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Lord McNair: My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene since he referred to my speech? I am very grateful to him. As far as individual transgressions are concerned, I would agree. Unfortunately, this is not a question of individual transgressions. We are talking about a wide range of groups and a wide range of social and political pressure. I was very grateful for the noble Lord's support when he read our report. I did not make a blanket condemnation of Germany, I simply said that there were things to criticise and things which the new Government might like to take up with the German Government. Nevertheless, I respect the noble Lord's views.
Lord Weidenfeld: My Lords, Britain's firm stand on border control and defence policy is to be welcomed and, I believe, will also be understood abroad. As for the common foreign policy, I hope that this Government will, on the question of majority voting, make it plain that on the whole voting should be restricted, and remain restricted for a long time, to issues concerned with implementation of joint action. Great Britain has still a host of traditional relationships with certain countries and attitudes to various contentious issues that still differ from the one or other European partner. Those traditional relationships must not be unduly interfered with or jeopardised. There is still much to be done before we can talk of a truly common foreign policy in every nuance of the word. Even to someone who might consider himself a Euro-maximalist rather than a Euro-minimalist, a cautious step-by-step progress in the so desirable ultimate integration of Europe is more prudent than a plunge into uncharted terrain.
I will say a last word on the encouraging remarks about the important role of the British Council and the BBC World Service within the framework of a new British foreign policy. These are among Britain's most undervalued assets. They are not only time-honoured projectors of British culture, standards, values and proven objectivity; they are also indispensable channels through which we can recover lost ground. The secret of the success, for instance, behind the close Franco-German friendship is not just the political will in the Elysee Palace and the Federal Chancellory but the result of systematic and costly cultural programmes of youth exchanges and deep interpenetration of the two countries' educational systems. This pays its dividends. I believe we should heed this lesson and use and develop our existing strengths and tools so that we may reap the benefits and allow them to contribute to making Britain a really leading and important factor in Europe.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: Like others, I should like to begin by offering my warm congratulations to the new Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. It is a formidable task to have to answer the first major debate of a new Parliament under a new Government. I well remember when I became a new Minister at the
I should also like to congratulate the Government very warmly on the gracious Speech and the mission statement of the Foreign Secretary, as well as on the immediate actions that they have taken to transform the climate of relations between Britain and the outside world, particularly with our European partners. Their whole approach has met such a positive response from other members of the European Union that it proves beyond doubt how much the previous government had run down our pool of good will and equally how much the rest of the European Union wants to have a British Government that is playing a strong and positive part in the work of the European Union.
But honeymoons do not last very long. It has been one of the most remarkable features of this debate and an achievement of the Government that the voice of the Euro-sceptic, often so loud in your Lordships' House, has not been heard at all tonight. But, as I said, one cannot rely on honeymoons lasting for too long.
I myself want immediately to express some of my feelings about the limitations of the Government's policy towards Europe. I am disappointed that they take such a very old-fashioned and vigorous view about frontier controls. I know that we are an island. I remember one French politician who came from the island of Corsica and in the French Assembly referred with passion to the fact that Corsica was an island and moreover an island entirely surrounded by water. We are in that situation but we now have a Channel tunnel. I still regard as my favourite definition of British foreign policy Ernie Bevin's description of being able to go down to Victoria Station without a passport and buy a ticket to where the hell you liked.
The other day, despite the Government's reticence in these matters, I had the experience of going down to my local international station in Kent, buying a ticket to the middle of France and travelling to the middle of France without at any time showing anybody a passport. So there is hope. But I hope that the Government will be a little more adventurous there, as I hope they might be on matters such as foreign policy and defence co-operation. These are difficult matters and there has to be gradual progress, but I hope that they will be imaginative about them.
But, of course, economic and monetary union is the big test. As has been said in this debate, Britain has for too long had a reputation for sometimes being sympathetic in principle to developments in the European Union but always saying that it prefers to wait and see and join later. If the Government are serious about wanting to be one of the leading players in the
Economic and monetary union decisions must finally be taken on an economically sound basis without any fudging of the economic criteria that have been set up. I think I will carry the noble Lord the Leader of the House with me, in view of his long experience, like mine, in Brussels, in saying that in the European Union, although it is important to get the economic foundations right, it is political will that gets things moving. Economic and monetary union is as much a matter of political will as it is of getting the economics right. The Government say they are serious about wanting to take their place among the ranks of leaders of the European Union. If the criteria are observed, the other major players go ahead on the basis of those criteria and the United Kingdom Government feel that they can conform to those criteria, then it is vitally important, if they want to remain a leader, that they join in the first wave.
In the election, the Labour Party manifesto put the matter clearly, stating that there are three options for Britain in relation to Europe. One would be to try to withdraw; the second is to be on the sidelines; and the third, which the Government now say they firmly espouse, is to be one of the leading players. I believe profoundly that it is possible for us to be in with the first wave, and if we decline to do so and prefer to wait and see we shall find ourselves on the sidelines.
Apart from economic and monetary union, the two other major issues are the enlargement of the European Union and the associated issue of the enlargement of NATO. It is taken too simplistically for granted in the Western world that the enlargement of either the European Union or of NATO is a good thing and we do not need to do much more about it. I was interested in the serious speeches made about the policy and cost issues associated with the enlargement of either NATO or the European Union. I listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Wallace said about that to my noble friend Lord Healey and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. I have listened to the latter on the subject over the years with a particular degree of respect. There are serious issues to be thought through in relation to the enlargement of NATO which I do not believe have begun to be thought through adequately.
Equally, on the European Union, I understand from the figures I have seen that if, for example, merely the Visegrad countries were to join the European Union at the turn of the century, by itself that would mean an increase of 70 per cent., within the present framework, in the budget of the European Union. When we look at the effect on the structural funds, I notice that in May last year the Economic and Social Committee considered the consequences. It said that one effect would be that:
So far, some simple questions which apply to both NATO and the European Union are unanswered. They are these: what contributions could the applicants make? What changes are required to accommodate them and at what cost? Serious work needs to be done on that and I hope that the Government will take the lead there.
The Government have ahead of them during their first year of office two major opportunities for showing leadership in world affairs. One is the presidency of the European Union in the first half of next year, and the other, earlier, opportunity was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and others, namely, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh. I make only one reference to the content of that meeting. I hope that the Government will take a lead in trying to ensure that really effective action is taken by heads of government on the situation in Nigeria. There is what is called a Commonwealth Action Group, which has been around for a long time. It has earned itself a reputation as the "Commonwealth Inaction Group". I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to get matters moving there.
The general point I wish to make is that there will be one common aim at both the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and during the European Union presidency. The aim is to have a British initiative to try to get the maximum co-operation in various international fields. I think particularly of what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said in his excellent speech about reform of the United Nations. Both the European Union collectively and the Commonwealth collectively could play a role in bringing about a more effective reform of the United Nations under its new Secretary General.
On these Benches, we particularly welcome the emphasis on human rights and the environmental aspects of foreign policy. My noble friend Lord Avebury mentioned many details concerning that aspect. He believes that perpetual pressure is the only way to get results and the Minister can look forward to much more of it from the very expert background he has on these matters.
I am as aware as anybody who has had responsibilities in the past for foreign affairs that the Government face the difficulty of balancing the inevitable realities of competing national interests, competition in the export field, including arms exports, and concern about human liberty within various national regimes. All those have to be balanced one against the other.
The best way forward for a British Government that aspires to play a positive and constructive role in these matters--as I am sure the new Government do--is to try to do so in co-operation with other nations, in co-operation with our partners in the European Union, in co-operation with our partners in the Commonwealth and through the United Nations. On these Benches--and I am sure much more widely throughout the
Earl Howe: My Lords, in common with other noble Lords, this is the first opportunity that I have had to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, to their respective positions on the Government Front Bench.
The Leader of the House comes to his new appointment after an immensely distinguished career at the Bar, in government, at the United Nations and as a European Commissioner. I fear he may think me a little presumptuous in congratulating him on reaching this new high water mark in his life. Nevertheless I do so most warmly. I am sure he will discharge the duties of his office, both in this House and outside, with the fair-mindedness and breadth of vision which we know him to possess.
The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, takes up her appointment after a relatively short time in your Lordships' House. That in itself speaks volumes for her abilities. We know her to be a highly capable and professionally-minded person, and I congratulate her on obtaining an office of state which she will undoubtedly occupy with distinction.
I join other speakers in congratulating my noble friend Lord Moynihan on his excellent, lucid and persuasive maiden speech. It is splendid that he is amongst us and I hope that we shall see him in our midst frequently.
I was struck yesterday by how often the mention of the nation's interests featured in the gracious Speech, almost as though there were a point to prove. I am not cavilling at that in the least, but if there is one debate where this Palmerstonian theme must be ever present it is surely a debate on foreign affairs and defence. What divides or unites us is the way in which each of us defines what British interests actually consist of--whether the issue is the single European currency, UNESCO, the UK presence in Bosnia or the overseas aid budget.
I confess to being disappointed that, with the exception of some European Union issues, foreign and defence policy hardly featured at all in the recent general election campaign. Had it done so, more people might have shared the perception of many of us on this side of the House that there are more questions than answers posed by the Labour Party policy pronouncements. Our first task of the new parliament, in this and subsequent debates, must be to seek out and obtain those answers.
Nowhere is the lacuna in our knowledge of government policy more apparent or more serious than in the area of defence. Some of the pronouncements that the Government have made are encouraging as far as they go. They have restated our commitment to the NATO alliance, to maintaining the Trident nuclear deterrent and, before the general election, to ordering the Eurofighter as the next generation of combat aircraft
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when he was Opposition defence spokesman, predicted that the review would have painful consequences. I do not believe I can be alone among your Lordships in reacting to these messages with a shiver down the spine. I do not dispute the right of any government to modify the size and shape of our Armed Forces in the light of changes to the security environment. That is a perfectly responsible approach and it is one which we in the last government adopted with notable success and notable balance following the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. We now have Armed Forces that are structured and configured to meet the tasks that may and indeed do face them in the very altered and uncertain world in which we now live. They are equipped with some of the world's finest military hardware to tackle anything from a major coalition operation, as in the Gulf, to localised humanitarian aid. They are trained to undertake high intensity conflict, because it is only that standard of training that will see them through all types of possible military tasks.
The annual Statement on the Defence Estimates has in recent years gone into detail to demonstrate how each of the elements of our Armed Forces can be matched to the tasks we require them to carry out. The question on which there has been a deafening silence is: which of these tasks do the Government think needs reviewing? Indeed, to echo my noble friend Lord Vivian, what are the changes to the international environment which lead the Government to believe that "our essential security interests", to quote the gracious Speech, should be defined differently?
The silence on this was palpable until two days ago, when the Secretary of State for Defence indicated on the radio that a general war in Europe was no longer a task that the Armed Forces needed to prepare for. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Secretary of State has pre-empted the findings of his own review. But what is he saying? If he is saying that Russia is no longer a military threat to Western Europe, that is patently true. If, however, he is saying that Britain no longer has a role in the defence of Western Europe and need not train for it, I find that deeply disturbing and fundamentally wrong. For a start, where in all this is a sense of responsibility to our allies in NATO? What does it say about our command of the allied Rapid Reaction Corps?
The worry that we on these Benches have always had and will continue to have is that the defence review will not be so much about revalidating or altering foreign policy as finding ways in which to make substantial cuts in the defence budget, an objective overtly espoused by large sections of the wider Labour Party? It cannot be stressed too strongly how misconceived and damaging such cuts would be.
Whatever the Secretary of State may have done, I do not wish or expect the noble Baroness to pre-empt the conclusions of the defence review in any reply that she may give today. However, can she tell the House a little more about the review's terms of reference? Can she say what will happen to current defence procurement projects, such as Challenger 2, as well as pending procurement decisions while the review is in progress? Most importantly, what message can she give to the men and women of our Armed Forces to reassure them about their future?
The reduction in the size of all three services that has taken place over the past few years has been a necessary process, necessary as a consequence of a greatly altered strategic environment. Great credit attached to the Army, the Royal Navy and the RAF for the way in which in human and logistical terms those changes were managed so successfully. But it was inevitable that, while that downsizing process was going on, it brought with it uncertainty and a measure of insecurity for servicemen and women. That in turn, as has already been said in this debate, had a negative impact on recruitment. Do the Government recognise how undesirable for service morale it would be to raise the spectre of further cuts either in manpower or in equipment just when the services need a period of stability?
Perhaps I may revert briefly to the international dimensions of this issue. How will the review hope to take account of the future shape of the NATO alliance? In a few weeks' time the Madrid Summit will take some far-reaching decisions about the enlargement of NATO. Decisions about who among the applicant countries should join are quite properly ones for the alliance as a whole to take. We are likely, however, to see invitations issued to a small number of countries to become new members with formal entry dates pencilled in for 1999 or shortly thereafter. Importantly, the military cost implications of the accession of new members have yet to be worked out. If NATO is to remain, as it surely must, the bedrock of our security and if fundamental questions on the future shape of the alliance and the contribution of its members remain in the air, what hope have the Government got of reaching definitive conclusions about UK defence needs without extending the timescale of the review to one of years rather than months?
I ask these questions half rhetorically because I simply do not think that it will be possible to conduct a root and branch evaluation of our defence needs between now and the end of the year and come to neat, clear-cut conclusions which take account of NATO enlargement. Indeed, that point underlines the basic flaw of having a review of this kind at all. Defence planning is something that evolves constantly; it is long term in its focus. It takes account of hypotheses, possibilities and uncertainties. Its gaze is always on a moving target. Its horizons are not always identical to those which help to crystallise our foreign policy.
The Armed Forces that this Government inherit have never been better equipped nor better trained. Having had the honour of serving as a defence Minister for the better part of two years, I am absolutely convinced that in this country we can boast of armed services which for quality are second to none in the world. The Royal Navy has the newest and most capable fleet that it has had for 100 years. The Army and the RAF too have benefited from a continuous programme of modernisation, all of which we have been able to afford as a result of the Front Line First initiative, which rationalised the support elements of the forces and redirected the money saved towards equipment programmes.
The new Government talk in terms of maintaining strong Armed Forces but give us cause to fear that radical--indeed damaging--changes may be on the agenda. I hope that they can live up to the aims they have publicly aspired to in the gracious Speech and prove the doubters wrong. The interests of this country demand no less.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, it is a privilege for me to close this foreign affairs, international development and defence debate on the gracious Speech. The past few hours of debate have been fascinating. Many subjects have been raised and I apologise in advance if I do not manage to answer all of the points made and questions raised by noble Lords. Where I have not managed to do so, I assure the House that either I or the Minister for Defence Procurement will write separately where appropriate.
I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for his maiden speech. It was, indeed, a distinguished maiden speech which was elegant, well argued and beautifully delivered. I am sure that we shall have some fun in the future discussing the noble Lord's views on competition and privatisation. However, I noted with pleasure that the noble Lord could support virtually all the points in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's mission statement about interdependence, the environment and democracy. I congratulate the noble Lord warmly on his maiden speech. I am sure that we all look forward to his contributions to our debates in the future.
Opening the debate, my noble friend Lord Richard described this Government's policies on the European Union, defence and the North Atlantic Alliance. Many noble Lords subsequently raised those and other issues of importance. I shall outline the principles which form the basis of the Government's approach to foreign development co-operation and defence policy. The priorities include providing security for Britain based on the North Atlantic Alliance and giving new impetus to arms control and disarmament; making Britain a leading player in a Europe of independent nation states; working for Britain's prosperity, making maximum use of Britain's embassies and High Commissions to promote British exports and boost British jobs; pushing the environment up the international agenda; fighting poverty around the world, and securing the respect of other nations for Britain's contribution to keeping the peace and promoting democracy around the world. Our policy must have an ethical dimension, with human rights at its heart.
I make no apologies for repeating that point, despite what the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said earlier. The noble Viscount was in slight danger of re-rehearsing a whole range of election arguments--possibly to see whether they would work better a second time around. Sadly for the noble Viscount, if the reaction of the House was anything to go by, they will not. Most breathtaking of all was the noble Viscount's argument that the current Government somehow evinced what he described as "embarrassing arrogance". I found that a bit rich from a member of the previous Government when a Minister in that administration said on 28th February 1996 to the Select Committee on the Public Service in another place that accountability for some public services was "paraphernalia".
Perhaps the noble Viscount would like to think again about some of the points he made in relation to a view which is, I know, widely held in the backwaters of his party about the effect on jobs of signing the social chapter. The noble Viscount's views are not shared by all sorts of companies which have decided to come to Britain, for example, Nissan, Sony, and Siemens, the chief executive of which specifically stated that he did not think that the social chapter was a threat to the thousands of high tech jobs which are coming to the north-east of England. Nonetheless, I thank the noble Viscount for his contribution which served to remind us of why so few people voted Conservative at the last election.
I turn now to the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford who gave us a timely reminder of the fate of so many poor people throughout the world. The Government have immediately introduced a clear change by giving development the high priority it deserves. I join the tribute paid by the right reverend Prelate to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, for her tireless work for poverty-stricken people throughout the world. The present level of global poverty and under-development is unacceptable: 1.3 billion people live in absolute poverty. The Government are committed to combating global poverty and working for a safer, decent and environmentally stable world.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said that development issues entered into the mainstream of this Government's decision-making. He was right. My right honourable friend Claire Short has been appointed Secretary of State for International Development. A separate department has been established. Work will begin immediately on a White Paper that sets out how through more coherent policies we will tackle global poverty and promote sustainable development. We shall consult widely. At the same time, we shall review the existing programme to ensure that the resources available for development are used most effectively and are targeted on our central objectives. We must and shall make measurable progress. We will deliver real benefits to the poorest people in the poorest countries. To this end we shall engage positively with all our development partners and the international community. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has already announced this week that the UK will rejoin UNESCO. The costs of rejoining will be met from the contingency reserve in the development budget. Future plans will be considered at the time of the next resources round.
The gracious Speech also referred to our aim of achieving a successful transition of Hong Kong. This is among the heaviest and most immediate overseas responsibilities placed upon the Government and it is one that we intend to fulfil to the best of our ability. The Government are committed to working for the well-being of Hong Kong in accordance with the Joint Declaration, not just in the next six weeks but in the months and years to come. Our engagement in Hong Kong--its success, liberties, lifestyle, 3.5 million British passport holders and huge range of other British connections--will matter greatly to us. So, too, will China as a country of great and growing importance. We will speak up when we should in areas such as human rights, but that should be in the context of a much more wide-ranging and constructive relationship than has so far been achieved.
The United Kingdom continues to invest a huge amount in Bosnia both in manpower and resources. We shall continue to play a leading role in the international effort to build a just and lasting peace based on the Dayton Agreement. The Government are committed to the goals of a multi-ethnic, democratic and united Bosnia and Herzegovina. In particular, we will insist on compliance by the authorities in the region with their obligations to surrender to the tribunal in The Hague persons indicted on charges of war crimes. That many of those accused are still at large is a matter of great regret.
My noble friend Lord Judd referred to the Great Lakes region of Africa which has been the subject of a complex and appalling tragedy. Britain will seek to play a constructive role. Our immediate concern is the plight of the refugees.
The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, referred to the situation in the Middle East. The Government give wholehearted support to the peace process. No lasting peace is possible without respect for international legality and the Palestinian need for justice, self-determination and economic well-being as well as Israel's need for security. The Oslo process based on the formula of land for peace offers a realistic way forward,
The United Kingdom will be active in the search for peace, reconciliation and human rights in many other regions. In doing so we shall work not just with international organisations such as the UN but within those organisations to help them become more effective in their tasks. We shall work to enhance the UN's ability on peacekeeping, conflict prevention and poverty reduction. We shall push for early resolution of the UN's financial problems and play a full part in the debate on its reform. We shall be active in other international fora. As the gracious Speech indicated, the UK will be host to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the G7 Summit and the Second Asia-Europe meeting. All are organisations to which we attach great importance. All are opportunities for Britain.
I shall address a couple of further points before I turn to the matters raised during the debate. First, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has asked me to give a high priority to equal opportunities in the FCO, both in respect of women and ethnic minorities. Some people see the FCO as hidebound and old fashioned. I and my ministerial colleagues know of course that it is not, but we want to accelerate the process of change in the office so that its staffing better reflects the make-up of modern British society.
It gave me great pleasure when my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced earlier today that normal trade union rights would be restored at GCHQ. He announced that the conditions of service of staff at GCHQ have today been changed. They once again have the freedom that they previously enjoyed to join a trade union of their choice. It gives me pleasure to welcome his action to right a very long-standing wrong.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, raised the issue of landmines. The Red Cross estimates that there are 120 million such mines laid across the world and that they kill or maim someone about every 20 minutes. Often the someone is an innocent child at play. The Government are determined to do all that they can to rid the world of those ghastly weapons. We shall seek to win agreement to an effective legally binding international agreement to ban their use, stockpiling, production and transfer worldwide. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced last week that he will begin work with French and German colleagues and with other interested countries to achieve a total and effective ban on landmines.
My noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, also raised issues relating to weapons of mass destruction. The Government will be resolute in seeking to reduce the threat from weapons of mass destruction. We have as a goal the global elimination of nuclear weapons. We shall press for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced and
The noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Redesdale, the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Craig, the noble Lord, Lord Vivian and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked about our plans for re-assessing our essential security interests and defence needs. As the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, said, our forces are among the best in the world and have performed with great success in difficult operations in recent years. The Government are committed to a strong defence, but it needs to be relevant to Britain's requirements in a changing world.
Ministers have made it clear that the strategic defence and security review will be foreign policy led. We intend to give the Armed Forces a stronger sense of direction and to ensure that they match the challenges of the 21st century. I hope that noble Lords will give their support to that process, because the Government do not need any lecture upon the importance of morale for their public servants, including the Armed Forces.
We welcome the agreement reached yesterday between the NATO Secretary-General, Senor Solana, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Primakov, on the text of a joint NATO/Russia document to which reference was made by the noble Lords, Lord Healey and Lord Wallace of Saltaire. We hope that it will now be endorsed by NATO members and Russia and lead to a summit in Paris on 27th May at which the text will be signed by President Yeltsin, the heads of state together with the governments of NATO countries and Senor Solana. I also hope that the first priority cited by the noble Lord, Lord Carver, will be met shortly. I give way to my noble friend.
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