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6.18 p.m.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I should, first, like to commend the Government for the statement in the gracious Speech that they will work with our partners in the European Union to give greater substance to the agreements between the Union and the countries of Central Europe. In that, as in other aspects of our membership of the European Union, it is vital that Britain should continue to play a central, positive and effective role. There seems to be an increasing danger that public opinion, if not the Government themselves, will become distracted from Britain's true place at the heart of Europe by increasing scepticism--much of it, in my view, misguided--about the benefits to Britain of membership of the European Union; by criticism, however justified and understandable, of some of the regulations emerging from Brussels; and by revelations of fraud and mismanagement within the European institutions.

I believe that we should be very careful not to allow such scepticism or criticism, or what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, described as "over-simplified hostility" and what sometimes sounds dangerously like xenophobic insularity, to sideline us in Europe, or to give ourselves and others the impression that we are not committed to maintaining a central place at the heart of the European Union. At a moment when Sweden has just voted to join the Union, and when others from northern, central and eastern Europe are certain to follow, I believe it would be tragic if we were to remove ourselves, or to appear to be removing ourselves, from that central position of influence. In a week when, for the first time, any British citizen with

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the money to spend on a rail ticket has direct physical access to the continent of Europe, it would be all the more ironic if we were now to appear, or to regard ourselves, as detached Europeans.

Being at the centre of Europe means being at the centre of decision making and meeting our obligations and undertakings as members of the Union. By sniping from the sidelines we shall never use our very considerable potential influence in Europe to the full. More widely, I was also glad to hear the references in the gracious Speech to the Government's intention to continue their efforts to promote a peaceful settlement in the former Yugoslavia; to enhance the capabilities of the United Nations; to support democracy in South Africa and to maintain support for the Middle East peace process--all powerful and welcome signals that the Government propose to maintain a global foreign policy.

There has sometimes been comment, if not criticism, that Britain is still trying to punch above her weight. But if we are to remain permanent members of the Security Council --I agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, that we must--and continue to exercise a leading, active and positive influence on the world's political and economic fora, such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth, NATO or the Group of Seven, we need to punch with as much weight as we can muster, not sit outside the ring throwing eggs at the boxers.

I also welcome the Government's intention to continue to contribute to NATO's wider role in protecting stability throughout Europe. Recent developments in the United States make it more vital than ever that we continue to play our full part in NATO, and in the security operations conducted under both NATO and United Nations auspices. Our bilateral relationship with the United States, and our long standing intelligence co-operation with the Americans, have come under question in the media in recent weeks. Here again, I think that the image, too often presented in our press, of an Atlanticist Britain somehow hovering on the fringes of the European Union, can only be unhelpful in the context of our relationship with the United States administration and with Congress. If I may continue my earlier metaphor for a moment, and echo the remarks already quoted of the former United States ambassador, Mr. Raymond Seitz, in punching above our weight, we also need to show ourselves as full members of the European boxing team.

The contribution of Britain's Armed Forces and of our diplomatic service in helping to resolve some of the many international crises in the world will not only continue to be invaluable in itself but it can also, I believe, still play a role in persuading the United States to remain committed to the defence of world peace and democracy, and to avoid the sort of sporadic isolationism to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred. Experience of the past few years, and particularly of the Gulf crisis, has shown that United States commitment to its international and peace-keeping role is still a vital ingredient in the resolution of international conflict.

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I make no apologies for adding a word or two about the work of Her Majesty's diplomatic service. I hope that, more than three years after my retirement from that service, my comments will have acquired at least some semblance of objectivity. It has been an extraordinary achievement on the part of my successors to have been able to staff some 25 additional posts, opened mainly in the capitals of the former Soviet Union, in spite of diminishing resources.

In my new, post-retirement involvement with a number of leading British companies I have been able to see--from the other end of the telescope, as it were--the remarkable service which our diplomatic posts are able to provide in helping Britain's exporters and in encouraging inward investment in this country. I was glad to see a well-deserved tribute to the role of the diplomatic service in attracting inward investment to this country by the Minister for Industry and Energy during a debate on the subject in another place at the end of last month. As the Minister pointed out on that occasion, inward investment not only creates jobs, it also makes a major contribution to British exports. The significant role that the diplomatic service fulfils in encouraging exports and attracting inward investment is, in my view, yet another reason why we should continue to maintain a worldwide diplomatic presence, as also do our colleagues among the present and aspiring permanent members of the Security Council.

In conclusion, perhaps I may add that I was sorry not to see any reference in the gracious Speech to the Government's announced intention to ratify the additional protocols of the Geneva Convention in the coming year. It would be sad if we were unable to be listed among the majority of countries who will have completed their ratification by the time of the International Red Cross conference in December next year. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a reassurance that it is still the Government's intention to move to ratification of both additional protocols at the earliest opportunity.

6.28 p.m.

Baroness Young: I wish to start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Blaker and my noble friend Lady Rawlings on their maiden speeches. They both said much of great interest to us all and I hope that we shall hear from them on many occasions in the future. I would like in my remarks today to speak about part of the world which has barely been touched on but in which I take a great interest, and that is the Caribbean. I first became interested in this part of the world because when I was a Minister in the Foreign Office I had responsibility for the area and since leaving office I have maintained my interest as a vice-president of the West India Committee.

The Caribbean is a part of the world which is easily neglected, if not forgotten, while the attention of all is focused on the great events such as the ending of the cold war, the break-up of the Russian Empire and its effects in Russia and the new republics in eastern Europe and Yugoslavia, our great concern about the great economic growth in the Far East and the

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competition that that will bring for us all, and, as we have heard so much today, the importance of our role in the European Union. Indeed attention focuses on the Caribbean only when there is trouble, as there was in Grenada some years ago and more recently this summer in Haiti. That is the only Caribbean country which has been mentioned today, by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet.

The Caribbean is a part of the world which is also changing following the end of the cold war. The point that I wish to make today is that I believe that British policy towards the Caribbean must also change. Those changes began with the creation of the North America Free Trade Area. We have to look to the ending of Lome IV in the year 2001 and its possible replacement by some form of regional association arrangement that will be compatible with GATT. There have also been great changes in Cuba. That suggests that it will be commercial rather than political interests which should determine Britain's policy towards the Caribbean and that we in Britain, who still tend to think only of the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean when thinking of the Caribbean at all, must recognise the significance of the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean and Central America.

First, I should like to say a word about our traditional links before looking at the wider Caribbean. Traditionally, Britain's links with the Caribbean have been with the English-speaking countries, with which we have had, and still have, strong ties through the Commonwealth, trade, culture and family, particularly through the thousands of Caribbeans who come to live and work in this country. Above all, we speak the same language.

I believe that now our relationship should be conditioned not only by what has been the case in the past. The larger English-speaking countries of the Caribbean may well, over time, develop new linkages with the non-English-speaking Caribbean countries through the Association of Caribbean States. We must recognise that that new approach shows the way in which Britain's aid, security, commercial and other ties can be enhanced by a British-led European Union policy.

Already we have been deeply involved in the long and protracted negotiations on bananas, a fruit known nowadays more for its skin than anything else. It is a crop on which Jamaica, St. Lucia and Dominica are largely dependent. There is not time to go into the complexities of the negotiations, except to say that they are not yet resolved. Yet, without a permanent solution, the danger is that the economies of those small countries could collapse and that the drug dealers will move in to the vacuum which is left behind. There are similar problems in relation to rum.

Although those issues affect the English-speaking countries in particular, they require today European and American involvement for their solution. In that sense there is a great change. I echo the importance of Britain having a strong voice in the European Union and in the arguments in the debates which we seldom speak of but which are of extreme importance to some countries.

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Our other major interest in the Caribbean concerns the five dependent territories. I know that both Ministers and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have given much thought to the future of those territories, for which we are ultimately responsible. It must be right to have an absolute commitment to good government, law and order, the regulation of such matters as offshore financial activity and the eventual economic self-sufficiency of those small countries. However, I should like to think that our policy should move forward politically. The recent troubles in the BVI should act as an incentive to us to take their concerns more seriously. For example, the decision to create additional tiers of bureaucracy for the Dependent Territories' Secretariat in Barbados to "manage" those small countries has not encouraged a better relationship, however well intentioned.

What I believe is needed is an approach which recognises the growing concerns of chief ministers regarding their relationship with governors, the powers of the elected governments and governors, and the role of London and the secretariat in Barbados. I should like to think that it would be possible to hold a conference in London which would establish, on a negotiated basis, the principles regulating the relationships between London and the Caribbean dependent territories.

I now turn to the other countries of the Caribbean and the directions in which the Caribbean is changing. I have already referred to the Association of Caribbean States. That new association includes Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and the Central American republics, as well as Cuba and the traditional islands of the Caribbean. It was formed last summer. Its objects are to promote economic, social and cultural co-operation. The association covers a population of some 200 million and has a collective GDP of 500 billion US dollars. As such it is potentially the world's fourth largest trading bloc. It seeks to define a special free trade relationship both with the NAFTA and with the European Union, where of course there is more than one player.

Against that backdrop we can look, too, at Cuba and see great changes. There is now a far-reaching structural reform programme. I was delighted that my honourable friend Ian Taylor visited Cuba in September and signed an IPPA agreement with that country. My honourable friend has indicated his wish to develop programmes of economic co-operation between London and Havana. It must surely be in our interests to encourage Cuba to move both towards a democratic system of government and a free enterprise society, as we are encouraging the eastern European countries. What is now needed is for Britain to respond quickly to Cuban requests for technical and other forms of assistance.

What can we do to help? I hope that my noble friend may be able to say when replying whether it would be possible to give them something from a know-how fund. I believe that they need advice on how to manage a market economy and training in entrepreneurial skills and the management and regulation of utilities. We in the United Kingdom have considerable experience of all those programmes, particularly of privatisation, and we have much to offer from our experience in eastern Europe. Is there also any prospect of the restoration of

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ECGD cover? Can, for instance, the Commonwealth Development Corporation look at the wide range of opportunities for investment?

Puerto Rico is a small country, yet it is the third largest market for British exports after Brazil and Mexico. Its population is only 2.5 million, yet we had direct exports to the island of £188 million in 1993, and so far in 1994 our exports have increased by 66 per cent. We are already the largest investor in Puerto Rico after the United States. There are a great number of opportunities for the United Kingdom in a number of infrastructure projects planned for the island, and it would be nice to think that we could take advantage of them. The establishment of a small consular office in Puerto Rico has undoubtedly been of great help in all that activity.

That brings me to the Dominican Republic. Here, too, is a market of growing importance. I am glad to hear that my honourable friend Mr. Tony Baldry will visit the Dominican Republic in December. In this country we have been enormously well served by our honorary consuls, but we now need some form of permanent representation, which would be of immense benefit to our exporters and to our relationship with that country.

I began by saying that I believe that Britain's policy towards the Caribbean should change to take account of the great changes in that part of the world. I recognise the many demands on the diplomatic service, and I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, said on this subject in his remarks. It would be unfortunate if, as resources diminished in that part of the world to take account of the many other calls on the diplomatic service, departments of state responded by simply reducing all the programmes without trying to find alternative ways in which they might be better co-ordinated both in the interests of the region and of Britain and the money which is available better used.

We need to catch the mood of the region, which is now one in which the primary consideration is the commercial interests of those countries. Such consideration will add to their prosperity; and that must be a matter to be welcomed. We should look again at our aid policy, which could well extend over a wider region--for example, I have suggested that it could extend into Cuba. It could be a policy of working more closely both with the private sector in its activities and with non-governmental organisations. I hope therefore that we can look again at our diplomatic and commercial representation in that part of the world. We need to face the fact that that area is changing rapidly. We need to take account of the new political and economic realities.

There are great opportunities for our exporters in the Caribbean and for an increasing and important partnership. That partnership will benefit ourselves, it is true, but also those countries which, although not the poorest in the world, may welcome and need our help and support. Such a partnership would build on a long

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tradition. It is an opportunity that we ought not to miss in the changes that are coming about, and it is an issue that we need to look to as we approach the 21st century.

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