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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: In a world with a single super power, the essence of making the United Nations more effective as the central international organisation of the international community is that the United States should be right at the heart of the United Nations. When the Minister replies I hope that he will be able to tell us the latest position as regards the US vendetta, in many ways, against the present Secretary-General of the UN, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who has given very distinguished service. However, I put that as a second matter to getting the future of the United Nations right.

I consider the heart of that matter as being able to ensure that the United States, as the single super power left in the world community, conducts its responsibilities in that respect from the heart of the UN, so that when it has to take a lead, as it is very often bound to do in world peacekeeping operations, it should do so within the resolutions and under the authority of the United Nations. The starting point for that is for the US Congress to meet the American arrears for the US organisation. A corollary of that is that the United Nations should then undertake a much more radical programme of reform than has been faced up to until now. I believe that there is a need to shape a more effective peacekeeping organisation with its own staff

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college developing both preventive and enforcement techniques. That is needed in order to do the world's duty by the very many dedicated relief workers, peacekeepers and development aid people who risk their lives going to the trouble spots of the world. They deserve to have behind them a much leaner and more incisive peacekeeping and humanitarian body at the United Nations. I hope that some of the staff problems and extravagances of the United Nations can be dealt with very radically indeed.

The international community will also become a more effective entity if the countries of the European Union are able to act more cohesively together both at the UN and elsewhere. The countries of western Europe, which are at the heart of the European Union, have a great deal of experience of international diplomacy. They also have historic links with their former overseas empires, which are of great importance in terms of dealing with the problems there.

That brings me to the biggest single divisive issue of British foreign policy. I am glad that the noble Baroness dealt with it in the final part of her speech because it is also the final part of mine. She said that by the time of the next debate on the Address the general election will have taken place. The government that emerges will immediately face fateful choices in their relationship with the European Union. I believe that the timetable is now very well known. The British Government take on the presidency of the European Union for the first half of 1998. The decision as to whether the British Government will exercise the Maastricht opt-out has to be taken by the end of 1997. In the meantime there has to be legislation about the creation of an independent central bank. The moment for deciding whether the United Kingdom meets the convergence criteria comes during the period of the British presidency.

I hope that the Government Front Bench will not feel offended--perhaps they may feel a little relieved--if I say that I am going to give up trying to persuade them that Britain should be among the first wave of member states joining the single currency. I am prepared to devote my main remarks to seek to persuade the alternative government--we heard a little from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone--that that government should take Britain in in the first wave. Judging from the headlines I read in the newspapers today arising from the remarks of one of the leading members of the alternative government, we are entitled to some further reassurance on this matter.

As regards the Conservative Party, I admire the courage and clarity with which some members of the Government, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer--I do not wish to embarrass the noble Baroness who opened the debate in any way--have kept the Government's options open. From the point of view of British interests that has been extremely important.

What the British electorate need to take on board is that if the Conservatives were to win a further term of office they would be incapable of making a choice on the most important issue of British foreign policy without tearing themselves apart. In their own interests and in the British general interests as well, they need a

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long period of reflection in opposition to seek reconciliation of positions which are at present irreconcilable. Fortunately, that is an opportunity they are likely to enjoy within the next few months.

However, as regards Europe, the new government will face a deplorable legacy of distrust of Britain. From the first hopeful days when the present Prime Minister spoke differently from his predecessor of putting Britain at the heart of Europe, Britain's capital of goodwill has been steadily run down. There has been a negativism about their approach, which has shown up in the sterile conference so far of the IGC. There has been the sad saga of the serial vetoes over BSE, with the Government going back on their promises as regards the Florence agreement. That was claimed to be the way of lifting the ban on British beef.

It is against that background that the new government--if the Labour Party wins the election--will need to face the situation. Apart from the recent record of the present Government, I must say to the Labour Party that it must bear in mind the historic view of Britain through continental eyes. From the days of Winston Churchill's Zurich speech, it has been the habit of opposition parties of all kinds in this country to engage in very promising European rhetoric about unity when in opposition and then to fudge the issue very greatly when they gain office. I beg that that does not happen if there is a change of government in the forthcoming general election.

In view of the timetable I have just described, the wisest course for the British opposition parties is the course that this party will follow; namely, to make it absolutely clear to the electorate before the general election that if Britain is in a position to conform to the convergence criteria to become a member of the first wave joining the single currency, we should seek to do so. Nothing would do more to restore Britain's reputation in the rest of Europe and serve the best interests of the British people if that kind of clear commitment were given in the next Queen's Speech.

4 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, as this is the last opportunity that I shall have to address your Lordships' House before I retire, I should like to express gratitude for the enjoyment I have had in taking part in the business of this Chamber and for the courtesy that has been shown to Members of this Bench.

I welcome the broad-based and wide-ranging speech of the noble Baroness at the beginning of this debate and rejoice with her--indeed, with all Members of this House--that in the gracious Speech it is said that Her Majesty's Government will continue to support the United Nations. There is an awesome view of the 21st century, of regional wars in which atrocities are committed which may cause some to say that they make Hitler appear mild and where people are forced to stand by and do little about it. Unless there is a strong United Nations I believe that that will be a fairly accurate description of the situation. The United Nations, like any other institution, must adapt and reform if it is to be fit for the tasks of the new century.

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I share with the noble Baroness the hope and prayer that the peace process in the Middle East will not be delayed and will go forward; similarly, in sub-Saharan Africa. I also hope that positive strides will be made in achieving peace in the former Yugoslavia. I am delighted that the Worcestershire Regiment has played such a large part in rebuilding schools and, like all the services of today, has a very large humanitarian role that it will undoubtedly perform.

I wish to reflect for a moment on the success of overseas aid--for some time I was chairman of the Church of England Development Affairs Committee--for example, the mortality rate for young children has been halved; the number of people with access to clean water has been doubled; smallpox has largely been eliminated; deaths from bitter diseases such as polio and measles have been sharply reduced; and literacy and attendance at primary schools have been significantly increased. I also express gratitude for the work done by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in seeking to reduce the debts of the poorer nations. I wonder whether there will be an opportunity at the millennium to cancel those debts, because it is unlikely that they will ever be paid.

We owe a great deal to a long line of Ministers who have worked to maintain the contribution of this country to overseas aid and development, but none has surpassed the labours and courage of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker. However, she would be the first to agree that there are no grounds for complacency. One billion people (one in five of the world's population) still live in absolute poverty. Of those, 500 million are chronically malnourished. Another 2.9 billion do not have access to safe sanitation. The number of refugees worldwide has risen ninefold in the past 30 years to 27 million. It is important to realise the way in which absolute poverty causes migrants to roam the face of the earth, their cattle overgrazing as they go, in search of food and employment.

There is a direct link between the poverty of some nations and the growing affluence of others. It causes immigration and asylum problems and kindred challenges. Undoubtedly, in the 21st century fundamentalists, zealots and terrorists will feed on the outrage of the disadvantaged whom they claim to represent. It is not in our best interests to be inactive and inert in the face of so-called third world poverty. A mean and curmudgeonly attitude will not be in our best interests. I repeat a phrase that I have quoted before from the late Archbishop Temple:

    "Self-interest so often dictates that which justice demands".

That being so, it is regrettable that the real value of aid has probably been reduced by between 5 and 6 per cent. in the past four years. Aid is always the first casualty when governments seek economies. Noble Lords have been talking about which government will be in power next time this subject is debated. Let not any government cause aid to be the first casualty when seeking to make ends meet.

The value of our aid relative to national wealth has fallen significantly. I am informed that many official donors are similarly reducing their expenditure on

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overseas aid. Furthermore, I understand that the proportion of aid given to sub-Saharan Africa is minute compared with that given to other nations. One should regard that as regrettable and impolitic. Recently, my friend the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said:

    "I have seen repeatedly on my travels throughout the Anglican Communion what a vital contribution the British aid programme makes in developing countries".

It works. Let us not grow weary of well doing. This is not the time to reduce the United Kingdom's commitment to overseas aid, not least because surely we all seek a foreign policy which in its expansiveness creates a coherent world at peace with itself. We should be peacemakers, not just peacekeepers or peace-guarders. In the face of our much reduced Armed Forces, is there not a double need to be proactive in those matters which will make for peace? If swords are to be beaten into ploughshares, let the ploughshares get moving.

All of this indicates a massive need for development education if the citizens of tomorrow's world are to understand the human, social and moral ecology of their times. I refer to that interrelatedness and interdependence envisaged by Brandt and Brundtland more than a decade ago. If human eco-systems are to be effective, much firmer policies must be hammered out by wealthy nations to control the sale of arms to irresponsible and ruthless governments. There are aspects of the arms trade which are as reprehensible as drug-pushing and drug-peddling.

Perhaps on this occasion I may speak more generally as I bring my speech to an end. Nowadays not infrequently reference is made to young people. The wish is expressed that they may grow in responsibility and participation in national and international life. I believe, as we all do, that they are every bit as adventurous and concerned for this one world as any of their forebears. However, they need a vision of hope for a better world in which our priorities are clearly stated and how we spend our affluence is clearly delineated. They do not want a world in which those who are affluent have only one concern, and that is to become more affluent. They need a vision of hope--a vision of a world at peace based on justice.

If we can put the whole of the contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica on one silicon chip and convey the whole contents of the Bodleian Library in 44 seconds flat, we have no business to have a world so divided between the poor and the rich as we have today.

Can we not, with our European partners, play a part in global affairs, not with guns but with ideas, with moral and spiritual initiatives? We who are European have a common faith, a common culture and to a certain extent a common experience of democratic institutions. The young do not want to see us like characters in a Chekhov play discussing insoluble problems. They want from government, of whichever colour, a proactive, expansive foreign policy which gives a vision of hope and purpose which will appeal to their own very best instincts.

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