HL Deb 03 December 2003 vol 655 cc25-7WA

Lord Alli asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will publish a strategy paper setting out priorities for United Kingdom international policy over the next five to 10 years. [HL130]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Mr Jack Straw) laid before Parliament Government White Paper Command 6052,UK International Priorities: A Strategy for the FCO, on 2 December.

This strategy paper sets priorities for UK international policy over the next five to 10 years. These have been discussed and agreed between departments and endorsed by the Prime Minister. The paper also describes in greater detail how the FCO intends to work, with others and through its network of over 200 diplomatic posts abroad, to help the Government to meet these aims. This is the first time that the FCO has published a document of this sort.

This is a time of significant change in international relations. Domestic and international policy are becoming ever more intertwined as a result of globalisation, travel and technological advance. As a consequence, what happens abroad is of more immediate concern to all of us. The FCO will need to work systematically with other government departments and with people outside government including parliamentarians, businesses, trade unions, NGOs and the media.

The issues are also changing. We have made great progress since the end of the Cold War in achieving stability and democracy in Europe. But 11 September 2001 underlined in the starkest way that we needed to pay close attention to new problems and threats elsewhere in the world, which affect the security and prosperity of the UK and other countries. That message was most recently reinforced by the tragic events in Istanbul on 15 and 20 November 2003.

The FCO strategy analyses the ways in which we expect the world to change in the years ahead. We shall welcome public debate of this analysis. It concludes, among other things, that our foreign policy should focus on a broad agenda of issues with global impact: they include countering terrorism and weapons proliferation, acting to prevent state failure and climate change, and dealing effectively with poverty, corruption and conflict.

We shall need to build a wider, shared international understanding of how best to deal with these problems. They affect us all. We cannot afford to stand back from them. The UK must remain diplomatically active and engaged, and be able to exert global influence through diplomacy, advice, persuasion, aid and other economic assistance—and if necessary military force.

The eight international strategic policy priorities we have identified for the UK are:

  • a world safer from global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction
  • protection of the UK from illegal immigration, drug trafficking and other international crime
  • an international system based on the rule of law, which is better able to resolve disputes and prevent conflicts
  • an effective EU in a secure neighbourhood
  • promotion of UK economic interests in an open and expanding economy sustainable development, underpinned by democracy, good governance and human rights
  • security of UK and global energy supplies
  • security and good governance of the UK's Overseas Territories.

No country can address these issues alone. We shall need strong international institutions, and a wide network of partnerships, to achieve effective, collective action.

We will work through the UN, the EU, the G8, NATO, the Commonwealth and other groups. We shall also aim to build stronger strategic partnerships with Russia, China, Japan and India, bilaterally and through the EU. One of our top priorities will be to engage constructively with Islamic countries.

Our most significant partnerships will be within the EU and with the United States. We will work to build UK influence in the EU, which will progressively become more important for the delivery of a wide range of UK domestic and international policy priorities. We will also work to make the EU a stronger and more capable international actor.

As the world's only superpower the US will continue to set much of the international agenda. Our close alliance will remain indispensable for our security. We will use this vital relationship to serve and protect UK interests.

Above all, a strong partnership between Europe and the United States remains essential for the UK's, and the world's, security and prosperity. This partnership has come under strain as a result of different approaches to some areas of domestic and international policy and the erosion of a clearly understood sense of common purpose. The strategy sets the objective of working to build commitment to partnership on both sides of the Atlantic.

The public services which the FCO provides to UK citizens abroad are an increasingly important part of our work. Through our consular services we help UK citizens abroad, issue passports and offer travel advice. Our visa services, shared with the Home Office, issue visas to people visiting the UK. Through UK Trade and Investment, shared with DTI, the FCO helps UK companies to do business abroad and attracts investment to the UK. I am determined to see consistent, high standards of public service across in all these areas.

To achieve all this, we need to maintain a highly effective Diplomatic Service. I pay tribute to the professionalism, dedication and expertise of FCO staff, and the contribution they make all around the world-sometimes, as we have seen, in dangerous circumstances.

The strategy is a basis for future decisions on FCO organisation and management. The FCO's network of diplomatic posts is a key asset for the nation, through which we help the Government pursue a wide range of policy priorities and build UK influence around the world. Maintaining a well targeted, adequately resourced and secure diplomatic network is the FCO's highest management priority for the years ahead.

We have also established a departmental change programme, derived from the strategy, which sets out the actions we intend to take to focus our resources on high priorities, become more flexible and responsive, improve the diversity of our people, skills and experience, and target all our activity to meet the needs of our customers across government and UK public.

The purpose of this strategy therefore is to clarify our priorities so we can concentrate our efforts where they are most needed and respond flexibly to unexpected events. We shall welcome parliamentary and public debate on the document. We will review it every two years inviting external contributions.