|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Blackstone: I look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. Looking back over the past 12 months since we last debated the Address, it is difficult to feel optimistic about the prospects for peace in the world. The civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, in Angola, in the Sudan and in Somalia have continued. The conflicts between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, and between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus have continued. The position of the Kurds in Turkey, in Iran and in Iraq remains unresolved. Minorities continue to suffer from oppression--sometimes on a ruthless scale as in East Timor where up to 200,000 people have been killed over the past two decades. In the Gulf, the Iraqi Government continue to be a threat to peace in the region. And in the course of the past year, a new civil war, leading to unspeakable suffering and terrible slaughter, has broken out in Rwanda.
Eric Hobsbawm, Professor Emeritus of History at Birkbeck College, one of the great historians of modern times, has called his new book on the 20th century, The Age of Extremes. It is an apt title for a century in which not far short of 200 million people have been killed in wars all over the world. Can we hope for something better in the last five years of this century? On the evidence of the 1990s, the prospects do not look good.
We do, however, live in an unpredictable era, in an age of uncertainty, and there are events which have taken place in the international arena over the past year which give rise to hope and optimism. Who, for example, would have predicted the peaceful, successful transformation to a multi-racial democratically elected government in South Africa? Only last year in the debate on the Address when the Minister and I spoke about developments in South Africa, we both expressed concern about the unacceptable levels of violence in the pre-election period. At the time neither of us was wholly
In the Middle East, the excitement generated by the original breakthrough made by the Palestinians and the Israelis in their search for peace has been dampened by the continuing violence perpetrated by extremists on both sides and the rather slow progress made in the peace process. It is, however, to the great credit of both the Labour Government in Israel and Mr. Arafat that they have refused to be deflected by terrorist violence from continuing the search for long-term peace. We also welcome the recent agreement between Israel and Jordan and hope that a solution can soon be found to the remaining difficulties concerning the withdrawal of Israel from the Golan Heights and a peace agreement with Syria.
We regret, however, the very limited support the international community has so far given to help the Palestinians towards successful self-government in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. May I ask the Minister whether she agrees that more needs to be done and what part the UK Government have been playing in pressing the international community, through its international financial institutions, to do more? It is also vital that further progress should be made in the Israeli withdrawal from the remaining occupied territories, including the West Bank. The closure of the West Bank is a serious obstacle to peace, and continues to sap Palestinian morale and dash their hopes for the future.
Another cause for optimism is that democracy is being maintained in Cambodia, but it is a terribly fragile democracy, and one that is faced with the daunting task of rebuilding Cambodian society. As in the case of the Palestinians, the international community should be doing more to help them in that task. May I also ask the Minister what representations have been made to the Thai Government about illegal contacts between the Thai armed services and the Khmer Rouge? The Khmer Rouge, which was responsible, as we all remember, for killing about 1 million people in the late 1970s, is still a serious threat to peace in Cambodia.
The recent return to Haiti of its elected president is another piece of good news. The fact that that was achieved without serious bloodshed is due in no small part to former President Carter and his successful negotiations with the illegal regime in Haiti. But, as in Cambodia, if democracy is to be re-established on a permanent basis, extensive financial support must be provided by the international community. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and it
The poverty and deprivation suffered by the people of Haiti are just one example of the worldwide problems of preventable disease, poor nutrition, illiteracy and lack of material welfare. Though we have seen dramatic increases in prosperity in the developed countries of the North, in many of the nations of the South there has been little progress. One recent estimate claimed that about two-thirds of the world's population has not benefited from economic growth in the 20th century. The terrible disparities between wealth and poverty around the world are a potent symbol of the failures of our civilisation. Poverty and a shortage of resources can lead to armed conflict, but armed conflict is in itself a cause of poverty as people are displaced and crops and buildings destroyed. I shall leave my noble friend Lord Judd to discuss the effects of the arms trade in some parts of the third world. I wish only to express the deep concern of the Labour Party on two matters. The first is that scarce funding set aside for aid and development purposes should be used, as happened in the case of the Pergau dam, to lubricate arms deals is entirely unacceptable.
Baroness Blackstone: we note the decision reached in the courts last week which confirms what the Labour Party has said since this sorry story became public: that the Government acted illegally in that matter. We do not accept the lame excuses of the Minister's right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary that, "It wasn't me, guv", and that he had no choice but to proceed. Subject to any appeal which the Minister has mentioned, perhaps she will confirm that the aid budget will be made up, even if she is unable to tell us how at this stage.
I listened with interest to the Minister's comments on claims made in the Observer newspaper last Sunday that a major arms deal with Indonesia is in the offing, with further lubricants from the aid budget. I was glad to have her reassurances on that matter.
On the second matter I wish to raise, perhaps I may once again express regret from these Benches that the proportion of our GNP spent upon aid has fallen to such a lamentably low level. My noble friend Lord Judd will say more about that later.
I welcome the reference in the loyal Address to the UN. As a permanent member of the Security Council, the UK has an important part to play in its reform. The 50th anniversary next year of the founding of the UN is an opportune time to review its role. While the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the noble Baroness the Minister have spoken recently of the need for clarity on where and how to intervene in conflicts, as yet the Government have given no indication of their intentions to establish a framework or set of principles to guide such intervention. There is now clearly an urgent need to establish criteria for British intervention and to develop a multi-national approach to creating such a framework. The ad hoc way in which intra-state conflict
The Labour Party supports strongly the new initiative the UN has been taking to develop standby arrangements in which member states agree in advance to provide specific force components as building blocks for UN operations. Will the Minister tell the House what position the Government take on standby forces, and will the Minister who is to reply indicate the troops and logistical support that the UK would be willing to make available under those arrangements? Clearly, because of the increasing complexity of UN peacekeeping operations, more than just allocations of troops are needed and specialist units, equipment, logistics and support services, and command and control staff and systems are also needed.
Of course the cost of such commitments are a constraint, and I accept that. However, it is worth pointing out that during 1993-94 the UK's total assessed contributions to UN peacekeeping operations was £119 million out of a total defence budget of £23 billion. There are currently nearly 4,000 service personnel involved in UN peacekeeping operations out of a total of 241,000. In the new world order it is legitimate to ask whether there should not be a greater shift in our defence spending towards UN peacekeeping.
I fear that we shall see a thought-through shift of that kind only when the Government accept the need for a proper defence review. The final debate before the Summer Recess was on the Defence Estimates and I do not want to go over the same ground again, although I know that my noble friend winding up for the Opposition wishes to raise some questions about particular aspects of our defence policy, including the handling of non-proliferation. At this stage I want only to reiterate what my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel said in the debate at the end of July. The Government are torn in two in their attempts to satisfy two conflicting strands in Tory Party thinking. On the one hand, they wish to cut spending on defence in order to allow for the tax cuts they keep promising are to come; on the other hand, they wish to satisfy traditionalists in the Conservative Party determined to retain the illusion of ultimate defence self-sufficiency in which Britain pretends it is still a great power. They cannot do both.
Turning to Europe, the gracious Speech looked forward to enlargement of the EU. The Labour Party greatly welcomes the accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden, and hopes that Norway will be joining after the referendum there. We particularly welcome the fact that they, like us, believe that Europe should have a strong social dimension as well as a strong economic one. I
The Minister said that we must reform the CAP and she will no doubt agree that until and unless we do so we not only prevent the countries of eastern Europe from having access to our markets for their agricultural products and thereby limit their economic progress, but we also make it far more difficult for these countries to join the EU without imposing huge strains on the existing system. One of the biggest failures of the Government in Europe is that they have not succeeded in winning any battles on the reform of the CAP. It continues to take a huge share of the European budget; it has done little to foster more efficient farming; it is open to fraud; and it has done little to encourage the protection of the environment. I accept that the Government share these views. But they have been in power for more than 15 years and must take some of the blame for the totally unsatisfactory situation which still prevails. Were they not so busy opting out of the central elements of the strategy for continuing integration in the EU they might carry more weight on such issues as the CAP.
Many crucial decisions have to be taken in the Intergovernmental conference in 1996 on the future direction of Europe. On present form, it is hard to imagine that the Government will be in a fit shape to participate constructively in these decisions. In-fighting in the Tory Party rather than rational analysis of how the European Union can best move forward looks likely to dominate the agenda. In contrast, the Labour Party looks forward to playing a positive central role in the shaping of Europe after the next election. We shall, of course, fight for British interests, but we shall do so
We look forward to seeing the Bill on the EU budget referred to in the Address. We note also the recently published report of the Court of Auditors, with its serious criticism of fraud and inefficiency in the Union. We believe that there should now be urgent and vigorous action to root out fraud and improve efficiency. When we have seen the Bill on the EU budget we shall decide whether we need to put down any amendments. We note with interest that the Prime Minister has had to resort to threatening his Back-Benchers with a general election if they do not vote for the Bill in all its essentials. Desperate tactics, but we shall be ready for the general election whenever it occurs. Perhaps the Minister in his reply will tell us what parts of this Bill are essential and what parts are unessential.
I end on the subject of Europe with a question for the Minister. Since the events of Black Wednesday when, with the help of Mr. Soros, Mr. Lamont took us out of the ERM and in so doing devalued the pound, it now looks as though convergence may be reached much sooner than anticipated. It may even be as early as 1997. If that is the case, what line do the Government intend to take on monetary union? Will the opt-out continue while the so-called hard core nations go ahead? I hope that the Minster will do the House the courtesy of not being evasive on this matter.
The Minister raised a number of issues which I do not have time to cover. The Labour Party shares the Government's wish to find a peaceful solution to the many conflicts in Africa. We too are concerned about the threat to democracy in a number of African countries. We endorse continuing support for political and economic reform in Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union. I was a little surprised that the Minister made no reference to the recent decision of the United States to abandon the arms embargo for the Bosnian Moslems. We believe that that is a serious mistake and that the Government share our view.
Foreign policy is an area on which we can sometimes agree and we shall say so when we do. However, there are also a number of areas of disagreement and during the coming Session we shall campaign vigorously for our views to be heard. It is, however, in all our interests to work for a safer, fairer world in which bloodshed and hunger no longer afflict so many of our fellow human beings. That must be our shared goal.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page