HL Deb 21 October 2003 vol 653 cc1498-500

2.58 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will try to ensure that in future any head of state making a state visit to the United Kingdom has an invitation to address both Houses of Parliament.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, each state visit is different and the programme put together is individually tailored to the guest. It is therefore not possible to give an assurance that on all future state visits, visiting heads of state will be invited to address both Houses of Parliament.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, do the Government believe that it is a good thing for visiting statesmen and the Parliaments of the countries that they are visiting to meet each other? I refer, for example, to the highly successful meeting that our Prime Minister had with the American Congress. Does the Minister recollect that we had a very useful and enlightening address when President Yeltsin came here? We had another when President Clinton came here. Does she share my regret that we did not have the opportunity of hearing from President Putin when he came on 23 rd and 24th June, when Parliament was sitting? Can she perhaps ask whether President Bush, when he is here from 19th to 21st November, might fit in a visit to Parliament on the morning of Thursday 20th?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that not all state visits result in an address to both Houses of Parliament. He will know that on average we have two state visits a year. The last state visit to result in an address to both Houses of Parliament was the state visit of Nelson Mandela in 1996. I am sure that there will be an opportunity for Members of Parliament to meet President Bush during his programme, but I have to say that the programme has not yet been finalised. It is always good for politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to talk to each other.

Lord Acton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that under this plan both Houses of Parliament would have had the privilege of being addressed by President Ceausescu of Romania and President Mugabe of Zimbabwe? Would it not be better to leave well alone?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bowling that one. I can only repeat my Answer to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Every state visit is different. It is up to the governments of both countries and Buckingham Palace to make a decision about the programme.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, leaving, if I may, President Ceausescu on one side for the moment, does not my noble friend Lord Marlesford have a serious point? Do not noble Lords remember the addresses to both Houses of Parliament by President Mitterand, President Clinton and particularly that by Nelson Mandela? In my memory, those were great parliamentary occasions. I very much hope therefore that the Minister will put the efforts of the Government into ensuring that there are more addresses to both Houses of Parliament. If that does not happen, I fear a further dumbing down of Parliament, something to which I think this Government are all too readily prone.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord's views, now that they are in Hansard, will be looked at carefully by the Government.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when President Chirac came to the House he was reminded by the Lord Chancellor in the Royal Gallery of all our former historical associations with France? We should be delighted to show our former historical associations to the President of the United States of America when he comes.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, we are delighted that President Bush is coming as I am sure is the whole country. During his visit we will discuss with him bilateral relations with America in terms of trade and investment. For example, as a result of US investment into the United Kingdom in 2002–03, 35,000 new jobs were created. There are a great many positive issues to discuss.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, would not some of these people be extremely boring?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, Parliament has had the joy of listening to many international politicians over the years; some more exciting than others.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that such invitations have been customary if Parliament has been sitting at the time but, that there are so many sovereign states in the world now—more than 200—that the practice may no longer be possible in all cases?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. It is not standard practice for that very reason.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that on the occasion of the visit of President Clinton a large amount of electronic equipment was installed in the passageway at the back of the Royal Gallery? When I asked what it was for I was told that it was to keep President Clinton in touch with the Pentagon, so that presumably he could launch World War Three if he felt so inclined. When I said that I found that impressive the American gentleman involved said that it was, but that the only contact he had been able to make was with Westminster Tube Station.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, as always, 1 am fascinated by my noble friend's information.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, many people in this country will be disappointed by the Minister's response. We have a special relationship with the United States and we saw with pleasure our Prime Minister addressing Congress a few weeks ago. It seems a great tragedy that we are not giving President Bush a chance to speak to Parliament and it seems to be only because the Labour Party is afraid of its Members not turning up.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord would expect, I have to disagree with him. We have an important relationship with our friends in the United States. That relationship will be well on display during this important visit.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, we kindly arranged, I recall, for President Chirac to give a speech to both Houses in between a picture of the Battle of Waterloo and the Battle of Trafalgar. Is it possible for the Government to ensure that there could be a picture somewhere of the burning of the White House in 1812 before President Bush comes to speak?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, very good.