Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will he tell the House whether, assuming that we arrive in office, the new Labour Government would follow the exact example of the existing regime in retaining Trident and in being ready to use it in certain circumstances?

Lord Judd: My Lords, our policy is absolutely and categorically clear. We shall retain Trident. We shall have no more warheads than on Polaris. We shall embark seriously on comprehensive nuclear and general disarmament policies and as soon as it becomes relevant and practical to do so, we shall make Trident part of that policy.

9.46 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): My Lords, it is a privilege for me to close this foreign affairs and defence debate on the gracious Speech. The past few hours have provided us with a most interesting and thought-provoking session. We have covered a lot of ground. Indeed, we have covered so much ground that I feel bound to deliver my usual prefatory remarks with more than usual emphasis. If I do not manage to answer all the points or questions raised by noble Lords, I apologise in advance and, to the extent that I do not

28 Oct 1996 : Column 212

manage to do so, either I or my noble friend Lady Chalker will write separately on the specific issues where appropriate.

As today's debate has illustrated, defence and foreign affairs are more closely linked than ever before. The strategic threat to Western Europe has gone. But in its place have appeared a series of more localised threats based on instability, unrest and ethnic and regional tension.

In such a climate the promotion of international peace and stability serves the interests not only of countries like the United Kingdom but the international community as a whole. Our Armed Forces are being used more than ever before to promote our national interests overseas and their professionalism and integrity have made them respected wherever they operate around the globe.

My noble friend Lady Chalker has already referred to the situation in Bosnia and to the priorities for peace implementation. I begin by focusing briefly on the military operations there. British troops are in the fourth year of operations in the former Yugoslavia. They have performed admirably, both as part of UNPROFOR and, since December 1995, as part of the NATO-led implementation force, IFOR. IFOR has been a great success. It has achieved the military aims laid out in the Dayton Peace Agreement. The cessation of hostilities has been maintained. The forces of the former warring factions have been separated; and they and their weapons have been returned to barracks and cantonment sites. Their movement is controlled by IFOR, and IFOR has responded robustly to any non-compliance. IFOR is helping to bring peace and stability to the Bosnian people. It is a credit to NATO and a source of pride for all troop contributors.

Noble Lords are well aware of the UK's substantial involvement. We initially committed over 11,500 troops, with a further 3,000 Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel based offshore and in Italy. We currently have around 9,000 troops on the ground and 500 service personnel offshore and in Italy. We remain the second largest IFOR contributor.

The headquarters of the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps--a multi-national, but largely British-manned, headquarters--has led the overall land operation under the command of General Sir Michael Walker. This has been a powerful demonstration of NATO's effectiveness in the alliance's first ever land operation. The ARRC headquarters has been in Bosnia for almost a year and will shortly begin its handover to the NATO LANDCENT headquarters as part of the IFOR drawdown. I should like to congratulate General Walker and all his staff on their outstanding achievements.

The United Kingdom also leads the multinational division in the south-west sector of Bosnia. That division has firmly established itself on both sides of the inter-entity boundary line and has ensured strict compliance with the military provisions of Dayton. The division has worked closely and successfully with the Overseas Development Administration. Since April it has undertaken over 210 ODA projects costing

28 Oct 1996 : Column 213

£5.7 million to rebuild the infrastructure of the area. Such visible and tangible benefits have shown the people of Bosnia the advantages of peace. My noble friend Lady Chalker will be visiting Bosnia next week. IFOR will complete its mission in December but the international effort in Bosnia will continue. As the noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale, stressed, the primary focus must be the continuing civil operation. Reconciliation and co-operation between the parties is the key to peace. Foreign military forces cannot remain indefinitely in Bosnia. This difficult political problem does not have a military solution.

There has been much speculation about what might follow IFOR. I will not add to that speculation here other than to note what my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary said recently in another place. If there were to be an international force in Bosnia in 1997 we would expect it to be NATO-led like IFOR. That is why NATO has set in train contingency planning by NATO military authorities. It makes no assumptions about the final outcome, which will allow us to keep options open for later political decisions. Equally, I am sure noble Lords would agree that if there were to be such a force this country should play its part alongside its allies.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke about war criminals in the former Yugoslavia. The United Kingdom strongly supports the international criminal tribunal. We have always stressed the importance of bringing to justice those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law in the former Yugoslavia. The United Kingdom has provided evidence, personnel and financial support for its work. NATO and IFOR are similarly assisting the tribunal's activities, for instance by helping to protect the sites of suspected mass graves until the tribunal is able to investigate them. My noble friend will write to the noble Lord on some of the other matters in this area that he raised. In particular the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked about Radovan Karadzic. All IFOR troops, including those from the United Kingdom, have explicit orders to detain Karadzic if the opportunity arises. They have a remit to transfer him to the international tribunal in The Hague to face trial. IFOR patrols maintain a wide presence throughout Bosnia and carry out checks on vehicles and individuals. Karadzic and the other indicted persons are therefore at a heightened risk of arrest.

I should like to touch on the point raised by my noble friend Lord Kingsland about an international criminal court. The Government support the establishment of an international criminal court to try certain of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community. Our support for the establishment of such a court is dependent, among other things, on it being a court of last resort in cases where states are unable or unwilling to act. We also feel that a court should be established only if it is generally accepted by the international community.

One of the major themes of today's debate has been proliferation and arms control. Like every other aspect of international relations, these subjects have undergone a change. Together, they are a fundamental element in stability and security both in Europe and wider afield.

28 Oct 1996 : Column 214

We are working to develop them further. Last year saw full implementation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (or CFE) Treaty. With the wider confidence and security-building measures of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, it provides unparalleled military transparency.

There has been progress in other areas. The Chemical Weapons Convention will soon enter into force. We look forward to its early ratification by the United States and Russia. We are working to develop effective verification provisions for the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (or NPT) is the backbone of efforts to reduce and limit the spread of nuclear weapons. Only six states have not yet joined. In the spring we signed the protocols to the Treaties of Raratonga and Pelindaba on nuclear weapon free zones in the South Pacific and Africa. Last month as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, reminded us, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Some 130 states have already signed. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that we continue to work to further the process of nuclear non-proliferation and reductions in nuclear weapons.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, asked how the CTBT will be verified. There is provision in the treaty for an international monitoring system consisting of monitoring stations around the world, linked to a data centre which will be situated in Vienna. There is also provision for on-site inspections, if they are necessary, though we should have preferred a stronger regime. We are confident that that verification regime should provide an effective deterrent against further testing.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked about UK ratification. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made it clear on 11th September that it is our firm intention to ratify but legislation will be required for that. So unfortunately I am not in a position to give a date at this juncture.

We have noted the conclusions of the Canberra Commission to which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, referred. He was kind enough to send me a copy of that report, for which I was grateful. The House will have listened to his speech with care. We remain committed to the pursuit of:

    "negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to...nuclear disarmament".

My right honourable friend Mr. Hurd, then Foreign Secretary, said in May 1995 that we would be prepared to join in negotiations on the reduction of nuclear weapons in a world in which US and Russian nuclear weapons were numbered in hundreds rather than thousands. More generally, let me say to the gallant and noble Lord and to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, whose consistency of purpose I greatly respect, nuclear disarmament cannot realistically be pursued independently of the broader security context; and we and NATO judge that nuclear deterrence continues to play an essential role in maintaining peace and stability in Europe.

28 Oct 1996 : Column 215

On the issue of disarmament, I believe that the arguments deployed so cogently by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, deserve the closest attention. It is worth reminding ourselves of the simple fact that nuclear deterrence has prevented major conflict in Europe for over 50 years.

Arms control and non-proliferation are complemented by international export control arrangements. Those in support of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention are harmonised through the Australia Group.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred, in particular, to anti-personnel mines. We continue to work towards our goal of a total worldwide ban on anti-personnel mines and are working hard in all the relevant fora to achieve it. If such a ban can be agreed, we will give up our anti-personnel land mine capability and will destroy our stocks accordingly. But unilateral renunciation by the UK would not achieve the reduction of dangers to civilians that we seek. We need to balance the humanitarian concern posed by the indiscriminate use of anti-personnel land mines with a continuing military requirement. If we can convince major producers, exporters and users to ban those weapons then the UK is willing to join that consensus. We will also ban them if suitable alternatives can be found.

The noble Lord referred to an allegation about a particular UK company (Londesborough Security Equipment). My honourable friend Mr. Davis replied to that allegation on 27th October in a letter in the Independent on Sunday in which he said:

    "Any company seeking to export such land mines would need to apply for an export licence. We have received no such application from the company in your article. We have made clear what our response to such an application would be. We would refuse it".

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, trenchantly expressed his views on NATO enlargement. Equally trenchant was the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. Earlier today my noble friend Lady Chalker touched on the enlargement of NATO and its relationships with the countries to the east, in particular Russia. Perhaps I may emphasise what my noble friend said. Britain is fully committed to NATO enlargement and to extending to the new democracies in the East the security and stability that membership of the alliance has helped to secure for the West. I note the concerns that that will unsettle Russia and the Ukraine and the disappointed candidates. Those concerns are well taken. That is why the allies have long recognised that NATO's policy will need to go beyond the question of which countries are admitted and when. Such countries will be few--at least in the short term. For the others--the majority of the 27 non-NATO nations that now belong to NATO's Partnership for Peace--there will need in parallel to be an enhancement of the partnership and there will need to be a more meaningful relationship with Russia and Ukraine.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that NATO's relationship with Russia is a vital element of the future security architecture of Europe, to pick up my right honourable friend's expression. We do not expect the Russians to welcome enlargement of NATO, but I think that the Russian Defence Minister, General

28 Oct 1996 : Column 216

Radionov, was surprised to find how open were the allies to the idea of co-operation when he met them in Bergen last month. We can still do more to exploit the opportunities for joint work with Russia offered by Partnership for Peace. Bosnia has shown what can be achieved. We might plan together for future joint military missions. We should make it the norm for the alliance to consult Russia on changes in which it could have an interest. There is scope for discussing together co-operation on countering terrorism, drugs trafficking, organised crime and weapons proliferation. If enough of substance emerges from that co-operation the relationship between Russia and NATO could be formalised in a charter. That could be accompanied by a revised CFE treaty to meet the new strategic realities in Europe.

Implicit in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, was a question about which countries would be invited to join. That question has not yet been decided. As he well knows, a number of countries are enthusiastic candidates for membership. The guiding principle is that the alliance should be strengthened by enlargement. Next year will not be the end of the story. NATO has taken in new members a number of times in its history and will doubtless continue to do so in the future.

My noble friend Lord Kingsland asked how Parliament would be consulted during the enlargement process. Parliament will be informed as appropriate of the negotiations on enlargement. It will be for the government of the day to decide on the modalities. NATO has not yet decided on the precise sequence or content of the process of accession for new members but the enlargement study states that there will be a protocol of accession which will have to be accepted by all allies before entry comes into force. In accordance with established procedures, we would lay that protocol before the House for 21 days before accepting it.

Our Armed Forces and the enlargement of NATO are not, of course, the only means of promoting Britain's interests and influence abroad. My noble friends Lady Rawlings and Lord Orr-Ewing and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, spoke powerfully about the BBC World Service. As they will be aware, the FCO and the BBC World Service Working Group have agreed a series of 20 measures designed to ensure the continued protection of the World Service's interests and the maintenance of the special character, ethos, style and quality of World Service broadcasts. That is encouraging. We shall, however, be keeping a close watch on implementation. The working group will reconvene in autumn 1997 to ensure that the new measures agreed are functioning satisfactorily and producing the desired results. Meanwhile, my noble friend Lady Chalker recently met an all-party group from your Lordships' House to discuss the World Service. I know that she has made clear her wish to be consulted on any proposals which may affect the World Service in the future.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester devoted a good part of his final and compelling speech to overseas aid. I found myself in agreement with much

28 Oct 1996 : Column 217

of what he said. He and your Lordships will understand that I cannot pre-empt decisions by my right honourable friend the Chancellor in his forthcoming Budget.

Let me, however, remind your Lordships that in 1994-95 about three-quarters of United Kingdom bilateral assistance went to the poorest developing countries--well above average for all donors. Eight out of 10 of the biggest recipients were poor countries in Africa and Asia; a substantial proportion of the bilateral programme is devoted to meeting the basic needs of the poorest communities, as well as block grants to NGOs. In 1994-95 about £130 million was spent in this area. If emergency aid is included in the equation, the figure rises to £303 million--almost one-third of the bilateral programme.

The right reverend Prelate mentioned in particular sub-Saharan Africa. Forty-three per cent. of our bilateral aid (over £386 million in 1994-95) went to countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa will continue to require very substantial amounts of development assistance. These countries have been and will continue to be a high priority for British help. Many have embarked upon structural adjustment and policy reform programmes, which take time to bear fruit. Their external funding needs are substantial in order to reconstruct their economies and provide for better living standards.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate that desperate poverty is still a problem in many parts of the world. Aid is not the only means of reducing poverty, however. Trade, investment, debt relief and so on must also play a part. I was grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for his perceptive remarks on that score. An important new target has been agreed by all donors this year of reducing by half, by the year 2015, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. Britain is committed to this target, in partnership with the developing world. Let me say from these Benches how much we shall miss the contributions of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester to our debates. Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, we wish him well in his retirement.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, spoke about tied aid. I shall not attempt to answer all the points that he made, but the benefits to the United Kingdom from the unilateral untying would be negligible. The benefits of multilateral untying would be much greater. What we must work for is international commitment by all countries to untie aid. The noble Lord went on to speak about debt, a subject which was also mentioned by other noble Lords. The British Government have taken the lead in pressing for a resolution to the debt problem of the poorest and most indebted countries. We were pleased to report that at the recent annual meetings of the World Bank and the IMF Ministers agreed the highly indebted poor countries' debt initiative based on proposals put forward by my right honourable friend the Chancellor for reducing the debts of these countries to a sustainable level.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, asked a number of detailed questions about the position of women in regard to development aid, education and the matter of United Kingdom advisers in the European Commission.

28 Oct 1996 : Column 218

I cannot answer all her questions now for reasons that she will understand, but I can say that the Government's national report on our response to the Beijing Programme of Action will be published next month. This will show that the percentage of bilateral aid designed to address the needs of women has increased to more than 20 per cent. in 1995-96 from 16 per cent. the year before. The United Kingdom is at the forefront of European Union and OECD work to take these issues further. In this work we are laying particular emphasis on increasing women's literacy. There are a number of ways of assessing progress in that, and I am sure that my noble friend Lady Chalker will wish to inform the House as appropriate when the time comes.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, dwelt on the vexed question of the United Nations' finances. Let me just say very briefly to the noble Lord that Her Majesty's Government believe that member states should pay their dues to the United Nations promptly, in full and without conditions. We will continue to press the European Union financial reform proposals, including the reform of the scale of United Nations assessments, based on the principle of capacity to pay, in order to solve the financial difficulties of the United Nations. However, I would not disguise from him that the situation is still serious. As at 30th September, amounts owing to the United Nations totalled 2.7 billion US dollars and of this the United States owed some 1.6 billion US dollars. We welcome the recent approval by Congress of US appropriations to the UN for 1996, but that will still leave a shortfall in US contributions to the United Nations and its agencies.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, suggested that UN human rights activity was circumscribed by lack of funds. Human rights are a recognised priority for the United Nations but funding provided for United Nations human rights work is nonetheless inadequate. We shall continue to push for more of the regular budget's existing resources to be allocated to human rights.

I noted with great interest the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gillmore of Thamesfield. He will understand that at this particularly sensitive juncture of public expenditure planning there is a natural limit to what I can say in response to him. However, there was much in his speech with which I can wholeheartedly agree, not least his emphasis on the United Kingdom's global interests and the excellent work performed around the world by our ambassadors and embassy officials in promoting British exports.

I turn briefly to some of the parts of the world to which noble Lords have referred. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe spoke knowledgeably and persuasively about the Ukraine. The House will be grateful for all that he said. Her Majesty's Government are committed to helping an independent, prosperous and democratic Ukraine play a full part in Europe, including in European security arrangements. The United Kingdom is assisting with political and economic reform bilaterally through high level contacts and our £20 million know-how fund allocation, as well as through action in the European Union and other multilateral fora such as EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development). The World Bank and

28 Oct 1996 : Column 219

IMF will also assist. My noble friend mentioned the need to maintain high level visits to the Ukraine. As he said, as a demonstration of the United Kingdom's support, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is to visit the Ukraine on 4th and 5th November.

My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, spoke with some emphasis of the future of Hong Kong, and in particular of the ethnic minorities there. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced in Hong Kong that we would guarantee to members of that community admission and settlement in Britain in the unlikely event that they should come under pressure to leave Hong Kong after the transfer of sovereignty. That guarantee reinforces the Government's existing commitment to that group and will remove any doubts that might exist about whether they would be admitted to Britain. That group whose families have been in Hong Kong for many generations want to remain in Hong Kong. I believe that our reassurance will give them the confidence that they need to stay there.

The noble Baroness also asked about the outcome of talks with the Prime Minister of Zaire. My noble friend Lady Chalker and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met the Zairian Prime Minister Kengo during his visit to London on 22nd October. They discussed the recent escalation of the conflict in eastern Zaire. They encouraged him to remain in close contact with all the regional leaders and to do all he can to diffuse tension with Rwanda and among different ethnic groups in eastern Zaire.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to OSCE and the human rights situation in Turkey. Let me simply say that Turkey as an OSCE participating state is bound by several undertakings on human rights. There will be an opportunity at the forthcoming OSCE review meeting in Vienna between 4th and 22nd November to draw attention to countries whose actions have given cause for concern, and Turkey is one of those.

A number of your Lordships have devoted considerable attention to Europe ranging from my noble friend Lord Pearson with his customary counsel of caution to the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, who spoke powerfully about our relations with France and Germany, and my noble friend Lord Bethell who made some telling points about a tendency in some quarters towards unhelpful and inflammatory Europhobia. My noble friend Lord Beloff and my noble friend Lord Bethell presented some contrasting aspects of the debate on the merits of the single European currency. I also listened with much interest to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, whose experience in these matters is manifest.

In the time available to me I cannot hope to do justice to these important issues. My noble friend Lady Chalker will wish to write to noble Lords wherever that is appropriate, but I wish to reassure my noble friend Lord Bethell that the Chequers seminar plays absolutely no part in influencing our policy towards Germany which remains--as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, rightly

28 Oct 1996 : Column 220

observed--one of our most important and closest partners. However, time is now against me and although I had some comments to make about European enlargement, out of deference to the House's wishes at this late hour I shall forgo that part of my speech.

The major part of our debate today has centred on foreign affairs. I have referred to many of the themes raised. I hope that the House will allow me to close by reverting to the debate's other main theme: that of defence. There are three aspects of our policy that I wish to highlight. First, our Armed Forces are undertaking as wide a range of activities as ever before; and their ability to undertake high-intensity operations has not been diminished by their involvement in lower-intensity operations, including peacekeeping and humanitarian aid missions.

Secondly, we have successfully adapted our defence policies and force structures to take account of the new strategic setting. Our investment in mobility, flexibility and rapid reaction has given us forces better able to respond effectively to any challenges that may arise.

Finally, we attach great importance to the continuing drive to achieve value for money for defence. Our efficiency programmes and efforts to concentrate resources on the front line have produced savings that we have been able to plough back into enhancing our military capability.

Our Armed Forces are committed to the protection of this country and the promotion of our national interests. For our part, let there be no doubt, Her Majesty's Government are committed to our Armed Forces.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page