of that after I have given way.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, can the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, explain to the House what majority he believes the Conservative Party has? I said in my speech that we now comprise less than a third of the House.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will understand when I say that the Government's White Paper declared that there should be rough parity between the government of the day and the Conservative Party. However, it is absolutely plain from the figures that there is no rough parity now. Should all the other parties in the House abstain, the Conservative Party could defeat the Government if it brought in all its troops.
I put to the noble Lord a serious and important point: the time will come when the government of the day—and perhaps this Government in particular—will need to reconcile themselves to the fact that if we are to have a bicameral system, the government of the day will from time to time be defeated. My noble friend Lord Russell made that point in a debate last week. However, when that moment comes for the first time, it should be effected by a natural coalition across the parties of the kind put together by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, in the closing stages of the last 40 Session. That is the point at which the Government must realise that that is in the nature of a second Chamber which is doing its job. However, I am afraid that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, if carried, will not enable the Leader of the House to educate her Cabinet colleagues to accept an occasional defeat in this House. The Cabinet would dismiss such a defeat as due entirely to the temporary predominance of Conservative Peers over Labour Peers. I say that because I believe that the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord distracts from this major constitutional issue that no doubt we shall see tested in due course in this Session.
It would be closer to the spirit of this House to seek agreement on the details of Bills by negotiation rather than confrontation. The real test will be if we can persuade the Government, as we should be able to do from time to time, to amend a Bill on the strength of opinion and the merit of argument across all the parties in your Lordships' House.
I return to a suggestion I have made in the past and which previously received absolutely no attention. I return to it not necessarily in the belief that it will receive much attention now. It is a suggestion in keeping with the roles of both Houses. I have long thought that there would be virtue in every Bill having a Second Reading in the House of Commons after it has been published. It would then approve the principle of the Bill, which is in keeping with the proper role of the elected Chamber. The Bill would then come straight here for Second Reading, Committee and Report stages. The government of the day would find it much easier to concede amendments on merit before the Bill has been through the other place. The Bill would then return to the House of Commons and the government of the day could amend it as they thought fit. So often our problem here is that Secretaries of State find it very difficult to accept amendments from this place if the Bill has already been through the other place.
I do not want to refer in detail to most of the legislative proposals in the gracious Speech, but perhaps I may make one comment about the transport Bill. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that it is a large Bill. We take that for granted. He said—these are not his words— that it is a conglomerate Bill. By that I mean that distinct and separate parts are embraced only by the umbrella of its Short Title.
There is to be the part-privatisation of air traffic control. I remember having some responsibility about 30 years ago for working out the legislative consequences of the Edwards report on civil aviation. The present role and structure of air traffic control services stem from that time. I entirely agree that there may be a very strong case for that structure being changed. A generation has passed. But I am not persuaded that the resources should not be found from the public purse— it is capital investment—rather than through the part-privatisation proposed. If it amounts to part-privatisation, we on these Benches shall 41 certainly oppose it. However, within this large conglomerate Bill, we shall support anything which will genuinely improve public transport.
Having had some responsibility in that regard some years ago, I say again that we cannot improve public transport without additional resources. That is a message for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is no other way of breaking the circle. I speak now to the Conservative Opposition Benches: we cannot improve public transport without either restricting in some way, through parking and electronic pricing, the use of private cars or ensuring that those who use cars pay the full price for doing so. There is no way out. We cannot have it all ways if we genuinely want to improve public transport.
We shall return to this issue on Monday. There is much in the White Paper of July 1998 with which we can agree. I believe that the Government have made a mistake in the tone that they have struck. They should recognise three things. First, it takes a long time to achieve change in the transport area whether in terms of the railways, roads or public transport. It is a great mistake to raise expectations of short-term results.
Secondly, no government in Whitehall can possibly determine the hundreds of thousands of decisions made every day that determine the character and quality of the transport services we enjoy. Again, the lesson is: do not claim more than you can deliver. We all use the phrase "integrated transport", but it will be integrated only because many thousands of decisions take account of the need to do so—and most of them are beyond government control.
Thirdly, it is perfectly true that many of the decisions as regards transport policy in our towns and cities in particular are made by local authorities. The Government must not expect that their policies, determined at national level and agreed by Parliament, will necessarily commend themselves to all local authorities. There will be tension and sometimes local authorities will not fulfil the requirements of the Government or their expectations.
In 1976, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, recognised the importance and complexity of transport policy and recreated the transport department. It was a wise decision, as was his choice of Secretary of State. Today the Deputy Prime Minister has too much on his plate. I send this message to the Prime Minister: it is time to recreate a transport department under a separate Cabinet Minister. There is too much to be done.
I agree that there is a large agenda in the gracious Speech. It is a rather scrappy speech with no obvious theme. We all know that there is too much legislation. We cannot expect the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, the Government Chief Whip, to do as well this year as he did last year in managing to get through government business.
We welcome plans to extend the Race Relations Act, but we shall be deeply opposed to plans to curb trial by jury. We welcome the Bill to regulate the funding of political parties, but we regret that there are 42 no proposals for fair voting in local government, which would do more than anything else to avoid corruption in local government including the institutional corruption of power.
I ask one question about the future of your Lordships' House. The White Paper referred to the Government being committed to further long-term reform of the House of Lords. That could mean that they are committed in the long term to further reform of this House. It could also mean that the Government are committed to further reform of the House of Lords for the long term. I assume it is the latter. When we reach the end of our debate next week, I hope that the Leader of the House will confirm what that means and that she will also say, as the gracious Speech does not, that once we have received the Wakeham report and debated it, she will move for the appointment of the Joint Committee of both Houses to which the Government were committed in their White Paper.
No one speaking on the gracious Speech at this stage can fail to mention Northern Ireland. I did so when John Major was Prime Minister. I expressed to him the good will of these Benches in his very difficult endeavours. We should not forget that he began the process which we very much hope is slowly and painfully coming to a conclusion. I also congratulate the Government on their perseverance and patience. They have done as well as any government could in the very difficult circumstances of Northern Ireland. I hope that they will carry with them the good will and support of the whole House.
I said yesterday that I intended to take an overall view of the gracious Speech and I explained why. I regret, therefore, that I am unable to comment, as I would otherwise wish, on defence and foreign affairs. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, that I hope that she enjoys the defence department as I did, although after a rather slow start in my case. The House looks forward to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, who handled brilliantly her brief at Question Time and earned the applause of all sides of the House.
I regret that there was not more about Europe in the Queen's Speech. If I may give a message to the Government, it is this. We should all, irrespective of party, remember the historical contribution made by Harold Macmillan to the future of our country and its place in the world. It was he above all who recognised the need to turn Britain away from its imperial past and back to Europe, where its future destiny lay. I am very sorry if the Conservative Party has now abandoned that course. I hope that in due course it will return to the wise position adopted by Harold Macmillan so many years ago. After Harold Macmillan, the Labour government equally decided that we did not have the resources to be a world policeman, and we ceased our attempt to operate east of Suez. Those are good guidelines for us to bear in mind at all times.
43 As I have said, there may not be enough about Europe in the gracious Speech. I believe that the Government are now rather lacking in momentum. However, I shall leave it to my noble friends to add their own thoughts on that theme.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, it is a great privilege to speak for the first time in this House in a debate that is focused on the wider world. I was born in Hertfordshire in the middle of the last war and was brought up during the hard and difficult years of reconstruction following the war. Because of the circumstances, many young people of my age were not able to leave their towns and villages, let alone see the seaside, and were certainly not able to travel abroad. I made my first visit overseas as a 17 year-old boy on a school trip. How very different are the circumstances of our life today. We live in an international world, one that inevitably needs to be interdependent.
One of my tasks in my present role is to chair the board of Christian Aid. In that role, I had the privilege earlier this year of visiting Mozambique. As a consequence, I was led to reflect on a number of serious matters in our international development work and in foreign affairs. I was taken to the north of the country, to the heart of the area where civil war raged bitterly for nearly 20 years. I was taken by my guides to a mountainous area where, I was told, one of the parties to the war took prisoners of war up the mountain and pushed them over the cliff at the top. So traumatised were their widows and families that for some time afterwards they did not have the courage to go to find the bodies. When they eventually arrived at the place where the bodies of their loved ones had been thrown, they found but a few bones. Animals had eaten the rest. No war crimes commission is following up the perpetrators of those deeds.
However, both parties to the war in Mozambique made peace, and that peace has stuck. Such has been the development in Mozambique in the past seven or eight years that the country qualifies under the HIPC arrangements for debt relief. We in Christian Aid want to press on the Government that they should continue down the road of lifting the burden of international debt on countries such as Mozambique. There is still much to be done.
When visiting a place such as Mozambique, one sees how dreadful war is, and what a blessing peace is in our world and our ccmmunities. Christian Aid supports a number of partners that are working in some interesting programmes. One is a "swords into ploughshares" programme. It enables people to hand in weapons and have them replaced by the tools of development. Tens of thousands of weapons have been handed in through the programme, and continue to be handed in. My mind drifted to places nearer home and the business of taking weapons out of conflict, and to what can be achieved when people are committed to pursuing peace.
On my way out of the north of the country, I was taken to visit a village school. It was a mud hut. There were no desks, and no seats for the children. The 44 school had one blackboard, one teacher, and 100 seven and eight year-old children. I asked the teacher through an interpreter what were his hopes for the next year. He said, "A second teacher". I asked what that would mean. He said it would mean 200 children in the school.
There is huge amount to be done in world development work. Agencies such as Christian Aid, working with the Churches and networks in areas such as Mozambique, and in collaboration with government here and elsewhere, have a huge amount to contribute in supporting the people in making peace and rebuilding their communities. It was a great privilege to visit that country, but I came away conscious of the enormous task that faces us in our international relationships in dealing with these matters.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, before making my contribution to the debate, it is my pleasure and privilege to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his moving and distinguished maiden speech. It was even more impressive because of its brevity. Those of us who are familiar with the writings of the right reverend Prelate—notably a publication some 20 years ago entitled, God's People in God's World,—will not be at all surprised by his approach to international problems, and especially the problems of international development and aid. It has been a valuable experience for all of us in this House to listen to his words. I hope that I may be allowed to congratulate him on behalf of the whole House and express the hope that we shall hear much more from him in the future.
Perhaps I may also, even in her absence, add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, on her birthday. She has a long way to go to catch me up, but as one who reaches a significant milestone of his own in about a week's time I wish her well, as I am sure do all those who are left in your Lordships' House.
In the main debate on the Address I shall not discuss the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I shall listen to the debate with great interest and decide what to do in that respect on Wednesday evening. Perhaps I may concentrate on one simple issue in the gracious Speech; namely, the statement that,NATO remains the foundation of Britain's defence and security".It was echoed in the emphatic words of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons.
I confess to being slightly worried about the strength and stability of that foundation. Two aspects of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, concern me. One is the new strategic concept upon which NATO operates or appears to operate; the other is the emergence in a rather precipitate way of the "European security and defence identity".
I turn first to the strategic doctrine. It is based on a document issued by NATO after the Washington summit in April. It suggests that NATO is no longer, 45 as it was founded to be, a purely defensive military alliance. I quote the strategic concept which, as written, states:The Alliance not only ensures the defence of its members but contributes to peace and stability".It goes on to identify the new threats, some of them not entirely military. I quote:[The] appearance of complex new risks including oppression, ethnic conflict, economic distress, collapse of political order".All those are now taken to be threats to NATO to which NATO must react. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, elaborated on that in her speech.
The new—tome—concept of the role of the military alliance has had some notable consequences, not least the apparent erosion in our international affairs of the concept of the sovereign nation state. It used to be the essential building block of the international structure. I make no value judgments about it, but they are facts. In the immediate past NATO has conducted invasive, military operations against a number of sovereign nation states: for example, Iraq, Serbia, Indonesia. Except in the case of Iraq, it was not that these posed any threat to the security of this country or that of its allies but because the international community disapproved of the internal arrangements of those sovereign nation states; their approach to the problems of human rights, ethnic divisions and separatist movements.
This new doctrine has been called, in the United States, the humanitarian war. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, today as the imperialism of ideas. The doctrine may be admirable and desirable in the concept of what has come to be known as the "ethical foreign policy". But we must pause for a moment and ask ourselves: is this really the proper function of a military alliance? Are our Armed Forces really to be used as peacekeepers, providers of humanitarian aid and guardians of global human rights?
It is possible to hold that concept of what a military alliance is about. But if we do hold it, there are certain inevitable consequences which must be faced. First, there is a comparatively minor one, the impact on the organisation and training of our armed forces. That kind of concept involves the use of armed forces in small packets, small groups, as a kind of international gendarmerie rather than as military units and formations.
So in a few years' time, if this goes on, our Armed Forces will have no experience whatever of operating or training as formations in what used to be called conventional warfare. It does not do to say that they will never have to do so again. We do not know. I merely ask the Government to reconsider. For example, when was the last time the United Kingdom Armed Forces trained at brigade or divisional level? I think the Government would find that quite a difficult question to answer. However, I have no doubt that the officials in the Box will discover it before the time arrives for the reply.
46 A more pressing and profound concern is this. As recently as last weekend, the Secretary of State for Defence admitted that the problem of overstretch was real. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, admitted as much in her speech today. The Secretary of State admitted that it was causing serious problems. Of course it is, simply because, among other things, we are now asking the officers and men of our Navy, Army and Air Force to put their lives at risk, put themselves in harm's way, not to defend our country or its security, or that of our allies, but to engage in operations which are sometimes, I must say, of dubious legal justification and even more dubious moral justification, allegedly to protect human rights or to deliver humanitarian aid. As again happened in the House today, often we seem to take a pride not only in taking part but also in claiming a leading role in all that, being the leaders.
That may be how the Government see the future role of our Armed Forces and those of NATO. As has been said, whatever role our Armed Forces are given, they will carry it out with total dedication and commitment. Of that there is no doubt whatever. But if we are to accept this role for our Armed Forces— the role of global peacekeeping and participation in crisis conflicts all over the world—I say with as much emphasis as I can muster that we must be prepared to provide enough resources to meet the commitments. If we are to do all that, it seems to me we shall have to increase the size of our defence budget and restore some of the extensive cuts which have been made in the Armed Forces and their equipment. If we are not prepared to do that, there is a simple corollary. We cannot accept the multifarious commitments which are not the role of a defensive military alliance.
We now have smaller armed forces than France, Germany, Italy and Turkey. We spend less, as a proportion of our gross national product, on defence than France, Greece and Turkey. Our reserve forces are smaller than those of Spain and Turkey. There is nothing intrinsically wrong or shameful about that, but I submit that we cannot behave like a global power with the military resources of a minor European nation state. The Secretary of State for Defence, speaking of overstretch—the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, repeated it today—said that he would be addressing the problem. There are only two ways of addressing it. Any of the Government's military advisers will readily tell them, "You must increase the resources or reduce the commitments".
The second concern with which I shall deal more briefly is the implications of what is known as the European security and defence identity. Noble Lords will know that the seeds for it were sown at Maastricht in 1992. It was in Berlin and Brussels in 1996 that the foreign and defence ministers formulated and established the European security and defence identity. It was endorsed again in Amsterdam the following year.
We must remember that at Maastricht, when the seed was sown, Chancellor Kohl, the German Chancellor, said that the treaty was a new stage which,within a few years will lead to a United States of Europe".47 That was what the German Chancellor said about the Maastricht Treaty and the emergence of a common defence and security policy. We must regard this concept of the ESDI, the European security and defence identity, in that context. I have argued it before and I shall not spend time elaborating it now, but it can be argued that you cannot have common defence and security policies without single defence and foreign ministries. That would mean the end of NATO in its present form and the weakening of our links with the United States. My suspicions about the way we are going have been heightened by the declaration at St Mato last year when the British and French Prime Ministers agreed to go even further than the 1996 concept of the ESDI.
I know we shall be told that NATO has unanimously endorsed the strategic concept—it is not alone—and that it gives unanimous support to the ESDI. But because other people think that it might be a good idea for them, it is not necessarily a good idea for us.
These are not the imaginative ravings of a fanatic. I think everyone will agree that Henry Kissinger is a leading authority on defence and strategic matters. When he was in London recently, he told me that he thought that NATO was now thoroughly confused about its role. He lamented the abrupt abandonment of the concept of national sovereignty and expressed the fear, quite openly, that NATO and Europe were, by their actions and words, threatening to divorce themselves from the United States. These are real concerns expressed by people within NATO and all over the civilised world who know what they are talking about.
I conclude by asking the Government—perhaps in the light of earlier remarks I should say "joined-up Government"—to reassure the House on three specific points. First, are they in full agreement with that aspect of the new NATO strategic concept which gives the NATO alliance commitments beyond that of a defensive military organisation? Do the Government believe that it is one of the functions of NATO to conduct humanitarian wars, or the imperialism of ideas? Secondly, have the Government taken fully into account the implications which may lie hidden behind the superficial attractions of a European defence identity? Thirdly and most important of all, are the Government considering urgently how to match our military commitments with our defence resources? I say "most import ant" because if that is not done soon our Armed Forces, and therefore our national security, may suffer irreparable harm.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, on this occasion because I am in agreement with much of what he said. I have not always found myself in such a happy position. In particular, I echo his congratulations to my noble friend Lady Symons 48 upon her birthday. She will survive many more birthdays looking as charming and being as capable as she is now.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way so that I may advise him, in the greatest friendship, that he has the wrong Baroness. Today is the birthday of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)
My Lords, it is my birthday and my noble friend's speech.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, in that case I am doubly delighted. My admiration for the Leader of the House is already well known and does not need to be repeated tonight. We are fortunate to possess two Front Bench speakers who are able to combine feminine charm with a degree of conviction and ability that few outside this House enjoy. I also convey my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate who spoke of his personal experience. Whatever happens to this House following reform, we shall always want Benches of this kind. I am aware that the right reverend Prelates are examining their own position and perhaps drawing up proposals for reform. If so, in general the House will favour the maintenance of a Chamber that has respect for the particular reasons that they come here which are different from those that apply to most of us.
The debate takes place on a gracious Speech that deliberately ignores the basic position of the world as it is today. I sought to raise that matter at Question Time on Wednesday of last week. Instead of repeating what I said, perhaps I may quote the words of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. The subject was the existence of massive reasons for fear. The following point has not been mentioned in the debate. In the past few years mankind has, for the first time, been in a position where it can destroy itself and civilisation. This is a new position. Can we continue to ignore the possibility that we may exercise that new power? If, as I venture to suggest, we are on the way to the end of our civilisation, much of the debate today will have the relevance of the saloon bar chat in the "Titanic" immediately before it hit the iceberg. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, asked my noble friend Lady Scotland whether she agreed that it was,high time that one or more of those who aspire to be described as 'leaders of the world' should depart from their stupefying silence on the question of nuclear warheads, 40,000 of which are stockpiled around the world and threaten not merely the peace of the world but the existence of the planet".—[Official Report, 10/11/99; col. 1344.]That is the context in which this debate takes place. Neither in the gracious Speech nor in the debate so far has anyone ventured to touch on the fact that we are in that position. For that reason, I am particularly glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, echo my belief that NATO is wrong to try to take over the role of the United Nations and decide what international law is because that is the general position of NATO. We must ensure that we do not seek to take away that responsibility from the United Nations and place it 49 upon an organisation which is basically within the power of the developed world and which, for that reason, ignores the interests of the third world.
Another question on which the Government have done an amount of work is whether we are in peril from an accidental occurrence as a result of the millennium bug. Again, why do we ignore the possibility of such a nuclear accident? As the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has agreed, it could be completely disastrous. I am not sure about destroying the planet. However, general opinion is that such a conflagration of nuclear and other weapons could at least threaten the existence of life on earth and certainly that of humanity. In those circumstances, it seems wrong that we ignore the situation and refuse to attempt to deal with it. That is not the only manifestation of that refusal.
This is the third or fourth year of the Geneva disarmament discussions. This year there has been no effective discussion on the subject. Instead there has been continual discussion on matters of procedure: how shall the nations attack their work? One cannot avoid the conclusion that it is a deliberate means of refusing to tackle the real problem by the nations involving themselves in procedural matters about which they can talk forever.
In replying to the Question, my noble friend said that we have done our best to break through this barrier and discuss the question of international peace. I believe that we could do so if our heart were in it, and we were prepared to consider nuclear disarmament as an absolute necessity. But at present we still involve ourselves and the other nations in the procedural issue which prevents us discussing the specific problem.
Although I have been critical of some of the things my Government have done, I would not wish anyone to think that I believe that the Government have done no good. Most of the programme in the gracious Speech involves good policies and important proposals which need to be carried out. However, they need to be carried out with due consciousness of our situation. That is where the Opposition amendment breaks down totally. If I am critical in any way of the Queen's Speech, I am far more critical of the Opposition's amendment to it. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition will consider whether he puts the matter to the vote. I hope that he will not do so. If he does so, I hope that noble Lords, not only on this side of the House, will tell him clearly that we do not need such an amendment at the conclusion of a debate of this kind.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may ask him this question, with all the respect that I have for his views on disarmament. Are we not in a wonderful position with NATO, and in particular with the power of the nuclear weapons of the United States underwriting decisions of the United Nations? Are we not lucky that we have 50 NATO with its nuclear weapons, and the United States in particular, supporting the decisions of the United Nations?
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, if that is what the noble Duke believes, he is entitled to do so. But he would not feel that way if he were a member of almost any other nation in the world. The noble Duke would speak in vain if he sought to convince most of the peoples of the world that, because the United States is powerful and Europe is beginning to say, "We, too, want to be equally powerful", that resolves any dispute, or is a cause for gladness.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Watson of Richmond
My Lords, this is the first occasion on which I have the honour to address your Lordships' House. I wish to do so briefly on the theme of Europe, the Government's policy on Europe, on which there are two paragraphs in the gracious Speech, and on our possible membership of economic and monetary union to which there is no reference whatever.
I refer to the "honour" of addressing your Lordships' House because it is such. I am acutely aware of the privilege, the opportunity and the obligation of sitting in this House, as must any new Member who has been here during recent months. I have to share with your Lordships a sense sometimes of confusion. We heard in the debate yesterday about the reality of the world outside. The reality of the world outside slightly startled me because I have received endless commiserations on joining a House about to be abolished; it is clearly a source of misunderstanding. And there is even the occasional confusion inside the House. I was congratulated by a noble Member of this House who said most courteously that he was sorry that he could not remember my name but he was sure that I had been here for many years. I had been here for three days.
I make my maiden speech on Europe with some trepidation, first, because there is much wisdom and experience in this House on the subject. I have been much influenced in my views on Europe by people within this House—for example, the late Lord Rippon whose sharp common sense about our essential self-interest in the process of European integration was valued. I refer also to the views and experience of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, under whom I served in the European Commission for a number of years and whose presidency there exemplified British leadership in Europe at its very best. I am also influenced by those with whom I have some disagreement and difference of views but whose opinions I much respect— for example, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh.
However, there is a second reason for some trepidation on my part. I know it is a tradition of your Lordships' House that even if a maiden speech plays with some controversy, it should not be partisan. I shall respect that tradition, and necessarily so for Europe transcends party divisions. What I wish to do 51 is share briefly with your Lordships a few aspects of my experience in this area which, it is hoped, may illuminate some aspects of the subject.
My experience of the European Union, and this country's involvement in it, has been as a broadcaster; during the presidency of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, to which I referred, as a European Commission official; and now, as European chairman of an international communications business and a vice-chairman of the European Movement. Looking back over some 30 years, I am struck by the extent to which British attitudes have so often stemmed perhaps from a feeling that our language and our political culture are not somehow part of the process of European integration; that we are out-numbered; that the problem is not so much lack of economic convergence as the absence of political and cultural convergence; and that we are in a process where we are bound to lose or at least not win. All that can lead to a mixture of timidity and belligerence on our part. That is not an edifying combination and certainly not an effective one.
In practice, I have found that self-imposed sense of alienation and its consequences to be misguided. Before his veto of our first attempt to join the European Community, President de Gaulle said:Even with the best will in the world on your part" —meaning our part—and no matter what promises you make—you are going to change things in our little club—something comfortable is going to be changed and I would prefer not to have it changed".In practice, de Gaulle's premonitions of change were well justified. Indeed, many of the changes that we have wrought in the EU have changed things much for the better. Perhaps I may give two examples which I believe are linked.
First, we in the United Kingdom have greatly strengthened the European Union's commitment to an open trading system with the rest of the world. Today, the EU is the world's biggest exporter and second biggest importer. The American union and the European Union have approximately the same share of world trade. It is interesting that inside the EU, the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany are the biggest importers and exporters to the rest of the world. The UK has consistently strengthened the free trade and trade liberalisation policies of the EU and will no doubt do so again in the forthcoming WTO round.
Secondly— and I feel strongly about this—there has been an astonishing and heartening growth in the use of the English language within the EU institutions and between those institutions and the rest of the world; and with the language comes the political culture from which it springs. When I went to work in the European Commission in 1976, I was solemnly told that if I originated a document in English it would take one week to circulate within the Commission. However, were I to originate it in French it would go round in 24 hours. Today, English is the language in which most European Commission documents are originated: 43 per cent in 52 English, 40 per cent in French. English is indeed the dominant language of communication between the institutions and the rest of the world.
That is no cause for complacency. Our effectiveness and enjoyment of the global economy and of the European Union needs much more multilingualism within the United Kingdom. But it would he wrong to underestimate the advantages which our language gives us in the construction of Europe. For some years I have been involved in the English Speaking Union; indeed, I shall soon succeed the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, as its chairman. Since 1989 and the fall of the wall in Berlin, the English Speaking Union has opened 10 thriving branches in eastern and central Europe, with five new branches to be opened in the next few years. The driver, the motor, behind that expansion is that in eastern and central Europe English is seen as a language uniquely essential in a world and a European Union characterised by democracy, free enterprise and the exploding potential of electronic commerce and information technology.
Therefore, I believe that we should approach our role in Europe with great confidence. This is what our United States and Commonwealth friends wish us to do. History has been accelerating and this is a time to touch the accelerator, not the brake. Our influence can rapidly and beneficially grow; but to be exercised, influence requires opportunity. The hard fact is that we cannot shape what we do not join. Surely, the lesson of our uneasy, initially so long delayed, often timid and subsequently belligerent participation in European integration is that the race really does go to the bold and to the committed.
There is much concern in this House and elsewhere about ultimate destinations and final goals. The only goals we really need to fear in the European process are own goals. To commit ourselves outside economic and monetary union indefinitely or for two Parliaments would be a deadly own goal in our relationship with Europe. I hope that it will not happen; that future gracious Speeches will spend more than two paragraphs on our role in Europe, and that those paragraphs will be both determined and bold.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, it is my duty and pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, on his excellent maiden speech. In a most genial way, he steered through highly controversial areas but in doing so sounded most objective. That is a great skill. I thought his speech a pleasant contrast with the slightly waspish tone of the first six minutes of the speech from his Front Bench. The noble Lord will forgive me for the adjective.
I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. He is an old friend. I greatly admire what he said and what he does for Christian Aid. He understands, perhaps as some theoreticians and great philosophers do not, that development begins with people and not with economic models, gigantic aid budgets, hydro-electric dams and so forth. The process comes out of the history and culture of the 53 country. He understands that and I was delighted to hear the voice of truth and reason from someone who comes from the city of Guildford where I spent most of my life and which I had the privilege of representing in the other place for 31 years.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who opened the debate, on her new, exciting job. I must apologise to her and to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, for a discourtesy, but for inescapable personal reasons I must leave before the end of the debate. I hope that they will forgive me.
I wish to concentrate on two phrases in the gracious Speech relating to international affairs. The first talks of seeking,to modernise the country and its institutions",the second of taking,a leading role with our partners to shape the future development of the European Union".I hope that they are interconnected—"joined up" is the trendy phrase—but I am a little uneasy about whether they are. Some of us may not like it, but we are all agreed that a radical modernisation of our institutions is being pressed upon us by colossal developments in the global order. The entire capitalist system is undergoing fundamental, revolutionary restructuring. Certain principles endure, but the world is changing very fast. Business, retailing and social relationships have been transformed by the Internet, cyberspace and so forth. In fact, that is not for tomorrow, it is yesterday.
It is dawning on the policymakers here and in other countries that our political structures must adapt to the new conditions. If power is being redistributed into the networks of existence and relationships, those who seek to govern must do so differently in the future. Let us hope that further reform of your Lordships' House will be part of the improvement and of the adjustment to new conditions. None of that is for debate today. Although we may have bitter feelings about the ways in which we should respond, most people concede that such change is taking place whether we like it or not.
I want to put a single, simple point. Is it not possible that the enormous pressures, which will change the lives of all of us, apply also to the European Union? The European Union is the child of the European Economic Community. It is a magnificent post-war structure. It was created for reasons some of which no longer exist: to keep western Europe from the communists; to stop the French and Germans killing each other; and so on. Those were admirable aims, many of which have faded. But it was created before anyone, except perhaps a few Pentagon officials, had ever heard of the Internet. It was created almost before the computer became a manageable part of life, and it was created much in the model of the old nation state writ large. The Monnet ideas of a Commission, of a Council of Ministers, and of nation states merging into a larger entity were magnificent, but they belong to an age of hierarchy and not to the age of the network into which we have now wandered.
54 Therefore, I ask those who come down heavily on the allegedly dithering British for not rushing into every European project whether it is right that we should embrace every dot and comma of the proposals in present or future treaties concerning those projects and whether those of us who hesitate over some European arrangements that belong to yesterday rather than tomorrow are really so sceptical and dumb and to be dismissed as anti-European.
I listened the other day to a senior politician, who, I confess, is a member of my own party, telling us that we were dithering; that the British were missing the bus again; that the great European project was the only game in town, and so on; and that we should rush ahead and embrace it. However, when one sees some of the patterns and attitudes to which the European Union adheres, and which are pressed upon us, and compares them with the extraordinary vigorous and vibrant nature of this island and its economy, which is currently showing that it can adjust to the network age, one wonders whether we do not have a few more thoughts to air and to argue with our European colleagues before we rush in and accept their version of the project.
There are other views which we should have as a nation—indeed, which we are entitled to have as a nation—to press upon the architects of tomorrow's Europe. That sounds high-flown and easy, but it is not. We know that the pressures on our own lives, on the European Union and indeed on every nation state are extremely dangerous and difficult. All parts of our economic life are being globalised into a system of unimaginable complexity. Economics is pulling the world together; politics are pulling it apart. All kinds of new searches for identity are leading to intense attitudes towards local cultures and tribalism in its most extreme form. That is very dangerous.
The picture is of the economics of the world dragging us together and the politics of the world fragmenting and atomising us. Those are extraordinarily dangerous tendencies. If we simply buy the "bigger is better" argument and say that as soon as we all enter the European system all will be well, we are missing out the fact that all may not be at all well in a network age and that we may well have given birth to some extremely dangerous atomising and fragmenting tendencies which undermine the coherence and cohesion of our societies.
The choice was expressed rather well the other day by the leader of the Conservative Party at the CBI. He contrasted the "mammoth" way of thinking with the more agile and fleet-of-foot way required in the network age. He asked what had happened to the mammoth that was recently dug up from the ice: why did it die? Are we not to understand that size can be disastrously weakening and undermine the kind of agility needed? The truth is that just as we on this island cannot escape the fantastic pressures of competition and transparency coming from the global system, nor is the European Union able to do so. Our partners in the Union cannot escape the forces of competition which will be doubly strong in every area.
55 The European Central Bank, a new institution, is trying to campaign in Brussels against the introduction of electronic money for a good reason. Electronic money will undermine the power of central banks to operate on the reserves of credit-creating banks. That, in turn, will undermine the precise control of the monetary system that central bankers like to impose. We were talking of that matter recently in your Lordships' House. The mood in the Brussels Commission is to place so many restrictions on e-commerce, on which we are about to legislate in this House and in the other place, that the liability of the seller on the Internet would be the liability of the law which operated in the consumer's country. As most e-commerce trade takes place across borders, those restrictions would kill e-commerce in Europe at birth.
Those are classic and unsurprising Luddite reactions to vast new technologies which will undermine the old hierarchical structures both of this country and of the rest of the European Union. Before we rush into enthusiastic endorsement of the European project, convinced that everything suggested to us is right and that our own doubts are wrong, we should pause and ask what structural institution will emerge from the dust that is neither so big as to be unaccountable and mammoth-like nor so small that it begins to break everything up. The answer must be the one institution that we know on a human scale which we can understand; that is, the nation state.
The more we move into the globalised age, the more sensible we should be to reconstruct and understand the limits as well as the strengths of the nation state: what it can no longer do in the economic realm where the individual is empowered; and what it can do in the realm of upholding the cohesion arid civic order of society. That is my plea: let us be good Europeans, but let us understand that not everything in the European Union is right, and not everything that the British suggest is wrong.
Furthermore, let us in this House in the future, both in the transitional House and in the House to come, do as my noble friend the leader of my party rightly says. We must scrutinise, revise and possibly add the tonic of a touch of accuracy to the present Government's proposals. Accuracy does not seem to be their terribly strong point. As my noble friend's amendment suggests, let us also add some vision. Let us not only revise and scrutinise; let us put forward new ideas and show that there are new gateways to open and new vistas of how governments should work in a free society. Above all, let us show what being a good European really means, which is not quite what is sometimes implied by the more enthusiastic acceptors of everything from Brussels, Paris arid Berlin, which may have many good motives behind it but is not always correct or perceptive.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Bramall
My Lords, I warmly endorse support for a changing NATO and look forward to studying in detail the new disciplinary arrangements for the 56 Armed Forces mentioned in the gracious Speech. There was not a great deal else in the Speech about defence. Perhaps it was thought that no news was good news. However, as the noble Baroness has been kind enough to devote quite a lot of her speech to defence, I shall concentrate on that subject.
During the past decade, the Armed Forces have gone through a difficult and exacting time. There have been three major reviews. Each has had ongoing supplementary cutbacks in its wake, and there have been three—if not four—quite major campaigns, one of which certainly was major. Many of the campaigns were of considerable political complexity. I am sure all noble Lords will agree that the Armed Forces have come through all this with flying colours, carrying out their duties in an exemplary and selfless manner in the Gulf, in Bosnia and in Kosovo, where they stood out and shone as something of a redeeming feature in an overall campaign which, for a number of reasons—some of which have been mentioned this evening—future historians may judge rather harshly. They are now doing so in East Timor. The whole country owes them a deep debt of gratitude.
They now need and deserve a degree of cosseting, so lacking in the past 10 years, if their confidence and commitment are to be maintained and if full manning is ever to be achieved. Of the various reviews, the last, the Strategic Defence Review initiated by this Government, was in my opinion the best conceived and, generally speaking, the best executed. However, I believe—and I am sure that many noble Lords will agree—that just at a time when the Reserves are badly needed to do more, the size and structure of the Territorial Army have, for paltry savings, been messed about with and truncated more than was desirable or necessary. The noble Baroness will no doubt imply that I should know better, but that is my view.
I strongly believe that the Strategic Defence Review was on the right lines. It established, as recommended by the Chiefs of Staff, important principles about the scale and sophistication of conflict for which our forces must be organised, trained and equipped. It also established the extent and duration of any intervention or commitment that the country is likely to undertake and for which the Ministry of Defence must be prepared and for which it must budget. If our foreign policy initiatives can be kept, as far as possible, within those constraints, there would be a chance of matching the resources to the military commitment, which has not been achieved for some considerable time.
Historical experience indicates that for a variety of reasons governments of whatever political persuasion—this Government are manifestly no different from any other in that respect—tend to involve themselves as major players in the international scene. They become involved in totally unexpected and unplanned commitments without necessarily being prepared to provide the extra resources that the Armed Forces require to carry them out properly and afterwards to recover from them.
In the Falklands and the Gulf all untoward and extra operational costs were accommodated outside the defence Vote. However, recently, when answering 57 a Starred Question, the Minister was a little vague as to how much of the £100 million extra costs for Kosovo—they were at least £100 million—and extra costs for East Timor, both of which were operations with a high political and humanitarian content, are to be borne outside the defence Vote.
Certainly the Strategic Defence Review has given the Armed Forces badly needed guidance for their long-term planning, which hitherto had been lacking. However, all those good intentions are in danger of being eroded and being made more difficult. Indeed, they have already been made more difficult by the Treasury's Parthian shot—I realise the noble Lord is sitting close to me—when it did not receive all it hoped for from the Strategic Defence Review.
Leaving aside any extra operational costs, the defence Vote is inexorably, arbitrarily and inflexibly being cut by 3 per cent compound interest each year. Throughout the 1980s, when the stretch was not as great as it is now, the Vote increased by 3 per cent in real terms from a much higher base line.
That is being presented as an easily absorbable efficiency saving. In the aftermath of a myriad of efficiency-saving exercises over the past 15 years in every conceivable area, and the increasing number of private finance initiatives which limit by contract the areas that can be cut back, if the Ministry of Defence is not to overspend, every budget holder, in practice, is forced by financial officers to find savings of that magnitude. That is having an effect on many elements of the defence budget, such as personnel, new equipment, accommodation and particularly on training, as my noble friend Lord Chalfont has mentioned. Formation training hardly ever happens now.
That is having a debilitating effect at a time when, as the noble Baroness admitted candidly, her Ministry is struggling desperately to correct and cure the services' manifest ills of undermanning (based more on poor retention than recruiting and overstretch)—a vicious circle, with one matter leading back to the other—and trying to enhance the confidence and commitment of those who serve.
Such a situation cries out for stability, which is the key by which to engender contentment and commitment.
The Army also needs more sustainable units, available for the arms plot and emergency duties. To help to achieve that there is a need to have fewer units exclusively earmarked for duty in Northern Ireland, where I believe the total is now 17,000. Drawing on my fairly considerable experience during the difficult 1970s and early 1980s, I believe that could and should be achieved now, however the peace process—it appears to be much more encouraging—develops.
Thoughts also turn to the Gurkhas, who have proudly led the British Army into both Kosovo and East Timor. They have served almost everywhere and have no difficulty in recruiting and retaining for 15 years or more. Another Gurkha battalion, or even battalion headquarters to command, if necessary, the 58 independent companies, would make an amazing difference to the arms plot and the emergency tour intervals, which are now so wildly unsatisfactory. I hope we can be assured that there will be no more talk of starting to run down those invaluable extra companies until after 2005 when it will be known whether planned manning levels in the British Army can be achieved.
Finally, the other day I read in the newspapers of a European army. We must be clear what we are talking about. Of course, Europe needs to get its defence act together, as I have long advocated. We need to have the machinery within a pillar of NATO so that we can, if necessary, command and control our own national forces without necessarily having to rely on the United States, although I hope that the continuation of the NATO framework will always ensure that the United States remains deeply concerned about Europe.
With Europe in its present stage of political development, we have no need of a European force, separately recruited, uniformed and motivated like a glorified European foreign legion. That would be neither efficient nor satisfactorily democratically controlled. I believe it is more important to try to strengthen and improve the United Nations' planning, reconnaissance and limited operational control and machinery, which at the moment leaves much to be desired.
The Armed Forces are one of the finest jewels in the crown. I know of no national institution which has retained its reputation or which commands the respect and admiration of the public as well as the Armed Forces have. They have proved their worth and they have done their duty over and over again in the past 30 years. The Government recognise that and have set them on a sound path for the future. However, I hope that they do not allow endless debilitating cheese-paring and cost-cutting upheavals to reduce that efficiency and commitment. That would not be in the national interest: nor, in the light of what we owe the Armed Forces, would it be at all fair.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, it is tempting to speak on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I could remind him of the burden of taxation during the time of the Conservative government—to say nothing about the burden of debt to income ratio. I could tell him something about the coherence, or lack thereof, of the entire economic policy of the previous government and how they lost control of the budget deficit. However, now is not the time to go into that. I am sure that on other occasions my noble friends will deal with that matter as it deserves to be dealt with.
I heartily endorse the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, that the structure of business in this House should be reformed so that this House could act as a committee to the other place. The other place could deal only with Second Readings of Bills and in this House we could deal with the substantial amendments and debate.
59 The three subjects before us today are closely interlinked. Indeed the interconnection of defence and international development is greater today than it has been for a long time. One of the reasons is, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said in his excellent speech, that, although globalisation has integrated the world, it has at the same time politically fragmented it. The new wars that we are witnessing and have witnessed during the 1990s have not been the old conventional wars between two nation states—the Gulf War was an exception. By and large, states have waged war against their own citizens; there are civil wars, or wars waged by states which can hardly be called proper nation states.
In that context, war becomes a major reason for under-development and poverty. It is a major reason for famine and starvation. We have to look at our responsibility as a seller of armaments to countries—I do not think we should shirk that responsibility—and at our responsibility to build a structure of global governance, which will ensure that in the next century these wars occur less frequently and perhaps not at all. If they do occur, we must ensure that quick and effective international police action is taken by the United Nations. Lastly, whatever adverse consequences there are in terms of starvation and suffering must be quickly addressed.
In that context, it is important that we should recommit ourselves to the interrupted programme of reform of the United Nations. It was a great pity that the 50th anniversary was missed as an opportunity for a thorough-going reform of the United Nations. Today we are looking forward to the millennial meeting that the Secretary-General will have with the heads of state next year. We have an opportunity to look again seriously at the reform of the United Nations. Certain principles are at stake here which ought to be examined.
First, there ought to be a greater consistency in the way in which the United Nations deals with international crises. I very much agree with my noble friend the Minister that what we did in Kosovo was a noble thing. This is the way of the future. Humanitarian intervention will have to be undertaken by the international community on a regular basis. Of course it would have been better if the United Nations had been fully engaged in that process from the beginning, but the structure of decision-making in the Security Council is such that the United Nations cannot always accomplish speedy resolutions. There have been inconsistencies. We have had failures, and we barely succeeded in Bosnia and East Timor. It is very important that we re-examine the decision-making structures in the United Nations Security Council to see how we can ensure speedy and effective action.
In that respect, I am very worried about the new isolationism of the United States Congress, in terms of the attitude it is taking in relation to paying what it owes to the United Nations and about its rather careless attitude towards the CTBT. If we are to live in a uni-polar world and the United States is to be the one major power responsible, directly or indirectly, for 60 supporting international action, then its attitude to these matters has to be very carefully examined. Anything that we can do to persuade our allies across the Atlantic that they should be more internationalist must be done. I do not think we can have a uni-polar world where joint action through the United Nations is needed if the United States is playing a rather erratic role and acting more or less how it likes, and neglecting to pay its dues.
One way in which we ought to re-examine United Nations reform is, first, to see whether the Security Council structure can be changed. Dare I mention in this connection qualified majority voting? My second point—and here I am following what the Inter-Parliamentary Union has put forward—is that we ought to examine whether the United Nations needs a means of consulting the peoples of the world. The United Nations Charter mentions the people of the world, but that has come to mean the governments of the world, who meet in the General Assembly. The people of the world ought to be consulted, either through the Inter-Parliamentary Union or through some other arrangements whereby we can have a swathe of opinion across the world, through NGOs, national parliaments or by other means. We should find out what the people think because what the people think is often not what their governments think. Many of the recent wars around the world have been caused because the people of the countries involved are often in conflict with their own governments. I think that is an urgent task.
There is another urgent matter, which was also mentioned by my noble friend; it concerns human rights. We cannot talk about economic development and poverty alleviation without adding the human rights component. No government can give me good healthcare and good living. I have to be able to ask for those myself. I have to be able to have a guarantee that I can have those things all the time and not just at the whim of a government. So while there are regimes which have performed very well in terms of healthcare, the provision of clean water and sufficient food and so on, one cannot guarantee that that will last.
Therefore, our vision of development for the 21st century must take into account that the poor not only need food, shelter and health, but also human rights. It is usually the poor whose human rights are most often denied and it is the poor who suffer when a state breaks down. Here I want to endorse very much the tremendously good action taken by my right honourable friend the Chancellor and by the Secretary of State for International Development in respect of the debt burden faced by many countries. But of course it is not enough just to cancel the debt. That is the minimal part of it. In many cases one might not want to do that. We have to ensure that debt cancellation is part of a complete programme of poverty alleviation and good governance. It is only when debt alleviation is used to enhance human rights and to alleviate poverty that we would be serving ideals on which the cancellation of debt movement has been basing itself.
61 I want to say a word now about the WTO. Freer and more open trade is absolutely essential if we are to alleviate poverty in the world. Again, I am very glad that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has resisted the many rather negative messages coming from the NGOs, which have taken into their heads the notion that somehow international trade is a conspiracy by the rich to rob the poor. That is not the case. Indeed there has been as much opposition from the rich countries which want to protect jobs at home as there has been from misguided people with other objectives. I believe that the WTO is the most egalitarian international organisation that we have, and if the third world is to advance, it will do so through the WTO. I very much welcome the Government's efforts in this respect, and wish them good luck.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Waverley
My Lords, reference by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, to dialogue and the role of poverty alleviation in addressing security concerns is absolutely right. For this reason, for example, I welcome BG being given a gas concession last week for off the Palestinian coast—a matter of which I have some first-hand knowledge—as being a practiceal measure to assuage Israeli security and so create a greater opportunity for regional peace, stability and prosperity. I commend it to the state of Israel.
Those who wish to identify defining events this century need not look much beyond the revolution in Iran of 1979. To a great many, those events were overdue. Since then the affairs of Iran have been evolving, while retaining the ideals of that revolution. The United Kingdom, with its shared history, is currently laying down the foundations for a pragmatic, long-term relationship—a relationship built on solid foundations.
It is important to recognise that the viability of any future relationship will derive from political and economic endeavours proceeding in tandem. Not everybody is a true believer in the inevitability or desirability of this evolving rapprochement; some advocate that it is going too fast, others that it is not going fast enough. The reality is that it is progressing steadily and will stand the test of time. Key bottlenecks are being massaged and patience will be rewarded, with Iran resuming its rightful role as an influential world player.
In mid-February, Iran will be embarking on parliamentary elections which will determine its future direction and the speed with which change will take place. A lively debate continues in the run-up to those elections, which represent an opportunity for the electorate to declare once again their support for the reforms under way in Iran. Those elections, following as they do the local elections in February—the first in Iran's history—show how far Iran has come since the election of President Khatami in May 1997. Of course, 62 there continue to be problems and obstacles along the difficult road of reform which the Iranian people have chosen, but they deserve our support.
However, there are two issues which impact on our domestic politics, which are troubling and which the Government may wish to subject to closer scrutiny. First, the case of espionage charges against the 13 Iranian Jews, which has been raised recently in this House and which all of us would like to see successfully resolved, could have been orchestrated to embarrass Iran and damage President Khatami's international image.
Secondly, certain MPs here in Westminster are supporting, and therefore providing legitimacy to, an organisation based in Iraq designated a terrorist group by the United States and others, including the United Kingdom. Those groups—the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (MKO) and their political representatives in Europe and the United States (the National Council for the Resistance of Iran)—have as their raison d'être the destabilisation of Iran. This Westminster-based support is misguided, ill-informed and, with respect, should be stopped forthwith.
So much for the politics, now for the main course. I returned from Tehran this week having led a trade mission, ahead of a parliamentary delegation, in my capacity as chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce—a successful visit during which 50 per cent of the participants had successfully concluded their negotiations within the first two days.
Allow me, Minister, at this point to mention with gratitude Nick Brown, the ambassador, and his team, with particular tribute to Eric Jenkinson, the commercial attaché who facilitated the group tirelessly and most effectively.
The past year has been devoted to identifying opportunities, cementing relationships and harmonising working practices between the chamber in London and its counterpart in Tehran, headed by Mr. Khamoushi, all of which has enabled us to produce the solid foundation, working shoulder to shoulder, in the new working partnership. For example, we have identified an exciting programme of trade and investment exchanges and exhibitions for the year 2000. Importantly, we have also negotiated the final draft of an exacting MOU that encompasses many aspects of the UK's approach to Iran; the development of mutual beneficial co-operation and respect; the enhancement of further bilateral trade and services, together with development of transport links and joint economic co-operation with neighbouring emerging countries. Our chambers have a responsibility to help to achieve those aspirations.
Related success stories are already emerging, such as that of Shell International having concluded negotiations this week on the 800 million dollar Nowruz and Soroush oil project. Shell and the state of Iran are to be congratulated and we can look forward to the long-awaited development of Iranian assets for the benefit of the people of Iran.
63 Of course, there are other practical ways, in my mind, beyond purely oil and gas activities where the United Kingdom can assist. I could identify public-private partnership initiatives (PFIs) for example. Those models would sit well with any future privatisation programmes and it is an area where the United Kingdom leads the world. There are opportunities to share our experiences, encourage technological exchange and help to provide what really matters—jobs, health facilities and education.
In addition, we can and should support Iran's aim to be a transport and distribution link between the European Union and the markets of neighbouring states, particularly CIS countries. None the less, two issues which are holding us back must be resolved. First, the now unnecessarily lengthy visa processing procedures and, secondly, the establishment of full ECGD cover. Both constraints are associated with the revolution's aftermath and the time has come to move on. I hope that both those issues will benefit from the Foreign Ministers' forthcoming exchange.
Undoubtedly the time is right for some diplomatic give-and-take gestures. Two trade-offs come immediately to mind. First, an investment promotion and protection agreement and a double taxation treaty should be explored, together with, and secondly, UK officials being available to assist Iran to make the economic adjustments necessary for a successful application to join the World Trade Organisation. We could play a constructive role in recommending what reforms should occur before the processing of the application, while simultaneously lobbying the United States to withhold censure.
In conclusion, there is a lot at stake. It is essential that our Ministers start obtaining first-hand knowledge of Iran. It is worth noting that the BBC and the Financial Times will shortly be opening bureaux in Tehran, which will also play a necessary and significant role in clarifying perceptions.
I have already drawn attention to the upcoming Foreign Ministers' exchange and that should be followed quickly by the respective Trade Ministers. It is probable that the current difficulties FCO and DTI officials are having in calling on senior officials in Tehran would ease. That would have the added benefit of encouraging dialogue on areas of Iranian policy that remain of concern to the United Kingdom Government.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, as the Defence Committee has said, we need to acknowledge explicitly that choices about our military capability limit our capacity to be a force for good. if we are not to fall back into the situation of over-commitment and overstretch of our Armed Forces from which the SDR was designed to free us and which I believe it tried hard to do.
We indeed have over-commitment. We have over 4,000 engaged in [FOR in Bosnia and some 6,000 to 7,000 in KFOR in Kosovo, both open-ended, unaccompanied, demanding operations. We are now 64 to help put in place by 2003 a European rapid reaction force of up to 40,000 men for future peacekeeping and humanitarian crises, fully equipped and capable of rapid and, if necessary, sustained deployment. It is not clear how this relates to the joint rapid reaction forces which, according to the SDR, will cover,all military tasks for which the need to provide forces at short notice, including to NATO's Allied Command Europe".We should never forget that Russia has not actually gone away and remains a nuclear power capable of turbulence and aggression.
The EU force apparently includes, as well as non-EU NATO members such as Turkey, contributions from the 15 EU states, some of which are neutrals outside NATO, so there could be serious conflicts of interest. If the Kosovo and Bosnia operations are anything to go by, the UK contribution will be one of the largest and will be a major commitment to yet another operation likely to be run by committees of Foreign Ministers and media advisers, but this time without our serious ally, the US.
But that is not all. The SDR said that we would also make a much larger contribution of our front line capabilities potentially available to the UN for humanitarian and peace support initiatives, including,all of our rapidly deployable forces".This is now reported to be a formal treaty commitment, though I have not yet heard it debated in either House. Can the Minister confirm whether it is indeed true that we have signed a memorandum of understanding committing the UK to contribute up to 15,000 front-line soldiers and Royal Marines to a UN stand-by emergency force at short notice, to say nothing of helicopters, destroyers, frigates and an aircraft carrier? I ask because this has been reported in the press and I know only too well that the press can get it wrong, so I would like to know what the facts are.
According to press reports the MoD has said that this means only that "some of these resources" could be made available. Is it at all likely that when the time comes we would feel free to say that we never really meant to do anything? It is disturbing enough that we should not only be committed to peacekeeping now in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor but should be making further commitments, this time to a UN force—yet another open-ended operation. Serious difficulties arose in Bosnia while the military role was subordinated to the UN civilian authority, and they are no doubt arising again in Kosovo, as they did in the Congo nearly 40 years ago. The military needs a clearer mandate to operate effectively. That is never going to come from yet another committee in New York. With all these interesting and demanding tasks, when is training going to be done, and who will there be left to train? Not least, will they have the time to train for the strategic defensive war which they were meant to fight?
So we are already in a vicious spiral of over-commitment and overstretch and in serious trouble over retention. The Government are only too happy to use our forces as one of their most powerful political weapons without being prepared to invest in them. Yet 65 the SDR expressly said—and rightly—that it was vital for the confidence of the forces that plans should be properly resourced. It also said that it had a policy for people, and the MoD has indeed been listening and consulting, not least the families, for it well understands that unhappy families are a serious threat to retention. But the problem is money, and it is difficult not to conclude that in the desperate efforts that have to be made by the MoD to achieve 3 per cent savings annually, as the Treasury requires it to do at the very time when it has more tasks, not less, everything not at the sharp end is likely to suffer. Unfortunately the Government themselves have evidently still not understood that the families, let alone the soldiers, are being pushed to breaking point, and unhappy soldiers—those who do not divorce—leave the forces.
The previous government acted without consulting; this Government consult but do not act. Action costs money. I sometimes think that the only way for the wives to get action, as distinct from leaflets and task forces, would be to declare themselves single mothers, as in effect they are for most of the time. Then this caring society might actually listen to them and support them. Telephone calls are fine, but houses fit to live in are better.
I am not attacking the MoD but the Government, who allow the Treasury to practise endless false economies because defence, they are proud to say, has moved from 2.7 per cent to 2.4 per cent of GDP and is still expected to save money while the tasks are piled on. The previous government, as part of their infamous Treasury-driven bad bargain over the sale of the married quarters estate, promised to ring-fence £100 million for the upgrading to standard 1 condition of the houses in which service families have to live. Over 50 per cent of these did not even reach standard 2 condition and many were much worse. That money was to be in addition to the £40 million per annum already being spent by the MoD on upgrades, apart from £128 million a year on maintenance.
So what has happened? The £100 million has been doled out by the Treasury—£28 million by 1997–98, £20 million 1998–99 and I suppose in theory, according to a Written Answer, £20 million for 1999–2000. Can the Minister confirm that the £20 million due this year has indeed been handed over, as the families have been told that the upgrading promised for 2003 has now slipped to 2005? Can the Minister say why, if this is not lack of money? I want to make it plain that I believe that both the services and the service Ministers are doing their very best to take all the action they are free to take to deal with the often disgraceful conditions in which families have to live. They know, after all, what dire effects these have on retention, taken with turbulence and the fact that a very large percentage of all service today is unaccompanied.
The fault lies, I believe, with the Government, who want a splendid army on the cheap, who rely on service loyalty and who have evidently decided that service wives and children are not real people like the rest of the population. Why else could they leave many of 66 them, nearly four years after the sale, still living in squalid, damp, dilapidated properties both at home and abroad? In Germany families are living in such quarters next to homes fully refurbished by the German Government for refugees. In Cyprus, 35 TA families have been sent to live in the same quarters, with corrugated iron roofs and no heating, as many service families have lived in over the past 30 years.
Five years from the sale of the estate I believe that a rent rise is not unlikely. What MoD vote will pay for it, and will the Treasury, which has received money from Annington Homes, increase the budget accordingly? Will the MoD ensure that the Armed Forces Pay Review Board, which sets married quarters charges, is fully aware of the deplorable condition of many quarters and will take that into consideration?
If time allows, I could tell your Lordships much more about the way service families have to live. For example, the MoD's Defence Housing Agency has a natural housekeeping instinct not to spend more money than absolutely necessary on properties likely to be handed back to Annington Homes. It is, after all, not obliged to return property in a full state of repair; that is, without any dilapidation at all. It is only obliged under its under-leases to return properties in good tenantable repair. Therefore the MoD will not be liable for repairs for minor dilapidation. Under existing laws, tenants cannot be obliged to repair properties that are shortly to be redeveloped.
The effect of this prudent provision is that many families are living in thoroughly unacceptable conditions because the MoD does not wish to spend money inadvertently on properties which might be due to be handed back. There are instances where it is refusing to take action on properties not due to be handed back for another two to three years. That is understandable but is extremely hard on those families who live in them, who should surely, like all others living in below-standard quarters, qualify for some abatement of charges.
But there are other equally alarming aspects of the life service families face. The Defence Medical Services is on the point of collapse. The MDHUs are seriously under-staffed and are not able, because of the NHS overriding right to beds, to do their duty of sending injured service men and women back to their units fast, where they are particularly badly needed now. Instead they have wards full of geriatrics. From the point of view of the families, the imminent closure of Haslar, the only military hospital left, means considerable anxiety about where dependants hospitalised from overseas will be accommodated.
It is nothing short of mad to announce the closure of Haslar before the Centre for Defence Medicine, which is supposed to take its place, has been established. It is in no way surprising that since that announcement, to quote the latest Defence Committee report,staff have been haemorrhaging from the DMS at an alarming rate".67 Failure to get the centre established could in the view of the committee imply,no less than the collapse of the DMS".The damage to the DMS was first done in Front Line First, but ever since there has been a continuing failure to recognise that this is a military service with a military ethos and military specialisms which people join in order to serve the forces. Its failure hits every serviceman, damages the confidence of families and will be yet another nail in the coffin of retention.
Money alone will not necessarily solve this problem, but it can help. The Government are doing their very best to do something about the Defence Medical Services but, alas. it may be too late. What worries me is that they did not need to close Haslar.
Where are the two hospital ships, one promised as a matter of urgency, for instance? What is being done to ensure that those medical staff who have chosen a career in the Defence Medical Services rather than the NHS do not find that they have suffered as a result, not only in terms of constant overstretch, turbulence, stress and anxiety, but even when it comes to pensions? We all know that what is happening to the DMS is yet another serious blow to morale and retention. Families and servicemen alike see the medical services collapsing.
I greatly admire the Minister's speech and I respect her real and most effective commitment to the forces. But I ask her: how can the Government, in these circumstances, enter into more and more open-ended, unresourced overseas commitments, all unaccompanied, when many families and, by extension, many men are stretched to breaking point?
Finally, I should like to ask the Minister how many members of the services have already given notice that they wish to take retirement in the coming year. I am told that the figure is around 10,000.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
M y Lords, I was glad when the noble Baroness who opened the debate mentioned Chechnya. However, it was a very brief mention—almost a reference in passing. Since that part of the world is in Europe, the issue needs a little more development. I hope that we shall have more detail when the Government reply to this very long debate.
The history of e past 200 years explains why such strong animosity exists now between Russians and Chechens. In the last century, it took the Russian imperial power about two whole generations to conquer Chechnya. During the Second World War, Stalin deported the entire population to central Asia, causing an untold number of deaths in the process. It was only some years after that dictator died that the Chechens were allowed to return home. The war of 1994–1996 left towns and villages largely devastated and the infrastructure in ruins. Kidnapping—however much one may deplore it—therefore became a means of economic survival for some people.
Since late September of this year we have seen a renewed Russian military offensive. Once again, villages and towns are destroyed by artillery and air 68 attacks before the army occupies the ground. Few efforts seem to be made to protect the civilian population. On the contrary, after some 200,000 people had fled into adjoining Ingushetia, the Russian army imposed strict control on the only exit road, allowing a mere trickle of refugees to pass. Meanwhile, another 4,000 have gone to Georgia. But only yesterday a report came from Georgia that three Russian helicopters had been seen dropping anti-personnel mines along the frontier. If correctly reported, it is a very sinister development.
The offensive appears to have been indiscriminate, brutal and disproportionate. Against this background, UNICEF called on all parties to respect the rights of civilians and to allow free movement for all, particularly women and children.
Even assuming that the Chechens were responsible for this year's bomb explosions in Russian cities—which is by no means proved—Chechen casualties already exceed Russian ones by a factor of at least 10 to one. One may ask what is the purpose of this operation? Does anyone really know? Is it to kill some, to cause others to die of cold and hunger and to drive the rest into exile? If so, that is a fairly good description of genocide and should not be tolerated.
Some may argue that these matters are technically part of the internal affairs of the Russian Federation. None the less, they affect the whole of Europe because Russia has obligations to virtually every European state, as agreed under the Helsinki arrangements and through the Council of Europe, of which Russia is a member. If international humanitarian law is violated, all of us are affected. Even from a purely Russian perspective, the present course appears self-defeating. I say that because decimating the Chechens is sure to fan the flames of Islamic extremism. Already there are reports of fighters arriving from such countries as Afghanistan and Pakistan to help the Chechens. It will also put the interests of the remaining Russian minorities in central Asia greatly at risk.
I am glad that Her Majesty's Government have raised the issue of Chechnya with both the EU and the OSCE. We know that these bodies have expressed grave concern, but that by itself seems inadequate. Will the matter be discussed at the forthcoming OSCE summit meeting in Istanbul? I know that President Meri of Estonia will not be attending because he so disapproves of the Russian action in Chechnya. Coming from someone in his position, that is very significant.
If diplomats and heads of government fail to secure explanations and a commitment to peaceful solutions, it will be necessary to find other ways of achieving those ends. That must surely start with a cease-fire and negotiations, whether mediated or not, and with the strongest possible efforts in the direction of conflict resolution. I trust that more will be achieved at Istanbul than was achieved in Budapest in 1994 when Sarajevo was shelled while the OSCE was in session only 100 miles away.
I wish to emphasise that I speak as a friend and a s a visitor to Russia. I declare a charitable interest as chairman of an English trust working through Russian 69 partner organisations for the benefit of children and young people in the Moscow region. I want to see Russia as a full member of the European family of nations. I want to see civil society and the rule of law replacing Soviet-style authoritarianism.
I am therefore glad to note that Mr Chernomyrdin, the former Prime Minister and party leader of "Our Home is Russia", while supporting the present Russian Government, has said:Russia should help refugees and save people in Chechnya. This is our sacred duty".He went on to say:In the final count we must hold a political dialogue".Mr Yavlinsky, the leader of the Yabloko party, has said:The concentrated bombing of Chechnya must stop. The land offensive must be suspended. Talks must begin. The Russian military success in Dagestan established the pre-conditions for a political talks process".I urge Her Majesty's Government to use these positive statements as a base for securing a cease-fire and for peaceful solutions.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in particular on the international development and foreign affairs aspects of the debate. In this respect, the gracious Speech stated the Government's aim to modernise the United Nations. I hope that we may hear more about those plans from the noble Baroness when she winds up the debate. I also take this opportunity to express the hope that any modernisation of the United Nations will be thought through more thoroughly than the efforts to modernise your Lordships' House, which we have had the misfortune to experience during the past year.
The gracious Speech also stated the intention of the Government to work towards a new partnership between Britain and the overseas territories. I trust that the debates held in your Lordships' House in recent years and, in particular, earlier this year will have helped the Government in formulating their policies and in dealing with the numerous outstanding issues, as well as in giving the people of St Helena as speedily as possible the passport rights that they need. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will have a particular interest in this matter in view of her own departmental responsibilities in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I suspect that it will come as no surprise to your Lordships if I focus my remarks today in particular on our relations with Latin America. In doing so, I lament once again the absence of my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein. So often in the past he has reminded successive governments of the importance to this country and to the world of the countries of Latin America, not least in the debate which he introduced in your Lordships' House in June this year. We miss his presence and his expertise, but I know that even now he is in South America—in Venezuela—and that he will continue to take an interest in proceedings in your Lordships' House.
70 On the political level, there have been recent welcome breakthroughs in Latin America; for example, the triangular agreement between Argentina, the Falkland Islands and ourselves made in May this year. That agreement resolved the few outstanding tensions which remained following the Falklands War. Other examples are the resolution of the border dispute earlier this year between Peru and Equador, the development of relative stability and comity in Central America, and the opening-up of Cuba. I hope that developments focus much more on the Spanish-speaking as well as the English-speaking Caribbean as a region for development. I believe that in that respect the United Kingdom has a particular and important role. We have also seen the strengthening and development of the regional organisations in Latin America, such as Mercosur and the Andean Pact. Sadly, however, we still have an outstanding problem with Chile, but I hope most sincerely that that may be resolved speedily.
On the positive side, the democratic systems are now well established everywhere. Admittedly, there are some danger flashpoints—in Venezuela, Equador and even in Paraguay, where there are trials of strength between the Congress and the President. In that respect, I believe that the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and any ways in which we can encourage more contact between representatives of parliaments in that region and our Parliament are welcome and very important.
At the time of the Rio Summit in July—the EU-Mercosur Summit—we heard that, on his first visit to the region in that capacity, the Foreign Secretary had useful meetings with leaders and Ministers and that he was most enthusiastic. At last, I believe that he fully appreciated the potential benefit for this country in consolidating and improving our relations with Latin America. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to reassure us that her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is planning to visit that region soon for face-to-face meetings with the new presidents of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and, in due course, Mexico. There may be others because at the moment there seem to be elections everywhere.
The importance of trade and the role of the WTO are issues which have already been touched on during the debate. I wish to emphasise the importance of our trade and commercial links with Latin America. We can say that we are among the major investors in many countries in Latin America. Indeed, in Mexico we are the largest European investor. Our trade balance there is second only to that with Brazil and it has been considerably enhanced as a result of the European Union/Mexican trade agreement. For those who are not aware of the sophistication and development of the Mexican economy and industry, perhaps I may give an example. It may not be generally realised every time one is overtaken on the road by the new Volkswagen Beetle, that vehicle is produced entirely in Mexico.
There are also some interesting developments in relation to healthcare, spearheaded by the Latin American Trade Advisory Group. I mention that 71 group as an example because it has a number of projects on the go: it has plans for a scoping mission to investigate with Mexico's largest healthcare provider the ways in which our experience in this country, our institutions and our academic centres can be of use in their proposed reforms. I understand that the East Anglia National Health Trust is an adviser in that project and that DfID is putting it together. I believe that the co-operation between DfID, the Foreign Office and the DTI provides an interesting example of joined-up government.
Brazil has the largest population and the largest economy in Latin America. Indeed, I believe that it is not sufficiently well known that the economy of one province alone in Brazil—that of Sao Paolo—is equal to the economy of the whole of India. There has been good growth in our trade with Brazil. Until 1997 we had more trade with Brazil than with China. That has declined in the light of recent economic crises, but as the economy picks up next year I am confident that so too will our trade. It may also be of interest to your Lordships to know that whenever you are overtaken on the road by a Fiat Palio, you can point to the fact that that is produced entirely in Brazil.
Argentina is the other major economy which deserves special mention. It is worth noting that in recent years the United Kingdom had more exports per capita to Argentina than to any other Latin American country, in spite of our difficulties in the South Atlantic. It.is to be hoped that in future that will improve. The economic crisis in the region has also caused difficulties. However, I believe that hope for better things to come lies in the recent elections, the installation of the new president in December, and the developments of Mercosur, which includes Uruguay and Paraguay as well as Argentina and Brazil.
There are many exciting projects in the region, with particular targeting on the health and education sectors. Again, it may be of interest to your Lordships to know that currently there are some 3,400 students from Latin America at our universities. LATAG—the Latin American Trade Advisory Group—currently is tracking 1,700 of them with a view to taking full advantage of the resource and future potential that that trend offers. Here again, I should very much like to underline the valuable work of the British Council. I hope that no spirit of false economy on the part of the Treasury will lead to further cuts in the British Council budget. By the same token, I express the hope that there will be no diminution in either the numbers or activities of our energetic and expert diplomats in the various posts in Latin America. That is very often a threat, and we must guard against cutting the activities which currently are going so well.
In the next two weeks I shall be away from your Lordships' House leading a trade mission to Peru and Chile, an arrangement that was made well before the dates for our new Session were known. It is fair to say that most of our major companies—in the chemicals industry, mining, pharmaceuticals, the energy sector and the utilities—are represented in Latin America and can probably cope well enough on their own. However, it is much more difficult for small and 72 medium sized businesses—for example, consultancies—to start to take advantage of the opportunities and market openings offered by the Latin American economies which, taken together with the historic links and good will felt for this country throughout the continent, can be of great advantage to us as a trading nation.
I hope that the Department of Trade and Industry will continue to support the kind of trade missions that have increased over recent years and have brought valuable results. In that respect, and returning to the detail of the gracious Speech, I hope that, in introducing a Bill to promote electronic commerce, the Government will bear in mind the importance that that will have for our leading financial institutions and the financial service industry in general, both in the City of London and elsewhere, in developing their services not only in Latin America but throughout the world. I hope, therefore, that the widest possible consultation will take place.
In conclusion, I wish to state that I support my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in the amendment that he has proposed, although his reasons for moving it relate less to foreign affairs and international development than to the other proposals in the gracious Speech.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Birmingham
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by craving your Lordships' indulgence if I have to leave before the end of the debate. I have an engagement early tomorrow morning in Birmingham which I cannot break. Brevity of speech among your Lordships will secure my attendance to the end. But if we go on at the present rate, I think that I shall have to leave before then. It makes me wonder whether on an occasion like this there might be something to be said for limiting speeches to, say, 10 minutes. That should be enough for most people.
Today's Order Paper says that the debate is expected to concentrate on defence, international development and foreign affairs. But where, I ask myself, can one find anything in the text of the gracious Speech on international development? My fears were reinforced in the opening words of the noble Baroness when she said that we would be talking about defence and foreign affairs. International development had slipped out of the quotation.
There are, to be fair, a couple of crumbs. First, there is the Government's promise to support,work to improve the effectiveness of the European Union's … development programmes".But surely there is more to international development than making the programmes of the European Union more effective.
Secondly, there is the promise to,take further measures to meet their target of abolishing child poverty in 20 years".That is a welcome and admirable, if utopian, target, but one that can be realistically considered only in the context of the wider economic and political relations which make for child poverty and which could make for its eradication. So, after the rather restrictive 73 perspective of the text of the gracious Speech itself, I was a little reassured when the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, said a little more later on in her spoken text about international development in general.
One looks with gratitude back to the Government's 1997 White Paper Eliminating World Poverty. I remember hearing this time last year the speech given by Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, to the General Synod of the Church of England. The Churches certainly appreciate the part played by successive governments in trying to tackle the issue of world debt, which is inseparably linked to the wider issue of world poverty. We appreciate the difficulties of mobilising action on an international level. We must bear in mind the recent reports on the reluctance of the United States Congress to support President Clinton in the pledges that he has made on this matter.
So what am I saying? The Churches deeply appreciated the energy and commitment of the Secretary of State and her department. Perhaps I can be expected to say that since I am Bishop of Birmingham and the Secretary of State is one of Birmingham's most beloved Members of Parliament. We also appreciate the attention given to the issue of debt by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But if one looks at the gracious Speech as a whole, one cannot help asking how high are the issues of world debt, world poverty—not just child poverty—and international development in the Government's overall list of priorities. Rhetoric is not enough.
International development is not someone else's issue. It is ours, not least because world poverty, as has already been said, threatens the stability and security of us all. But there is also the question of justice. The year 2000 is a year of jubilee, a year in which, in biblical tradition, debts are to be remitted and slaves set free. So may we please hear something more about the Government's plans for pursuing the issues of the remission of debt and the releasing of resources for the elimination not just of child poverty but of world poverty? It would be good to have some reassurance that the Government have not forgotten about their own Department for International Development.
Having spoken about the comparatively low profile of an entire department of State from the purview of the gracious Speech, I should now like to comment on something which is plainly present on the face of the speech. I refer to the Government's clear commitment to introduce a draft Bill to ratify the statute establishing an international criminal court. The Churches certainly welcome the opportunity that that will provide for consultation. The creation of an international criminal court will represent a historic achievement, a deeply significant advance in the recognition and establishment of moral and ethical standards in the international community. One of the weaknesses of international humanitarian law so far is that, despite the impressive body of law which has evolved since the second world war, there has been no 74 permanent mechanism—only ad hoc institutions—for enforcing it. The establishment of the international court, by putting a mechanism of enforcement onto a permanent basis, can be expected to change a culture in which humanitarian law and convention have been too readily flouted, not least in the increasing readiness to target civilian populations in times of conflict and war.
It is, of course, deeply regrettable that two members of the Security Council—China and the United States of America—were among the small number of states which voted in Rome last year against the establishment of the international court. Is it significant that they are also two of the countries most addicted to capital punishment? So it is all the more important that the British Government, after playing a major part in the negotiations which led to the statute, should be among the first to seek its ratification. However, two questions arise. First, will the Government be able to give assurances that they do not wish to opt out of Article 124 or Article 94 of the statute? Article 124 would allow a state to opt out of the jurisdiction of the court for seven years while Article 98, by leaving the door open for bilateral agreements, would allow individuals to evade extradition.
Secondly, will the Government assure the House that they will maintain diplomatic pressure on the United States to sign the statute? The historic reluctance of the United States to recognise the jurisdiction of international courts and international institutions which it does not control is well known. Nevertheless, without the assent and participation of the United States of America the authority and effectiveness of the international criminal court will be gravely impaired. One is bound to say that the nature of American commitment to the cause of human rights would, in practice, be called into question.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond on his admirable, indeed brilliant, maiden speech. Like my noble friend, I, too, shall draw attention to a curious aspect of the gracious Speech as regards Europe. The gracious Speech states that:My Government will take a leading role with our partners to shape the future development of the European Union".It outlines a number of altogether admirable ways in which this will be done:They will promote the enlargement of the Union, support co-operation in the fight against cross-border crime and work to improve the effectiveness of the European Union's Foreign and Security Policy and its development programmes".However, it is the item that is missing that is curious. There is not one word on the single currency. In this debate I wish to put the argument that the Government will not be able to fulfil their aim of continuing to play a leading role unless they take the lead in persuading the British people to join the single currency.
75 We are now within a few weeks of the end of the century. For mo.-e than one-quarter of it we have been members of the European Community. The lessons of that experience are plain to see as we enter the next century. A simple one is that membership of the Union does not involve abandoning the defence of British interests. On that I hope that I carry the consensus of everyone in your Lordships' House. Other member countries fight their own corners. Mrs Thatcher, our Prime Minister as she was then, fought a battle over our share of Community financing and won for Britain a rebate. The other countries recognised, however reluctantly, that she was right.
I recall the wise remarks of a Dutch Commissioner in the far-off days when I was a member of the European Commission. "My dear George", he said, "there are two countries in the Community which are stubborn about defending their national interests. One is France and the other is Britain. But a word of advice", he added. "France always describes her opposition to anything being proposed by the Community as a betrayal of Europe. Britain always makes it appear as though Europe is betraying Britain. That is not the best way to get results". I am sure that he was right.
A second obvious and outstanding lesson for Britain over the whole period of our relationship with the European project has been simply this: it is better to be in at the beginning. My experience as a Commissioner in 1973 of establishing the Community's first regional development fund provided ample evidence of the crucial advantage for Britain of being in at the birth of a major new policy. In the search for objective criteria for helping underprivileged areas, Britain's distinctive problems could be given appropriate consideration. No doubt if the regional development fund, like the CAP or the common fisheries policy, had already been in existence and reflected the circumstances of the six countries before Britain joined, together with Ireland and Denmark, all three countries would have been at a disadvantage.
It is depressing that we have failed to learn this simple lesson over the whole saga of economic and monetary union, the exchange rate mechanism and now the single currency. In my judgment, the stark fact is that if we are to continue as a leading country in the Union, British participation in the single currency is essential. Inevitably those running the single currency in the European Central Bank are already making administrative decisions to meet the needs of those inside while Britain remains outside. The longer we remain outside the more we will find, as has happened before, that we shall join something created by others to reflect their interests. Nor should we be complacent about how long our present capital of goodwill and influence in the Community—fortunately it is substantial under the present Government—would last if through a referendum or otherwise we were to decide to remain outside the single currency.
History never repeats itself, but there are similarities between Britain's hesitations in the early 1970s and now those of the late 1990s. In both cases they will be 76 resolved by resorting to a referendum. In 1970 when I was a Minister for Europe in a Labour administration I was involved in producing a White Paper that attempted to prophesy the economic consequences of British membership. I recall describing the process as like trying to forecast the uncertainties of a Dundee United football match. In the event there were many economic troubles for Britain in the transition to full membership. There were also inevitably major unforeseen international economic developments such as the Arab oil crisis. However, despite the difficulties, the referendum produced a massive majority for continuing membership. Twenty-five years later the economic benefits of membership have been undeniable. However carefully we arrange the timing, moving into the single currency is likely to produce its own awkward economic aspects in the short term. However, the long-term benefits, as in 1973, will be substantial. We now have 60 per cent of all our trade with the European Union, and Britain, with its world business language, is a prime attractive area for inward investment.
I shall mention one final lesson for Britain. Throughout its history an essential characteristic of the European Union has been the importance of what is known in Brussels jargon as the political will. The European Union was created as an economic community. Today the majority of its operations remain economic, although the foreign policy, defence and home affairs pillars of the Union outside the jurisdiction of the Commission are becoming steadily more important. However, all the economic achievements of the European Union have had their foundations in political decisions of historic significance. The Coal and Steel Community, which combined the heavy industries of Western Europe, was an act of political will with the political aim of bringing about a Franco-German reconciliation after two catastrophic European wars on the basis of joining their heavy war-making industries.
Messina, in 1955, setting up the Common Market, was an act of political will of breathtaking audacity, to which at the time Britain was unbelievably blind and from which we subsequently suffered. From the beginning the underlying aim of the European construction has been political and not economic. Politicians in Britain who have expressed a similar point of view to mine have been accused of concealing this fact. However, I do not believe that the public declarations of those of us who were involved in taking Britain into Europe in 1973 are open to that charge. Like others, I have made scores of speeches about the political role of the European Community in making inconceivable the great European wars of the past and in enabling Europe in the future to pull its united weight in world affairs in a way now impossible for any single member nation.
In a European Union of ancient nation states the concept of surrendering national identities to a superstate is an unreal fantasy. Equally unreal, however, is the concept that Britain can make the other member states rewrite the treaties. That seems to be the current policy of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. "Europe à la 77 carte" is a Conservative fantasy. Malcolm Rifkind, a former distinguished Foreign Secretary, said that the idea of a universal opt-out was totally non-negotiable.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting—CHOGM—has just concluded in South Africa. My small niche in the history of such matters was to have been Her Majesty's last Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs and one of the first European Commissioners. I have special reasons to be aware of the upsetting truth of Dean Acheson's remark that Britain, in creating an independent Commonwealth, had lost an empire and needed to seek a new role in world affairs. I believe that role has proved itself to be a major player in the European Union. If we take our opportunities, it is now perfectly reasonable to conclude that we could within a decade be a player of central significance right across the European board.
We are fortunate that the standing of Britain among its European partners is high at the moment and that the British economy is in good shape. The case in principle for joining the single currency enjoys the support of a broad band of leadership across Britain in politics, in business and in the trade unions. But in circumstances where the referendum is now an accepted instrument of political decision making, and where there is a vociferous and xenophobic section of the press, there is much to do to inform public opinion not only of the case for the single currency but much wider than that; namely, to bring home the general benefits of membership of the European Union for British people.
If the Government are to enjoy the leading role that they seek in Europe they must work to ensure the same decisive majority in the next European referendum as in the last one in 1975. I was involved in that in those far off days. I recollect that that result was achieved despite having a divided Labour Cabinet. One of today's advantages is that there is now a united Cabinet as regards British membership of the European Union. For the sake of Britain and Europe let the Government make the most of it.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, I stand here grateful to be elected—by the grace of God as well as by my Cross-Bench Peers—to your Lordships' interim House. The first Earl of Sandwich was a survivor of two stages of reform, first entering Cromwell's upper House without a title and then earning one after helping King Charles II back to his throne. Whatever our origins as Peers, let us at least agree that after these and many other lessons from history, we can all be reformed by gradual evolution.
Recent anniversaries and the approaching millennium again remind us of our place in European history, as we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. We have remembered countless dead on the battlefield and in the camps. We have looked back to the dramatic collapse of the Iron Curtain and of the Cold War. It is a time to be thankful that we have 78 resisted tyranny in this century and have not been tyrannised ourselves. Our enlarging European Union must continue on the principles which were solemnly laid down by its founders after the war.
Yet this Government have a much wider and more ambitious agenda. They are committed to justice on an international scale and to the rights of the very poorest to the benefits of this earth. Even as we strengthen Europe we must simultaneously consider the claims of those who may thereby be weakened and the needs of those who stand to lose as we gain. For example, Oxfam tells us that 8 billion dollars a year would ensure that every child would at least have primary education. That is less than the sum we spend each year on computer games or, apparently, 1 per cent of the wealth of the world's richest 200 people.
So how do we reconcile these two concerns—our obligations to Europe and our commitment to the third world? One way would be to maintain our existing promises of aid and investment, but that is not happening. Overseas development assistance, the world's combined aid programme, fell to as low as 0.22 per cent of gross domestic product in 1997—such is our global estimate of the importance of development. Although our own Government commendably are trying to reverse that trend, let us face it, we shall not be able to make a lot of difference.
What about investment? According to the United Nations world investment report, published in September, FDI world-wide is increasing, but the share of the developing countries has fallen from 37 per cent in 1997 to 28 per cent last year. Most of that investment is going to countries such as China and Brazil and hardly any to the poorest countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa receives only 5 per cent of all FDI to the developing countries.
Yet, paradoxically, Africa offers a higher return on investment than anywhere else. That may be why a US-based group has recently announced the largest ever private equity fund for Africa. It was encouraging to hear the Prime Minister, among other leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Durban last weekend, announcing new initiatives on good governance, civil society, human rights and AIDS.
But is the United Kingdom doing enough to encourage investment in African enterprise alongside people-based development? There is nothing in the gracious Speech about Africa, as the right reverend Prelate said. There is hardly any mention of development, although the noble Baroness referred to it. Apart from the work of the CDC and the Crown Agents, backed by the DfID, I do not see much evidence of any emphasis in government policy on investment in Africa. No doubt the Minister will respond to that. I welcome the attention to be given to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
This Government's support for HIPC-2 has been mentioned and is commendable. However, it is more show than reality for all but a handful of countries. 79 Even after Cologne we have yet to see whether debt relief will be translated into genuine health, education and social services. The example of Uganda has been encouraging. Mozambique is also in line for substantial debt relief.
Perhaps I may add my personal congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, with whom I have the honour to serve in Christian Aid, for giving us such stirring memories of the war in Mozambique. If these countries can maintain the necessary political stability for economic growth, more young people will be healthy, educated and trained for productive work, and the more likely it is that outsiders will want to invest. Of course, there are many serious obstacles to development such as AIDS and mine clearance which have to be overcome along the way.
But against the background of political uncertainty in much of Africa, the Development Assistance Committee's international development targets look almost unobtainable. I support the targets in principle. I am sure that everyone does. But I wonder how soon the DfID will have to draw back from its own enthusiasm in its primary aim of halving the number of people in poverty by the year 2015. One or two senior economists, notably Professor Robin Marris, have suggested that they should provide that.
Work carried out in Uganda this summer by the Overseas Development Institute and Makerere University shows that while primary education targets may well he met, those for poverty will not. Extreme poverty has continued to decline in Uganda in the 1990s against the national trend of recovery. None of the current projections will achieve the halving of absolute poverty by the year 2015. The growth rate required to achieve it—nearly 5 per cent per annum in terms of real consumption expenditure—will have to be three times the average forecast by the World Bank for sub-Saharan Africa.
However, Uganda has surprised many people in its ability to bounce back from former disasters. We must hope that these predictions are proved wrong. One thing that they show is the near impossibility of making sensible forecasts because of the limitations and inequalities in data. Uganda's poverty eradication action plan is also more robust than most others so we cannot take that as representative of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.
The gracious Speech mentions Europe. Are we doing enough through the European Union to target the poorest countries? I fear we are not, which may be why it has been mentioned. I have only to quote the International Development Committee report of last January which stated that the composition of European Union development assistance was "astounding" and that none of the top seven recipients was even among the least developed countries. So far the Government's response to that has not been very convincing.
Many seasoned aid-watchers and NGOs long ago concluded that the benefits of aid transfers were exaggerated and that more vigorous trade between 80 Europe and the third world—in this context I speak especially of Africa—has more effect than any aid or debt relief programme. But let us look at the recent EU record there. While we have been busily defending the quality of our prime English beef, under the CAP we have also been dumping our beef surpluses on the poorest African countries, first in francophone West Africa and then in sub-Saharan Africa. A report just published by 15 European church aid agencies, entitled Europe's Blind Spot, indicates that imports of European Union beef to South Africa rose seven-fold in the early 1990s, reducing prices to 30p a kilo, thereby damaging regular suppliers such as Namibian cattle farmers.
Agenda 200 proposals are not making matters any easier for third world farmers. This year the European Union has found a new dumping ground in Russia, with similar dire consequences for Russian farmers. Meanwhile, the protocol of the Lomé Convention which guarantees limited quotas of African beef exports is due to expire in February unless it can he extended. I know that the Government are working hard in that direction. Not surprisingly, the church agencies point to breaches of Article 130 of the Maastricht Treaty, which requires policy coherence—that is important in the context of the European Development Fund and European policies generally—between the European Union's Europe and development policies. Similar arguments apply to chocolate, fisheries, and the other products that come under Lomé where Europe is undeniably poaching on other national territories. Much depends on the attitude of the World Trade Organisation as it develops standards which are bound to favour the industrialised countries.
The forthcoming Seattle meeting will show whether the interests of the third world and the least developed countries are being taken seriously or whether only countries such as China, where the potential value of trade with the West is so important, will be listened to. There are great fears on the part of some developing countries that the multilateral agreement on investment may return in another form after Seattle.
In the long run, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, poverty eradication in the third world will come from domestic factors such as security, peace and political and economic stability, and, to a lesser extent, the prospects of outside aid and investment. But, equally, we must not ignore the benefits of not just free trade but fairer trade and the damaging effects of our own Euro-centric plans on those fragile economies.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Lord Stone of Blackheath
My Lords, I realise that for alphabetical reasons I must often follow the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, but it is not fair. He always says things that make me think again, and I have to alter furiously my prepared speech.
I was particularly pleased to note that the Government intend to help modernise the UN and the Security Council and to adapt NATO for the new 81 century. This whole programme of legislation attempts to address the massive and rapid changes occurring in many spheres of activity.
Three areas of transformation interest me; namely, in business, in domestic constitutional affairs, and in international politics. In all three, we are faced with complex and, to some, threatening change. In business, where I know it best, change is based on electronic communication, the production and flow of goods and better-informed customers. All of us in business have had to find new structures and new ways of working to address those apparent threats and turn them into opportunities. Believe me, I have experienced that organisational change. It is painful, but necessary.
I turn to the second area: constitutional change. I thought when I came to this House that I should find tradition, tranquillity and stability. But the Government had the foresight to see that the constitution, which has always been fluid in the United Kingdom, also has to move with the times. They initiated a wide range of liberating policies that continue with the current legislative programme.
It is in the nature of change that it cannot be entirely predictable and controlled. It must be put in motion to find the most appropriate settlement. The transitional House is part of that movement, and I hope today to set it a challenge to show its teeth in its new form.
I want to suggest that the Government can make a contribution to new thinking in the third area of dynamic change created by the new technologies—war. Global politics and conflict are also in flux. Unfortunately, possibly as a reaction to globalisation and the redrawing of borders and boundaries, smaller nations are finding difficulty in governing and balancing the democratic demands of majorities with the rights of minorities. Within all this confusion, individuals search for their own identity. In many, a passionate sense of their own ethnicity re-emerges and ferments to the point of hatred for others, resulting in conflict and war.
So here again, this time in the nature of conflict, there has been a massive global change. The majority of disputes are now ethnic in nature; wars are increasingly within states rather than between them; and civilians, not soldiers, are the main victims of war.
At the NATO meeting in Brussels last week, a surprising number of even the most conservative people present were willing to accept that maybe we are living in a new world. Altered dynamics need the formation of different structures and innovative solutions. In all three areas of change—business, domestic politics and international affairs—new approaches are needed. Their adoption will bear risks but pay rewards.
What characterises the change in all three areas is that the dynamics are of such complexity and diversity. A major ingredient, therefore, to lessen the risk in dealing with each of them is cohesion in action and cooperation. Change must be achieved, but with inclusiveness and continuity, mobilising all involved.
82 Great businesses are doing that with flatter structures, breaking down hierarchy towers within their company, adopting enlightened leadership and mobilising the workforce. In running the United Kingdom, politicians and civil servants are now working closely across departments, and the electorate are being consulted and informed.
In the area of global conflict, where that complexity and diversity is at its greatest, I am pleased to see that the FCO, the DTI and the DfID are also working together. Those of us with some experience in international trade have been asked to help and join in the work with NGOs and academics.
So how do I propose to put this transitional House to the test? The issue is this. The nature of the change in global dynamics has in the past few decades shown up inadequacies in our structure of world government. The enlightened formation of the current international bodies and structures put in place earlier this century to help police the world and prevent war between nations were addressing a different paradigm. The new paradigm needs new thinking. Public opinion is already changing in response to what people are now able to see in real time unfolding on their screens.
This year has been exceptional in that there have been two successful interventions into sovereign states in conflicts within their borders. Although they were at a late and bloody stage, those controversial actions saved lives. Many experts in this field are convinced that thousands more lives could be saved in the future if we reviewed and revised the international bodies and protocols and the mechanics in the light of the new global dynamics.
Many, many people have contacted me since May, when I suggested in this House that something new might be done. They have given me sufficient cause to believe that the United Kingdom Government could take a lead. None of them feels able to move things forward on his or her own. What they do believe is that your Lordships have the expertise to consider, debate and propose solutions.
Among the issues for consideration are sovereignty and intervention. These need to be re-examined. Perhaps that will even require change to the United Nations Charter as indicated in the gracious Speech.
As regards prevention, real, practical and immediate links are needed between the investment already made, in the UN, in early warning systems for threatened conflict and the options for preventative action.
Thirdly, an integrated approach is needed. As the effects of wars on any continent now affect us all with greater immediacy, there may be an opportunity to enlist the co-operation of all affected bodies: governments, non-governmental organisations and academics. And we must include big businesses, which now sometimes control more people and bigger budgets than many countries.
This House is now composed of Peers, whatever their political hue, who have been asked to serve here because of their own expertise, acquired in their own lifetime, and Peers who have been elected for their 83 wisdom and ability. I realise that a debate in this place on the subject that I have outlined would bring forth from such a body of expertise some scepticism and caveats. We shall point out the risks and cite the problems. I know that there are no quick fixes to halt the spread of violence and death.
However, what I now know from having observed this Chamber and listened to your Lordships in other crucial debates that positive pragmatic suggestions will be put. Insights on a vision of a new world order and pointers as to how it might be organised would emerge from such a debate. The House would suggest to the Ministers, my noble friends Lady Scotland and Lady Symons, ways in which the world community might respond if Her Majesty's Government were to take a lead in such an enlightened project.
This gracious Speech contains a full and crucial programme that we must try to complete, but I hope that time can be found to consider and debate the wider long-term issues.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Lord Bridges
My Lords, we are now halfway through this Parliament, so the debate provides an opportunity for a mid-term assessment. My contribution will be an examination of a key element of the Government's foreign policy—its ethical purpose. I note that a number of noble Lords have already spoken on the subject, but I shall follow a different line.
To begin with, the ethical foreign policy was outlined by the Foreign Secretary in launching his mission statement for his department shortly after his appointment on 12th May 1997. Mr Cook concluded with the words that the mission statement,
makes the business of the FCO delivery of a long term strategy, not just managing crisis intervention. It supplies an ethical content to foreign policy and recognises the national interest cannot be defined only by narrow realpolitik.How far, we may ask, has that aspiration been achieved?
The relation between ethics and foreign policy is a topic which has worried me for some time. It has, indeed, been a central issue for practitioners of diplomacy since President Wilson's Fourteen Points of 1917, the first of which was,Open Covenants of Peace, openly arrived atI recall an episode when I was a Private Secretary in the Foreign Office in 1963. The Secretary of State was Lord Home, who had attracted public attention by his remarks about the double standards employed by some members of the United Nations in their criticisms of Britain. It was, therefore, no great surprise when a letter arrived for him at the office from the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, inviting him to address the assembly on the general topic of "Ethics and Foreign Policy". The Earl asked me to prepare some notes for his speech. The more I thought about it, the more difficult the task became. I was also increasingly aware that Lord Home could write a much better speech on the subject than I could. So I regret to say that I adopted a subterfuge. I 84 drafted some notes for him which took a strong line that there should be no connection between ethics and foreign policy. Lord Home was in the middle of a long aeroplane journey from Karachi to London which took 14 hours. As I had hoped, he was so angry that he demanded pencil and paper and produced the draft of an excellent speech, which he subsequently delivered to the Church of Scotland. However, he preferred to shift the emphasis slightly to consider ethics in the life of the nation rather than the policy aspect.
More recently, the issue has come to the fore again. After retiring from the Diplomatic Service at the statutory age of 60, 12 years ago, I was appointed to a fascinating voluntary part-time post as Chairman of the National Committee for UNICEF. I therefore share some of the experiences that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford mentioned in his moving maiden speech earlier.
At that time, the organisation had just completed the negotiation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is mentioned in the gracious Speech. Its dynamic American executive director, Jim Grant, had succeeded in arranging a world summit for children, attended by over 100 heads of state and government, to approve an action plan to implement the convention. Each prime minister was allowed three minutes to speak. Our own Prime Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, made a powerful and effective speech which lasted six minutes, but no one dared to interrupt. The United Nations secretariat had not then located—or since, so far as I know—the Manhattan equivalent of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton.
The contribution which most caught my attention was made by the President of the then Czech and Slovak Republic, Vaclav Havel. In the course of his speech he saidTerrible things have been done in the name of children.By that he meant that during the Nazi occupation of his country during the Second World War, many Czech citizens had felt obliged to continue working for the government of occupation, as the only means of providing support for their children.
That introduces a fresh element to the argument. An act which seems morally justified to the person taking a decision may have profoundly repugnant effects in a broader perspective. Thus the individual Czech may have felt an obligation to look after his children, but he had also supported a tyrannical and evil regime. One may argue, I suppose, that there is a difference between the ethical decision of a person and that of a state, but I do not believe that it disposes of the problem.
Another large problem in this area of policy is that no agreement exists on the nature of the ethical principles which apply. To take an extreme case, if you had been a fly on the wall at the villa on the Wannsee outside West Berlin in 1941, when the Nazis decided to exterminate the Jewish population of central Europe, you could not have avoided the impression that, for the participants, the aim of racial purity was an ethical principle in their eyes. Ethics may be broadly defined, I suppose, as a set of moral principles. Nothing seems 85 more immoral to us than the Holocaust, but that is not what Himmler and his acolytes believed. Ethics, it seems, is a word capable of very diverse interpretation.
If we are to adopt policies which are deliberately framed in ethical terms, we need some broad international understanding of what this actually means, if our policies are to gain acceptance and have effect. To take a current illustration, the Government decided, to their great credit, that the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo could only be arrested by intervention on the ground with military forces. No one doubted the evil nature of what was happening. But there was no consensus in the United Nations which would enable us to obtain a copper-bottomed legal authority in the shape of a specific mandate from the Security Council. That point was debated on a number of occasions in this House.
The Government stuck bravely to their guns and persuaded sufficient important partners to join in. We know that the operation was a military success and has enabled the Kosovars to return home, although the ethnic cleansing has continued in the reverse direction.
The difficulty was and remains that Kosovo is part of Serbia and the United Nations charter underlines respect for national sovereignty as its underlying principle. Nevertheless, the ethical foreign policy has scored a notable success there, even if the legal basis for our action was, in President Roosevelt's splendid adjective, distinctly "iffy". Anyone who has doubts on that score might turn to The Times newspaper of Tuesday 16th November which contains an authoritative article by a legal expert which puts it beyond doubt that we had no legal basis in international law for what we did. We may have had a moral basis, but no legal basis.
This matter has come to haunt us, as we are faced with in many respects a similar situation in the case of Chechnya, which is not an independent state but an associate republic within the Russian Federation, with autonomous status. The Russians, infuriated by acts of terrorism within their own lands, which they believe to have been perpetrated by Chechens, have invaded Chechnya for the second time in a decade, with the dreadful consequences we know.
How, one may ask, should an ethical foreign policy apply in this case? Do the Government intend to follow the Kosovo example and send in our splendid troops to restore the land to its indigenous inhabitants? I hope not. Happily, I see no sign of that happening. Evidently, the need for moral consistency does not apply, and it should not, as Russia is a nuclear power, and Serbia, so far as I know, is not.
In this case, we should have other means of pursuing our ethical objective. Russia is heavily dependent on economic aid from the West and it is no doubt being made plain to Moscow that we shall find it difficult to supply further funds if the present violence continues. Also, if the Russians do have good evidence of the involvement of Chechens in terrorism, they would be well advised to publish it, particularly to avoid the intervention from the Muslim world, as happened in 86 Kosovo. I read in the newspapers that President Yeltsin is today attending a security conference in Istanbul and that the Foreign Secretary is also there. They may have some useful words on the subject. I suggest that in this important and difficult case, however significant are the ethical principles—they are very significant—their direct translation into action is not a straightforward matter. I believe that national interest should also enter into the discussion as a criterion of foreign policy.
I have heard it said (but not by anybody in the Foreign Office) that the Foreign Secretary particularly dislikes the yardstick of the national interest and prefers to measure policies by other broader guides, whether of ethics, environmental gain or third world development. These aspects are also unquestionably important, but my belief is that the national interest is not a bad criterion and can embrace the other considerations which I have mentioned. Happily, there are some examples to illustrate that that can work. The most notable recent example was the agreement on European security and co-operation signed in Helsinki in 1975. The origin of this negotiation lay in a long-standing Russian desire to obtain a security treaty signed by all European countries which recognised the frontiers and territorial gains achieved by the Communists at the end of the Second World War. The West steadily rejected that notion for more than 20 years.
But in the early 1970s a more enlightened policy was followed by the West—in which this country played a notable part—by which it accepted the status quo in terms of frontiers provided that certain guarantees were given in relation to the rights of all citizens in all the signatory countries. In broad terms, that was the basis of the agreement which led to the unravelling of the Communist empire in eastern Europe by permitting East German refugees to travel to the west via Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Here is a case where an ethical approach produced excellent results. There are other positive examples which we can adduce from our experience within the Commonwealth, whose leaders have, happily, not hesitated to suspend from membership states with totalitarian and military regimes.
It appears to me, therefore, that it is possible to apply the ethical approach directly where this can be established as the basis of a negotiation between like-minded states. But the fly in the ointment is the absence of a basis for moral action in the United Nations where we must follow the rules of the charter. That is a considerable handicap whose existence we cannot ignore. I listened with fascination to the ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Stone, about ways in which we may change the situation. I thought that his analysis was excellent, but it will not be easy to find a solution.
I hope that this contribution to the debate does not appear to be unnecessarily critical. My overall impression from experience of diplomacy is that it is essentially a practical trade and in some ways resembles carpentry or bricklaying. The big structure may eventually emerge but, generally speaking, it is not the product of a grand design; rather, the result of 87 different trades and efforts by many diverse people. National interest comes into it. Broadly speaking, that appears to be the conclusion reached in Dr Kissinger's blockbuster volume entitled Diplomacy. The full text runs to 835 pages and contains much good sense. I do not, however, go as far as to suggest that Dr Kissinger would recognise an ethical principle should he happen to come across one. I am not opposed to an ethical foreign policy, but I suggest that. like beauty, it should be in the eye of the beholder and fitted into the broader view which may be described as the national interest.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Blaker
M y Lords, I should like to take up a topic to which the noble Lord. Lord Chalfont, referred. He spoke of the recent wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Chechnya, to which country the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, also referred. I approach the subject from a different point of view. Is the fact that we have had these four wars in quick succession a coincidence or has a common theme brought them about? I believe that there is a common theme to explain the fact that they have occurred in quick succession; namely, in one way or another all have been concerned with self-determination.
The second half of this century—and I believe this will be true well into the next—has been an age of self-determination. In 1945 the number of members of the United Nations was 54; in 1964 it had risen to 113, which was an amazing increase. The total is now 188. Therefore, there have been 134 newly independent countries since the end of the war. Does that tendency have further to go? I believe so. The reasons for the tendency towards self-determination are four. One is the end of the big European empires which occurred relatively soon after the Second World War. In the Russian empire that process has some way to go. I do not believe that Chechnya is the end of the story as far as concerns Russia.
The second factor that has given rise to these small wars is the end of the cold war. When the cold war ended we were told that there would be a new world order. An American professor of Japanese extraction wrote a book entitled The End of History which propounded the view that peace had arrived, but the opposite has happened. The simple reason is that during the cold war it was too dangerous to have wars of this kind. The best example is Yugoslavia, which was kept quiet until relatively recently not only by the strength of Marshal Tito but the fact that until 10 years ago the cold war could have given rise to a world war if some of the member states of Yugoslavia had attempted to secede by force.
The third reason for the tendency towards self-determination is the extraordinary increase in the number of very small independent countries. In the Pacific there are independent countries with populations of no more than 10,000. Twenty years ago the Foreign Office set in hand a study to assess how small the population of a country could be and still allow it to become independent in a self-sustaining way. The conclusion was that the minimum population to sustain a country and its economy was 88 1 million. We now have tiny independent states in the Pacific which still survive. No doubt that is a point of great interest to the Scottish National Party. Therefore, to be small is no longer a barrier to independence. The fourth factor is the instant means of communication all over the world which enable leaders of prospective independence movements to know what is going on elsewhere and to learn of the successes of other movements of a similar kind.
We must ask ourselves whether these wars are a passing phase. I believe that we shall see more of them. If one looks at Yugoslavia, in Montenegro and the province of Vojvodina in Serbia there are separatist tendencies. In Africa, some years ago we had the example of Biafra and recently another example in Rwanda. If one looks at the map of Africa, almost every country has at least one straight boundary. A straight boundary is one imposed by the colonial power without paying attention to boundaries between one tribe or ethnic group and the next. There is a lot of trouble in store there. There are straight boundaries between Somalia and Kenya. Somalia claims the northern frontier district of Kenya. If one looks at Sudan, a war has been going on in the south for some time. We know that in Indonesia several islands aspire to independence. Look also at the Kurdish problem in the Middle East; look also at China, where the province of Xinjiang has separatist aspirations.
Some years ago I was responsible for the independence of two small island territories in the Pacific, one with a population of 60,000 and the other with a population of 150,000. Each had at least a dozen islands and in each of those small countries there was a separatist movement. If that is the case, we should assume that it is frequent to find in almost any country one considers, certainly it is true in this country, that there are separatist tendencies. I believe that we face not a new world order but a good deal more disorder.
We have to recognise that with small wars of the kind to which I refer, we see horrors on our television sets which lead people, and especially the tabloid press, to cry, "Something must be done". And something is done. I refer to the way we have been pursuing our policy in recent years, sometimes in a combat role as in Kosovo and sometimes in a peacemaking or peacekeeping role. If we become more addicted to the view that it is permissible to make war in the search to prevent a serious humanitarian catastrophe, those wars are likely to be more frequent.
Whether it is a combat or a peacekeeping role, what is likely to result is a peacekeeping force. A peacekeeping role tends to last a long time. We have had peacekeeping troops in Cyprus since 1964. In Bosnia they have been there for about five years. In Kosovo a new peacekeeping force has been set up. I do not believe that that will be out of Kosovo for quite a long time. I believe that the same may be true in East Timor.
At col. 731 of Hansard of 15th October, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said:The old ways of settling conflicts without resolving the underlying causes are no longer tenable.89 That is an admirable ambition, but it has been the ambition of governments of all parties for many generations; and the success rate has not been high. One has to recognise that peacekeeping forces do not resolve the underlying cause. It can be said that they make it more difficult to resolve the underlying cause because each of the warring sides can rest content that the peacekeeping forces will keep the peace.
Such a situation raises many questions which have not yet been tackled. For reasons of time I shall not go into them now. But one of the important issues is this. In what war-like situation of that kind shall we play an active role? Will it be limited to European cases, and possibly Indonesia and South-East Asia, or are there wider spheres of action which face us?
The second and most important question is this. If we are going to see more wars of this kind, how are we to continue to play the role we have been playing? And how can our forces have the ability to conduct a conventional war—a subject also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont—and to play all the roles which they should be playing, if the forces we have continue to be run down? The time has come for a radical rethink by the Government on how they will face that situation.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, I rise to deliver my maiden speech as a member of the Green Party. However, as it is 31 years since my first maiden speech in your Lordships' House, and during that time I have not been exactly silent, I can hardly claim any special indulgences.
Perhaps I may trespass on your Lordships' time to explain why I have chosen the day for debate on foreign affairs for this maiden speech. The most obvious answer is that the day set aside for environmental matters is my birthday, and 30 years as a Peer has not yet given me the courage to upset the plans made by my family for my entertainment.
Another rather more satisfactory answer is that, if I were discussing purely environmental matters, what I would have to say, while green (with a small "g") would not be distinctively Green (with a large "G"). Indeed, I imagine that what I would have to say on that day would be said far better by Members on the Benches in front of me. But while what those Members will say will be worthy, it will hardly be worth saying as long as they and the remainder of your Lordships' House continue to believe in absolute free trade, and to favour the overruling of the legislative powers of this Parliament by the EU and the WTO. That is where the international development side of today's topic arises, and where I attempt to follow the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham.
However, as regards the Queen's Speech, let me say that in general I welcome the Government's programme despite a too authoritarian streak in it, and I shall not be tempted to go into the Conservative Lobby next Wednesday. We particularly welcome the Bill for the protection of wildlife although, as the 90 Government are fully aware, the proposals for greater access to the countryside will need enormous care if the legitimate interests of all parties are to be preserved. As to the Government's "leading role in protecting the global climate", all I can say is, "And the best of British luck". I hope that the Government's Bill to reform local government will include true, not party dominated, proportional representation. And a personal hope is that "taking forward" the offer of British citizenship to the dependent territories implies actual legislation. If it is unfortunately true that in the reforms we have lost the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, I hope to pick up and carry forward the torch which I passed to him on the subject of St Helena.
The party on these Benches and the Government will probably not have much joy in doing what they wish to do if they do not fight against and distance themselves from the economic shackles of the EU—I do not talk about the political aspects which I do not regard as shackles—and the WTO. For instance, they will not be able to produce any workable ways to preserve the farming way of life in this country. "Where are the yeomen, the yeomen of England?" The answer is that, apart from the fact that most of them are directors of insurance companies, and it is doubtful whether even those will be able to run farms, they will not be very unhappy because they will at least own land of which no more is being made, they tell me. The real yeomen will have retired or hung themselves on their own bowstrings; and if one looks at the suicide rates for farmers one will see that, while that remark may be a great deal too flippant, it is no exaggeration.
I came back from New England a fortnight ago having been to see the fall colours. They were wonderful, but much was on good farmland which had been put out of operation by the competition of the dustbowl monoculture of the Middle West. If I have an investment tip for your Lordships it is, "Invest in red maple saplings". In that way there will be a tourist use for what was the great patchwork of rural England.
It was that great Englishman and good liberal, G. K. Chesterton, who said that,when you see an apple on a tree your first instinct is to put it in your mouth. It is not to put it on a lorry and send it the length of England.He might have added, if he had foreseen the obscenity, that it is also not to chop the tree down, grub up the orchard and import your apples for eating half across the world, consuming 14 million litres per year of non-taxpaying, ozone-layer-destroying petrol in the process.
Apart from destroying the countryside, we have through GATT disabled ourselves from passing most of the laws necessary for protecting the global environment or caring for the welfare of our animals; and we are still playing with the idea of a multilateral agreement on investments which would deliver us bound and gagged into the hands of the multinational corporations. In the matter of the welfare of animals, the gains that have been made in Europe, largely at our instance, on the trade in furs from animals killed in the cruel leghold traps and the marketing of cosmetics tested on animals have been lost owing to the WTO. 91 Other measures on the welfare of chickens and pigs, for which I have fought in your Lordships' House, are under threat.
I know that the Government will say that they have no intention of signing an MAI and every intention of modifying the so-called rules governing the World Trade Organisation. But the truth is that we are already much too far along that particular path. We need to start a counter revolution. A good start would be to proclaim that free trade as an extreme ideology has gone too far and that we should protect the rural poor of this world by protecting agriculture and persuading countries that an important base position in international affairs is "food security"; is a nation being able to feed itself, as we have had to try to do within living memory.
It has been said, and I am persuaded of the likelihood of it being true, that anything of which one is absolutely certain is probably wrong. And one of the reasons for that is that all extreme positions are wrong. Life is not like that. As Horace said, auream quisquis mediocritatem, or a Golden Mean, is what we need to seek.
Seek to apply absolute free trade, of the rightness of which far too many people are absolutely convinced and which is at first sight the most simple and logical plan for world trade, and on a small scale you destroy the rural countryside of Britain and the whole economy of the Windward isles. On a large scale, you apply a relentless pressure to reduce wages and increase unemployment everywhere in the world.
It is important to realise that all countries and all economies are different and have different needs. Admittedly it is easier to try to supply an overall pattern which suits them all. But that is a bed of Procrustes and lands you up, like the occupants of that bed, either short of a pair of feet or being tortured to death on the rack
The fact is that if we seek to have a civilised world—and I imagine that that is what we all seek—we need to treat each economy and nation separately in the same way as pastors, like myself, attempt to treat every person separately. This involved devolving power to small units and for both economic and political purposes avoiding all large conglomerates. I greatly appreciated and relished the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blaker.
The Government have grasped the first part of this, hence the admirable devolution to Scotland and Wales for which I and noble Lords on the seats in front of me have campaigned for 50 years and which I thought I should never see achieved. They have not yet grasped the second half.
As I said when I resigned from the Liberal Democrats, they are now green-thinking enough that it would not need an enormous effort for them to take this path. The Tories under their present leadership show signs of being conservative enough, in the true sense of the word, to revert to protectionism—which is only a bad thing if it becomes selfish and jingoistic—and even Old Labour would have seen the point. It is just New Labour that appears to be inexorably 92 doomed to pursue a global Gadarene path until we all fall over the precipice. Unfortunately, it is they who are the government.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, I am beginning to feel like a bad penny, always turning up, but I am delighted to be turning up in your Lordships' House, and with so many of your Lordships surviving the shipwreck.
To your Lordships' relief, and particularly that of my noble friend the Minister, who is having a marathon sit-in, this will be a brief speech and I shall make only two points. Reading the gracious Speech makes me feel like a friend of mine who had researched Charles II for a school exam. To her horror, she saw that the question was, "Write all that you know about Charles I". Without hesitation, she began, "Speaking of Charles I reminds me of Charles II".
In paragraph 47 of the gracious Speech, there is reference to the importance of NATO, which reminds me of the importance of our contribution to it. Our new Secretary of State for Defence spoke recently of overstretch; so did my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean; so did Sir Charles Guthrie; so did my noble friends Lord Chalfont and Lady Park; and so did my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall. Unless there is at least a 24-month gap between front line unaccompanied tours, overstretch will always be present. There are only two cures for overstretch: fewer commitments or more troops.
My second point also deals with the Armed Forces and stems from sentiments in paragraph 2 of the gracious Speech: modernisation for the millennium. I remembered the visit of the Defence Study Group to Haslar, the only remaining service hospital in the whole country, which I now hear is to be closed down.
When we visited the beautiful 1755 buildings, I was struck by the modern and avant-garde positioning of them, where wounded British servicemen could be unloaded straight from ships sailing into Portsmouth Harbour. This was 40 years before the Napoleonic wars and 50 years before Trafalgar. "Modern" and "modernisation" are relative terms. By the time of Florence Nightingale 100 years later, the splendid modern buildings were already out of date.
Should we not, to celebrate the millennium, build a new modern tri-services hospital at Brize Norton, positioned for easy access by air from East Timor, Kosovo or wherever our services may be deployed, and also with a large civilian catchment area below the central Midlands?
Having visited the splendid new buildings complex at Abbeywood for our defence procurement, I wonder whether something similar could be erected at Brize Norton as a central tri-services hospital. All the expensive, state-of-the-art modern kit could be moved there from Haslar in low loaders. A millennium services hospital would be a tribute to our doctors and nurses, to our continued commitment to NATO, and above all to our own service men and women who are surely of more vital importance than the weapons which they wield.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, the gracious Speech states that the Government will seek to modernise the United Nations and work to make the Security Council more representative. I hope that when the Security Council is enlarged, as it must inevitably be to take account of the changes in the relative importance of the states during the past 50 years, the veto will be abolished and majority voting adopted, because otherwise enlargement is a recipe for paralysis. It has been difficult enough with the present membership to get the Security Council to act firmly when necessary. Modernising the United Nations, I hope, means improving its rules so that decisive measures can be taken to counter threats to peace or to the lives of millions of civilians caught up in one of the 18 "complex emergencies" which are defined by the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
It can hardly be doubted that reforms are urgently needed in a week that has seen the publication of the report on the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. The UN had a mandate to protect Srebrenica and five other "safe areas", yet 20,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed in and around those areas, 7,000 in Srebrenica alone. As the author of the report stated, the fundamental error made was that we tried to keep the peace and apply the rules of peacekeeping when there was no peace to keep. Perhaps that explains why some other operations, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, have not been entirely successful. The United Nations sent peacekeeping troops into a situation where there was no peace to keep. That was certainly so in Bosnia. The arms embargo favoured the Serbs, who already had plenty of weapons and all the arms factories. There was neither the will to use air power against the Serbs, nor the means on the ground to repulse them. We failed to appreciate that in their plans for a greater Serbia the enclaves were a prime target. Incomplete and inaccurate information was given to the Security Council and we continued to negotiate with the war criminals Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic, even though it was clear at the time that they were engaged in attempted genocide.
That is a summary of the conclusions reached by the author of the report. It is of great value that the General Assembly commissioned it and its lessons should be applied more generally. I hope that in the future all UN operations will be audited to see whether the resources allocated match the tasks; whether the objectives were realistic; and whether those entrusted with the management of the operations were doing their jobs properly. I suggest that those audits should be carried out by people independent of the UN and of the Secretariat in particular. They should also be independent of the states involved in the operations concerned, although that does not mean to say that I have any criticism at all of Mr David Harland who was extremely frank and forthright in criticising his own organisation. The postponement of the report did not mean that it was being watered down in the Secretariat as I had feared, but the principle of the independence of auditors must be as essential for the UN as it is for any other body.
94 The report reminds us of the need to try to punish those in positions of authority who wilfully kill civilians. I join the right reverend Prelate in being pleased to see that legislation is forthcoming to enable us to ratify the international criminal court, in the genesis of which the UK has played such an important part, as he said. Under our law the extradition of an offender is dependent on the court's satisfaction that the conduct in question would be a crime under domestic law in Britain. Therefore, I ask the Minister who is to reply—I gave her notice of the question—whether common Article 3 offences will be made justiciable in Britain.
The preamble to the United Nations Charter said that the peoples of the United Nations were,determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,and, whether it is because of the efforts of the United Nations or the good sense of member states, there has been nothing comparable with the two world wars of the first half of the century during the past 50 years. What was not envisaged in 1945 at San Francisco—the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, dealt with this point in his remarkable speech—was that instead of international wars between the great power blocs, the scourge of the last quarter of the century was internal wars between states of all sizes and sections of their people. Today, there are some 30 conflicts within the boundaries of individual states, and only one active shooting war between states—that of Eritrea and Ethiopia, to which I shall refer later. As the noble Lord rightly pointed out, many are concerned with self-determination, although not all; for example, in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo other causes gave rise to the internal conflicts.
At the OSCE summit which began today, I understand that there was discussion of the indiscriminate Russian bombardment of Chechnya, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred. He pointed out that 200,000 people, or, as I was told, a quarter of a million, have already fled Chechnya into Ingushetia and Georgia. In the previous war between 1994 and 1996, it is estimated that Chechnya lost 120,000 people—more than 10 per cent of her population. As the noble Lord pointed out, many of those people were survivors of the mass deportation by Stalin of the whole Chechnyan people to Central Asia and Kazakhstan in 1944.
As the chairman of the parliamentary committee for external relations of Chechnya said to me in a fax this morning:We have the horrible privilege to be subjected to [ethnic cleansing] by a super-power, a member of the Security Council.The OSCE summit this time is focused on implementation of existing agreements, one of which, made in Budapest in 1994, says that member states will ensure that,If recourse to force cannot be avoided in performing internal security missions, [the state] will ensure that its use must be commensurate with enforcement. The armed forces will take due care to avoid injury to civilians or their property.95 The Russians are flagrantly and systematically violating this commitment. They are erasing whole residential areas by bombing and shelling, and driving the surviving inhabitants out into the open air, to perish of cold, disease and starvation.
We talk about conflict prevention and conflict resolution, but those are not sciences, and when it comes to particular cases there is generally neither the power nor the will to act. The OSCE has produced some excellent statements over the years, but they are said to be politically rather than legally binding. That means in practice that there are no effective mechanisms of enforcement. In Kosovo, where the conduct of Serbs towards ethnic Albanians was identical with that of the Russians towards the Chechens, the doctrine emerged that groups of states are entitled to act across frontiers without the Security Council's express authorisation, when that was the only means of averting an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, made reference to the doubtful legality of that principle.
Reference is made by the Government to our intervention in northern Iraq, but there of course we had the authority of Security Council Resolutions 678 and 688 to use military force in pursuit of the objectives stated in all the previous resolutions by the Security Council from 660 onwards. If a new rule of international law has indeed been developed in Kosovo, it needs to he spelt out more clearly than it has been so far. Which organisations of states are entitled to judge that a humanitarian catastrophe is occurring, and is anybody in any doubt that Chechnya satisfies the criteria? If so, do we not have to admit—another noble Lord has touched on this point—that international law cannot be applied against super-powers, and how do the Government propose that that problem should be dealt with as part of their UN reforms?
It is ironic also that the OSCE summit is being held in Istanbul, on the territory of a state which itself not only violated the Budapest Summit Declaration which I quoted earlier but rejects also the Copenhagen Declaration of the OSCE on minorities. Turkey's armed forces were responsible for the forcible ejection of 3 million people from their villages and towns in the south-east since the armed conflict with the PKK began in 1984, and they still refuse to accept that Kurdish people have the elementary rights of language, mother-tongue education and control of their own local authorities which the OSCE has defined. The Turks are alone in the region in having rejected all outside help to reach a political solution to the conflict within their boundaries. Indeed, they have never even invited the chairman of the OSCE for informal discussions on the subject. Yet here they are hosting a summit at which everyone else is to be told to obey the rules.
If the OSCE is to be an effective institution in the 21st century, I suggest that it should refrain from making any more new declarations until it finds better means of enforcing the commitments that its members have already undertaken. In cases outside 96 Europe where the UN has intervened to prevent humanitarian catastrophes, it has always done so with the consent of the state concerned. In the case of East Timor, Indonesia finally agreed to let the UN send in a multinational force, and the Australians have made it clear that they would not have gone in under any other basis. In Haiti, the legitimate authorities invited the UN. The UN went to Angola with the blessing of the government and UNITA and withdrew only when the fighting intensified.
Should the UN be content to play an entirely passive and neutral role in domestic conflicts, merely alleviating suffering wherever it can? In Sudan, according to UN Special Rapporteur, Leonardo Franco, the human rights situation was worsening,because of strategies implemented in relation to exploitation of oil resources.While the discovery of oil was welcome, he said that,steps taken to preserve control of Sudan's oil fields, such as the displacement of peoples and ethnic cleansing, were unacceptable.Christian Solidarity Worldwide also considers that exports of oil from the Upper West Nile worth up to 500 million dollars per year are likely to prolong the civil war and worsen the human rights situation. One example of that is that there have been reports of Czech and Polish T-54 and T-55 tanks being sold to Sudan via Yemen, no doubt lubricated by those oil revenues.
In fact, many of the conflicts in Africa have been fuelled either by competition over resources or the diversion of revenues from resource exploitation into the purchase of weaponry. The UN is now trying to stop the flow of weapons to UNITA in Angola by denying Savimbi the money that he obtained from the illegal sale of diamonds, estimated at 1.72 billion dollars between 1994 and the end of last year and 150 million dollars this year alone. However, the Government of Angola are also pouring vast sums of money into the war derived from the exploitation of resources. They received 870 million dollars from signature bonuses on the award of rights to oil companies on blocks 31, 32 and 33, and 350 million dollars of that was paid by BP alone for block 31. According to the former Foreign Minister in an interview with Alex Vines of Human Rights Watch, all those funds were earmarked for the war effort.
Should not the UN look more comprehensively at the diversion of resources from development into armed conflict, particularly in Africa, and the possibilities, for example, of using escrow accounts, as in the case of Iraq, to ensure that royalties are used for humanitarian and developmental purposes only? An agency for the prevention of internal armed conflict should have two other functions. First, it should extend best practice in licensing arms exports to states which are less strict in their criteria than the European Union, such as the states of Eastern Europe, the Ukraine, China and North Korea. Secondly, it should develop independent auditing capacity to ensure that states properly observe the rules that they sign up to and the establishment of general mechanisms for looking at the claims to self-determination, mentioned 97 by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, which are often the causes of armed conflict, as in the cases of Chechnya, Acheli, West Papua or Kashmir.
If the UN had a body to which the people of such territories could appeal, the hearing of their cases before an impartial international tribunal may lead to agreed solutions and would in any case provide an alternative to the use of armed force. My final suggestion is that the Committee on Decolonisation, which has almost completed its work on the former dependencies of the European imperialists, may now turn its attention to that problem.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, I was pleased to hear the Government's commitment in the gracious Speech to a policy of adaptability in defence which will ensure appropriate readiness for the challenges of the new century.
Among those challenges I must raise some deep concerns born of direct experience in two parts of the world which may seem far removed from each other but which are now linked by a common threat. I refer to Sudan and the Caucasus, where those who have instigated the wars in Chechnya and Dagestan are now threatening Armenia and the historically Armenian land of Nagorno-Karabakh.
First, I turn to Sudan. In the cruel calculus of man's inhumanity to man, Sudan ranks as the greatest tragedy in the world today. With 2 million dead and over 5 million displaced in recent years, its toll of suffering exceeds former Yugoslavia, Somalia and Rwanda put together.
The National Islamic Front (NIF) regime, which took power by military coup in 1989, represents at most 5 per cent of the Sudanese people. It has declared "jihad" in its most aggressive form against all who oppose it: Muslims, Christians and traditional believers. The weapons of its jihad include military offensives against innocent civilians, denial of aid to vast areas and slavery.
In the last 18 months I and my colleagues in Christian Solidarity Worldwide have visited Sudan six times and visited areas declared by the NIF as "no-go" for the United Nations Operation Lifeline Sudan and other aid organisations, in Southern Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains, Western Upper Nile and Bahr-El-Ghazal. We witnessed carnage and scorched earth policies on a huge scale. We saw the aftermath of massive raids by combined government forces, mujahedin and murahaleen.
In May last year in northern Bahr-El-Ghazal we found the remains of a big market where government-led troops had surrounded civilians, forced them into a cul-de-sac and massacred them. Their bodies, covered with thorn bushes to keep vultures at bay, were putrefying in the heat. We followed in the footsteps of those who had tried to escape and saw how they had been mown down and slaughtered. We walked for miles through corpses of civilians interspersed with corpses of cattle. We saw systematically burnt homes, 98 schools, clinics, churches and crops. We talked with women and children who had been enslaved and saw the evidence of their ordeals, including scars of beatings and half-Arab babies fathered by the slaves' owners.
Genocide is not a word I use lightly, but I challenge anyone who saw what we saw to find a more appropriate word for this aspect of the NIF's policies.
In June this year we were in Western Upper Nile near the oil wells at Bentiu and we saw how entire communities had lost everything in government raids. Six thousand homes, seven churches, three mosques, several schools and clinics had been burnt. The people were left with nothing with which to survive the rainy season. More recently there have been reports that 150,000 civilians have been displaced from areas around the oil fields, to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has just referred.
People in other areas also suffer. The Beja Muslims in eastern Sudan have been driven from their homes to scavenge in the desert. The people of the Nuba Mountains suffer constant attacks and attempts to force them to go to government peace camps, a cruel euphemism for places little better than concentration camps.
Countless Muslim Arabs in the north have been subject to arrest, torture and extrajudicial killing. Recently, 20 people have been accused by the NIF of being implicated in bombings. They include two Roman Catholic priests, one of whom is the chancellor of a diocese. There is deep concern that confessions were obtained under torture. Three of those imprisoned have reportedly died from torture.
There have also been reports of the use of chemical weapons by the NIF in remote and inaccessible places such as the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile. People from the areas attacked give consistent accounts of symptoms of those affected such as sore eyes, skin irritation, acute nausea, vomiting and bleeding, symptoms consistent with contact with the arsenical compound Lewisite. Some die and others survive. In July this year there were reports that similar bombs had been dropped in southern Sudan in Lainya and Kaya with similar symptoms experienced among people in the vicinity. An investigative team was sent, including a Canadian chemical weapons expert, but it was recalled before arriving on site.
The failure by the international community to investigate those reports has caused acute dismay among local people, concern among aid organisations and anxiety that inaction will encourage the NIF to believe that it can repeat such attacks with impunity. Indeed, there have been subsequent reports that similar weapons have been used recently in western Upper Nile in the oil-rich areas where the NIF is trying to clear the area of local people.
The NIF's policy of using oil revenue to purchase more weapons for the war must be a matter for serious concern. Already, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said, there are reports of oil money being used to buy tanks from Poland, transported via Turkey and 99 the Yemen. There are also reports that the NIF is currently flying in 40,000 undercover soldiers from China to fight alongside its own forces.
The National Democratic Alliance coalition represents the democratically elected Government of Sudan, now in exile. Its forces face the grimmest dry season offensives yet and they suffer from a grave asymmetry of resources. They have, for example, no protection for their civilians from aerial attack. If the NIF succeeds militarily, a ruthless Islamist regime will become entrenched in Africa's largest country, a regime which has been condemned by the United Nations for its violations of human rights, known to harbour, train and encourage terrorists and committed to the spread of terrorist Islamism beyond its own borders.
The guru behind the NIF, El Turabi, and his close ally the international terrorist Osama Bin Laden, have called on the warriors of the jihad to regard the USA and all who support it as enemies. That is an open incitement to terrorism.
That scenario leads me to brief consideration of my second area of concern, the Caucasus. For it is the leaders behind the war in Sudan and their supporters who have opened another front in Chechnya, ignited the wars in Kashmir and Dagestan and announced their intention to attack Karabakh and Armenia next.
Chechen leaders have been discussing those issues with President Aliyev of Azerbaijan. There is also robust evidence to indicate that the terrorist bombings in Russia were carried out by Islamist terrorists. The materials, mechanisms and techniques used were similar to those used in the attacks on the American embassies in Africa, attacks which are generally acknowledged to have been the work of Islamists.
There has been a great deal of criticism of Russia's response to the offensives in Chechnya, for example, the eloquent contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.
I in no way underestimate, or have any lack of concern for, the suffering of the innocent victims of Chechnya. However, the Islamists who have initiated these wars are not exempt from blame. Here I must quickly make a fundamental distinction between the ideological Islamists and their policies and Islam itself. Many Muslims are opposed to the Islamists' policies. For example, many Muslim soldiers, including very senior commanders whom I am proud to call my friends, are fighting alongside Christians against the NIF in Sudan. Similarly, the great majority of local people in Chechnya and Dagestan were peaceable Muslims, not seeking a war. They were taken over by the Islamists and became caught up in a conflict not of their choosing.
The war in Chechnya and Dagestan must be seen in this light. The Russians are faced with formidable ideologically committed forces who are instigating these conflicts as part of a wider strategy. At a meeting in London just last Friday, militant leaders, including Abu Hamza and Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, called for support for this—I quote—"Jihad for Chechnya" against Russia, including financial 100 support, media campaigns and volunteers to go to Chechnya to fight. A declaration was also published which included the following commitment:We declare that we will never rest until we establish the Khilafah, that is an Islamic State for all Muslims worldwide, which will be a shield behind which Muslims can protect themselves and from behind which they can fight the enemies of Allah.Moreover, in the Chechnyan war atrocities have been committed on both sides. In the early days of the first Chechnyan war, six ICRC staff were taken hostage in Chechnya and executed. Many other humanitarian and professional workers have also been attacked, terrorised and some of them killed in Chechnya. Understandably, the great majority of foreign organisations moved out and few people remain as witnesses or moderating influences.
Therefore, please may I urge that critical commentary on the wars in Chechnya and Dagestan is balanced and does not continue to put the primary blame on to Russia without apportioning appropriate criticism to those Islamists in Chechnya and Dagestan who started the conflicts, who have their Own track record of brutality and who must carry much of the blame for the suffering of their own people.
These Islamists have announced their intention to attack Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia next: first Dagestan and then Karabakh, and then more Islamic nations of the former Soviet Union in due course. There are many reasons, including oil and pipeline factors. The issues are too complex for discussion here. If any noble Lord would like further information, may I refer to an authoritative article entitled Chechnya; The Mujahedin Factor, written in January 1998 by Yossef Bodansky, Director of the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the US Congress. He concludes:Determined to consolidate their control over the strategically and economically crucial Caucasus, the Islamists and their sponsoring states have already resolved to escalate their terrorist 'jihad' to achieve what no negotiations can deliver. And herein lies the quintessence of the grim prospects for the Caucasus.I regret having to conclude my schematic comments on these two very complex parts of the world on that grim note. However, I hope that the Government have clear, positive and principled policies in these areas and I look forward to brighter conclusions in the Minister's responses in due course to a number of questions arising from the concerns that I have identified. I am afraid that I have to finish on what is a formidable list, and of course I do not expect replies this evening.
First, to return to Sudan, will the Government put pressure on the NIF regime to desist from aerial bombardment of civilians, and especially from targeting hospitals and feeding centres? Will they put pressure on the regime to open all parts of Sudan to independent human rights monitors to enable those who are currently enslaved to be identified and returned to their communities? Also, will they put pressure on the regime to open all of Sudan to aid organisations and to desist from using food and medical aid as part of their policies of forced Arabisation of Africans or Islamisation of Christians? 101 Will the Government raise the issue of the detention and alleged maltreatment of the Roman Catholic priests and all others reportedly imprisoned on false charges? Will they encourage an independent on-site investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons by the NIF in all the locations where these have reportedly been used? Will the Government work towards the imposition of an arms embargo to restrict the NIF's use of oil revenues to purchase more weapons for its war against its own people?
My final two questions concern the Caucasus. Will the Government adopt a balanced policy towards the very tragic conflicts in Chechnya and Dagestan, recognising culpability where this occurs by all sides involved? Also, will the Government do everything possible to prevail upon the Islamists and on the Government of Azerbaijan to desist from allowing the conflict to spread further, in particular to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, as these countries have been identified as the next targets? I hope that the noble Baroness, when she replies, will be able to give an assurance that the Government are doing all in their power to meet these two challenges confronting us as we move into the next century: that is, the escalating conflicts in Sudan and the Caucasus and the urgent need to bring peace with justice for all who are currently suffering in these deeply troubled parts of the world.
§ Lord Ahmed
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask whether she is aware that Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza represent less than 0.1 per cent of the Muslim community in Britain and that these are very extreme cases which have been quoted tonight by the noble Baroness? I am particularly concerned at the way in which Kashmir and other places have been mentioned because, as a Kashmiri, I know that over 75,000 Kashmiri people have been brutally murdered by Indian soldiers. That has not been mentioned, and I feel it would be only appropriate to mention the 3,500 Chechnya civilians who have been murdered by the Russian soldiers too.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to repeat what I said earlier. I made a very clear distinction between the peaceable Muslims and those who are engaged in terrorist and aggressive policies. Also I emphasised my own great concern for those who are suffering in Chechnya. It is important to look at all the causes of their suffering and not to look at these things in a unilateral way and apportion blame unilaterally.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
My Lords, in Supplement No. 1 to the London Gazette dated 28th October 1999, there are no fewer than eight pages of special awards to servicemen and women for their bravery and distinguished performances on operational duties. Apart from the still significant number of awards for service in Northern Ireland and some for bravery during search and rescue operations, this one Gazette 102 supplement lists more honours and awards to personnel of all three services for engagement in conflicts than any other single Gazette Supplement for many years past.
In the case of my own service, there are no fewer than 25 mentioned for operations in the former Yugoslavia, over Kosovo and in the Gulf, or in support of other United Nations operations. They include every one for gallant and distinguished service, a CBE, two DSOs, eight DFCs and 14 mentions in despatches. The whole list is a magnificent indication of courage and fortitude on the part of our servicemen and women. It is very regrettable that there has been so little media interest in this truly remarkable Gazette and in the men and women whose names are listed in it.
I therefore welcome the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, praising the work and fortitude of today's servicemen and women. As a nation and, I am sure in this House, we should congratulate and be proud of our servicemen and women for the way in which they so valiantly serve their country. Because the Royal Air Force suffered no aircraft losses over Kosovo, there is perhaps a mistaken perception that it was not really a dangerous fight. But wars are very rarely without casualties. One has only to read about the operations in Chechnya to realise that wars can be very bloody indeed, both for the attackers and the defenders.
The fighting over Kosovo may have come to an end, but the operations into Iraq continue to this day. We do not see much of them being reported in the media either, but the Royal Air Force has to date flown well over 30 bombing missions over northern or southern Iraq. Since the end of the Gulf War the Royal Air Force has logged a staggering 68,000 hours on operation in that theatre. Those crews too are at risk from Iraqi defences.
We are in danger of viewing such activity as the norm. But for the families and friends of those taking part, it is not something that can be accepted in the same way as normal peacetime flying. Numbing concern and gripping fear can still churn the stomach of even the most resilient of individuals, let alone the children of those involved.
If the nation tasks our aircrew to undertake these prolonged and repetitive operations, we owe it to them to ensure that they are getting full support, both in personal terms and in terms of weapons and other equipment, to enable them to operate effectively. While it may be reasonable, if resources are tight, to look for savings and economies when all that is being done is peacetime training, it is morally wrong to provide less than adequate preparation for operations.
The gracious Speech makes reference to the future of National Air Traffic Services. As the privatisation of NATS is progressed, I hope that the needs of the Armed Forces for airspace to train for operations will be safeguarded. We may no longer mount the large-scale air defence exercises around our shores or send off bomber streams of Victors and Vulcans criss-crossing the whole of the United Kingdom as we did a generation ago at the height of the Cold War. 103 But unfettered access to areas of our national airspace is as essential today as it ever was for the training of our aircrews. I hope we can have an assurance on that.
It is now widely known that the Treasury did not provide all that the Ministry of Defence needed to pay for the results of the Strategic Defence Review. On top of that, MoD set itself a 3 per cent per annum target of efficiency savings. I have no fundamental objection to a sensible squeeze. It can be helpful in ensuring that the best and most cost-effective measures are in place. If all the money released were to be used to help enhance our fighting capability, that would be fine. But is that what is going to happen? The MoD pamphlet—Making it Happen— makes it clear that not all the money released will go to defence. We are told that in 1998–99 £594 million was saved—more than the target. How much of that £594 million has been reinvested as indicated? It is one thing to find 3 per cent per annum from a fully-funded budget. But 3 per cent off a budget which is already short by £0.5 billion is an altogether more difficult task.
We owe it to all those who are committed to operations (or may be involved in them in the coming weeks and months because so many of our commitments are ongoing) soldiers and sailors as well as airmen, to see that they are adequately prepared, properly equipped and fully trained for their tasks. But when money is short, a squeeze comes on the equipment programme, on the size of the front line, on activity levels, or on a mix of all three. But each and every one of such cutbacks, if pursued, will have a knock-on effect on the operational front line. The Kosovo operations highlighted equipment deficiencies. We need to tackle those urgently. This is not the time to be hitting the equipment budget.
The front line of all three services has been stretched and stretched by the length and scale of the commitments which they have been undertaking—other noble Lords made that point most strongly. Reducing the size of the front line to accommodate shortages of funds makes no sense, unless Her Majesty's Government are prepared to rein back severely on their military undertakings around the world. I have seen little evidence of that, in the gracious Speech or elsewhere. That is understandable if we are to continue to punch our weight, hold on to our seat on the Security Council, back NATO in the strongest of terns, and now it seems, be ready to provide a major contribution to some European crisis management and rapid reaction formation. There is no further scope for front line cuts.
Nor, as I have said, can we expect our front line forces to go into operations without the full range of training needed for the tasks they may face. Savings on activity and training not only hit those immediately committed, but have the most serious consequences for front line manning and operational capability in the following months and years. No really satisfactory answer has been found yet to deal with the acute undermanning in the three services, much of it in the ranks where experience and leadership, of key importance in operations, are normally to be found.
104 In the circumstances which the Armed Forces are now facing, now is not the time to be continuing with the sorts of squeezes and pressures on the budget that characterised and dominated the years of the Cold War. We could take some risks then, believing that the chances of actually fighting were relatively low. Today, in the post-Cold War age, when we are committing a greater percentage of our young servicemen and women to live operations than at any time since the end of World War II, we must update that approach.
We must be more realistic about the cost and funding of defence requirements. This Government, I fear, like so many of their predecessors, still seem to think that the old tried and tested Treasury methods of extracting savings from the defence budget should continue. But defence output, what we expect of our forces today, is not the same as it was during the Cold War. We have seen our front lines cut by one-third to one-half in the course of this decade. We have seen serious undermanning and overstretch. But in the same decade the commitment of our ground, sea and air forces and their involvement in intense activity and live operations has grown inexorably. If Her Majesty's Government want to continue to hold their place on the world stage, they must accept that this means a new, more realistic approach to the funding of defence. Words and promises are not enough; deeds and actions are called for.
All those young men and women who featured recently in the London Gazette, and the many more like them in the three services, deserve to be fully trained, fully equipped and fully backed by this Government. Now is not the time to be cutting the front line, saving on training, or raiding the equipment budget. I hope that the Government will react responsibly and provide the funds where they are now so urgently needed. Our Armed Forces deserve no less of this or any British government.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, first, I join with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, in his praise of and congratulations to members of the services who have suffered so much in various activities throughout the world on behalf of the United Kingdom. I do that particularly as a former member of the WAAF, and consequently of the RAF. I am grateful for what the noble and gallant Lord said and hope other noble Lords share in the gratitude he expressed to those servicemen.
I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for his remarks on Chechnya. As he dealt with that issue very fully, I have only a few words to add. We must recognise that in recent months our Armed Forces, together with those in particular of the United States, were engaged in massive attacks on Kosovo, with heavy bombardment of Serbian farms resulting in heavy damage to civilians.
The European Union, including specifically the Commissioner for External Affairs, Chris Patten, is now seeking to influence the Russian federal 105 authorities' military action in Chechnya, accusing them not only of using military power but disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force, but not by engaging in military action. The EU is seeking for the Russian Federation to reach a political rather than a military solution with the Chechen people.
The facts so far are not encouraging. The Chechen people are seeking independence. The Russian Federation, of course, is not. It is not only a question of people's freedom and national identity, but also, of valuable oil deposits in the region. Information available so far indicates that Russian troops are advancing on Grozny and, indeed, some are said now to be in occupation of parts of the capital. The civilians, therefore, obviously had to leave. They have been advised to leave. In all, it is estimated that about 200,000 people are now refugees in Ingushetia and some in Dagestan.
The optimistic outcome for Russia would be for the army to walk into Grozny unopposed. Until that happens it is difficult to conceive that the Russians will embark on a political dialogue as sought by the EU. But whatever the Russians achieve, member states of the EU are faced with alternatives. First, no military intervention should be undertaken; let the Russian Federation deal with its internal affairs unimpeded. Secondly, the EU should be ready and willing to grant humanitarian aid to the many thousands of civilians who have been displaced. Thirdly, the Russians should be encouraged to enable humanitarian aid to be distributed. This is obviously required. Fourthly, in view of the tragic and appalling treatment of some British subjects recently, there must be guaranteed protection for those international aid workers who are willing to go to work in the area.
At today's meeting in Istanbul, with the presence announced of Mr Boris Yeltsin, it can only be hoped that some progress towards stabilisation will be made. In the context of opening up the frontiers of the EU to central and eastern European states, positive co-operation with the Russian Federation could be achieved within a partnership and co-operation agreement. It will be up to the Russians to show that this can and should be achieved. We very much hope that it will.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lord Owen
My Lords, I hope that I shall be forgiven if I am not present at the summing up of the debate. President Yeltsin's most senior adviser is in London and I was due to see him an hour and a half ago. Many issues have been raised in this House which I wish to put to him.
The issue of the Caucasus is immensely complex. We need to listen to the Russians' point of view, but they too must listen to some of our urgent humanitarian demands. There is a need to get more humanitarian aid in quickly. We must also try to convince them that even in internal disputes help from outside can sometimes be effective. For years we believed that we alone could solve the problems of Northern Ireland, 106 and we resisted all forms of outside help. Recently we have seen the value of intervention from people outside the region and from outside one's own country. Somehow we need to persuade the Russians of the value of that.
The main issue I wish to discuss is Europe, but not the euro, although my views on that may be known to some people. I have profound doubts that we should move into European monetary union without looking carefully at all its aspects. But as it is not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, I shall discuss another matter concerned with the European Union and unity. I am, and always have been, deeply committed to the European Union and our membership. I am not in favour of a static membership. I believe that there are times when we can take initiatives. I strongly approve of the attempt to try to negotiate a new European defence and security identity. I know that this is deeply complex. It, again, could impact adversely on NATO if it was handled badly.
On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to develop a consensus foreign policy and then not have the military muscle to carry that foreign policy through. We certainly saw that in Yugoslavia in 1993 when the European Union had an action plan that had been negotiated. All it needed was a perfectly legitimate demand from President Izetbetgovic to guarantee the borders of the then Bosnian republic within a three republic solution. Because the United States did not wish to do that it would have been natural for Europe to have given that commitment but it did not have the capacity to do that.
We also have to look at the implications that now arise as regards the deeper integration of the European Union. This will obviously be of great importance as we grapple with the question of how far we can go on defence and on some of the other issues. The Government have highlighted five economic tests. We can argue about their validity but we shall certainly hear more about them in terms of whether or not we should join euroland.
It is difficult to make a distinction between economics and politics. There are many political and democratic issues that relate to taxation policy and currency. However, it is legitimate for us to try to identify political tests that are also necessary as a safeguard if we are to continue as a self-governing nation. I suggest five tests which may be appropriate.
First, we need to be absolutely sure that we shall be able to continue to conduct our own nuclear defence policy within the consensus decision-making structures of NATO. That is important because, up until Kosovo at least, quite a number of people felt that NATO was an outdated organisation. Kosovo ought to have convinced us that that organisation is of critical importance, if only for two reasons: first, the flexibility it gave for our own Prime Minister to argue at a crucial moment in the war that we had to look again at the deployment of ground troops. Simultaneously, almost, President Clinton had the authority and the flexibility to pursue a negotiated settlement with the Russians as intermediaries because 107 he sensed that the promise his advisers had given him that it would all be over in five days was clearly absolute nonsense. That degree of flexibility and of national independent decision-making is a considerable strength of NATO and I do not want to see it diluted in any respect whatever.
The second test is whether in the last analysis we retain the right to make our own foreign policy decisions even if in a minority of one within the framework of European common foreign and security policy. If one examines closely the Amsterdam Treaty, one sees that we have stretched the elastic of qualified majority voting as far as possible. I do not complain about that. As we enlarge the Community we need mechanisms that push people towards a consensus. But one also needs to have an appeals mechanism over that within the Amsterdam Treaty. However, I defy anyone to change the Amsterdam Treaty in almost any respect as it applies to qualified majority voting in CFSP without effectively impairing one's capacity to have one's own foreign policy in the last analysis. I was shocked that the three so-called "wise men" asked by President Prodi to advise him on the question of enlargement have been able to talk about increasing qualified majority voting in CFSP. I do not believe that is possible. Amsterdam went far in that regard and stretched the elastic. I do not see how one can go further.
The third test is whether any European defence and security initiative established within the EU is purely intergovernmental and there is no involvement of the European Commission, Court or Parliament. That question of no involvement of the European Commission, Court or Parliament was what was agreed by President Chirac and our Prime Minister at the St Malo meeting in December 1998. I think that is an absolute essential if we are to develop a European defence and security identity that does not challenge NATO. Already one sees that pillar being eroded. Again the three wise men have suggested that the European defence identity should not be a separate pillar and that it should be wound into the common foreign and security policy. But of its very nature, common foreign and security policy has to involve the Commission, the external commissioner for trade, the external commissioner for foreign policy and the development issues. They are part of the fabric of developing a foreign policy. You cannot deny that these are tools that have to be there and present at the Council of Foreign Ministers.
Similarly, whether we like it or not, the European Parliament has, without any power, certainly taken some role on foreign policy. The St Malo agreement was quite specific that that was not to happen with defence. I believe that is extremely important. Its democratic responsibility should be to national parliaments, as it has been in the WEU. That is the third test on which we should insist.
The fourth test is whether we remain as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, with the existing veto power, and are not replaced by EU representation on the Security Council or on G8. With great respect to people who have suggested that we could give up the 108 veto, there is absolutely no way the United States of America would contemplate giving up the veto. To even suggest it is to gravely damage the UN, which does not have at the moment—to put it mildly—a very high standing with either the House of Representatives or the Senate. The present administration is only just on the point of being able to start to repay its debts.
We must be realistic. The Security Council needs reform. It is an anomaly that Japan and Germany are not there, but it is hard to bring those countries in without finding a place also for big, significant countries such as Brazil, Nigeria and India. Although expanding the Security Council would have its problems, I believe that those five countries have a very strong case.
The reason for raising the issue is that, first of all, we have the German President talking about EU representation on the Security Council; and now we have Javier Solana speaking as high representative for CFSP about EU representation. I count him as a friend. I think he is a very good appointment: as a former Secretary-General of NATO he knows how to work within the parameters of an intergovernmental organisation. However, I question whether he consulted with the Council of Foreign Ministers before suggesting that this should happen. He is not a EU foreign minister; he is a representative of the Council of Foreign Ministers. We do not have, we do not want and there is no constitutional provision for an EU foreign minister. The EU cannot be represented on the Security Council when it does not have the status of a government or a state, any more than NATO can be represented on the Security Council. These kind of initiatives—or flights of fancy—must be nipped in the bud.
We have had also President Prodi talking about a European army. Again, that will need considerable definition before it is acceptable to many different member states.
Then we have the question of G8. This is not a query. The three wise men have come up with a proposition that would effectively, while Britain is outside the euro, ban the Governor of the Bank of England from attending G7 meetings. It is perfectly understandable that the Americans and the Canadians said to the Italians, the Germans and the French "You ought to be represented by the President of the ECB or by your three governors of the banks—but not by the four of them". They chose to be represented by the President of the ECB, which is perfectly fair. But it is not legitimate—it is against the constitution of the Maastricht Treaty—to try to say that we cannot be represented internationally as an individual state on monetary and economic measures. Again, one must question the motivation behind the three wise men suggesting this.
The fifth test that I would suggest is whether we can continue with the right to impose UK controls at the ports of entry from continental EU member states. This is very controversial. Schengen came in with tremendous enthusiasm and then member states found that they could not live within Schengen and they had 109 to renege on it. They had to change because circumstances changed. We should be extremely unwise in this country to give up that right. We should co-operate fully on border controls and we should have as big an element of EU identity as possible. But, in the last analysis, we should have the right to have our own controls.
These are important if we are genuinely to believe that going into the euro does not involve a massive step towards a single state, towards a United States of Europe. It is not scaremongering to raise these political questions. This is not just an economic issue. There are political questions which need to be analysed carefully. It is much easier to form a judgment on these questions if we do not rush into the euro. We see how it develops; we see how Euroland copes among the member states. The 11 member states are perfectly entitled to take these steps, if they wish. Under Article 43 of the Treaty of Amsterdam we will see a different speed Europe develop. It is a very essential flexibility; it takes on the concept of the Maastricht Treaty opt-out and it gives its general form and general direction.
We should analyse these matters extremely carefully. There are serious and massive long-term implications in some of these short-term discussions. The issues are extremely technical. One has to be more of a constitutional lawyer to find one's way through the Treaty of Maastricht and the Treaty of Amsterdam and how they impact on our own domestic decisions. In the next two or three years we do not need to be anti-European Union; we do not need to be static and to believe that it cannot in some areas take on extra powers; for instance, I think it should do so in the area of the environment. If we think our people wish this country to remain self-governing in all the essentials of a modern state—we have modified our essentials over the 20th century; we may well modify them over the 21st century—we must be vigilant and extremely careful. We should not rush.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Lord Dahrendorf
My Lords, this important debate inevitably has many strands. I, for one, look forward to seeing how the Minister will pull them together. One of the strands is Europe. I find myself in wide agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Owen, both in the underlying sentiment of wishing to make European co-operation work and in the detailed argument about the problems before us.
Another strand is the future of international organisations. I am still intrigued and interested by what the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, said. I hope that his words will be heeded.
A third strand is the vexing issue of ethics and foreign policy. My remarks relate to, but are somewhat different from, the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. I remind your Lordships that the Government's first gracious Speech contained the statement:The promotion of human rights worldwide will be a priority—[Official Report, 14/5/97; col. 8.]110 The Foreign Secretary presented his mission statement, quoted already by several of your Lordships, in which—after security, prosperity and quality of life as interests guiding foreign policy—a fourth pillar was introduced, the promotion of our values. It said:The Labour Government will put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy and will publish an annual report on our work in promoting human rights abroad.It is true that the Foreign Secretary did not use the phrase, often attributed to him, of "an ethical foreign policy".
But the mission statement does not sound very different. It said:Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves.Last year's gracious Speech, the Government's second, reaffirmed the good intentions in the usual laconic way. It said that,my Government remain committed to the effective promotion of human rights world-wide.—[Official Report, 24/11/98; col. 5.] However, if we search for a similar phrase in this year's gracious Speech, we look in vain. What has happened? Has the world-wide problem of human rights been resolved? Has the ethical dimension of foreign policy been abandoned? Or have the Government discovered that the relations between ethics and foreign policy are rather more complex than they at first seemed and that the whole issue of the ethical dimension of foreign policy needs to be reconsidered? I assume the latter. I do not want to be misunderstood in commenting on the issue. My own interest in human rights is much greater and certainly more passionate than my interest in foreign policy. For that very reason, I am not inclined to confuse the two.
Foreign policy essentially is about interest. And since it is to the present day the foreign policy of nation states, it is about national interest. The national interest of a country, which has developed and cherished a liberal order, democracy and the rule of law, entails particularly close relations with others of similar traditions and aspirations. It also entails the desire to see adopted the elements of the liberal order wherever people have shed tyrannies of whatever description. More than that, a helping hand must be held out to such countries. Enlargement of the European Union to include the post-communist countries of east central Europe takes place far too late and is far too hung up on technical matters of the acquis communautaire—often the vested interest of current members.
However, the national interest is not confined to security and economic prosperity. Liberty is indivisible; it will never be safe until it is universal. At the same time, human rights are not in the same sense a national interest. The integrity of the human person, the absence of torture and detention without trial, and the basic freedoms of speech and of association are indispensable for the liberal order. Their violation in any part of the world is unacceptable to us as moral beings. But not everything that is morally unacceptable can be rectified by governments. Indeed, 111 as a traditional liberal, I have a very restrictive view of the role and tasks of government. Campaigning governments are in fact more likely to act against the national interest: than for it. What is more, they are unlikely to campaign effectively. Some of my friends will probably be horrified by such statements, although I hope to clarify them presently.
I am delighted at the flourishing of non-governmental organisations world-wide, especially in the field of human rights. For example, Amnesty began with a programme of adopting prisoners of conscience and fighting quietly and effectively for their release. Foundations, large and small, have assisted those in repressive regimes to set up local radio stations and to produce news sheets and books. Organisations which care for victims of torture have helped individuals and drawn attention to one of the curses of ruthless power. The fate of children in many parts of the world has been the concern of Save the Children and others. The gracious Speech rightly draws attention to this concern and also promises support for those so engaged. That is exactly as it should be.
There can be a climate that is friendly to nongovernmental activists for human rights and one that is hostile. The same is true for non-governmental organisations al home; that is, for the so-called "voluntary sector". It is widely appreciated that this Government have created—not least, in the international sphere, through the Department for International Development—such a friendly environment. However, all that does not form part of an ethical foreign policy or even an ethical dimension of foreign policy. It is an appreciation that human rights need champions so that attention can be drawn to their violation. In the end, perhaps they can become civil rights entrenched in law with appropriate judicial institutions to make them real for individuals anywhere.
Is that all that I he Government can do? It is actually a great deal. But there is more. The Government can also contribute to creating an international environment which promotes the emergence of civil rights—rights of citizens everywhere. Again, the Government deserve praise and support for what they have done. The human rights legislation makes the UK part of a growing network of countries committed to the entrenchment of basic rights.
Others have commented on the fact that it is pleasing to see in the gracious Speech the promise of a Bill which will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the statute for the International Criminal Court. Here, I agree profoundly with the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham. International judicial institutions are still a patchwork quilt. We are groping for a legal order that is binding on all, and we shall probably go on trying and erring and trying again for a long time to come. But such legal institutions are precisely what governments can promote and support. And, let me add, wherever we belong to networks and organisations which have 112 basic rights as an element of their charter, we must not tolerate violations of the charter by any of its members.
An omission, sadly, in the gracious Speech, although one remedied largely in the course of the debate, is in relation to Kosovo. As some of your Lordships know, I grew up in Germany after the war. It was my good fortune to live in the British zone of occupation in which thoughtful and generous men, like the noble Lord, Lord Annan, held important positions. He was Lieutenant Colonel Annan when I first met him in February 1946. Despite the horrible experiences of the war and the unspeakable crimes by Germans, military governments of the western allies created conditions which enabled the new Germany to rise from the ashes and soon take its place in the community of nations. Should this not be much easier in a small part of Europe—Kosovo—which consists above all of victims and not of perpetrators of crimes?
I do not believe that Ernest Bevin would have called the British policy towards Germany "ethical", but it was certainly effective. I believe that we have a grave responsibility not just to protect the warring factions in Kosovo but to make possible the emergence of a province of Europe, which, along with others, will find its place in the redefined European Union.
In this comment on interest and principle in foreign policy, I have avoided the one subject which above all has led the media to pour scorn on the idea of an ethical dimension in foreign policy trade. As a former European Commissioner who preceded the late Lord Soames in the trade portfolio, I have seen a certain amount of trade policy in the making and un-ma king. The subject remains difficult. When I saw the delight of Charlene Barshefsky, the American trade representative, at the completion of negotiations for China's accession to the World Trade Organisation. I could not help thinking of the massacre of Tiananman Square and the suppression of Tibet. However, I also knew that it would not do anyone anywhere any good to use moral disgust at China's violations of human rights as an argument against having the country at the negotiating table.
There are, to be sure, limits to such victories of the head over the heart, but after many years of thinking about them, I still find it difficult to define the line with any precision. That is notably the case when it comes to embargoes and sanctions. When, last week, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who alas is no longer with us—at least for the moment—asked about rebuilding the bridges of the Danube to avoid more harm to innocent people and the Government's reply invoked the sanctions against Serbia, I found myself on his side rather than on the side of the Government. When I read that sanctions against the terrible Taliban regime of Afghanistan included a discontinuation of international postal services, that seemed to me wrong.
Nearer home, it is of course distasteful to realise that British arms have helped repression in Indonesia, although I can readily see the conflict for Members of the other place representing constituencies in which arms are manufactured and jobs are therefore at risk.
113 There may be better answers than the suggestion to look at trade issues case by case but for precisely that reason it does not help to invoke the ethical dimension of foreign policy. Interest, principle and good sense, which are groomed in lively arguments in your Lordships' House as well as the other place, are probably the only sensible way.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Lord Weidenfeld
My Lords, perhaps I may turn to the Middle East. The imminent visit of Prime Minister Barak of Israel to this country may shed new light on the next and so decisive stage of the Arab/Israel peace process. The Israeli Premier has been speaking confidently about prospects and he has been speaking civilly, even flatteringly, about his actual Palestinian and hoped for Syrian interlocutors. But there are perhaps grounds for muted optimism because the unresolved problems are formidable and touch on other issues concerning the Middle East. Euphoric hopes are out of place, as are unrealistic timetables and the urgings of impatient politicians and media commentators.
The Middle East we now confront presents us with new critical issues that go well beyond the conventionally accepted dimensions. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the Caucasian states have emerged as significant and eventually vitally important players. Before long, what happens in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan will be just as relevant as what occurs now in the Magreb, the Sudan or even the Gulf. Water will rival oil as a strategic as well as economic commodity.
In this context the role of Turkey assumes paramount importance and it is with satisfaction that we should greet the Cardiff declaration of the European Union to accord Turkey the undisputed right to apply for membership. We know that attitudes of different European countries towards this issue have been very differentiated. The most soul searching debates occurred in Germany, where the Turkish minority of more than 2 million people, ranging over three generations, creates problems. But the current government have taken a positive stand. The Foreign Minister has come out with an unconditional pledge to back the application of Turkey.
Turkey's long-term economic prospect could be formidable, as are the immediate problems and deficiencies. But there are very solid building blocks for progress. Turkey has an excellent workforce and a burgeoning middle and managerial class. As someone who happens to have experience with networks in higher education, in Europe, the USA and Israel, I have found that Turkish universities, almost alone in the whole of the Muslim world, can hold their own with the best and most sophisticated centres of learning in the West. Turkey, a partner in NATO, which was good enough to risk the lives of her sons for the Atlantic Alliance, should surely be entitled to the material and social benefits and rights of an expanding Europe. Of course she must meet conditions of social and economic convergence and above all upgrade 114 standards of human rights and civil society. President Clinton has just now stressed to the Turkish Prime Minister the need to conform to those standards, to review the status of the Kurds, to reach out to the Greek Cypriots for a workable solution ending the division of the island.
This week in Istanbul, at the meeting of the OSCE, western leaders will speak to President Clerides. A new constitutional construct for the future of Cyprus will have to be found to clear up this contentious issue which stands in the way of Turkey's adherence. The spontaneous humanitarian response of the Greek Government and people in the wake of the Turkish earthquakes has made a deep impression on Turkish public opinion.
The more tangible, credible and cordial our approach to Turkey, the more compassionate and balanced our appreciation of her tremendous problems, the more ready she will be to meet the required standards. But we must also appreciate the size of her diverse problems. She has been twice stricken by dire, natural catastrophe, hurting her economy. She suffers from terrorism within the country. It is far too easy and glib to identify the PKK case with the case for the Kurdish population as a whole. There is a long tradition of social and cultural symbiosis between Turks and Kurds which exists alongside a history of terrible feuding. Furthermore, Turkey lives alongside some unstable and bellicose neighbours. She is the great secular power in Islam, a bastion against the unpredictable carriers of the virus of extremism which menaces not only the region but reaches into the Balkans and even across the Atlantic.
Turkey wishes to maintain friendly relations with the Arab world. The Turkish armed forces are not only reliable members of the NATO alliance but represent a stabilising force in the Middle East. Turkey has close military links with Israel. These links do not threaten the Arab world. On the contrary, they remove much of the ingrained anxiety of the Jewish state at being ringed round by countries whose stability, even in the event of a contractual peace, must not be readily assumed. This Turkish alliance with Israel has been misinterpreted, not only in certain parts of the Arab world but also by critics in this country—usually those who are either consciously or subliminally influenced by an anti-Israel bias. Surprisingly, the BBC also lends itself to sallies of a rather partisan nature on this subject. The Turkish Prime Minister admitted that torture is still practised, but at least he condemns it and promises to abolish it. We must persevere and persist ruthlessly, monitor it and ensure that it is abolished. Let us not forget, however, that there are still unhappy human rights deficits even among countries already declared eligible for membership. I refer to child exploitation on a disturbing scale in Romania and discrimination against and maltreatment of Roma and Sinti in the Czech Republic.
This debate is one of the rare occasions when we can stand back and scrutinise Her Majesty's Government's international behaviour, caught in the dilemma between aspiration and performance—the dilemma between an ethical foreign policy and the 115 constraints of realpolitik. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have repeatedly stressed how much human rights observance and the punishment of human rights transgressions weigh with them. In fact they have been in the vanguard of persisting in bringing war criminals to book and have often stiffened the resolve of their allies. But the grim reality still is that Mr Karadic can freely address his followers in the main square of Srebrenica within a stone's throw of the killing fields; that Milosevic and Saddam Hussein are still in power, indeed even more firmly so than a year ago.
The Government must not be lured into lifting sanctions in both countries on the erroneous grounds that this would ultimately weaken the regime, strengthen the opposition and benefit the people. It would in fact enrich the ruling clans and tighten the grip of the tyrants, who are pinning their hopes on their ability to outstay the visibly tiring alliance, and plotting their revenge, which in the case of Serbia would mean reconquest of territory and in the case of Iraq the undisturbed amassing of chemical and bacteriological arms—but in both cases more misery and loss of human lives.
We have had some interesting and enlightening contributions to the questions of national interest and humanitarian policies. I submit that in the cases of Iraq and Serbia 'the two converge. It is in the national interest of a civilised country to fight against a regime that is preparing arsenals of mass destruction that could within measurable time also affect this continent. I also believe that it is in the national interest to fight the regime in Serbia. That regime has had a destabilising effect on an area of Europe that is within an hour-and-a-half's flying time from here. I do not say that humanitarian and national interests are the same and I do not suggest Quixotic policies. A medieval adage from the city of Nuremberg stated, "We only hang people once we have caught them". It is most certainly not advisable to hit out everywhere in a Quixotic manner. However, if it is within our power to catch the criminal and to do justice, then we should do so.
The announcement from the Government that they will nominate an annual commemoration day for the Holocaust is a commendable gesture in the condemnation of past genocide. But it will lose much of its meaning if we do not do all we can—all we can—to punish all the perpetrators of current and continuing crimes against mankind.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Lord Paul
My Lords, I apologise to the House that I will not be able to stay until the end of the debate. I have a longstanding engagement to attend a function and I should like to show my face there before the end of the evening.
As we conclude the last century of this millennium and look towards another era, it is appropriate that we define our agenda and set our goals for the future. These were, I believe, well defined in the gracious 116 Speech yesterday. I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the perspectives and the proposals they have outlined.
As I reflect upon the gracious Speech, I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to certain concerns that are implicit in its themes and thrust—concerns about democracy and human rights around the world and the importance the Government of Britain attach to them. Of course, in the larger scope of modern history, we have good reason to be pleased at the remarkable progress in the advancement of political liberties. For the first time ever, more than one-half of the people on earth live in nations that are democratic or are moving in that direction. Human rights are now at the top of the international agenda. In those terms it is still an imperfect world, but what a contrast it is from a time barely 60 years ago when only around a dozen countries qualified as democracies.
Britain deserves some credit for this global progress. After all, we have evolved a genuinely democratic, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. We have done so without radical upheavals and in many ways there are lessons for others in that. I know, perhaps better than most, the strains and tensions this experience has brought. But I also know that the progress we have achieved has taken place through a process of evolution, a process far more protective of liberties and more successful than some of the revolutionary experiments that have scarred our century. I am vividly reminded of this because it has been my good fortune to be the Chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton. Noble Lords will remember that this was a parliamentary constituency from whence came a different message just a few decades ago. In the pursuit of a more democratic ethos, we still have some way to go. However, I am encouraged by the sensitivity that the Government show in these matters and the ways in which they are moving to that end.
Our history and democratic traditions impose obligations on us. Among those is surely a duty to assist multilateral organisations as they seek to advance democracy and human rights. Let me say that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary deserves our commendation for his unremitting efforts in the pursuit of these ideals in international forums. That is not often an easy task, given the temper of those gatherings. Britain must continue to promote these causes in such places, especially when they are indifferent to gross abridgements of human rights and human freedoms. That is why I am particularly glad that the Commonwealth is becoming unambiguous on those matters. At this point let me mention that the role of Emeka Anyaoku, the retiring Secretary General, deserves more recognition that it has received. Yet there must be some caution on these matters.
A newly created Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has been designed to name and shame countries that are foot-dragging on, or violating, democratic and human rights principles. Its mission should be undertaken with great care and discernment lest it become a finger-pointing and preachy body. As my 117 right honourable friend the Prime Minister has implied, the Commonwealth does not need more self-righteous talk and words without action.
In that context, noble Lords will be aware of the controversial international debate currently taking place about sovereignty. There are those, such as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who argue that state sovereignty in the modern world is conditional on the human rights behaviour of governments. Many states resist that notion, maintaining that sovereignty is absolute and that internal affairs are entirely the business of national governments. This is a highly contentious issue and will, from time to time, set Britain's national interests against our commitment to democracy and human rights. I hope that on this issue the Government will soon give your Lordships' House an outline of their principles and policy. We will need to give much more attention to this subject.
Allow me to conclude with a tangential observation. We now have a form of national consensus on free enterprise as a fundamental of our economic system. Most people in this country believe that some kind of market economy is fully compatible with democracy. Britain has supported this proposition around the world and it has served us well both in principle and in practice. However, we need to go further. It is now abundantly clear that market economics will not work properly unless accompanied by the rule of law. It is not coincidental that the rule of law is a basic and much cherished component of our democracy. This is a concept that we can promote anywhere and everywhere without accusations of singing a politically self-serving song or engaging in cultural and economic imperialism. As we endorse elections, representative government and the other appurtenances of democracy around the world, I would also like the value of the rule of law to be given more attention. I think that this will better secure both democracy and markets than rhetorical flourishes about the virtues of freedom.
After a century in which authoritarian politics often looked to be the wave of the future, the tide of history is at last on our side. Such moments do not come easily or cheaply. We must work hard to keep the momentum. We have too often paid the price for not sufficiently nurturing what we have accomplished. That is why I am heartened by the sentiments in the gracious Speech.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I too would like to say a few words about the United Nations, particularly in the context of Britain's defence efforts. It does not matter whether we regard the end of the Cold War as being on 9th November 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, or two years later when the Soviet Union was dissolved on 26th December 1991. The point is that the era that came to an end once again gave the opportunity for the United Nations to fulfil some of the hopes that its founding fathers had before the Iron 118 Curtain descended across Europe and effectively divided the world between political systems based on capitalism and Communism.
Thus the reference in the gracious Speech to the modernisation of the UN and the desire of the Government to make the Security Council more effective and representative, could be of great importance not just to Britain but to the world. I say "could be" because I fear that so far I am somewhat unconvinced by the Government's foreign policy. In general it does not seem to have had the rigour or the success of the Government's economic policy. That wretched phrase of which we have heard so much today, an ethical foreign policy, has long been revealed for what it was, a mere sound bite with little thought of the real difficulties that lie behind it. I very much hope that the Minister will ensure that the Foreign Secretary reads carefully the two fascinating speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Bridges and Lord Dahrendorf. I found it very worthwhile to hear on the one hand a diplomat wrestling with ethics and, on the other, a philosopher wrestling with diplomacy.
I also fear that the professionalism of the Foreign Office may be undermined by what I believe my noble friend Lord Lawson might say were the A-level thoughts of some teenage scribblers who are employed in Mr Cook's foreign policy centre. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, pointed out to us, these matters are very difficult and not susceptible to jejune solutions.
I do not have the same criticism of the Government's defence policy. I have the highest regard for the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who was a splendid defence secretary. I believe that he will be an excellent Secretary-General for NATO.
This evening I want to probe a little more deeply into exactly what the Government intend as regards the UN and the Security Council. I imagine that a number of us have read the article in the Economist of September 1999 by the Secretary-General of the UN, Mr Kofi Annan, in which he gives his own ideas of the way forward. I admit that I found his views clearer in highlighting the problems than they were in offering solutions. For example, he seeks to redefine sovereignty away from the sovereignty of the state towards the sovereignty of the individual, when he states that the aim of the UN Charter is,To protect individual human beings, not to protect those who abuse them".No one for a moment would dispute or disagree with that as a desirable objective, but for the UN to attempt to carry that out could lead it into a mire of confusion. As the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, pointed out, this should be the role of some of the international organisations and national organisations which are directly concerned with human rights, which in certain cases have been so successful.
I found it a moving and remarkable experience to listen to my noble friend Lady Cox and her description of what was happening in two parts of the world which she knows so intimately and which she has investigated with such personal courage. If ever there was a case for your Lordships' House being different from another place, that particular speech highlighted it.
119 I do not believe that the concept of a sovereign state seeking to advance its national interest is about to wither away. Any government which gave the electorate that impression would not find themselves immensely popular with that electorate.
Mr Blair is not the first Prime Minister to seek to be in some respects his own Foreign Secretary and I can quite see why he is doing so. Indeed, I have no problem in recognising that Mr Blair has become a major international figure. As regards the UN, he has the opportunity to enhance or to reduce irreversibly Britain's national interests.
I have read with care the Prime Minister's Chicago speech of 22nd April this year on the United Nations. In it he said,The most pressing foreign policy problem that we face is to identify the circumstances in which we should get actively involved in other people's affairs".The Prime Minister's five questions that he believed we must answer before deciding to intervene are a good start. They are these. Are we sure of our case? Have we exhausted diplomacy? Are there practical military options? What about the long term? Do we have national interests? In answering them, we must remember two crucial advantages that Britain has.
First, we hold one of the five veto seats on the Security Council. That is our lasting reward for the time when we as a country stood alone against tyranny in the world, between the fall of Paris on 22nd June 1940 and the invasion of Russia by Germany on 22nd June 1941. That seat means that we can never be required to become involved in UN operations with which we do not agree. We can simply veto the Security Council resolution that would authorise them. That is why our veto seat is a national asset beyond price. I hope that the Government will assure us that they have no plans to surrender it, or indeed to trade it. It cannot of course be taken from us. Any proposal to remove it would itself be subject to veto.
Our second advantage is that we have military forces with standards of professionalism, equipment, discipline, diplomacy, integrity and valour which, taken together, are not surpassed by any other country in the world. I particularly echo the doubts expressed on the idea of a European army by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lord, Lord Owen.
Unfortunately, our military forces are small. They are already greatly over-stretched. We cannot easily afford to expand them within the present budgetary constraints. Yet the world will increasingly need our forces. Since 1989 there have been 35 UN-led (blue-helmeted) operations; there has been British military participation in 17 of them. In addition, there have been five UN-authorised operations (which means multi-national forces or coalitions of the willing) and Britain has provided troops for all of them. I should like to know the gross and net cost to the British taxpayer of each of those operations. If the Minister does not have the information now, perhaps she will write to me.
120 That brings me to a point that I raised recently with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons; namely, the urgent need for the provision of military forces for operations authorised by the UN to be separated from the funding of them. There should be a principle of 100 per cent reimbursement to the providers of military forces from a military fund to which all members of the UN should contribute in proportion to their GNP. I recognise that that is more easily said than done. But I hope that we shall work towards that and that the Government will tell us that they agree.
Then there is the real status of UN Security Council resolutions in international law. It is a very uncertain area. There could be great disturbance to the present delicate balance of authority that Security Council resolutions have if the composition of the council were to be disturbed.
The Security Council is the one place where the scope and need for the most skilful traditional diplomacy survives. The need to obtain the agreement of five potential veto members is often hard enough. If that number were to be increased by one or two, it might be possible. But it is hard to see that any increase would not actually amount to nine or 10. Then, I do not believe that the thing would work. There would be a danger of the UN reverting to the impotence of the Cold War period. I should be even more concerned if the proposal, floated by Mr Kofi Annan in his article in the Economist, to by-pass the Security Council in giving a mandate for UN military intervention were to be implemented.
There needs to be a great deal more thought on the implications for UN intervention than so far appears to be given by either HMG or the UN. There is a need for a detailed political, organisational, legal, moral, logistical and financial framework. It could start with something like a Ditchley conference or even a series of Ditchley conferences. Any proposed changes to the organisation of the UN or the structure and role of the Security Council must be fully debated in Parliament before they are agreed. I suggest that when the Government have gone further with their thinking, they might consider publishing a Green Paper which would enable us all to discuss the proposals.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Lord Williamson of Horton
My Lords, this debate has been wide and I support those who exhorted the Government to use their maximum diplomatic efforts in the cruel conflicts in Sudan, Chechnya and elsewhere. Notably, I support the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I wish to say a word about the European Union, as I have much, perhaps too much, experience in that area. As time goes by, many of the decisions and proposals in the European Union might be best described as "home affairs" rather than "international affairs". Some matters may come up elsewhere during the days of debate on the Address. The issues I wish to raise are still international matters. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will feel quite at home with them.
121 In the gracious Speech there are many general phrases about the European Union, in particular that the United Kingdom Government will take a leading role, with partners. That is a lovely phrase, but it is the implementation that counts, including the implementation in the current year. It is like ballroom dancing: I always take a leading role with partners and nearly always tread on their toes. It is possible that the implementation does not match the general objective.
During the coming Session the Government will be called upon to deal with some business in the European Union which will profoundly affect not only our citizens but our relations with the rest of the world. The principal agenda for the European Union has hardly ever been clearer. It is clear and it is what I described elsewhere as "the triple whammy". There are three main elements. First, there are the next steps on economic and monetary union as preparations are finalised not in Britain but elsewhere for the issue of euro notes and coins in the euro zone. That will change the perception of the euro from being a subject for political and academic discussion to an immediate issue for millions of citizens. It will give the euro a higher profile in international monetary discussions and with the citizens of many other countries.
I hope that the design of the euro coins, at least the European face, will be well received since I chaired the panel which recommended that design to Ministers. The poet T.S. Eliot said that,their only monument … a thousand lost golf balls".When I die, my only memorial will be a thousand lost euro coins.
I do not ask the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, to comment on Britain and the euro. I consider that there is time for that after the next election.
The second element of the triple whammy is the enlargement to a number of applicant countries and I wish to say a word about that. The importance of the coming change has not been fully understood in the United Kingdom. The enlarged union, which runs up to the borders of the old Soviet Union, will be a very different mixture of national traditions and of richer and poorer countries. Over 100 million people have asked to join our union, which will have almost 500 million people, twice the number in the United States and three times the number in Russia.
It is a more immediate issue since the preparations for the negotiations began quite a long time ago. Time is passing. The principal purpose of the Commission's communication Agenda 2000, which came out in July 1997, was to put the European Union in a position to launch the accession negotiations on a fully researched and firm basis. It was a good example of the European Commission working well, in particular with the analysis of the position in the applicant states and the analysis of how we are to finance it within the current budget ceiling, at least up to 2005 or 2006. So we have set off the negotiations but we must not lose the impulsion. There is a certain risk of that at present. If that happens it is a serious political risk. We have set ourselves on this course and we must continue. During 122 this year the United Kingdom Government should make maximum effort to gain an idea of the really difficult issues in these important negotiations, at least with the first group of countries. I refer to questions such as the transition periods, the free movement of people, the application of environmental legislation and so on.
In addition, we are told that there is to be another intergovernmental conference in the near future. I note that we have not given it too much publicity. I am not sure that it will be the world's most popular proposal. That conference is to deal with certain reforms in the present Union not settled at Amsterdam which are considered relevant to enlargement. I shall return to this in a moment because I believe that it is a very important point which so far has not had much attention.
The third part of the triple whammy is the implementation of the Treaty of Amsterdam, notably in the area of common foreign and security policy and citizen-sensitive areas such as immigration and asylum and the fight against organised crime. For myself, I consider that the provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam on foreign policy are a clear improvement on Maastricht since it will now be the heads of government who set strategy guidelines in some important areas and decision-making by Ministers will be eased. In short, I believe that the United Kingdom Government will have their hands full in working with their European Union partners, and to some degree with the European Parliament and Commission, on these three major issues and in continued action to ensure that the single market works effectively and fairly on the ground and that the liberalising trend of recent years in both the EU and the world continues.
I believe that what has been achieved since the launch of the single market is a miracle. The EU played a major role in the Uruguay round of international trade negotiations. As a number of noble Lords have said, this is an area in which the United Kingdom Government had a decisive role in the tide of liberalisation. We can continue that role in the year ahead, notably in further international negotiations on trade barriers which are coming, albeit with some difficulty. At the same time, we should seek to settle some of the other important but smaller problems, such as bananas. That is an important matter for some parts of the world and our relations with them, but it is somewhat bizarre when it is considered that the European Union imports 1.1 million tonnes of bananas from South America and 1.3 million tonnes from Central America, which would fill a big space in this Chamber, and banana exports by the United States could be easily accommodated on the Government Front Bench.
I turn to specific aspects of the major issues and pose a few questions to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland. When many years ago I was private secretary to a Minister in your Lordships' House there was great disappointment if no specific questions were put to which the Minister could give pithy answers. Therefore, I should like to oblige the noble Baroness. I do not believe that these questions are politically 123 controversial, which is perhaps a good thing given the current state of politics on European affairs in the United Kingdom where some distinguished politicians are (to coin a phrase) in the Conservative Party but not run by it.
As to enlargement, do the Government realistically expect the European Union and the applicant states to have identified during the coming year the key issues that must be settled before accession? Are we or are we not on that timetable? Do the Government see any advantage in setting a target date for completion of negotiations, as some people argue? How do the Government view the objectives of the intergovernmental conference? Do they see it as potentially making radical changes with a view to enlargement or principally as an opportunity to complete unfinished business from Amsterdam, such as the weighting of votes between member states and the number of commissioners in an enlarged Union?
The handling of the intergovernmental conference is important. History shows that the number of subjects in an intergovernmental conference tends to increase to fill the time available. That is what has occurred in the past. We are in the exactly opposite position to the United States, where there have been only 26 amendments of the Constitution since the founding; and only 13 since the abolition of slavery. But we have an enormous number of changes proposed. There is a risk that in such circumstances changes which may involve some loss of sovereignty get into the package almost by accident. How we handle the intergovernmental conference is an important point for the United Kingdom.
Finally, perhaps I may say a brief word on the reference in the gracious Speech to over-complex legislation and bureaucracy. There is much to be done there in the United Kingdom and in the European Union on secondary legislation. The message which I pass. if I may, through the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, to the Secretary of State is that it is important not just to change the structure of the Commission but also to change what the Commission does. It is essential to reduce or scrap some of the minor tasks which clog up the administration and give rise to dispute with the Parliament and Court of Auditors out of al. proportion to the possible benefits from the schemes and often increase the burdens on those who seek to make the schemes work.
That is my message on that point. I hope that my questions will receive the pithy answers which I forecast.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
My Lords, I have no special questions for the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, but I shall listen with great interest to the replies that she gives to the previous speaker and earlier speakers.
Your Lordships' debate is very different from a debate that I engaged in recently in the Maltings in Farnham, Surrey, where there were demonstrations of xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and an 124 extraordinary desire to rewrite Britain's history and to target Germany as forever evil. I am concerned that while the European debate goes on we should not ignore the rise of the hard Right wing, if I may so define it, looking at Austria, Switzerland and—I am most sad to say—the United Kingdom. Indeed, I found this week a small quotation in a newspaper which I wish to share. The article is headed "Bad-terms policy". It states:This country cannot have a foreign policy, because it possesses Nationalists, that is to say men for whom patriotism consists of being on bad terms with the rest of the world, and who amuse themselves by raising up difficulties abroad to demolish Government".As in 1899, with the French (according to Figaro), it is just the same in 1999 in the United Kingdom, Austria, Switzerland and elsewhere. I suggest that the nation state concept, wilfully misapplied this century, has led to separation, strife and bloodshed, xenophobia and racism, and has brought again, as in 1899, a call to all of us now for the same strength of purpose to combat division that we had to call upon at the turn of this century.
Coming from the European Parliament, I believe that national identity is best expressed today in an integrated, enlarged Europe; and that the enlargement of Europe is the best way to secure peace for upwards of half a billion people. I believe that beyond Europe, the enlarged and integrated Europe can negotiate well with the Magreb and the Persian Gulf; that Britain's historic links can be brought into play best in the dimension of an integrated Europe; and that we can then negotiate with China, now, happily, coming into the World Trade Organisation. Thus we can work best as a nation state for global stability.
These are uncharted waters. We have had the excitement of 50 years of peace and prosperity, now about to be transformed into a wider Europe. Can we successfully enlarge the formula while still keeping the original strength and flavour? That is the challenge.
In the European Union, we are committed to integrate more countries into the Union as soon as possible. A European Union of even 30 members is perfectly possible in the medium-term future, even if it does involve large and fundamental institutional changes. For enlargement is not only a political necessity, but surely it is also our moral duty towards people who have suffered 40 years of occupation by the Soviet army and have not broken their chains. Czechs, Hungarians, Poles; these are our partners, our European neighbours, our cousins. They are just as European as we are and perhaps they look upon themselves as even more so.
In this context, the Commission now proposes to extend negotiations on accession beyond the initial six plus one, which was published in Agenda 2000 (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus) to all the applicant countries, now numbering 12, including Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, even though there are some special conditions, which I shall mention later, in the cases of Bulgaria and Romania.
125 I welcome that move by the Commission. There is no doubt that that positive signal has already been appreciated in the countries involved. Instead of having six, we now have 12 in the front line for the enlargement of the European Union. And, in fact, we do not have 12; we have a baker's dozen because Turkey has been recognised by the Commission as a genuine applicant. No longer are we playing games with Turkey, just giving it a little through the customs union, but at last we have come to the crunch and said, "Yes, Turkey is a genuine entrant".
That has brought into question our observations about what the European Union really is. To my way of thinking, that moves us on, and rightly so, from the Europe of Constantine perhaps to the Europe of Alexander. The change of attitude of the European Union towards Turkey follows the considerable softening of the Greek position after not one but now two earthquakes. I see that as most positive because for me the accession of Turkey has been a goal for more than 15 years. At the end of a long process, I am sure that Turkey will enter because the process will also involve welcome solutions to issues of human rights, the Turkish Kurds, Cyprus and the Aegean Sea.
Surely, therefore, our goal must be to open negotiations with all the candidates. I do not believe that binding target dates are proper in this case. Target dates will merely disappoint the potential entrants. Nonetheless, surely President Prodi's goal of signing the first treaties by the end of 2004 is excellent. For that to happen, the European Union, we ourselves, have to have achieved significant internal reform by 2002. We cannot afford failure at the next intergovernmental conference.
One of the consequences of the early accessions will be the existence of new and significant transitional periods. We remember that Spain and Portugal were granted generous transitional periods in several key areas; sometimes seven years long from 1985 to 1992. Surely, there is no reason why central European countries cannot benefit from the same treatment. Therefore we have to look carefully at pre-accession strategies, in particular at the Poland/Hungary economic reform programme known as PHARE.
PHARE has been the main support tool from the European Union to candidate countries, not just to Poland and Hungary but now to all the countries of central Europe. It has helped a great deal, particularly in the areas of integration of the acquis communautaire into international legislative corpus. But there is room for improvement. It should be more transparent, more accountable and more closely monitored. Alas, those three words ring true for much of the European Union's programmes, as we have seen yet again from another negative order report in the past week. It is in the mutual interest of the European Union (better use of public money) and the candidate countries(faster accession) to improve the effectiveness of PHARE.
I suggest that we must not forget the Balkans and the CIS. Accession to the European Union is the ultimate goal for the Balkans too. Institutional tools 126 such as the stability pact already exist and we must put them to work without delay. We must provide all the support that we can to agencies at work in places such as Kosovo. They cannot fail.
I recently accompanied Madame Nicole Fontaine to Kosovo. She declared that:Political Europe was born in Pristina".Let us hope that that political Europe in Pristina does not degenerate into yet more separatism, as it is threatening to do. I myself am a member of the foreign affairs committee, which has the lengthy and appropriate title of the Committee for Foreign Affairs, Human Rights and Common Defence and Security Policy. I am its first vice-chairman. I have been given Romania to look at and to nourish into becoming a full and appropriate member of the European Union. I know Romania and have visited the country since 1990. The revolution in 1989 uncovered an unhappy picture. Romania was among the poorest of the countries locally and among those which had suffered most under the heel of dictatorship. Communism and dictatorship made miserable bedfellows and drove the Romanian people right down to scale the depths of poverty.
It is perhaps for that reason that over the past decade Romania seems to have progressed less well than other central European countries. In order to achieve successful liberal democracies there have been several changes internally and attempts to struggle with great problems; for example, that of child orphans, as well as with establishing democratic institutional frameworks. We must put a lot of work into Romania. Our target is to support the country's efforts to join the European Union as soon as possible. Romanians are hopeful of that genuine offer. I shall be in Romania this weekend to discuss with members of the government and the population how they may translate that optimism into practical actions to meet the criteria.
The primary objective for Romania now is to meet the Copenhagen criteria set by the European Union as the two main prerequisites for accession to the European Union, which are stable democratic institutions and a full-speed market economy with special effort required in assistance to childcare institutions. Total PHARE funding for central Europe will reach £1 billion per year between 2000 and 2005. Those funds are vital and their employment must be optimised.
I turn briefly to the Gulf to consider Iraq, where there are war crimes, including environmental war crimes; where sanctions are still in place; where the Iraqi people are not our enemy and never have been but are suffering desperately under the dictator. The United Kingdom supports the Iraqi people in their fight for freedom. However, their bids for freedom, as individuals and as groups, are stifled by torture, destroyed by imprisonment and, ultimately, despatched by execution.
I pay tribute to the extraordinary bravery which some individual men and women have shown and which some groups are displaying. I pay tribute to 127 their endurance, their courage and the faith that they still maintain that someone somewhere cares and will act. The trouble is that we have no solution for practising single rather than dual containment. By that, the West manages to protect the region and to stem Iraqi aerial assaults on her defenceless Shi'ites and Iraqi Kurds But aerial support cannot stop ethnic cleansing, nor secure the release of prisoners. I know that while sanctions have been in place 300 palaces have been built, in which the tyrant hides. Mosques have been enhanced by that most non-Muslim man who has driven the people into greater misery and poverty.
Who can resolve the crisis? Only the Iraqi people, the opposition inside and outside Iraq can do that. I welcome the 8 million dollars for which the US Congress has voted to support the Iraqi opposition, and the 2 million dollars which it has set aside for other projects of that nature.
If the Iraqi opposition succeed I hope there will be no revenge slaughtering of others around Saddam. I am sure that the regime of "rule by fear" has made many other harmless people carry out the most dreadful deeds. We outside Iraq should press and work with the United Nations to lead the task of the rehabilitation of Iraq from the southern marshlands up to the northern tip of Kurdistan.
I cannot leave the topic of the Gulf without commenting on the bravery of the families in Kuwait. The loss of 0.1 per cent of that population has led to many personal tragedies. The public pain of the invasion that Kuwait bore so bravely and the ugly and repugnant scenes of cruelty do not leave the Kuwaiti minds. The Kuwaiti prisoners of war in Iraqi prisons seem to have disappeared. We must continue to work to get them released.
Finally, on Iran, I am so grateful to our Government and to those who work with the Government for building up relationships with the largest country in the Persian Gulf. This is a unique chance to reshape our policies in the region in the wake of the Cold War era. Britain had special and lengthy relationships with Iran and at last we are able to enlarge our trade and to work together on cultural issues. Recently I spent two days in Iran speaking to their first global international conference on ageing. It is most important that we should work in that country.
Earlier the Minister said that Britain's place in the world was to concentrate on tackling poverty and conflict prevention, and that our foreign policy should be grounded in the security of our country. I believe that to fulfil those goals our tasks are to support the Commonwealth, to work to strengthen our ties with North America, and, above all, to contribute to the security of the wider world by working for a larger, deeper and better integrated European Union.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I am a little surprised to be here tonight. I am grateful to my hereditary Cross-Bench colleagues for doing me the honour of electing 128 me to survive the holocaust of the 5th November. To be allowed to address your Lordships once more is a privilege.
I intend to speak on a subject that I told my colleagues concerned me—namely, Europe—about which there is a bland paragraph in the gracious Speech. I listened with interest to the speech of my noble friend Lord Williamson, who served with distinction as Secretary-General of the European Commission for, I believe, 10 years. He speaks with exceptional knowledge. I fear I have a rather more jaundiced view of what goes on in Brussels.
Noble Lords may remember the curious incident of the dog in the night time in the Sherlock Holmes story Silver Blaze. The dog did nothing and remained silent when the villain led out the horse. In the last week or two there has been a similarly curious silence during the extraordinary actions of the French Government in refusing to admit British beef after the European Union and its scientific advisers had pronounced it safe. As far as I know there has been not a cheep from the leading Euro-fanatics in this country. They have preserved an embarrassed silence.
Two months ago in the Daily Telegraph the Prime Minister wrote that, in contrast to the incompetence and extremism of the Conservatives, his Government had worked with our European partners to get the beef ban lifted and that he would give our farmers support in recapturing lost markets. The Daily Telegraph's leader of the same day said that the Prime Minister was entitled to boast about the lifting of the beef ban and that it was something which he has been announcing for two years which has now happened. But it has not, at least not yet. The Prime Minister was wrong-footed. It is difficult not to see the French action as an attempt to damage our beef trade in the interests of their farmers.
In the light of that bizarre episode, which is merely the most outrageous of the periodic efforts of some of our so-called partners to do us down, it is surely necessary for us all to think seriously about whether our present relationship with continental Europe is the best available.
I was impressed by the thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, this afternoon on this issue. Those others who have been critical of the European Union and who were opposed to the Maastricht Treaty have, I think, three groups of causes for concern. To begin with, the EU itself is a far from satisfactory institution. There are times when I find myself so exasperated that I agree with a Mr Ellerby, who wrote to the Daily Telegraph saying:Sir: I am 97 and have considerable experience of the modern histories of Germany, France and Belgium. I can only conclude that any Briton in favour of our further involvement in Europe should seek medical advice".Looking at it in more detail, there is the common agricultural policy, historically the heart and soul of the EU, enormously costly and described by Mr Blair himself asa manifest absurdity which discredits Europe".129 The common fisheries policy is equally damaging, allowing other countries to take large parts of our once great but now diminishing fish stocks. It is supposed to be based on national quotas but this did not prevent the Spanish quota-hoppers moving in, and the Conservative Government's efforts to protect our fisheries have resulted in fines of millions of pounds which we taxpayers will have to pay to the Spaniards.
Our contributions to Community funds remain enormous—I think the figure was £9.5 billion this year—and disproportionate. We pay excessive amounts relative to our wealth, while other countries like the Republic of Ireland, Spain and Greece do extremely well. Fraud in the Community, as the late Lord Benson used to explain to your Lordships with great knowledge and authority, is sadly endemic and deeply rooted.
The management at the top leaves a lot to be desired, as was demonstrated by the resignation and disgrace of the previous Commission, many of whom, however, have returned to their posts as though nothing had happened. All in all, it is not an encouraging picture. We are again and again involved in disputes where we are in the right, but in a minority of one or two. There is the very recent "ganging up" of all our partners, except Luxembourg, on the withholding tax because, as the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, told us the other day, the Germans cannot manage to get a grip on their own tax evaders and so want to saddle us with a tax which would evidently do serious harm to the City, lose us thousands of jobs and drive a valuable trade out of the EU altogether. There is the damage to the London art market, which has been fully described to your Lordships. Our partners often give the impression of wanting to damage our national interests.
It is argued by the Europhiles that inside the EU we have influence and can fight our corner effectively. In practice, our influence appears to be minimal and we are constantly in the losing minority. I think the patience of our people may not be inexhaustible.
Perhaps most important of all, there is, I am convinced, a fundamental misfit in our membership of the EU as it has developed. No reasonable person can any longer doubt that the whole thrust of the EU is to build a single European state. This was the original aspiration of Jean Monnet and it is the clear aim of Romano Prodi, as it was of Jacques Delors and Jacques Santer, and of the governments of the member states apart from ourselves. Progress towards "ever closer union" has been the driving force behind Maastricht, Amsterdam, the inter-governmental conferences, the day-to-day work of the Commission, the Court and now the European Central Bank. If I were a Belgian or an Italian I should support it. But it is manifestly not what the British people want. We alone do not wish to be submerged in a European super-state.
130 But we face inexorable pressure to go along with European integration, as all our MEPs and officials know very well. Romano Prodi wants to reduce or eliminate remaining national vetoes and to increase the scope of qualified majority voting, although my noble friend Lord Owen has told us that there is really no scope for that. Our capacity to look after our interests, to secure opt-outs and rebates, is being rapidly eroded.
The immediate key question is whether we are to abandon our currency and adopt the euro. This would be a further giant step towards the creation of a European state and would be essentially a political and constitutional decision—not, as the Government and the euro fanatics dishonestly pretend, a purely economic one.
I was interested in the points made on this by my noble friend Lord Owen. Mr Major, the man who signed up to Maastricht and denied the people of this country the possibility of choosing what they wanted in a referendum, told the students of Harvard that our participation in the euro is "an inevitability". But your Lordships may have seen the comments by Sir John Coles, who served in Brussels and was, until two years ago, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. He is reported as saying that entering the euro could seriously damage British influence in Europe and across the world; that,the process of centralisation overshadows everything",and that by staying out of the euro we shall help to slow, and hopefully stop, the process.
Sir John and other distinguished people who are against our joining the euro, nevertheless stop short of saying that we should leave the EU. So does the Conservative Party. That party has now taken a robust line in defence of the pound, even though the old guard of the party describe this as "mad" or "incalculable folly". Their change of front is welcome, but their slogan, "In Europe but not run by Europe", though striking a chord with the electorate, as was shown in the European elections, is an unattainable ideal. If by "in Europe" they mean belonging to the EU, then we are increasingly "run by Europe". We long ago surrendered control of agriculture, fisheries and trade, and every year more of our affairs are run by Brussels and this Parliament and our Government decide less and less.
The Europhiles habitually describe Eurosceptics as extremists. But it is surely they who are extremists, seeking as they do to abolish our currency and what remains of our independence and to hand over control of our affairs to unelected commissioners and bureaucrats who know nothing of this country. It is surely not extreme to deplore the way we have turned our backs on our old friends in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, even compelling their nationals to stand in the "other countries" queue at Heathrow.
I am amazed that so many prominent members of the political class in this country are dedicated to European integration. To me their attitude is hard to understand. But worse than that, many of them, from both parties, have when in power told the people of 131 this country again and again what they must know is untrue—that the Community is moving towards the transfer of power from Brussels back to national governments; that subsidiarity is a safeguard; and that we can, within the EU, preserve our freedom of action as a sovereign nation. Not surprisingly, fewer and fewer people now believe them. But the Government continue to edge us gradually nearer and nearer to the ultimate goal of a European state, and if they run into criticism they tend to say that we are now so firmly embedded in the EU that we cannot resume the conduct of our own affairs.
One of the undoubted successes of the Euro-fanatics has been to get it established that to leave the EU is unthinkable, since it would have dreadful consequences for all of us and that this course is only advocated by lunatics. So the Conservative Party and indeed many Eurosceptics maintain that we should stay within the EU but work to make things better and stem the integrationist tide. That is a respectable policy but one which I believe has no prospect of success.
We are in practice faced with only two alternatives—either to continue as we are in the EU, knowing that we are bound to be dragged slowly but surely into the European state our partners want to see; or to work out a new, looser and more satisfactory relationship with Europe. I have no doubt which is the wise course for this country. We should apply our minds to working out a positive alternative to integration. We should certainly preserve the common European market, which is even more valuable to our European trading partners than it is to us. But we need to opt out of the CAP, the CFP and the jurisdiction of the court and to stand aside from the drive to create a single state. No doubt there would be howls of abuse. But our partners need our market and it would be strongly in their interest to reach an accommodation. I am sure that, if handled properly, we could negotiate a readjustment that would work. Norway and Switzerland already have arrangements which give them free trade with the EU. The European Economic Area, which grew out of EFTA, provides a useful blueprint.
A new relationship would free us from the constant rows we have at present and allow us to form a friendlier, more sensible relationship with our continental neighbours. Having one's in-laws living in one's house is a recipe for rows. Separate establishments promote harmony.
We must start now, without delay, to work out the details. The Government ought to do this, but they will not. So the various bodies now proposing entry to the euro should do it for them. They must get economists, bankers, lawyers, businessmen, farmers, fishermen and others to work cut plans for a readjustment which will be fair to all a id secure British interests. They must also spell out the advantages of this course to the British people. I believe that such a readjustment would give an immense boost to our self-confidence. It would be a great and exciting adventure and set our country on a new course with great prospects for the future. I should be happy to be part of it.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Lord Vivian
My Lords, I hope that I may take noble Lords back to the defence of the realm. I shall come to the Strategic Defence Review in due course. I wish to start with the most pressing issue confronting the Army now—the overstretch due to over-commitment to which many of your Lordships have referred.
Recently, the Army was deploying 47 per cent. of its troops to prepare for, carry out and recover from operations. The outcome is that the Army has been unable to retain trained soldiers in their corps or regiments. Soldiers are trained extremely well for operations. They relish the opportunity to take part in them. The trouble lies in the frequency of these deployments, leaving wives and families on their own time after time. The average interval between tours ranges from between about seven months for the Royal Signals and Royal Engineers to about 15 months for armoured and infantry regiments. That is clearly too much as the main reason for married personnel leaving the Army is separation from their families for operational deployments.
Recruiting has never been better; it is up 12 per cent on the projected figures and is currently providing a small net inflow of about 25 soldiers per month. However, unless retention can be dramatically increased, it will take a long time to bring the Army up to its proper establishment. Some 3,500 applicants bid for the 350 places at the Army Foundation College. It is hoped that an increase to the capacity at that college can now be realised. Clearly, we should establish more such colleges and should never have abolished the junior leaders regiments.
I am not against the proposal to recruit young individuals who have been involved in petty crime as first offenders. But if, after careful selection, recruiting these individuals should take place, great care must be taken not to allow the parents of children who wish to enlist into the Armed Forces of the Crown to feel that their children are joining a bunch of criminals. It will not be easy to overcome this reaction. The Ministry of Defence should consider the matter carefully, otherwise other young people will not enlist.
How can the problem of over-stretch be addressed to staunch a serious outflow? I am well aware that the 47 per cent of men and women involved in operations has been reduced now to about 35 per cent. and that we have withdrawn a whole brigade from the Balkans. Our contribution to the military forces in Kosovo is now only about 10 per cent. of all troops there. Reduction of soldiers on unaccompanied tours of duty in peacekeeping or peace enforcement will help keep families together and thus provide less reason for leaving the Armed Forces. A larger Army would also help as unaccompanied tours of duty would come round less frequently, although in reality this is probably not practical. However, a larger Army could be achieved by the deployment of the Territorial Army which should certainly be able to undertake peacekeeping and humanitarian duties. I believe that it would acquit itself well.
133 Of course, if some troops are withdrawn from Northern Ireland, this will also relieve overstretch. But how can we retain those who have decided to leave in the immediate future, over the next few months? One measure might be to offer those undertaking more than one six-month operational deployment each year a bounty of £5,000 per married person and £3,000 per unmarried person for every extra tour carried out. That would not amount to great expenditure and those I have spoken to seem attracted by the proposal, saying that it would cause them to remain in the forces. Unless immediate action is taken we will not have an army capable of deployment. As many of your Lordships have said, such action must consist of either more resources or fewer commitments.
The real sting in the tail of the Strategic Defence Review was the imposition by the Treasury of 3 per cent savings to be found by the Ministry of Defence from its budget each year. This matter has already been touched upon. I believe that virtually all the efficiency savings that can be made have been achieved and that an additional 3 per cent saving can only be highly detrimental to the Armed Forces of the Crown.
Can the Minister give the House an assurance that training will not be cut; that delivery of weapons, equipment and spare parts will not be slowed down; that future weapon programmes will be kept on schedule; that all agreed pay and personnel matters will be met; that married quarters will be refurbished as planned; and that the Centre for Defence Medicine will go ahead as plotted? Can the Minister also confirm that the new smart procurement procedures might produce much of the required 3 per cent savings?
A number of the Strategic Defence Review recommendations have been carried out. The aspects of "jointery" show some progress. But what steps have been taken to set up the pool of rapid reaction forces and the joint helicopter command? When will they be operational? Are the other joint projects on schedule?
It is pleasing to note that the 3rd Division has been relieved of its regional administrative responsibilities and that 16 Air Assault Brigade has been formed. However, can the Minister give the estimated in-service dates for the two new aircraft carriers, the 55 Euro fighters and the four new roll-on-roll-off container ships? May I also ask whether the sixth operational brigade, 12 Mechanised Brigade, and the extra reconnaissance regiment will be operational on time and, if so, when?
The formation readiness cycle has not been achieved, mainly due to the Kosovo situation and the fact that the sixth brigade has not yet been formed. Your Lordships may remember that the underlying assumptions in the Strategic Defence Review were for the Army to be able to deploy a brigade quickly as part of the new Joint Rapid Reaction Force; to be able to mount two brigade-sized operations concurrently and to sustain one of them indefinitely; to deploy a war-fighting division; to continue to support NATO; and to sustain troops in support of our other interests in the world, including Northern Ireland. In view of the 134 continuing lack of retention of servicemen and women in the Army, I wonder whether it is realistic to rely on these assumptions now.
I have already touched on the Territorial Army, but I would remind your Lordships that the TA has been restructured with a view to deployment on operational missions with the Regular Army. So far, in the main, only individuals in the TA have been sent to reinforce the Army on operational duty. Surely the time has come when whole Territorial Army units or sub-units should be deployed on operations such as peacekeeping or humanitarian tasks, which would relieve some overstretch in regular units. If we wish to retain a well trained regular army, various regiments of the TA should be sent to relieve troops in Bosnia and other parts of the world.
I turn to the issue of the Defence Medical Services. Although I have addressed this subject on many occasions in your Lordships' House, the situation has not improved. It has deteriorated. There is a real crisis in existence as the Defence Medical Services were short of about 2,500 personnel as at 1st June this year. I am not aware that the situation has improved in any way since then. Morale is low and future prospects are poor. Immediate action must be taken to rectify the crisis; otherwise the Defence Medical Services will collapse due to lack of staff.
Once again, the problems would appear to stem mainly from poor recruiting and lack of retention. Within the Army, the Royal Army Medical Corps units can support only a medium-scale deployment for operations, and even this may be in doubt as they are well below establishment. If that is the case, Royal Army Medical Corps reservists would have to be called up. Even that is questionable as the reserves themselves are well below strength.
How can that problem be addressed? The situation would be improved somewhat if the Ministry of Defence recruited from overseas. It is understood that there may be available a number of consultants and specialists within the United States of America due to a run-down in their own armed forces. There are also some in Canada, Australia and New Zealand who would welcome a short contract from the British Army. Considerable-sized bounties should be paid to the current consultants and specialists in an attempt to stem the outflow. The Royal Hospital at Haslar should not be run down or closed until the Centre for Defence Medicine is functioning well. Steps should have been taken by now to ensure that National Health Service trusts do not forbid their staff joining the reserves. Military training time should be made available in military district hospital units and proper mess facilities found within them as well.
I should like to touch on the TA medical resources. Before I do so, I must declare an interest as I am Honorary Colonel to 306 Field Hospital. There is insufficient time to draw your Lordships' attention to TA medical problems in any great detail. However, there are some immediate concerns. There have been establishment changes to provide for more consultants and specialists, but that has been at the expense of 135 combat medical technicians. However, it has not been possible to recruit those additional doctors. Yet the combat medical technicians have been discharged at a time when anyone with any medical skill is desperately required. That is quite ludicrous as the net result is weak and undermanned units.
The next point is that all field hospitals except one is a specialist unit. "Specialist unit" is a misleading term as it is a perfectly normal field hospital based on the normal establishment, but instead of recruiting from one specific area within the United Kingdom it recruits throughout the country. That ensures that on mobilisation, National Health Service trusts would not lose a large number of staff at any one time, which is exactly what the National Health Service is worried about. I believe that more TA field hospitals should be turned into specialist units, drawing their personnel from all over the country.
My last point concerns any future reduction in the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Territorial Army Medical Services. I should be most grateful if the Minister would confirm that there are no plans to reduce them.
In conclusion, it is very much hoped that Her Majesty's Government will table a defence debate in the near future when matters can be presented in more detail and subjects such as our defence posture in Europe and training in all three services can be examined.
Finally, as is customary on such occasions, I pay my tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces of the Crown. They protect our liberty and freedom, are brave and courageous and are always prepared to make the supreme sacrifice. Those men and women are an outstanding example to everyone wherever they go, and we all owe then an enormous debt of gratitude.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, first, I should like to say what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, who speaks with such experience and professional knowledge from a long life in the Army. If I may say so without sounding patronising, he is a good example of the kind of Peer whom this House should seek to have in future, should there be a second stage in its reforms.
Like other noble Lords, naturally I read the somewhat lacklustre paragraphs on international affairs in the gracious Speech. However, perhaps I should not complain. We do not expect to have in a document of that nature an essay such as might have been written by my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf. Basically, I agree with what was said. However, I notice that one aspect of international affairs was not mentioned. It was touched on very briefly—but only once—by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, when he pointed out that we have only one great power in international affairs at the present time. 'That is a most unusual state of affairs. Only one power is capable of intervening where it wants, with the force that it wants and when it wants. That power is the United States. This has never happened before. It is worth while 136 brooding on it. When Britain was the master of the world we were nothing like as powerful as the United States is at the present time. Under the Roman empire the imperial authority certainly stretched as far as the Pillars of Hercules and to the other end of the Mediterranean, but Rome was not in any sense a global power.
This current state of affairs is one with which we have to come to terms. The curious thing about the situation is that there are certain oddities with regard to the United States' attitude to world power. First, we are frequently made aware that important decisions on foreign affairs are taken in relation to how they affect lobbies and domestic aspects of American policy. For example, it is difficult to imagine that a major initiative on international affairs could be taken in this election year without considerations which would not seem relevant to the issue in hand. I cannot imagine that the US administration could think of revising its ill-advised policy of boycott towards Cuba until the spring of the year 2001 at the earliest.
Secondly, there is the curious fact that, although America is reasonably at ease with its global position, there is not a great deal of interest in the United States in international affairs in the 1990s. All of us who visit that country come back with some strange story of the relatively small number of Congressmen who actually have passports. Thirdly, there is the fact that the United States, although happy with world power, is most unhappy at the idea of losing men in conflict. That has never happened before with a great imperial authority. Even with the technological superiority of the United States, it is a most unusual aspect of power.
Fourthly, it is most uncertain as to when and how the United States will take any action in the international sphere. A book was written on this subject by Dr Richard Haas of the Brookings Foundation. It is entitled The Reluctant Sheriff The title tells all. Dr Haas pointed out that on some occasions the United States, acting as world sheriff, might like to have, so to speak, a posse of supporters—in Europe, perhaps NATO; in the Middle East, perhaps the posse would be the United Nations. However, on other occasions, many Americans, particularly southern Senators or southern Congressmen, would prefer to act without a posse at all. For example, the French journal Le Point has recently said that in order to fight the drug problem in Colombia 5,000 American citizens are acting under the Drug Enforcement Agency. It is an action of international intervention without a posse.
Do we imagine that this state of affairs will continue indefinitely? In many respects of course it would be beneficial if it were to do so. Most noble Lords would accept—although no doubt with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney—that the United States is basically a benign power. It has a working democracy that is even more effective at the lower levels than it is at the top. It has a remarkable press and, above all, it is influenced by ourselves. For that reason it must be in our interest that that great country should be in such an astonishing position.
137 However, wise men have observed that great powers do not remain in that position for ever. There must be anxiety that America's reluctance to commit troops to combat situations might adversely affect its imperial position. The lack of interest in international affairs of the American public at large must be a weakness. What could happen? For the foreseeable future it does not look as though anything is going to happen. There do not appear to be any potential successors. China or Iran would be impossible.
That brings me to the question of Europe. Of course the nation states of Europe are retired imperial countries and are not capable of becoming anything like the United States. We flitter like moths around the flame of American power, sometimes being burned and wounding ourselves but unable to affect the character of the jet. I listened with great care and attention to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, when he warned against any suggestion that we should join a large enterprise merely because it was European. However, if together we were to create something along the lines of a European defence community that could operate within NATO—I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said on this—at least for the near future, this could be a force which would lead to an alternative source of civilised power in the world. In the short term that could be a continuing source of assistance and counsel to the United States. In the long term it would be able to remind the United States that there are alternatives which could be considered on many different issues.
For that reason I believe that the section in the gracious Speech that gives further support to the ideas on European defence initiated last year at St Malo should be followed up. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, when he asked for a debate in this House in the near future to discuss European defence matters with more attention than hitherto we have been able to give.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Lord St John of Bletso
My Lords, the gracious Speech, while long in its legislative programme, was certainly short in terms of reference to international development and made no mention of the programme of Her Majesty's Government as regards Africa. However, it did mention that Her Majesty's Government would build on work,to strengthen protection for children",and that they would,take further measures to meet their target of abolishing child poverty in 20 years".It is in that regard that I devote my very brief remarks tonight to the plight of children in Africa and draw attention to the problems and challenges facing the African continent, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the successful elections in South Africa and in Nigeria bringing democracy back to that country, as well as the budding peace initiatives in the 138 Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sierra Leone, the continent remains torn by 11 wars involving 16 nations and countless rebel and splinter movements.
Although many of these wars have been largely internal in origin there has been a tendency for them to mushroom into regional conflicts. What better example than the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Eight million refugees and countless more millions of internally displaced people bear witness to the awesome toll of conflict in Africa. What hope does that give for the young children in that continent affected and afflicted by poverty, malnutrition and civil war?
As a noble Lord who has spent most of his life in Africa I say this basically feeling more as an African than as an Englishman. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that one of the main pre-conditions for eradicating poverty will be through the provision of peace and security in many of the war-torn countries rather than through pouring more and more aid into them.
I also entirely support the call by my noble friend Lord Sandwich that Her Majesty's Government should promote greater investment in Africa. I pay tribute to the invaluable work of the NGOs and all those humanitarian agencies which have done such sterling work over the years many of whose representatives have lost their lives in the course of their work.
The country that particularly concerns me is Angola, a country which has seen little peace for almost 30 years. Despite the peace accord earlier this year, the country has now fallen back into civil war. Mr Savimbi and his UNITA forces are widely perceived as craving power and the MPLA as wanting plunder. In the absence of a commitment to peace by both sides, Angola has simply fallen off the international agenda.
In some war zones in Angola landmines are being planted faster than crops. The World Food Programme has received less than 40 per cent of what it needs and once eradicated diseases such as polio are thriving once again in Angola's inaccessible areas with the results that infant and child mortality rates are rising to appalling levels.
Sadly, the conflicts in Angola and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had fed off each other and continue to do so. What is needed is a broader, effective regional effort. I have my concerns about the efficacy of SADC. I do not expect the Minister to make any comments about it. The matter can perhaps be raised in another short debate later in the Session.
I entirely agree and pay tribute to the remarkable and moving speech made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford who spoke of the dividends of peace in Mozambique and the admirable work of Christian Aid. With diamonds and oil in Angola, it ought to be rich but it is sapped by war.
Mozambique has little more than prawns, cashew nuts, cheap electricity and tourism, but since the end of its 20-year civil war in 1994 it has enjoyed 139 unprecedented economic growth, and now, even with the return of well over 2 million war refugees, is self-sufficient in food.
The constraints on the economy in Mozambique are primarily the fact that 60 per cent of the adult population are illiterate, and the social problem that haunts most of sub-Saharan Africa—namely, the spread of AIDS. In replying to this long debate, perhaps the Minister would briefly outline what programmes Her Majesty's Government have, both to fight the spread of AIDS and to promote greater education for the less privileged in sub-Saharan Africa.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to the contribution of the BBC World Service in Africa. The World Service has played an important part in rebuilding many countries destroyed by conflict, through the provision of relevant and independent information and analysis. It is by far the most listened to international broadcaster in Africa. In several countries, it is the main radio station.
The Internet revolution has also opened up many opportunities for Africa. Page impressions to the World Service's on-line sites have grown by 125 per cent in the past year.
The recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in South Africa assisted in pushing Africa up the international agenda. I hope that President Thabo Mbeki's dream in the next millennium of an African renaissance will be a reality, not just a pipe-dream.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ The Earl of Dundee
My Lords, the prospect of lasting peace in Europe may now be rather more convincing than at any previous time. That prospect takes into account the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the consequences of the Kosovo campaign earlier this year. No doubt we should seek to measure and evaluate the outcome of any such peace prospect in terms of stable economic and social development within the regions and communities of European states. That is perhaps as clear a criterion of measurement as it is a desired end product.
What may be less obvious is that economic and social development levels should become the means as well as the desired ends of European stability, let alone the key ingredients and instruments for achieving lasting peace in Europe. Yet that proved to be the case between 1948 and 1989 in terms of the Cold War. The 1949 NATO Alliance could not have been formed had it not been preceded by the economic disbursement of Marshall aid in 1948.
The Cold War would not have ended as it did in the 1980s had the arms race not come to exert an unacceptable level of pressure on the economies of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact states. Nevertheless, right up to 1989, and in spite of promising signs to the contrary, many of us still believed that Soviet communism would remain entrenched for a long time. It did not, and for that an enormous debt is owed to the forging of the North Atlantic Alliance in the first place, to the planning and development of that 140 organisation, and to the balance achieved by its membership in terms of deterrence, diplomacy and economic stability. As we recall, it took much effort and persuasion to form NATO at all. In that connection, it is fitting to pay tribute to Ernest Bevin, who as Foreign Secretary was chiefly responsible for guiding the Americans towards NATO, as it is in connection with this House to pay tribute to Roger Sherfield, Derek Inchyra and Gladwyn Jebb, who as diplomats within the British Foreign Office played a significant part in forming NATO and whom we now remember with gratitude and affection.
There is a striking contrast between the successful handling of the Cold War in 1989 on the one hand and the inept handling of the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s on the other. The contrast is also paradoxical. The former, although it threatened nuclear world war, produced no major disaster in Europe while in the latter, civil war between non-nuclear armies in south-eastern Europe killed more than 250,000 people and made more than 3 million people homeless.
With hindsight, the catastrophe could have been avoided if the prescription of July 1991 of the European Union Dutch presidency had been implemented. This prescription was for two expedients: first, an immediate deployment of NATO and United Nations troops to keep the peace following the hostilities between Serbs and Croats; and, secondly, the continued deployment of the troops while the European Union presided over an orderly secession of states from the former Yugoslavia.
As we know, that proposal was rejected and the western security system remained divided over the former Yugoslavia until the intervention of the Dayton peace plan in October 1995. Many of us believe that, ironically, this division within western defence security was a product of the success of the management of the Cold War by NATO states. For 40 years, NATO's focus had been the containment of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact states which formed its satellites. The containment of regional instability had thus not been a priority, nor even a necessity. As a result, NATO states, distributed over the European Union and including the United States, were unused to confronting regional instability in the 1990s and, regarding the former Yugoslavia, were divided over, and unsure of, the best way to do so.
Yet although division within western security prevented timely containment, western states and governments had behaved honourably and responsibly. The measure of that is the commitment of those states to peacekeeping forces and to the shared cost and burden of reconstruction. During the 1990s wars, there has also been the impressive disbursement of humanitarian aid by member states within the United Nations.
In those contexts, therefore, we can be proud of our own British contributions and, in particular, of the commitment of our own servicemen, to whom the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, referred. Although their advice may not have been sufficiently heeded within the western security system, 141 we can be grateful for the pragmatic stand adopted as Foreign Secretary by my noble friend Lord Hurd; and as successive special envoys and chairmen of the former Yugoslavia peace initiative for the contributions of my noble friend Lord Carrington and of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, whose speech we heard with great interest today.
So the first theme is that European security must depend upon agreed methods for pre-empting and combating regional instability at the outset before it develops and takes hold. It must also depend upon economic and social development, not just as the fruits and rewards of peace, but as the best means of engendering stability in the first place.
That leads to the current stability pact for south-east Europe and to my second theme, which is the scope for this pact to facilitate, in that area, real and effective levels of economic and social development. Clearly, one key problem at the moment is the continuing regime of President Milosevic in Serbia. As soon as this regime may change, economic opportunities for all neighbouring states can become far better. In order to encourage a change of regime, the authors of the stability pact are surely right to begin by excluding President Milosevic.
Nevertheless, there is the option of offering to the Serbian people and the political opposition a separate Serbian stability pact. This concept is already keenly supported by the Serbian opposition, by the much respected Serbian Orthodox Church and by many international observers. Does the Minister agree that without further pressure, such as through a package of incentives and disincentives, the current Serbian administration is unlikely to change, that its continuation will undermine the workings of the stability pact and therefore that a separate stability pact with strict conditions attached, now offered to Serbia, could assist a great deal in bringing about a change of regime? Does she also agree that the stability pact should include conditions to facilitate in Bosnia and elsewhere the revision of economies whose current practices and restrictions will otherwise continue to hold back social and economic development?
My third theme is the potential impact of the steady regeneration of the former Yugoslavia and the neighbouring area upon the rest of Europe. One potential effect is upon the future direction of the European Union itself. Quite apart from the policy option of the EU further assisting established European Union members, that of widening its role to include logical and suitable candidates appears misplaced if such a move fails to resolve or, worse still, ignores altogether the plight of south east Europe.
Another potential impact is upon an improved working relationship between the European Union, the United States and Russia, and hence upon the developing scope for co-operation, trust and combined containment by those powers of instability in all of the regions, including eastern Europe to which a number of noble Lords have drawn attention today. Not least is the potential impact that successful implementations within the stability pact can have 142 upon pragmatic partnerships of all kinds to address social and economic development on different scales. On the one hand, such partnerships may include governments, the World Bank, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and a number of other useful institutions whose general remit is social and economic development. Equally, they should include NGOs, voluntary and charitable bodies to which the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf referred, which may often be working on very small yet extremely effective scales.
It is the remit of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for Social Development in Europe, of which I am current chairman, to encourage the growth of partnerships to achieve within European regions and communities on a variety of scales a measure of social development. It is also the remit of the group to encourage the parliamentarians of the 41 Council of Europe states to embrace this focus and thus to advocate within their own parliaments the added value of European social development from all kinds of partnerships which may include—but neither those partnerships nor their donors should be confined to—large-scale official or executive institutions.
Within the stability pact there is already agreement to the UK's proposal for an investment compact. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will also take a lead in promoting a wide range of partnerships to advance economic and social development as a priority in stability pact areas, as it may also become relevant elsewhere in Europe?
It is vital that within the stability pact over the next few years there is a clear-headed and committed resolve by the United Kingdom and other European states. If the commitment is a genuine one the welcome initiative of the recent German presidency can succeed. If it should begin to do so such results will give new confidence that the powers and institutions of Europe can be trusted to protect its regions and communities and that at least in Europe peace and stability can become a guaranteed human right for all.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Lord Gilbert
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will be kind to me today. I rise to my feet in your Lordships' House to make a maiden speech of a certain kind. This is the first time in 30 years in Westminster that I have found myself in the delightful position of being a government Back-Bencher. I have known 18 years on the Back Benches, some more as an Opposition Back-Bencher with all the joys that that entails, and about eight years subject to the constraints of the Front Bench. I am not quite sure how naughty I dare be, so I shall feel my way.
One of the elements of the gracious Speech that caught my attention and most cheered me up was the suggestion that Her Majesty's Government would work towards reform of the United Nations. I think that they are taking on a pretty mighty task, but I wish them God speed.
I hope that the Government realise that the most important aspect to change in the United Nations is not so much its institutions as attitudes. If one can 143 Change the attitudes, one does not have to worry too much about the structure. If one cannot change the attitudes, whatever one does to the structure will not help very much.
I take as my text tonight four examples of the kind of behaviour that we find at the United Nations which I find extremely destructive and that we encountered in particular at the time of Kosovo. The first is what I call the determined head-in-the-sand principle which we still see with respect to Kosovo; namely, the suggestion that Kosovo is and will remain, because it has been until now, a part of the Republic of Yugoslavia. That attitude, frankly, defeats me. I cannot see a single element of sovereignty that is exercised by Belgrade over Kosovo. In Kosovo, people do not use Yugoslav postage stamps. They do not pay taxes to Belgrade. They do not have courts in Kosovo which will appeal to higher courts in Serbia. They will not send their young men to be conscripted into a Yugoslav army. I shall be grateful if my noble friend who will reply to the debate can identify for me a single aspect of sovereignty which Yugoslavia now manages to exercise in the province of Kosovo.
The second aspect of behaviour at the United Nations which I find distasteful—it will be familiar to all noble Lords—is what I call voting blackmail. We saw that particularly during Kosovo when the People's Republic of China saw fit to exercise its vote in the Security Council with respect to matters in Kosovo purely on the basis of a petulant dislike of something that the United States was doing currently with respect to Taiwan. It had absolutely nothing to do with the merits or demerits of the United States' position on Kosovo. If Her Majesty's Government are able to lance the boil of voting blackmail in the United Nations, I am sure all noble Lords will be very pleased.
A third aspect of United Nations' behaviour which I hope Her Majesty's Government will seek to influence is what I call an extraordinary ability to continue to be bound by outdated shibboleths which the United Nations has set itself. We are told that there is no way that the boundaries of Yugoslavia can be changed. But we all know that that is rubbish. They have been changed several times in the past decade. If one could not change the boundaries of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia how, pray, did Slovenia emerge? How, pray, did Croatia emerge? How did Bosnia and Herzegovina emerge? What is so different between those provinces and Kosovo? I shall be grateful if my noble friend can explain that to me when she winds up the debate today. Good heavens, my Lords, we have just seen the boundaries of Timor change; and there have been many other such cases since the war, but the United Nations seems set on the principle that boundaries may not be changed.
Fourthly, the United Nations has developed the habit of giving grandiose guarantees which it is totally incapable of implementing, largely because of lack of will. A report, instigated by the United Nations, has just been published, as noble Lords will know, with admirable candour and honesty, castigating the United Nations for its performance over Srebrenica. I endorse totally everything that I have read so far in 144 press reports. I confess that I have not had time to read the report itself. But it is exactly the same guarantee that the United Nations recently gave in Kosovo. They said to the Serbs, "Come back into Kosovo. We are there. We will see that you are protected", without having the slightest ability to do so. I hope that the Government will not be party to such histrionic guarantees which can produce disasters.
There are other lessons to be learnt from Kosovo. If I may tease your Lordships, I may keep some of my more indiscreet views for another audience, but one which I wish to proclaim—and I have hinted at it from the Dispatch Box—is my unhappiness at the policy of graduated increments of force. I believe that we made a major strategic mistake in failing to use the maximum necessary force right at the beginning of the campaign, and that force was available to us. I am clear that the suffering of the poor Kosovar people and of others in that area would have been greatly diminished had we from the beginning used the maximum necessary force. My views are well known inside the Ministry of Defence and I hinted at them at the Dispatch Box. They are similar to those of the American Air Force General, General Short, who has been quoted picturesquely in this respect.
I want to make a couple of further comments about Kosovo. It was a remarkable campaign. We kept the alliance together, which was, I hope, an admirable precedent for the future. But it was an extraordinary campaign. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, is not in his place because I want to refer to and endorse one or two of his remarks. The campaign was remarkable because we suffered no casualties. The noble Lord indicated how squeamish the Americans were at the prospect of accepting casualties, but the most remarkable aspect of the campaign is how squeamish we were about inflicting casualties. It is a remarkable precedent for warfare in the future. I am tempted to say that I am slightly alarmed at the possibility that the general public may believe that all wars in which we become engaged will be casualty free. We may have a serious reaction when we find ourselves in conflicts in which, unfortunately, that cannot be the case.
However, an issue which particularly delighted me about the Kosovo conflict was the increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, who made a brilliant maiden speech, is now in his place. The use of such vehicles means that you can do great things; you have military capability without putting your brave young men and women at risk. I hope that the Ministry of Defence will continue to prosecute its research into the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, not only in the reconnaissance and information gathering mode, but also—and I know that there are ongoing studies—in air-to-surface power projection and in the use of air-to-air warfare, where we have an opportunity to take the lead.
I am absolutely convinced that that is the way of the future when we are considering using air-to-air weapons which will have a range—and it is beyond visual range—of 100 kilometres or more. I see very little reason why pilots' lives should be placed seriously 145 at risk in air-to-air combat in the years ahead. That is not an immediate prospect but it is one which we can foresee in the next decade or so.
I must not detain your Lordships long at this time of night, but I wish to touch on the issue of non-lethal weapons. I am glad to say that they were extremely effective in Kosovo, particularly in the way in which they were used against transformers and power distribution systems in the outskirts of Belgrade. I am not clear as to why our American friends were so hesitant to use some of their non-lethal capacity with respect to waging information warfare. I should be grateful for any further enlightenment that my noble friend can offer in relation to that.
Finally, I wish to mention one of my pet hobbyhorses—our strategic airlift capability. I have a couple of questions for my noble friend Lady Symons, who succeeded me as the Minister of State for Defence Procurement and made a brilliant speech in opening the debate today. Are we still running a competition in respect of both our short-term and long-term requirements for strategic air transport? Secondly, is the American C-17 aircraft, as I hope it is, still a candidate for both those requirements?
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, mentioned resistance to changing boundaries. He was really talking about resistance to the break up of states. We need to be rather ambivalent about accepting the increasing fragmentation of the global order.
I spent three days in Slovenia last week at a conference on the enlargement of the European Union. I came away with the strong impression that Slovenia is too small to cope with the full obligations of European Union membership. With 2 million people, it is smaller than Sicily. If it puts all its effort into coping with the full obligations of taking part in European integration, its universities will empty and its civil service will be incompetent.
That is not the smallest state. Those noble Lords who have enjoyed the Franz Lehar opera "The Merry Widow" will remember the extended skit on the idea of an independent Montenegro. We are now most likely to have again an independent Montenegro.
As the European Union expands, we are committed to including Malta which has a slightly smaller population than that of Bradford: 371,000. That raises major questions as to how we shall manage an enlarged European Union. If one looks at East Timor and the future of Indonesia, it would be extremely easy for Indonesia to split up into 20 or 25 independent statelets. After all, Indonesia is a Javan empire taking over from the Dutch empire. But I am not sure that an Indonesia split up into 20 or 25 statelets would necessarily contribute much to the peaceful and stable order of the world.
I shall try to be as brief as possible because it is extremely late. The suggestion made by the right reverend Prelates that debates like this should ideally 146 be time limited is one which we need to take seriously. In this interim House, we have a large number of active and intelligent Members who have a great deal that is useful to say. The only way that we can be fair to each other is to accept that we probably need to discipline ourselves rather more tightly than we have done in the past.
I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, talked about the BBC World Service as I felt that there had been too little said about Britain's civilian contribution to the strengthening of global society and global order. The BBC World Service is extremely important. Every time I am abroad and am forced to watch CNN and various other international news, I recognise the quality of BBC world television and the civilised and cultural values that we can contribute. It is worth paying for and it is worth the British Government making it quite clear that that is part of their foreign policy obligations.
The same applies to the British Council, with its English language teaching and its educational exchange. I declare an interest as a university teacher. Britain's higher education sector has a role to play in contributing to the strengthening of global civil society. We can provide assistance in the development of universities and higher education institutions throughout the developing world, and we can help to educate people from other countries on a broader view of global society.
I welcome, therefore, the Foreign Office's recent announcement that Chevening scholarships, a particularly valuable form of educational exchange, are to be expanded. Educational exchanges of all sorts contribute to better understanding among peoples. I know a little about the largest educational exchange we have had with Argentina since the Falklands war because it concerned the London Schools Symphony Orchestra, of which my son happened to be a member. The orchestra spent two weeks in Argentina last summer, during which the British embassy was extremely helpful. The orchestra played with the Academy of Buenos Aires, also a training orchestra, in the Teatro Colon. It was a great Anglo-Argentine occasion. That is part of the way in which we help to build better understanding among different countries.
I regret that the immensely valuable effort of the know-how fund was transferred away from the Foreign Office to the Department for International Development. After the break-up of the socialist empire, that was another area in which we were able to contribute to better training for the successor regimes. I also regret that our Government were so slow in entering into twinning arrangements with government administrations from the countries of eastern Europe. I am glad to see that at last we are beginning to catch up.
I welcome the emphasis on defence diplomacy within this Government. Part of NATO's new role is to persuade the armed services of those former socialist states that they have a different role in a post-socialist world. One of NATO's greatest successes in 147 the 1980s was to retrain the Spanish army to understand that its role was not to attack the Spanish but to contribute to international order outside Spain.
Two weeks ago I met some of the British military attaches who are working with the Romanian, Polish and other armed forces in eastern Europe, helping them to understand the importance of civil/military relations and the extent to which in a democratic society armed forces have a different role.
A number of British agencies are also engaged in the retraining of police, judges and ministries of the interior. Defence diplomacy outside Europe is now also an important part of the way in which Britain can contribute to a more stable world. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, spoke about the importance of helping to reconstruct weak states as a necessary preliminary to the provision of worthwhile economic assistance which would be a necessary basis for civil society. Clearly that is something that the British are good at and it is something that we should emphasise.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was doubtful about humanitarian intervention. I recognise our limitations, but it seems that that is something we should continue to do with caution. On the imperialism of ideas, we have some confidence that open societies and open economies serve human welfare and noble peace best. It is not entirely a novel concept. I seem to recall learning as a boy that in the 19th century the Royal Navy suppressed the slave trade and international piracy. That is imperialism of ideas perhaps—it is certainly humanitarian intervention—but not entirely novel.
I must say in passing that the continued push for armament exports does not fit in with this emphasis. It is not a matter to be proud of that we can remain among the world's three largest arms exporters. My party therefore regretted the want of a proposal in the Queen's Speech for tougher strategic arms exports. We have, as the Government will know, proposed a strategic arms export Bill.
Conservatives argue that the answer to the emergence of a global network society, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, remarked, is to reconstruct and strengthen the nation state. Liberals argue that the answer to the rapid emergence of a global economy with global communications networks is to promote closer international co-operation and to reconstruct and strengthen global institutions.
The gracious Speech talks about modernising the UN. In my opinion—and here I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley—it is more urgent to re-shape global economic institutions. The World Trade Organisation has now been designated a semi-legal body with a semi-legal dispute settlement process, but of course it is dealing with semi-political issues and it needs to address the question of which principles it is promoting.
The IMF and the World Bank have moved some distance away from the old Washington consensus of free trade and open financial markets, above all, in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. However, I am not 148 sure that what is now called the "post-Washington consensus" takes enough on board the need to maintain some discipline over international capital movement and the need to think about a sustainable world economy. It is possible for markets to be too open and too free of regulation. I agree with the right reverend Bishop of Birmingham that a less than equal world economy, less skewed to the advantage of the rich world and to the disadvantage of the poor world, is something that we have to emphasise more, with the British Government working with our European partners through global institutions.
I also agree that we need a stronger global legal framework through the ratification of the international criminal court. This is not entirely an ethical approach. It is, after all, in our self-interest to prevent the collapse of states into disorder or the emergence of tyrannical or terrorist regimes. The consequences of such regimes emerge on our shores in the flows of refugees. I often attempt to discover how it is that we now have some 40,000 Somalis in London who were not here 10 years ago. They have come, legally and illegally, because of the collapse of the Somali state.
The gracious Speech also touched on the question of Britain's dependent territories. I simply say in passing that Britain's dependent territories, in Europe as well as out of Europe, should be of concern in the sensitive issue of the prevention of harmful tax competition, as a recent OECD report puts it, or international tax evasion, as one has more bluntly to put it. It is very odd that the current position of Her Majesty's Government is that the Channel Islands should be allowed to opt out of the European Union for almost all those things which Gibraltar is allowed to opt in for and that those things which Gibraltar is allowed to opt out of are precisely those which the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are allowed to opt in for. I suspect that that is not a sustainable position. I do not fully understand the rationale for this. The Chief Executive of Jersey explained to me the other week that Jersey has been a "low tax area since 1204", but I was not quite sure that necessarily justified why Jersey should go on being a low tax area in 2001.
The gracious Speech touches on EU enlargement and a common security policy. The scale of enlargement, taking on another 12 or 13 states immediately and, with the Balkan security pact, potentially another three or four weak states, clearly means that the European Union will have to change. It is an immensely important strategic issue, and I regret that Her Majesty's Government have not yet found the political imagination and the rhetoric to explain to the British public and to some of our more benighted partners that this ought to be one of the main priorities for any common fund and security policy. The hesitation of the Labour Government to set out the positive case for closer European co-operation is one which, as the Government know, my party continues to regret.
I regret also that the Government have not made the case more strongly for the single currency. I listened with puzzlement to the noble Lord, Lord 149 Moran, talking about how all other governments were committed to a European superstate. That is not what I hear when I go to Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Ireland or Portugal. But I note that the Danes and the Swedes both have governments that say now is the time for them to join the single currency; I note that the Greek Government are now determined to join the single currency, so perhaps within three or four years we will again be the one odd state out.
On common foreign and security policy, my party supports a stronger European pattern of defence co-operation, though regrets that the Labour Government have not moved on it. We therefore welcomed the St Malo initiative and urge the Government to move further ahead.
Again, we regret the Government's failure to put their policy across. I was glad to be able to read exactly what happened at Monday's joint meeting of foreign and defence Ministers. It was a good report in Le Monde yesterday, but it seems to me that the British Government failed to brief our press as fully as the French Government briefed theirs. Perhaps they should be a little more brave and admit that the Dutch-British Marine Amphibious Force is as useful a symbol of close European co-operation as Eurocorps, which the French Government wish always to present.
I remember the origins of the Franco-British defence dialogue. It was extremely secretive. I learnt about it by accident at a meeting in Paris when a senior French official mentioned how well it was going. At the time the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Britain was Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence was Michael Portillo. I came back to London and asked friends in the Foreign Office whether such a thing was under way, and they said, "Yes. It is going very well, but whatever you do, do not tell Sir Nicholas Bonsor". At the time Sir Nicholas was the chairman of the Commons Defence Committee. And to sense that the Conservative Government were pursuing a policy which they were desperate their Back-Benchers did not discover was interesting.
NATO has to adapt. I am glad to see in the gracious Speech the phrase that we need to "adapt" the alliance. NATO, after all, has lost an enemy, but has not yet found a role. The advantages of a stronger European pillar were first set out by President Kennedy in his speech on 4th July 1962. I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and my noble friend Lord Thomas of Swynnerton in relation to the need for partnership with the United States; not leaving the United States to be the lonely superpower. I was struck by an excellent article in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs by a distinguished American scholar, Robert Tucker, on the dangers of the United States remaining on its own as the dominant power in the world; the dangers of arrogance of power; the dangers of forgetting about its international responsibilities. He argued indeed the advantages of encouraging some sort of countervailing power.
Therefore I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said in relation to the European Union; that is, that we should not uncritically accept everything that 150 is suggested by Brussels, but critically support it. And I wish to apply the same to Washington. We should not be an adoring disciple of everything the United States proposes; rather, we should be a critical friend.
A good foreign policy has to rest on as clear a sense of national identity and national history as its foundations. I watched, last weekend, the Albert Hall and Cenotaph Remembrance Sunday celebrations. I wondered what my son, for whom Waterloo and Normandy are roughly as far away psychologically, thought about these matters, and what it is that we wish to pass on to each new generation in terms of our preferred memories. What I saw in those ceremonies was overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly English—an image of ourselves standing alone. I regret that. I suggest that the Government need to think through rather more carefully now how remembrance of what we have done in the past has to be reshaped as the basis for a different foreign policy. There was no mention of the Polish or Czech pilots who made such a vital difference to the Battle of Britain or to those Polish divisions which fought in the British Army in the Second World War. I remember them well because every time I accompany my wife to visit my father-in-law's grave in Bradford I see hundreds of Polish graves, many of them with pictures of military men on them—people who ended up in Britain.
When I go to Prague I am proud to note that the state secretary of the Czech foreign ministry was a lieutenant in the Czech brigade in the British Army during the Second World War. These are assets which we can still use. I was also sorry not to see more reference to the West India Regiment or to the Indian Army, which made such a major contribution to Britain in the previous world war. Perhaps we would neglect our relations with India rather less, and perhaps we might even find it easier to recruit ethnic minorities into the British Army if we made more of that element of our rich and diverse past. It is the rediscovery of Britain's European and global past which is the necessary and best foundation for an intelligent British foreign policy rooted in European co-operation and sharing responsibilities to the world beyond.
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford on his incisive maiden speech. It was concise and had great clarity. It was sympathetic and showed great insight into the events he experienced in Mozambique. It was a fine maiden speech. The insights on Europe given by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, in his maiden speech were invaluable. I am sure that we shall hear much more from him in the future. They were both excellent maiden speeches worthy of wider audience.
We were fortunate to have two further "maiden speeches" somewhat unexpectedly this evening. The "maiden speech" of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who spoke for the first time in his capacity as a spokesman for the Green Party, in my view admirably covered five different portfolios this 151 evening. I look forward to a further five on Monday and a further five on Tuesday. But perhaps of equal note was the remarkable "maiden speech" from the Back Benches of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. I must say that after such a powerful and incisive speech we look forward to studying line by line the questions and, more importantly, the answers that the Government will produce to his absolutely apposite remarks this evening. I can offer only friendly advice to the Government on this occasion; namely, I think that it would be much easier to have the noble Lord "inside the tent" rather than outside. I advise the Government to give him back a job as soon as they can!
Over the past year your Lordships will have noticed that we have witnessed scenes of optimism as life and hope have been breathed back into the Middle East peace process. Peace treaties have been signed in the first tentative steps to end some of the most protracted and difficult conflicts in the world in Sierra Leone and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nigeria was welcomed back to the Commonwealth after its people chose their first elected president for over 15 years in February of this year.
However, as we have heard this evening, too often events in the past year have caused us to remember that even if the United Kingdom and western Europe are enjoying a prolonged peace, the world is not a safe place for millions of men, women and children. In this year alone conflict and suffering have left their mark in Kosovo, in Iraq, in the Sudan—as noted in particular by my noble friend Lady Cox—in Kashmir, in East Timor and, most topically, in Chechnya. On the brink of the new millennium it is legitimate to pose the question: what will the next century bring in terms of foreign policy challenges; how can we best equip ourselves to rise to those challenges; and what are they? I mention the "something must he done" challenge referred to my noble friend Lord Blaker. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, spoke of a need to respond to an increasing challenge of government being involved in unplanned and unexpected commitments.
In a world where globalisation means that our economies and societies are integrating faster and on more levels than ever before, as clearly stated by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, crises such as natural disasters, communal violence or economic failures have a ripple effect. They are felt at great distances and responses to them can no longer be purely localised.
So let me turn to the first in this context, which was admirably covered by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. The noble Lord focused on Chechnya almost exclusively. The current conflict in Chechnya is the manifestation of two of the greatest scourges of the late 20th century—terrorism and ethnic conflict. If it is allowed to continue unchecked, it threatens disastrous consequences for both the victims and the aggressors. There is no victory to be gained by this course of action in Chechnya; only grief and sorrow and the potential that Russia's progress towards developing a civil society based on democracy and the rule of law will be undermined.
152 We have no independently verifiable reports of what is really happening but, from the information that we have and given the precedent of the disastrous 1994–96 war, it seems certain that Russia's military offensive is disproportionate to its stated aim of a war on terrorists and armed groups in the republic. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, in horrifying scenes reminiscent of the outpouring of refugees in Kosovo which threatened such profound destabilisation, with the border finally unsealed, refugees are said to be streaming into the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia at the rate of 4,000 a day. They have braved freezing temperatures and arrive, exhausted and cold, to face grim refugee camps, where they are at risk from malnutrition and epidemics. They come bearing harrowing accounts of indiscriminate brutality against Chechen civilians by Russian forces.
Can the Minister confirm whether the OSCE considers Chechnya to be Moscow's internal problem? Can she make a clear statement on whether the Government consider this to be an internal Russian problem? This is a point of critical importance, as any action taken by the Government, together with our international partners, will be predicated on this issue, particularly in view of the proposed clause in the OSCE's new charter stating that if a member state violates human rights it is not a purely internal matter. Does the Minister agree with the United States administration, which has said that Russia's military tactics are not in keeping with the Geneva Convention?
In the words of the US Secretary of State, what is happening in Chechnya is "ominous and deplorable". Those words are all too familiar. It is for this reason that in recent days there has been much attention drawn to the parallels in Kosovo. But in the case of Chechnya, Britain has been accused of standing on the sidelines and doing nothing. I am aware that the Foreign Secretary has spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov, but this hardly compares to the Foreign Secretary's response to the crisis in East Timor, when he cut short his visit to Japan to attend an emergency meeting in Auckland with other Foreign Ministers to establish an international consensus for action.
Where is the international consensus for action on Chechnya? Today I seek a clear statement from the Minister on the Government's policy towards the crisis in Chechnya and on the ways in which the Government intend to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of Russia and of the wider region.
From these Benches we understand that there are limits to similarities between the situation in Kosovo and the situation in Chechnya. Kosovo was a crisis which took place on the very back-door step of NATO and Europe and represented real instability and insecurity within our region. But if the Government are prepared to justify the NATO action in Kosovo on humanitarian grounds, then the Government—particularly a government who claim an ethical dimension to their foreign policy—must be able to 153 explain, coherently and intelligently, why hundreds of thousands of refugees in Chechnya require a different response to refugees in Kosovo.
As noted by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, there are no easy solutions or quick fixes to this crisis or, indeed, to any other of the foreign affairs issues which we have debated this evening. However, the geopolitical and diplomatic hurdles thrown up by the situation in Chechnya should not be underestimated. But for a Government who have an ethical dimension to their foreign policy and whose Foreign Secretary has been keen to emphasise the lead he has taken in Kosovo and in East Timor, those hurdles do not relieve the Government of the responsibility to set out the role they are prepared to undertake to assist in healing the wounds of hundreds of thousands of those associated with the problem of Chechnya—wounds which run all the way from Bosnia to Moscow.
Several noble Lords have raised the issue of developments in Kosovo. I look forward to the Minister's Williamson-style pithy answers to the questions that have been posed concerning that troubled province. From these Benches we supported the Government in their decision to take military action with our NATO allies against Serbia. Nothing has ever divided us across the Chamber on that principle. However, the foreign policy question today is: what of Kosovo today? Kosovo's long-term status is still in question and its economy and infrastructure remain devastated. Five months after the end of the NATO bombing campaign, there is still a high level of ethnic violence and rivalry across the province. Crime is rife and peace is being maintained only very tenuously by the presence of the international peacekeeping force KFOR.
The current situation in Kosovo highlights the critical importance of the work of the UN mission, UNMIK, in the rebuilding of civil society in the province. The fragile seeds of peace and democracy will never take root and grow on the barren soil of chaos and confusion, fertilised only by hatred and by distrust. Unless an interim civil administration is established, democratic institutions are built, the economy of Kosovo is reconstructed, a legal and judicial framework is established and the cycle of ethnically-related violence is broken once and for all, the international community will never succeed in its common goal of a multi-ethnic, stable, peaceful Kosovo enjoying substantial autonomy and meaningful self-administration.
Many noble Lords will have been concerned to read press reports this week that UNMIK is mired in bureaucracy and incompetence, that almost all its major projects are far behind schedule and that respect for the UN has plummeted in the province. The Minister will be aware that the UN representative in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, answers those accusations by saying that, although promises and pledges of funds are plentiful, UNMIK simply does not have enough hard cash to do its job. Is the Minister in a position to say whether that is true, and can she tell the House when the 1 billion dollars pledged at 154 yesterday's—yes, yesterday's—very belated Kosovo donors' conference will arrive in view of the need for a rapid infusion of money?
We are all agreed that the evil ethnic cleansing that took place in Kosovo, which caused the NATO operation against Serbia earlier this year, was an assault on the universal values of respect for human rights and dignity. But after winning the war in Kosovo, we must not lose the peace. The ultimate test of the success or failure of our military intervention in Kosovo will be the way in which we implement the peace we have imposed and the resources which we are prepared to commit for that purpose.
No one can underestimate the wider implications of failing to win the peace, the importance of Montenegro and the need to take steps to protect the integrity and security of the Montenegrin population, in view of the proposed referendum on secession and the adoption of the German mark as an official currency on 2nd November, which have led to menacing threats from Belgrade.
Those issues have been debated this evening, not least in the context of our defence policy. Many of your Lordships have raised questions on military intervention in general. When the Minister opened the debate, she said that Britain needs to pull more weight. To summarise the sentiments of many of your Lordships, the Minister would receive the following response: Britain needs to pull more weight; what with? Our Armed Forces are already seriously overstretched. That has been a common theme from all sides of the House and one which must be addressed in the different global environment—
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, perhaps I may put the record straight. I did not say that Britain needed to pull more weight; I said that Europe needed to pull more weight.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I am delighted to hear the Minister say that she now sees a significant distinction between Europe and Britain. Is she saying to the House that Britain is pulling sufficient weight; and would she like to name the countries in Europe which are not paying their way in terms of defence policy?
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I do not intend to go over the whole of the speech that I made earlier today. If the noble Lord cares to read it properly and listens perhaps a little more carefully in future, he will see that I was making very specific points about Europe's armed forces needing to be restructured, needing to be able to meet the requirements of the next century and needing to be better deployable. That is what I said. When the noble Lord reads it, I am sure he will understand the argument better.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I did not actually hear the answer to my question about naming one country in Europe which the Minister believes should be 155 pulling more weight on the defence front. I shall happily give way if the noble Baroness wishes to intervene.
In the event that we are not to hear of a single country, I shall move on to a point on which there was widespread agreement around the Chamber. I refer to the financing of our defence capability in a fast-evolving world. We did not have a clear and decisive answer from the Minister in her opening remarks. Perhaps the Government will respond tonight and recognise the collective wisdom and experience around the Chamber. The points that were made about our Armed Forces being heavily overstretched must be addressed if the Armed Forces are to continue to undertake the functions which the Government have set out and which the Government have supported. Therein lies the heart of the argument which came from the Cross Benches, which came from my own Benches and which indeed came from the Minister's Benches. That is the issue to which we have not yet had a reply.
I look forward with great interest to the Minister's summing up because it is crucial to ensure that the outstanding work being done by our Armed Forces is properly and adequately financed. But it is not just the financing of our Armed Forces that is important. It is recognition by the Government that when it comes to military intervention in the 21st century, as we have seen over the past year in cases such as Kosovo and Iraq, the more frequent use of military force under Chapter 7 of the UN security charter will increasingly pose a threat to Security Council unanimity and the consensus-based nature of UN politics. That point was raised on a number of occasions during the debate. It is essential that we are able to agree a prescription with our partners for the breaking of the deadlock that has increasingly paralysed the UN Security Council when it is called upon to assert international authority. Otherwise, that authority will be undermined.
Today's geopolitical environment, in which intrastate conflicts increasingly pose as much of a threat to international stability as interstate conflicts, has seen the United Nations more actively engaged in peacekeeping roles in its very recent history than in the whole of its previous history put together. How will the Government use their influence to reform the United Nations and bring it into a world which realistically can address the points that I have just made? Do they believe that they have a solution—a set of programmes or action points—that they will now implement in order to achieve the grandiose words of great influence that they intend to have in terms of UN reform? Again, I look forward with great interest to the Minister's response on that point.
In conclusion, perhaps I may simply focus momentarily on the outstanding speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. The noble Lord rightly pointed out—I hope I quote him accurately but I shall give way if I do not—that human rights need champions, just as good government needs effective opposition capable of questioning the Government on how they use the powers at their disposal. The question 156 of their ethical foreign policy is at the centre of this issue. In January this year, the then Foreign Office Minister, Tony Lloyd, said:of course it is right and proper that no distinction should be made between abuses of human rights, whether perpetrated by large or small nations".Yet 10 months later the Foreign Office Minister Keith Vaz said in another place that on the question of China one must consider such matters on a case-by-case basis. I listened carefully to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, and I am not sure whether it is possible to have a case-by-case approach to an ethical foreign policy. Either such a policy is ethical or it is not.
Even under this Government and the modern code of ethics by which we live, that code should remain a constant in the shifting sands of foreign affairs. National interest may indeed demand that policies change, but the ethical dimension does not. This is the Government of ethical inconsistency: inconsistency in their approach to the human rights record of Burma and China, where in the former the regime cannot be integrated into the world until its government changes its ways, while in the latter the president is invited on a state visit to this country with all pomp and ceremony. The Government are inconsistent in their approach to government-funded trade missions which are banned to Burma but not to other human rights offenders like China and Indonesia. The Government are inconsistent in their approach to UN resolutions criticising human rights. The Government are inconsistent in their approach to foreign generals accused of genocide. While the Rwandan Lieutenant-Colonel Tharcisse Muvinyi has been given temporary asylum, the Chilean General Pinochet awaits an extradition decision.
The Government are inconsistent in their approach to Pakistan which has been ejected from the councils of the Commonwealth after a bloodless coup without protest from the Pakistani people, while Russia tramples over the human rights of many of its own citizens in Chechnya. I shall give way.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, has the noble Lord seen a news item this week which states that the Government have agreed to a request for the extradition of Mr Muvinyi to face trial at Arusha?
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I am delighted to learn that, and I am grateful to the noble Lord. However, the point remains that until that decision was made a very glaring inconsistency in the Government's foreign policy was evident for all to see.
The Government Front Bench may laugh, but why did they not take action before now? They are amused at the debate on inconsistency, but there would have been a glaring inconsistency here had we had this debate a week ago.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I have been involved in the case of Mr Muvinyi and I can give the noble Lord the answer he seeks. We did not 157 have a request from the Arusha tribunal for his extradition and therefore we could not act until that request was received.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, as always I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord for offering his background expertise on this issue. It is one of the few on which we have disagreed on the matter of inconsistency, but I shall be happy to give way to the noble Lord if he feels that there are any other examples I have given to your Lordships' House that were not correct. However, I do not think that the noble Lord will need to do that. I simply make the point that if there is going to be an ethical foreign policy, it must be recognised that so far there has been a huge discrepancy on the part of this Government between their words and their actions. There is a large gap between their rhetoric and the reality.
The policy of principled and purposeful engagement with China, while fully and firmly supporting human rights and democracy reform, is a sensible one for this country. It is crucial to remember that engagement is not endorsement. In no way does it relieve Britain of its responsibility to take a firm and candid stance on matters of human rights. Yet what greater endorsement could the British Government have given to China than its failure to co-sponsor the annual motion at the UN Human Rights Commission criticising China's human rights record for the second year running and its conduct during President Jiang Zemin's recent state visit?
I conclude with one example. As a result of a Written Answer to a Parliamentary Question I put to the Minister I learnt that the Prime Minister failed to raise a single individual human rights case during President Jiang's state visit. The Prime Minister did not even raise the case of Mr Xu Wenli, the respected campaigner for democracy who was detained during the Prime Minister's visit to China in October 1998 and released the day after representations were made to the authorities by the British ambassador. He has since been sentenced to 13 years in gaol. When the president made his recent state visit to this country, despite the previous intervention by the Prime Minister during his visit to China, the name of Mr Xu Wenli was not raised.
I have given way a number of times and I have therefore exceeded the amount of time I would have liked to have taken up this evening. Suffice it to say that we on this Front Bench believe that there are many other issues which are of vital importance. We look forward to debating in detail the European Union intergovernmental conference. We also look forward to having clarification from the Minister where there appears to be a major discrepancy—very relevant to your Lordships' House—between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office Minister, Mr Keith Vaz, as to whether the Government's Green Paper will be published in the run-up to the conference and whether it will contain their negotiating position. There have been differing answers to that. I am aware that the Minister has been helpful to your Lordships' House on 158 every occasion. I wonder whether she can confirm tonight that the paper will set out clearly the Government's negotiating position.
We have worked closely and in harmony with the Government on many issues. I was going to give many examples where we praise them for taking initiatives. I understand that we are to have a full day's debate on foreign affairs in January. I hope that that can be confirmed through the usual channels. If it is, we shall need to examine on that occasion the very important issues of Pakistan and India and look at Europe in greater detail, Iraq and many of the other issues which have been raised. I would not wish to leave the impression that by omission from my speech tonight I do not give them very high priority in British foreign policy. I give the Minister and the Government my assurance that she has our support during the coming year to achieve the significant goals that lay ahead. I would welcome her response to the areas of difference which I have raised and to which other noble Lords have alluded this evening.
§ 11.36 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)
My Lords, it is a great privilege to close this debate although it is now at a late hour. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and to my noble friend Lady Symons for introducing it. She has set a high standard for my winding up speech.
I regret to say that I was somewhat surprised by the content of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, at the start of our debate. Those of us who care passionately about the people of this country and the international community seek a serious debate. However, I was much heartened and enlightened by the explanation proffered by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who doubted whether the noble Lord's heart was in the comments that he was obliged to utter as leader of his party. Knowing of the noble Lord's reputation for intelligence, I can only believe that the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, of the genesis of that speech is accurate; otherwise I would have to wonder whether my own favourable assessment of the noble Lord's good sense was wrong which I would be very loath to do.
I particularly welcome therefore the proper concentration of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on foreign and international affairs. How refreshing it was, immediately following the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to hear the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. He gave a wonderful and powerful speech. And what a fitting start! It concentrated our minds on what really mattered—comity, international reconciliation, inter and intra-state reconstruction and the creation of an environment where children thrive. It focused our minds and hearts. It acted as a salve for that which preceded it.
I am please to tell the right reverend Prelate that Mozambique received heavily indebted poor countries' HIPC relief in June 1999. I can confirm that 159 its government have committed themselves to spending the domestic resources thereby released by external debt relief on activities which help to reduce poverty in that country.
The debate has provided the House with an opportunity to take stock of Britain's relations with the rest of the world and to look at the challenges that lie ahead. As my noble friend Lady Symons said, Britain's relationship with the rest of Europe has been greatly strengthened by the positive approach to the European Union adopted by this Government—a clear break with the past, and a long overdue one.
Britain is now helping to set the agenda for Europe in a way that it has never done in the past. That is delivering real benefits for the people of Britain—in strengthening and. reforming Europe's economy, in extending stability and prosperity to the East, in reforming the common agricultural policy, and in tackling drugs and crime.
I welcome particularly the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond. His voice was one of calm good sense. It well illustrates the enormous contribution made by the United Kingdom to European harmony and development. I wholeheartedly congratulate the noble Lord and have no hesitation in agreeing with the sentiments he expressed about the influence that we now wield.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, rightly advocated the need to take a proper approach to working within Europe. We welcome his valuable contribution and agree that Britain must go to the heart of Europe if we are best to meet British interests. That in no way undermines our close relationships with the countries of North America, with which we have so much in common. Nor can we afford to neglect the Commonwealth, which is a unique institution linking countries with shared values and traditions. The Government welcome the agreement at the CHOGM last weekend to form a high-level group to review the role of the Commonwealth and provide advice on how it can best respond to the challenges of the 21st century.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, was right to raise the issue of overseas territories, the Caribbean and Cuba. It gives me great pleasure, as the Minister responsible for overseas territories, that the gracious Speech reaffirmed our commitment to take forward the offer of British citizenship to their people. We also look forward to next year's Caribbean Forum, which will bring the countries of the Caribbean to London.
In that regard, I note with interest the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. I assure the noble Baroness that the Government have increased funding for the British Council. I am glad that under the current comprehensive spending review the Government have been able to halt previous cutbacks in funding. The British Council has received the same increase in real terms as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We shall make a determined effort to secure a further increase during the next spending review, but I can give no commitment as to the precise figure.
160 I also say to the noble Baroness that the Prime Minister has told President Cardoso that he would like to make a bilateral visit to Brazil. We hope that he will be able to do so in the next year. I cannot give the noble Baroness precise details in relation to the movements of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State but undertake to write to her in that regard.
Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, the noble Lords, Lord Weidenfeld, Lord Williamson, Lord Moran and others, raised the issue of our involvement in Europe and the next enlargement of the EU. Extending the stability and prosperity enjoyed by the countries of western Europe further eastward will help to heal the scars created by a century marked by division and conflict. Accession negotiations with six countries began during our presidency in 1998. We anticipate that in December the Heads of Government will agree to start negotiations with six more.
I welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, about the importance of Turkey's hopes in relation to joining the EU in due course, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, who brings with him such a wealth of knowledge and expertise. I assure all noble Lords that we have lost none of the energy necessary to pursue the issue with great vigour and care. The Government also share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, that setting firm target dates now would not be the best way to further our goal of early enlargement. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, will accept that as an answer to one of his questions.
Enlargement requires a more effective EU institutional structure. This must be both transparent and democratic. Our agenda for institutional reform has already been influential in setting in train the process of modernisation of the Commission. With Romano Prodi as President and Neil Kinnock as Vice President for reform, we now have a team that can achieve far-reaching change. They are already starting to deliver results.
I am happy to tell the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that, in addition, the Government welcome the opportunity for further reform provided by the forthcoming inter-governmental conference. The agenda will be focused on the so-called "Amsterdam leftovers", the size of the Commission, the votes re-weighting and possible extension of QMV. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that what is important is not only the structure of the Commission, but also its working practices and methods.
We are also open to considering other related issues, such as ensuring that the treaty has effective provisions for dealing with misconduct and the resignation of commissioners. We will protect Britain's ability to secure its key national interests by retaining unanimity for areas such as defence, taxation, social security, own resources, treaty change and frontiers. I can therefore give the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, the assurance he seeks.
161 I listened carefully to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and, although he is not in the Chamber, I can assure him that this Government have no intention of throwing away our fundamental national interests in our engagement with Europe. However, apparently unlike the party opposite, we will not fail to promote Britain's interests by refusing to engage with our partners, when action at a European level would be good for Britain. We shall press for it and welcome it.
I reassure the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Dahrendorf, that we are vigilant and extremely careful in the way we approach the challenging issue which European enlargement presents.
Many noble Lords raised the question of NATO: the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont, Lord Jenkins of Putney, Lord Blaker and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. Like my noble friend Lady Symons, I underscore that NATO remains the foundation of our defence. The Kosovo campaign demonstrated that a strong, capable and modern NATO, underpinned by unity of purpose among the allies, is essential to the promotion of security and stability throughout Europe.
The Government will work to ensure implementation of the vision set out by NATO heads of government at the Washington Summit in April. We want a NATO better equipped to meet the challenges of the next century and in which the transatlantic link is strengthened by a stronger European contribution to the alliance's missions and capabilities. We welcome the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in that regard.
The noble Lords, Lord Chalfont, Lord Jenkins of Putney and Lord Blaker, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, also raised issues about NATO and its purpose. The collective defence remains the cornerstone of NATO's purpose, but NATO must be able to respond to the new security challenge so as to remain relevant in the post-Cold War era and to ensure the stability of the Euro-Atlantic area. The new strategic concept, launched at the Washington Summit in April, continues to build a NATO which sees no nation as its adversary and which values partnership with many.
As my noble friend Lady Symons made clear, events in Bosnia and Kosovo this decade have shown that Europe needs to develop an effective military capability in order to be able to carry out peace-keeping tasks. We hope that the European Council in Helsinki next month will see a firm commitment from all member states. This will strengthen the European Union's foreign policy and the Atlantic alliance. We work to strengthen European capabilities generally.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, seeks to distract me with his usual charm, but I shall try to concentrate on matters to hand. This Government are clear that the Armed Forces should not be used merely as an international gendarmerie Our Armed Forces are trained and equipped for conflict of the highest intensity. That was what the Strategic Defence Review concluded was needed and to that we are committed.
162 We seek to match commitments to defence resources, strengths and expertise and Kosovo showed that to good effect. An initial commitment of almost 13,000 personnel was reduced to fewer than 4,000 by the end of the year. This validates the SDR.
The supportive comments of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, in relation to HMG's Strategic Defence Review were most welcome and high praise indeed. I reassure him that this Government have as one of their highest priorities the recruitment to the Armed Forces of high calibre young people and their retention. The three services improved their 1998–99 recruitment achievements over the previous year and all are currently on course to achieve this year's targets.
The noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Craig of Radley, the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Park of Monmouth and Lady Strange, raised the issue of MoD spending on defence. As to MoD's 3 per cent annual efficiency saving, we are under no illusions. This is a challenging target that can be achieved only by seeking genuine efficiencies. We are determined to avoid a repetition of the mistakes that the Strategic Defence Review sought to rectify. Solid progress has already been made to meet the target and we are working hard to build on this. But the noble and gallant Lord was incorrect in his approach to resources. Resources are saved through this measure and are being used to enhance the capability of our Armed Forces rather than being lost to the Treasury.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Park of Monmouth and Lady Strange, raised a number of specific issues which it would be impossible to do justice to today. My noble friend Lady Symons will write to the noble Baronesses on the full range of measures being taken by the MoD to address family issues, including accommodation and medical facilities, as soon as possible.
We want an enlarged Security Council that includes Germany and Japan, a successful resolution to its funding problems and the continuation of the internal reforms that have been championed so well by the Secretary-General. NATO's intervention in Kosovo was an important defeat for the policies of nationalist extremists which continue to hold back progress in the former Yugoslavia. Our goal now is to reinforce the pressure for change, particularly in Belgrade. We are tightening the economic pressure on Milosevic and his regime and increasing our support for the democratic opposition. In Kosovo the UK is making a major contribution to the UN mission there and to the NATO-led international Kosovo force. Stability in the Balkans is of crucial interest to all Europeans. This Government remain committed to playing a full part in international efforts to achieve it.
I should respond to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that there was no legal basis for that intervention. Her Majesty's Government strongly disagree, as they have explained many times in your Lordships' House. The picture in Kosovo is not quite as bleak as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, painted 163 it today. The security situation continues to improve. While incidents of intimidation and murder continue to occur, their number is reducing. That improving scenario is due in no small part to the efforts of KFOR, including British troops, who continue to do an excellent job under the command of General Klaus Reinhardt.
I turn to the interesting speech of my noble friend Lord Gilbert. He asked about the future status of Kosovo. The UNSCR 1244 gives the UN mission responsibility for promoting the establishment of substantial autonomy and self-government in Kosovo. No option is ruled in or out. Any negotiations will take full account of the Rambouillet agreement which provided the self-government for Kosovo within the FRY; and the Kosovo Albanian delegation accepted Rambouillet which the EU and US supported. But Belgrade refused it.
However, my noble friend knows better than anyone in this House the challenges presented by the constitutional position which links Kosovo with the FRY. He also knows better than anyone else the intricacies of targeting policy and the care which was taken to address those issues in order to get the balance right. Collectively, Her Majesty's Government believe that balance was achieved and it was the correct balance. I believe that the answer to the two questions posed by my noble friend is a qualified yes to the first, and a positive yes to the second. But I am sure that my noble friend Lady Symons will write to him in detail. I would hesitate to say that my noble friend cannot remember his two questions; it may say something of their value. I would not be so rude!
In response to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, perhaps I may say that Her Majesty's Government are committed to reconstruction and stability in the Balkans. We are also calling for reform and democratisation in Serbia. Serbia cannot hope to rejoin the European mainstream with a head of state who is wanted for crimes against humanity, and the EU sanctions will remain in place against the regime until there is a real change and reform in Belgrade. The biggest threat to stability in the region is Milosevic, and I can assure the noble Earl that we shall work actively as a leading partner in the stability pact to promote economic development as part of our approach to the region. We shall continue to encourage economic reform in the countries of the former Yugoslavia.
I should also like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, and other noble Lords that we remain committed to the UN as the central pillar of international co-operation. But, as the Prime Minister said in Chicago earlier this year, we must modernise the UN and find ways to make it and its Security Council more effective, a key element in defining more closely the conditions and circumstances when it is right to intervene in the face of massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. We cannot expect agreement overnight but we are playing a full part in the effort to develop a broader base of support. I fully endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, in relation to this matter. Like 164 the noble Lord we, too, hope that next year's millennium assembly will help to give the UN new impetus and focus for the next century. We are working closely with Secretary-General Annan, and Deputy Secretary-General Frechette to prepare for this. We welcome, too, the supportive comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, in his comprehensive speech and the reminder he gave towards ensuring that our day of remembrance is properly representative of the multicultural contribution made to ensure safety and security.
This Government took a number of significant steps in last year's Strategic Defence Review. We now only have a single nuclear weapon system, Trident. We believe that we have the smallest arsenal of any of the nuclear weapons states. We have also set the international standard in transparency. There is a clear internationally agreed way forward on nuclear disarmament and the priorities are further progress in the START process, the entry into force of the test ban treaty and the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty. We shall continue to press hard for progress in all those areas. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will be reassured.
Another important contribution is the ICC Bill.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister so late at night. However, I was intrigued by her statement that we now have the smallest nuclear striking force of all the nuclear powers. Is that what the noble Baroness said? If so, does she mean by throw weight, numbers of missiles, range of missiles, or what? What is her criterion for that somewhat strange remark?
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
My Lords, I was referring to the number and nature of our nuclear weapons system. The remaining defence, which is significant, is Trident. Other countries have many more. In approaching the issue, we have been very clear to ensure that our arsenal is effective but appropriate to the size of the threat presented.
The Government also believe that it is right for war criminals to be brought to justice. We strongly support the establishment of an international court and will publish in draft a Bill to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the court statute. That issue was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham and the noble Lords, Lord Avebury, Lord Dahrendorf and many others. The UK has played a pivotal role in achieving international agreement on the establishment of the international criminal court as a permanent effective body able to punish the Saddams and Milosevics of tomorrow.
The right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the detail of the Bill and our contacts with the Americans. I hope that they will bear with me if I write to both of them on the former issue. As regards the latter, we have always made our views clear to the United States and shall continue to do so—and, I should say, with vigour.
165 I turn to the issues raised by so many noble Lords in relation to the so-styled ethical foreign policy. The Government have placed human rights at the heart of their foreign policy, and they remain there. We are committed to protecting and promoting the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the core United Nations human rights instruments.
The Government have taken many practical steps to demonstrate that and we have made real changes in policy, leading to achievements and progress on many issues—for instance, the introduction of tougher arms export licensing criteria—and have succeeded in getting European Union partners to implement similar criteria. At the Rome Conference in June 1998, we played a key role in the agreement to set up an international criminal court. We have ratified legislation securing the permanent abolition of the death penalty in Britain, allowing us to lobby other governments for the global eradication of capital punishment. We have increased support for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UK 1998 contribution of £6 million made us one of the largest donors. We strengthened the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's continuing dialogue with civil society. Representatives of Save the Children and Amnesty International have been placed in the human rights policy department, and FCO placements in Article 19 and a minority rights group are planned or under way. The list is endless and at this time of night I shall not trouble the House with more. But I can certainly reassure your Lordships that in this area no government could have been more vigorous.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and others rightly raised the issue of Russia and Chechnya. Notwithstanding the fact that time is pressing on, I feel that I must answer it fully. We believe that there is a need for a lasting peace in the north Caucasus. We are deeply concerned at the human cost of Russia's actions in Chechnya and the risk to regional stability. It is in Russia's interest and our own that she rapidly secures a negotiated political solution. I assure noble Lords that we shall adopt a balanced approach to the issue. The EU has been very active. The Finnish Prime Minister raised the subject at the EU/Russian Summit on 22nd October. Chechnya was discussed at the EU's Northern Dimension Conference in Helsinki on 11th and 12th November and at the EU General Affairs Council on 15th and 16th November. It is on the agenda of the Istanbul OSCE summit which takes place today and tomorrow. I should now say that it is taking place yesterday and today.
A recently returned OSCE fact-finding mission is reporting to the Istanbul summit and the summit is considering deploying to the region the OSCE Chechnya assistance group, now in Moscow, to support international humanitarian aid. We are 166 bilaterally engaging the Russians in that issue. The Prime Minister wrote to Prime Minister Putin on 4th November to express his deep concern and to urge him to pursue a negotiated political settlement, including through the good offices of the OSCE. The Foreign Secretary reinforced that message in a telephone call to the Russian foreign minister on 6th November.
We are aware of the interest of UK companies in many of the issues which were raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. Those matters are being borne well in mind.
I next turn to the issues raised in relation to Africa. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, rightly highlighted the challenges which still exist in Africa. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to the Sudan. We continue to stress to the Government of Sudan and the opposition groups our concern to see a negotiated end to civil war in that region.
I welcome also the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. He was right to raise issues which affect children in those regions; for example, AIDS and education. It was good to hear the African voice in that context.
Many regions of Africa are suffering from the effects of conflict. We are working with other countries, including France and Commonwealth countries, to help support positive change. Having achieved agreement on the UN Security Council resolution, we are now giving active support to the decision to send a 6,000-strong peacekeeping operation to Sierra Leone.
We are giving active support to the Canadian ambassador, Robert Fowler, chair of the Angolan sanctions committee, in his efforts to strengthen sanctions against UNITA. We are also active tackling the factors which fuel conflict in Africa including small-arms proliferation and the trade in illicit diamonds.
International development continues to be an issue which has engaged many noble Lords. I hope that, at this late hour, noble Lords will forgive me for not naming the long list of those who dealt with that particular issue. The Government will continue to place international development targets at the centre of their work to eliminate poverty. We shall encourage other countries and institutions to do the same. We recognise that we must work together in an ever-closer and more effective manner with others and we shall continue to ensure a coherence of policy both nationally and internationally to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of multilateral institutions and to work with NGOs.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to the WTO. That is important to us all. We believe that a broad-based agenda is in the best interests of all WTO members and will offer all countries, particularly developing countries, the opportunity to make solid and substantial gains.
Notwithstanding the late hour, I welcome most warmly the sentiments expressed by my noble friend Lord Stone of Blackheath. Any debate in your 167 Lordships' House would, of course, be a matter for the usual channels but no one could question the value of such an opportunity for debate.
This House has had a far-reaching debate. Again, I thank all noble Lords who contributed and particularly those who are currently in the Chamber.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
My Lords, in the time available, it has been impossible to do justice to the breadth and depth of the issues raised. Where I have not replied to a specific question raised in the debate, one of my noble friends or I will do so in writing.
The Government remain committed to working constructively with our partners to build a more stable, secure, democratic and prosperous world community. In pursuing those goals, the men and women of the Diplomatic Service work long hours in often difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. I want to pay tribute to their efforts and to welcome the willingness with which they are embracing the modernisation agenda in opening up the British foreign policy debate to outside experts and ideas.
168 It is two-and-a-half years since my noble friend Lady Symons wound up the foreign, defence and development debate on this Government's first Queen's Speech. Since then we have made real and substantial progress, delivering on the agenda she then outlined. We have put Britain at the heart of European decision-making. We have put human rights at the centre of our foreign policy. We have delivered benefits for the people of Britain through trade and investment promotion and consular work overseas. That is a proud record.
That work continues and it will be carried forward expeditiously and with vigour by Ministers, diplomats and officials. We are determined to keep on delivering for Britain internationally.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until Monday next.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until Monday next.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until Monday next.
§ House adjourned at eleven minutes past midnight.