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Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

3.3 p.m.

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by Lord Gray of Contin--namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, it is an honour to open this debate on the gracious Speech. It is always a most important debate. I shall touch on some of our most important foreign policy concerns, including development. My noble friend Lord Howe will concentrate on defence and security policy.

The extensive network of British High Commissions and Embassies across the world and their crucial work are an investment for the future. Our investment in development is equally important. Our economic, educational and political partnerships are key in securing greater prosperity, stability and peace across the wider world. All this is in Britain's interests.

First, I want to talk about two issues of immediate concern. Let me begin with the tragic worsening situation in the whole Great Lakes region. Through our permanent membership of the UN Security Council and the European Union, Britain continues to be closely involved in the search for a solution. These are very complex problems which, despite all efforts, will continue to horrify us until the countries themselves will the peace to happen.

Events this weekend have further increased the need for an urgent but lasting solution. Every day we are in close contact with the non-governmental organisations, international organisations and regional governments. Britain has already spent more than £130 million in the region, but we are ready to assist further, both to help the vulnerable and to find a lasting solution. I will say more of this on Thursday when the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has a most timely Question down on the Order Paper.

All Members of your Lordships' House will also share my deep concern at the deterioration of events in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Hope born of the peace process since the handshake on the White House lawn in 1993 is in peril. The renewed fear of conflict, the dangerous propensity to provocation and retaliation and the vicious influence of extremism are all too clear. Despite all this, the prospect of lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians must not be allowed to dim.

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We are all deeply aware that it takes years to build hope and peace yet only days to disrupt them. Peace must encompass the needs of both sides, for a one-sided peace will not last.

Today's humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza gives particular cause for concern. The repeated and prolonged closures of the Occupied Territories cause extreme daily hardship for ordinary Palestinian people. That makes the Palestinian people more than usually dependent on help from outside donors to maintain survival, let alone begin to build a decent standard of living. The current difficulties that the United Nations Refugee Welfare Association and other aid organisations are experiencing in delivering help in Gaza and the West Bank have to end. Aid personnel are being subjected to long delays at border crossings and checkpoints. I am compelled to ask what good reason there is for repeatedly holding up vital staff and convoys of food and medical supplies; what good reason there is for severely delaying the journey of ambulances carrying sick people, whether Palestinians or non-Palestinians, to hospital.

Britain is a major bilateral and EU donor to the Palestinians. We call upon Israel urgently to ease the passage of aid personnel, food, medical supplies and development assistance in the Occupied Territories. This call is not a new one. Our concerns have been repeatedly raised with Israel. It is in the interests of all those who want to see peace in the Middle East, the Occupied Territories and Israel that this call is heeded now.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will travel to Israel shortly. He will emphasise that the peace process must continue. The commitments entered into by the PLO and the Government of Israel must be respected. Redeployment from Hebron, required under the interim agreement some months ago, must take place quickly. That will be only the first necessary step in rebuilding Palestinian and international confidence in Israel's commitment to the peace process. Further redeployment from the West Bank, as detailed in the interim agreement, and the resumption of final status talks, as required under the declaration of principles, is also necessary, very soon. Without such movement, the risk of further confrontation will surely deepen.

Nor must we forget the Golan. It is not constructive merely for the Israelis to say that they are ready to negotiate with Syria without preconditions. Peace and security are likely to be achieved on Israel's northern borders only if the problems of the Golan and South Lebanon are solved on the basis of "land for peace" and if Resolutions 242, 338 and 425 are respected.

Now let me touch briefly on a number of issues which are crucial to our future security and prosperity elsewhere in the world. In December, we expect NATO Foreign Ministers to announce a summit in spring or early summer of 1997. This will be the time when a number of countries will be invited to begin negotiations to accede to NATO.

Britain is fully committed to NATO's enlargement. The alliance has provided the foundation of western Europe's post-war prosperity and security. It is right that this should be extended to the new democracies in the

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east. We aim to have those first new members of NATO with us at the table when NATO celebrates its 50th anniversary in 1999.

Enlargement of NATO must not mean a reduction of security for those not invited or the creation of new dividing lines in Europe. Britain is thus committed to NATO's parallel work--to broaden and deepen the military and political dimensions of Partnership for Peace. This enhanced Partnership for Peace must become an integral part of the security architecture of Europe.

In the European Union too, the United Kingdom has long been the foremost advocate of enlargement to the East. It is the most important task for the European Union in coming years. We look forward to accession negotiations starting with the best prepared candidates six months after the intergovernmental conference ends. Our task is to create conditions for the central Europeans to join the European Union at the earliest date. This means that the CAP and structural funds must be reformed if enlargement is to be successful. Britain will continue to champion vigorously the cause of the central Europeans through practical actions such as improving market access for agricultural products and our continued assistance through the know how funds (some £86.5 million last year).

The Florence European Council called for the intergovernmental conference to conclude in mid-1997. The Prime Minister is looking forward to substantial discussion of suggested treaty changes at the December European Council. Our White Paper, Partnership of Nations, has highlighted the changes we seek for which there is considerable support. Where change is against the UK interest, we shall continue to oppose it, whether or not we are in a minority. This IGC is essentially internal housekeeping. It must clear the way for the far more significant challenges of enlargement and competitiveness, where we continue our efforts to reduce the regulatory burdens of single market legislation and to press for further progress in the liberalisation of world trade through the WTO.

Earlier I mentioned the global spread of our foreign policy. There are a number of areas where our interests are directly at stake.

In Iraq, Saddam remains a threat to the Iraqi people and to the security of the region. This threat was vividly demonstrated recently by the Iraqi attack on Irbil, which represented a clear flouting of Security Council Resolution 688. The British objective in northern Iraq is the peace and well-being of the people living there. We have been speaking with the leaders of both PUK and KDP about how to achieve that. We are pleased that they have now agreed to a ceasefire, which appears to be holding. We shall continue to urge both parties to exercise restraint and work at peace. But we also give fair warning that further Iraqi military intervention would be a serious and unjustifiable escalation of the situation.

The need to keep up the pressure on Iraq remains. Iraq must comply with all the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. It is far from doing so. Iraq's programme of weapons of mass destruction is of great

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concern. The UN Special Commission has compiled a catalogue of Iraqi deception, obstruction and lies. There is little doubt that Saddam retains the ambition to develop weapons of mass destruction and dominate the region.

It is no pleasure to observe the suffering of the Iraqi people prolonged by Baghdad's policies. The attack on Irbil forced the UN to delay the implementation of Security Council Resolution 986 (Food for Oil). Iraq is further delaying its implementation by reopening points already agreed in May this year. We can only regret Iraq's intransigence in blocking this avenue to improving the well-being of the Iraqi people.

In early December the United Kingdom will host in London a conference to map out the priorities for peace implementation in Bosnia next year. We shall pull together the promises of continued international involvement linked to firm commitments and undertakings by the parties for 1997. We shall take decisions on the various strands of the international civilian effort, including the economic reconstruction of Bosnia, human rights and other humanitarian issues, such as the condition of refugees.

The political framework being developed for the London conference will also inform work under way at NATO on the security needs of Bosnia in 1997. IFOR has been an outstanding success, both in its mission in Bosnia and in bringing NATO together with partners from central and eastern Europe and beyond. IFOR deserves credit not only for its miliary mission, but also for the widespread support it has provided to the civilian effort, in particular to the elections on 14th September. The NATO military authorities are now looking at the options for 1997. A decision will be taken next month on how best to plan for a successor to IFOR, building on its success, with all major NATO allies contributing. But the fundamental principle remains that Bosnians must take on more and more of the responsibility for their own affairs. We shall help them to do so, but it has to come.

I now turn to Nigeria. The suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth by Heads of Government in Auckland in November 1995 was a difficult and unprecedented decision. So far, the Commonwealth is the only international organisation to have taken that step. The suspension responded to serious violations in Nigeria of the principles set out in the Harare Commonwealth Declaration of 1991, culminating in the shocking execution of Saro-Wiwa and his associates after a flawed judicial process.

At the same meeting in Auckland, Heads of Government created the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which comprises Foreign Ministers of Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. CMAG's mandate is to recommend how to deal with persistent violations of the Harare Principles in Nigeria, The Gambia and Sierra Leone. I am pleased to report that since then Sierra Leone has returned to democratic government. It still has problems but it is now democratic and working at its problems. CMAG's work with Nigeria and The Gambia has to continue.

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CMAG left the Nigerians in no doubt that it expected firm actions, including the immediate review of the cases of all prisoners held without charge, the release of the alleged coup plotters and of Chief Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential elections.

Since my right honourable friend Malcolm Rifkind and I met a Nigerian delegation in June with our CMAG partners there has been only slow progress. CMAG will soon visit Nigeria as part of the continuing process of dialogue and assessment. CMAG has made it clear to the Nigerians whom it wishes to see during the visit to complete its assessment of Nigeria's commitment to the Harare Principles. If the Nigerians restrict CMAG Ministers' access during the visit, the group will reflect that in its assessment and draw the appropriate conclusions, including measures. We shall use the visit to press once again for the release of political prisoners and for a review of prison conditions.

Britain will continue to play an active role in the work of CMAG as part of our wider efforts to encourage greater respect for human rights and a return to democracy in Nigeria and elsewhere.

I turn to Hong Kong. Hong Kong remains one of our highest foreign policy priorities. With the transition now in sight, we are into the final, critical phase. There has been useful progress this year with the Chinese, particularly last month's meeting in New York between the Foreign Secretary and Qian Qichen, following which agreement was announced on the handover ceremony.

But the success of the transition after 30th June next year depends on developments over the next few months, including a number of important decisions to be taken by China. Britain is committed to ensuring a successful transition and will remain committed to a stable, democratic and prosperous Hong Kong.

The United Kingdom has been a major contributor to the UN peacekeeping operations for much of the 1990s, in keeping with the P5 membership. For much of 1995 the United Kingdom has been the largest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, mainly in the former Yugoslavia. In Cyprus, the United Kingdom has provided forces since the beginning of the UN operation in 1964. In Angola and Rwanda, British logistic batallions laid the groundwork for incoming UN operations, helping ensure that subsequent troop contingents were able to deploy rapidly and efficiently. There have been valuable contributions too to UN peacekeeping in Kuwait, Georgia, Cambodia and the Western Sahara.

British troops have been praised widely and are respected for their professionalism and dedication while working under often difficult circumstances and earning them a warm reception from local populations. They have rebuilt schools, maintained roads and provided much needed medical care in Bosnia, Rwanda and Angola. In Bosnia they are working jointly with ODA on a highly acclaimed programme of infrastructure repairs. The blend of ODA money and guidance with the troops' "can-do" attitude and enthusiasm is restoring the fabric of life. Villages are seeing a gradual return to normality, with water, gas and electricity available once again.

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I turn now to development. Development assistance is not just about helping people in poorer countries to achieve a better quality of life. It is also about investing in our own future. Global peace and stability, a healthy common environment and combating illegal drugs are in all our interests.

The prime responsibility for development must always rest with developing countries themselves. We want to see a new partnership between the developed and developing world. The G7 Summit set out the framework for that partnership, addressing trade, development and debt and the environment. Our development programme aims to create the conditions necessary for profitable trade and sustained long-term investment. But donors must ensure that their assistance is properly targeted and effectively managed.

We work hard at all we do. Our purpose is to improve the quality of life for people in poorer countries by contributing to sustainable development and reducing poverty and suffering. But we also have responsibilities and, with the rest of the developed world, we must face up to those responsibilities. We must pursue sound macro-economic policies and work towards more open markets for capital and trade. The private sector will drive economic growth in developing countries and trade is one of the most effective engines for development. Britain is the third largest source of private capital to the developing world.

Private investment flows for 1995 are estimated to be £7.4 thousand million. Our development assistance must help developing countries to attract those flows of investment. But that alone is not enough. The poorest countries which do not attract private flows will still need concessional assistance. Britain will continue to play a decisive role in moving forward international discussions on debt. The World Bank and the IMF have been asked to begin implementation of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Debt Initiative before the end of this year. That initiative, based on proposals put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, aims to reduce the debts of highly indebted poor countries to a sustainable level. The initiative will give the poorest, most indebted countries their first real chance to escape from the shackles of their debt burdens.

I look forward to the contributions of so many Members of your Lordships' House. In the short time available and with many speakers to come I can only touch on a few of the vast array of issues of importance to Britain. But underpinning all the issues is the continuing drive to give the best value for money possible in all the work done by our diplomatic and development staff. Their work is an invaluable investment for Britain now and for decades to come. Through our policies outlined in the gracious Speech we will make sure that that continues.

3.24 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, this is the fourth year in succession that I have opened the foreign affairs and defence debate on the Queen's Speech for the Opposition. I hope that it will be the last time for some years that I do so on behalf of the Opposition. The

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election can be no more than seven months away and I anticipate, with the evidence of the polls to support me, that we on this side of the House will be introducing this debate next year and the party opposite will be responding to it. I hope that the Minister will enjoy the change, if it happens. I wish her well in the new experience that awaits her.

In the last of such debates before an election it is appropriate to give some indication of where the Labour Party stands on some of the crucial issues that face us in foreign affairs and that I shall try to do. In that context I shall say something about our international economic relations which I take to be a central part of our relations with other countries. Before doing so, I want to pick up on a number of references made to specific parts of the world in the Address--parts of the world that are giving us cause for concern or could do so in the coming year.

The Labour Party supports the Government in their efforts to achieve a successful transfer of sovereignty to Hong Kong in the summer of next year, and I want to say a little more about that than the Minister did. We also endorse what is said in the Address about the need to preserve the way of life of the people of Hong Kong and the need to promote the territory's continued stability and prosperity founded on a high degree of autonomy and the rule of law. While it is possible to be optimistic about the future of Hong Kong--China will surely not be so foolish as to jeopardise business confidence there by initiating political changes that go back on earlier agreements--there are some worrying unresolved problems.

The future of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities is not secure. It is clear that they will not enjoy the same rights as the ethnic Chinese majority when Hong Kong reverts to China. They will not be able to become Chinese nationals because of the race-based nature of Chinese national law and only Chinese nationals will be eligible for certain political offices under the Basic Law in the post-1997 constitution.

China's record on human rights, as I am sure we all agree, is poor. It is not a signatory to the UN covenants on civil and political rights and on economic social and cultural rights whereas Hong Kong has been covered by those covenants since Britain ratified them 20 years ago. Since the Joint Declaration made absolutely clear that they should continue to be in force after 1997--that is embodied in the Basic Law--arrangements now need to be made for Hong Kong to report direct to the UN human rights committees. That is a minimum safeguard which should be provided for the people of Hong Kong. I raised the matter when we last debated Hong Kong in this House and I would be grateful if the Minister can say whether any progress has been made.

There are other anxieties in relation to the timetable for the new elections to replace the Provisional Council after 1997 and about how the Provisional Council and LegCo are going to work between now and next July. It must be hoped that difficult and unsettling conflicts do not occur. Given some of the uncertainties it is vital to preserve the neutrality of the civil service. Without it morale in Hong Kong would be lowered and the whole transition could be at risk. The appointment of the first

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post-1997 chief executive has still to be announced by the Chinese Government. I understand that the identity of that person is likely to be known before the end of November. He or she must have the right experience and skills to maintain confidence and help ensure a smooth transition.

This time last year when we debated the Queen's Speech we hoped that the terrible conflict in Rwanda and Burundi had come to an end. Sadly, instability in the region has continued and ethnic conflict has now spread into neighbouring Zaire, with a looming threat of more atrocities and ethnic cleansing. Half a million Rwandan and Burundian refugees are reported today to have abandoned their camps in eastern Zaire and are now on the move, many of them without access to either food or water. More refugees are being created every day within Zaire. The problems for the UN and its staff on the ground in trying to stop more suffering on a vast scale are enormous. The fighting in eastern Zaire means that the UNHCR has had to start evacuating its humanitarian staff from the region. Since the Prime Minister of Zaire was in London last week, perhaps the Minister can say something about the outcome of those talks as well as telling the House what the UK Government and the international community are doing to avert further disaster there.

The Labour Party welcomes the visit of the President of Israel to the UK next February and hopes that it will provide an opportunity to discuss ways of making progress in the peace process. Like the Minister, we cannot hide our dismay about the way things have turned for the worse since the election of Mr. Netanyahu in Israel. After so much optimism last year, it is terribly disheartening to see the hardening of positions and the confrontational approach adopted by the Israeli right-wing beginning to destroy the progress made. We support the position that M. Chirac took on the renewed building of Jewish settlements on the West Bank when he visited Israel last week. Nor do we believe it right to recognise Israel's claim to sovereignty in East Jerusalem. As the Minister indicated, the sealing off of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring Palestinians from their jobs in Israel, can only create great discontent and fears for their livelihoods among the Palestinian population. The changes made by the new Israeli Government in negotiations over the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Hebron and their attempt to extend the area of Israeli control and to retain the right of pursuit into Palestinian areas have also unreasonably damaged progress. The withdrawal from Hebron was agreed by the previous government and is now three months overdue. The breakdown of the latest talks is deeply disappointing.

The great majority of Israelis, I am sure, want to see the spirit of Oslo maintained and further progress made towards peace. Many will be justifiably concerned by the way their new government have handled negotiations with the Palestinians. They also recognise that peace and security can be achieved only with a just settlement for the Palestinians. I believe from what the Minister has said that this view is endorsed not just by the Labour Party but also by the Government. It is

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something on which the Minister and I can agree, but I hope that the Government will ask the United States to do more to persuade Mr. Netanyahu of its importance.

Looking round the world, as one civil war ends another seems to flare up. In Afghanistan we have seen in recent weeks the frightening spectacle of Islamic fundamentalists establishing themselves in the country's ruined capital and imposing brutal new laws in the name of religion that are an affront, in particular to the civilised treatment of women. In Bosnia there now seems some hope of long-term peace even if what has been achieved can hardly be described as reconciliation between the formerly warring parties. Like the Government, we on this side of the House support the Dayton Agreement and hope to see full compliance with what was agreed.

As the Minister said, the role of NATO in implementing the peace has been successful and I should like to record our gratitude to the British troops who have played such an important part in the exercise. I have raised before the question of IFOR's failure to arrest Mr. Karadzic and I make no excuses in raising it again. Mr. Karadzic is wanted as a war criminal. Until he is arrested and tried for the atrocities of which he is accused, there is a risk that the genuine reconciliation we all want to see in Bosnia will be unattainable. Moreover, if atrocities go unpunished in Europe, what hope is there that in other parts of the world where civil wars take place those who order genocidal killing will hold back?

We on these Benches are glad to see in the Address that support for the UN remains a priority. If that is the case, can the Minister tell the House why the Government have not announced that the UK will be rejoining UNESCO? Their failure to do so hardly ranks as support for the UN. The Government want a more effective, efficient and responsive UN. UNESCO has worked successfully to meet those goals. It is hypocritical of the Government that they refuse to recognise the achievement and announce that the UK will become a member again.

Reform of the United Nations as a whole is now very much on the agenda. The Labour Party strongly supports the Secretary General's efforts to tackle not just the reform of the secretariat, over which he has some control, but also the improvement of intergovernmental structures on the economic and social side of the UN and of arrangements for financing the UN and of co-ordination within the UN system as a whole. We regret the unjustified criticism of Mr. Boutros Ghali by the United States' Government and its ambassador to the UN. Perhaps the Minister, in summing up, will say where the UK Government stand on his reappointment. We must in this context never forget that it is the member states of the UN who determine how and whether it is reformed. With the exception of the secretariat, they decide, not the Secretary General. They have the powers to see through the reforms he has proposed, including much-needed changes to the Security Council. They must do so in order to preserve the vital role of the UN in furthering global interests

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against the narrower and often self-seeking interests of nation states. Without a strong UN the world would be a far worse place than it is today.

Turning to the international economy in the global world we now occupy, the UK must be outward looking. If we are not, our economy will be bypassed and our ability to bargain for the best deal for Britain will be undermined by coalitions between other nations which have formed closer partnerships. Membership of the world community also carries with it responsibilities as well as rights. We reject as cynical and shortsighted the approach to foreign policy that regards it only as a matter of realpolitik. Of course foreign policy must have the objective of advancing national interests. It is, however, in our national interest to be respected abroad. If we apply double standards to the values we demand of ourselves, compared with the treatment we are prepared to condone for the citizens of other countries, we only bring our nation into contempt. That is one of the reasons why we attach so much importance to overseas aid and deplore the Government's relentless cuts to the programme. The fact that 80 per cent. of the world's population live in developing countries highlights the enormous untapped potential that can be raised by a balanced programme of development aid and trade. In that respect I agree with the Minister. My noble friend Lord Judd will say more about this later.

We must work for economic as well as political stability around the world. Britain can, and should, play a leading part in efforts to create a stable international macro-economic climate. To achieve this, Labour wants to see more effective co-operation on monetary and fiscal policy in the G7 to encourage compatible national economic strategies and promote growth and jobs. If we are returned next year, we shall try to ensure more effective regulation and supervision of the currency and financial markets so that we can reap the benefits of developments in financial instruments without destabilising world capital markets. We shall encourage reform of the IMF so that it can identify problems before they develop into speculative crises. An unstable international environment, characterised by exchange rate volatility, makes returns on investment far less certain. It deters companies from the long-term planning needed to develop new products and new markets. In turn it damages investment in both capital and skills, a situation which Britain, more than anyone else, can ill afford.

It is vital for the UK economy that the European Union as a whole prospers. For that reason I cannot over stress the need to work with our European partners rather than against them. We export nearly as much to Germany alone as to the whole of NAFTA and twice as much to Denmark as to China. Does the Minister agree that it is partly because we are part of the single market that Britain wins millions of pounds of inward investment each year, a simple fact which the Eurosceptic members of the Cabinet and their friends in the Conservative Party fail to understand? It is therefore essential that, whether or not we decide to join EMU, if EMU goes ahead it too is a success. British industry and finance must also be ready for EMU. It is worrying to read reports that British industry is ill prepared,

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particularly in data processing. It is, however, hardly surprising, given the total failure on the part of the Government to take the lead on that preparation.

I was in Brussels a couple of weeks ago. I was struck by the terribly low standing of the British Government among our European partners and in the Commission. The Minister mentioned the IGC. The common view in Brussels is that no progress can be made on the IGC until after the British election. So other member states now reluctantly accept that it may have to be delayed. The handling of the BSE crisis has heightened the disdain with which we are now regarded. Our influence in Europe, which ought to be as great as that of France and Germany, has fallen to an all-time low. Is it not a disastrous position to be left in?

Let me make it clear: a Labour Government next year will restore our position in Europe. Unlike the Conservatives, we shall not put party interests before those of the country. We shall abandon the destructive and negative stance taken on so many European matters by this Government and in so doing make the fight for British interests within Europe a successful one rather than the failure that it now is. And, yes, we shall sign up to the social chapter and endorse what some of the biggest and best employers in Britain are already doing to promote good relations with their employees.

The Queen's Speech says that the Government will promote policies designed to increase the Union's economic well-being. Unfortunately, any policies promoted by this Government do not stand much chance of getting anywhere in Europe. A Labour Government will change this so that the soured atmosphere that now exists between Britain and our European partners vanishes. We look forward next July to being part of the troika and to Britain's presidency of the Union in the first six months of 1998. We look forward to working for the eventual accession of the countries of central and eastern Europe to the Union.

I have not been able to cover the enlargement of NATO, nor other defence and security matters. I will leave that to my noble friend. I want only to record the relief we feel that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has now been agreed. This is a treaty Labour pressed for--for many years--long before the Government conceded its importance. We look forward to its ratification. But, as my noble friend will indicate later, there are still unresolved problems. It is only the first step towards the non-nuclear world we in the Labour Party want to see. I look forward very much to hearing the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, on the subject.

A successful international infrastructure can develop only in a healthy and stable international community, one where nations recognise that the rights they gain from agreement and co-operation also give them the responsibility to play a part in the promotion of stability, prosperity and partnership around the world. That is why a commitment to the success of the United Nations and to a properly targeted and resourced aid and development programme is inseparable from a commitment to a strong and prosperous international economy. We need a government that can give

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leadership to Britain and that can focus their mind on the future--and our future--in a global world. We intend to provide such a government.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will want to thank the Minister for the way in which she introduced the debate and covered such a number of subjects. She said that this is always an important debate on the gracious Speech. That is no doubt true, but I have always found it an unsatisfactory debate because so many different problems have to be covered. That is why I always feel pity and sympathy for the Minister who has to wind up. For my part, I hope to deal briefly with three specific topics and not to cover the world. My noble friends beside me will deal with the important issues of human rights and development aid, which the Minister covered, and my noble friend Lord Mayhew will deal with disarmament and NATO when he winds up.

The first specific matter that I want to raise with the Minister is the future of the BBC World Service. In a similar debate to this in another place the Foreign Secretary said that one of the basic pillars of British foreign policy lay in what he called,

    "promotion of the extraordinary asset that we have in the English language".--[Official Report, Commons, 24/10/96; col. 139.]

The cuts that the Government are presently imposing on the BBC World Service and, incidentally, on the British Council, are a curious way of caring for that asset. I begin by pressing on the Government the hope that they can be persuaded to reverse those cuts in the forthcoming Budget. In today's turbulent post-war world, the BBC World Service has in many ways a different role from in the past--and an even more important role. The BBC World Service is a very important weapon in terms of Britain's influence. It is also a most economical weapon. It represents good value for money when compared with sophisticated modern armaments. In parenthesis, I should declare an interest in the BBC World Service as a member of my family works for it.

The structure of the World Service has recently been under threat from some ill thought out management proposals which, as your Lordships will remember, aroused the outrage of your Lordships' House before the Summer Recess. I believe that we contributed to the welcome initiative that the Foreign Secretary took in establishing a working party of independent members to consider such matters. The working party has now produced its report in which there are a series of assurances about the future. Among the most significant is the aim of continued co-location under the same roof for the English language and the vernacular services and the plan that one member of the board of governors should be designated the duty of looking after the interests of the World Service.

However, perhaps the most important decision taken by the working party will be to monitor, and to report back in due course on, the way in which those

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safeguards are implemented. Some of us--including members of all parties in your Lordships' House--will be watching vigilantly and awaiting that report.

The ending of the cold war, with its bi-polar balance of nuclear terror as the basis of world peace, has produced an immense change in the world scene. In the debate in another place the Foreign Secretary remarked very vividly that during the cold war no single NATO or Warsaw Pact soldier lost his life in European conflict--contrast that with the slaughter that took place in Bosnia and which has been taking place in Chechnya and elsewhere. That was a vivid illustration of the way in which the world scene has changed. Globally, it is now a multi-polar world, with a single superpower, the United States.

Against that background I do not believe that the various international organisations that together make up this somewhat vague entity of an international community that media commentators are often keen to talk about rather simplistically and glibly--whether it is NATO, the international economic organisations or the United Nations--have fully adapted themselves to the challenges of this new situation. Of those organisations I believe that the most important is the United Nations. I was very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred to it in some detail. I wish to say a word about what seems to me to be the central issue there. In doing so I am conscious of the absence from this Bench of Lord Gladwyn. He was here on the last occasion when the United Nations were debated. I confess that I spoke using his advice to a very large degree. He gave outstanding service to this Bench of your Lordships' House over a number of years. His death is a very great loss to us.

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