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Lord Sewel: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord makes a valuable point. I shall bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who will, no doubt, bring it to the attention of those competing.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, first, does the Minister share my concern and that of many Scottish architects that they will not be able to enter the competition because of lack of a substantial design team? Secondly, can he assure me that adequate provision will be made for car parking for members, officials and visitors, without in any way encroaching on Holyrood Park?

Lord Sewel: Yes, my Lords. I wish to encourage architects from Scotland, the United Kingdom, Europe

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and elsewhere to take part in what is effectively a competition to ensure that we get a very high quality and prestigious building for the Scottish parliament. I wish to encourage everyone to see whether they can make a contribution.

As to the car parking, provision will be made for an internal car park for MSPs but I do not have details with me on the public car parking provision so I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the council of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland is meeting to consider the issue this afternoon? Is he further aware that many architects in Scotland would like temporary accommodation to be used in order that the best solution can be obtained?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, the answer to the first part of the question is no; and no, I was not so aware. I am now, and I thank the noble Lord for informing me. The main point is that temporary accommodation will have to be used for perhaps the first year or so of the life of the Scottish parliament because the building will not be able to be constructed by the time the parliament begins functioning in the year 2000.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, is it correct that applications will be short-listed by a specially appointed advisory panel? Can the Minister say who will make the final decision as to which project will be built? I assume that the winning entry will be built.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, the final decision will be made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the competition will be held under the rules of the RIBA?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, on this occasion I prefer to write to the noble Lord in reply.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, will there be a more democratic process--at least of consultation--in the choice of design than was shown in the choice of the site?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, how ungenerous of the noble Lord. Of course there will be a democratic process of consultation. Everybody will be invited to make their views known, including political parties.

Middle East Peace Process

3 p.m.

Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    As president of the European Union, what is their reaction to the recent Washington round and what steps they intend to take to advance the Middle East peace process.

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we welcome the recent talks in Washington on the Middle East peace process. The EU reiterated its support for US efforts to restore momentum and its intention of playing an active role in support of the negotiations. Full and unconditional implementation of commitments made by the parties remains essential to restore mutual confidence in the peace process and provide a firm basis for a full resumption of negotiations on the Palestinian track. The Prime Minister discussed that with President Arafat when they met in London on Monday.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, has not the lack of progress and the current adversarial climate in the Middle East, together with the effective neutering of the President of the United States, undermined the peace process for far too long and, sadly, seems set to remain so? Will the European presidency support a unanimous call by the Commission, which I understand was supported unconditionally by Chairman Arafat, for Europe to participate in all bilateral and trilateral negotiations and so enable us to exercise our experience and high investment in peace?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot possibly comment on the neutering of the President of the United States. We hope that President Clinton's meetings with Mr. Netanyahu on 20th January and with President Arafat on 22nd January will lead to early progress on the implementation of existing agreements, including the incredible offer of further redeployments of Israeli troops from the West Bank. President Clinton's meetings demonstrate the United States' commitment to making progress on the peace process, and we fully support his efforts to reinject momentum into this important process.

The noble Viscount asked specifically about the Commission paper. At the moment that is an internal discussion document and does not represent the determined views of the European Union. We will have to wait to see how that paper progresses within the European Union.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, in view of the European Union's singular lack of success--to put it politely--in advancing the peace process in Algeria, Cyprus, Gibraltar, the Transcaucasus and the former Yugoslavia, can the Minister enlighten the House as to why it should be more successful in the Middle East?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord's view that there has been a lack of progress in the areas he suggests. The UK now holds the presidency of the European Union. It is our duty to do everything we can to further the peace process. The Prime Minister met President Arafat on Monday and reaffirmed our view in relation to redeployment needs, which have to be timely and unconditional. I hope that President Arafat will take note of the Prime Minister's view and that we shall see progress during the course of our presidency.

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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can my noble friend assure me that the unique and excellent contribution that the British Government and the British people can make towards a settlement in the Middle East will not be muted by the differences of opinion that exist within the European Union in relation to the settlement of this problem?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that the United Kingdom Government's strong views on these matters will influence our European colleagues and that the two will be mutually reinforcing. We favour a strong EU role supporting the peace process, commensurate with the scale of European Union interests and economic support in that part of the world. We should remember that the EU remains the largest aid donor to the Palestinians. During the course of our presidency we must work to reinject momentum into the peace process, which will be one of our most important foreign policy priorities.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, given that the Israeli Cabinet's communique on retention of the land on the West Bank was announced at the time the Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs recently visited the region, can the Minister tell the House what practical success that visit had in launching the Government's commitment to reinjecting momentum into the peace process? When is the Foreign Secretary going to make his long overdue visit to the region?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord has obviously not yet had the opportunity of reading our recent evening debate when I told the House that the Foreign Secretary hopes to visit that part of the world in the spring of this year. Mr. Fatchett, on his visit, made our views clear to the Israeli Government. Those views have been unequivocal and were clearly stated in your Lordships' House during the course of the debate, which I suggest the noble Lord reads.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, can the Minister say what specific representations the Government are making concerning proliferation of illegal settlements on the West Bank, some of which are in extremely sensitive areas?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I have had occasion to tell the House before, the United Kingdom Government have been clear with the Israeli Government about our views on the illegality of those settlements.

Business of the House: Debate this Day

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Wright of Richmond set down for today shall be limited to six hours.--(Lord Richard.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

3.7 p.m.

Lord Wright of Richmond rose to call attention to foreign and Commonwealth affairs in the context of the United Kingdom presidency of the European Union; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, first, I welcome the long and distinguished list of noble Lords who have decided to take part in this debate. This is the first full debate on a foreign affairs subject since the debate on the Queen's speech in May last year. I am honoured to be allowed to open the debate at a particularly appropriate time; that is, towards the end of the first month of our presidency when we have an opportunity to take stock in the light of the Government's first four weeks in that role.

I add a particular welcome to the decision of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, to make his maiden speech in this debate. Having had the honour to serve under his ministerial supervision, both during his time as Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and later as Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, I look forward with keen anticipation, as I am sure does the whole House, to what he has to say this afternoon. I look forward also to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.

These six months of our presidency are likely to cover not only some crucial economic decisions in the European Council--for instance, on the future of economic and monetary union, the start of negotiations on reform of the common agricultural and regional policies and launching the next phase of enlargement--they are also likely to face us with some exceptionally difficult and dangerous challenges in foreign affairs.

This afternoon I propose to concentrate on an area of the world to which I devoted much of my professional life; namely, the Middle East, where developments in Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Turkey and Palestine are raising some fundamental questions and challenges for British and European foreign and defence policies, and indeed for Europe's relationship with our American allies.

First, I want to speak briefly about the opportunities with which our presidency presents us in building and maintaining our influence in Europe, and in achieving greater co-ordination in Europe's global policies, to ensure that the European Union responds quickly and effectively to world events and crises.

My personal experience of the process of European political co-operation has convinced me of the increased influence which our diplomacy can exert if it is practised on a European, rather than on a strictly national, basis. I believe that European political co-operation gives added credibility to our diplomacy worldwide, both bilaterally and in international fora, including of course the United Nations. Our influence and credibility with our partners in the European Union come not only from the attitude which we adopt towards European questions or the extent to which we play, and are seen to play, as leading members of a team; they also come from our long history and experience in dealing with problems worldwide. We can only exploit

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that experience and expertise if we maintain a Diplomatic Service of high calibre and with global coverage.

I have spoken before in this House of my admiration for the way in which my successors in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been able, within a budget that has fallen in real terms by 12 per cent. over the past five years, to meet the increasing demands on the service. Twenty-nine new posts have been opened since 1990 to protect and promote our interests in the new countries formed by the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. But the cloth is stretched very thin. I am told that, of the 221 posts with which the Diplomatic Service now covers 189 countries, 101 posts have four or fewer UK-based staff; 23 have only one and 25 are staffed solely by local staff.

While I acknowledge the outstanding contribution which locally engaged staff in the Diplomatic Service make to our commercial and consular interests, I would question whether this extent of reliance on non-UK-based staff any longer represents a truly global political presence. The figures certainly fall far short of what our French and German partners maintain around the world. I hope that the Minister will agree that a global presence is not only a vital ingredient in protecting and promoting our national interests, whether political, commercial, economic or consular, but that it is essential, if we are to maintain our credibility with our partners as a serious global player, and if we are to fulfil our current presidency responsibilities with conviction.

But resources are needed not just to staff diplomatic and consular posts, or indeed to staff new posts as and when required. There are the challenges of peacekeeping operations, as sudden crises arise; the need to take part in United Nations observer teams; the increasing need for what is now known as preventive diplomacy to ward off unforeseen and unforeseeable crises. In short, there is a need to maintain and to fund a truly global foreign policy. All these require a degree of financial flexibility on the part of the Government as a whole and not just from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

I understand that the Foreign and Commonwealth budget now represents no more than one-third of 1 per cent. of total government expenditure, even including the BBC World Service and the grant-in-aid to the British Council. I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has adequate access to the Treasury reserve for unforeseen peacekeeping operations and that we now have sound and flexible structures in place to provide for the funding of preventive diplomacy, and that these are considered in terms of our comprehensive international interests rather than under the narrow concept of departmental budgets.

I have sometimes heard noble Lords speak of our Commonwealth connections, and indeed of our so-called special relationship with the United States, as though they were in some way a preferable alternative to our membership of, and commitment to, the European Union. As someone who believes that our role as a leading member of the European Union is now, and

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must remain, the central pillar of Britain's foreign policy, I nevertheless believe that our Commonwealth relationships and our relationship with our United States allies can be an essential element in maintaining our influence and credibility as a global player in the eyes of our European partners.

Our relationship with the United States has sometimes been depicted by our French friends as an Anglo-Saxon "Trojan horse" within the walls of Europe. I firmly reject any such picture. But it is important, if our relationship with the United States is to add substance and value to our membership of the European Union and vice versa, that we do not give the impression--as I fear has too often been the case in the past--that we are prepared to give uncritical support to all American policies. Nor is that the way in which we can hope to influence the United States Administration or Congress.

Nowhere is this so true as in the Middle East where Britain has longer experience than possibly any other country outside the area and where the belief that we are the "poodles" of Washington is having a damaging effect on both our political and economic interests in the region.

In addressing the Middle East today I do not want to concentrate narrowly on the Arab-Israel dispute, even though the present stalemate in pursuing the Oslo accords is possibly the most dangerous crisis facing Europe and the world at this juncture. I was sorry not to be able to take part in the debate in this House on 15th January. But I have noted with pleasure the statement of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on that occasion, that Her Majesty's Government are fully and actively committed to the search for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, a peace with justice and a peace with security. I have also noted her reply to the Question of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, this afternoon.

Earlier comments by myself in this House on Arab-Israel issues, including Israeli settlements and Jerusalem, have provoked claims that I am "anti-Israel". I hope that I have no need to assure the House that that is simply not true. Part of my deep concern about the policies and actions of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Government is precisely that I believe they will cause--no, they are already causing--grievous harm to Israeli interests. It is not a question of being pro or anti-Israel, or indeed of being pro or anti-Arab. The policies of Mr. Netanyahu seem to me to pose serious threats to the security of Arabs, Israelis and indeed of all of us. I know that many Israelis, and indeed members of the Jewish community in this country, share that view.

Nevertheless, my own contacts with the Middle East have convinced me that there is a dangerous degree of resentment and despair in the Arab world, not only at the actions and policies of Mr. Netanyahu's Government, but also at what many Arabs see as the double standards which the West in general, and the United States Congress in particular, adopt towards the problems of the region.

The remarks of Mr. Netanyahu on leaving Israel for Washington last week, as reported in the press, show the extent to which he knows that he can rely on the support

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of Congress and indeed of the American media, in snubbing such pressures as the Administration tries to bring to bear on him. I fear that the Middle East has become a matter more of United States domestic policy than of foreign and defence policy. In the present turmoil of American domestic politics and with the prospect of military action in the Gulf, that is potentially a very dangerous situation indeed.

Even those Arabs--and there are many of them--who fear and deplore the behaviour of President Saddam Hussein, nevertheless ask why the West concentrates its attacks on Iraqi failure to observe Security Council resolutions when they hear no criticism of Israel for her failure to observe repeated Security Council resolutions demanding her withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. The Arabs hear frequent references, as they will have done from those noble Lords who spoke in the debate on 15th January, about the threat to Israel from her neighbours. But I have heard many Arabs, including those most critical of Saddam Hussein, complain at what they regard as the double standards adopted in the West towards a country which is at present in illegal occupation of territory in Lebanon, in the West Bank and in Jerusalem, and which is applying settlement policies which British Ministers have repeatedly condemned as illegal--a description which I do not think any recent United States spokesman has been prepared to apply to them.

Of course we must continue to be tough on terrorism, wherever it happens. But given the degree of resentment which exists in the Arab world--and to some extent in the wider Islamic world, which is still smarting from the treatment of Moslems in Serbia and Bosnia--I believe that we must be equally tough on the causes of terrorism.

At this point, I should like to pay tribute to the way in which the British presidency was able to lead the recent troika mission to Algeria, thereby at least getting a foot in a door which has hitherto been kept firmly closed to outsiders. I am glad to hear that the Algerian Foreign Minister is to visit London. I hope that we can continue, as the presidency, to press the Algerian Government to take more effective action to bring the terrible massacres to an end.

One of my reasons for concern about the degree of resentment in the Arab world is not to make an anti-Israeli point, but to emphasise the extent to which it has eroded support in the United Nations Security Council for our policies towards Iraq. One of the lessons of the Gulf War, as I remember very clearly, was the need for a concerted and sustained diplomatic effort, both in capitals and in the United Nations, to maintain support for the coalition's military and political action--and that was a crisis in which there was international consensus over a very clear objective; namely, to expel the Iraqi armed forces from Kuwait.

That support is just as necessary today in our attempts to get Saddam Hussein to comply with United Nations resolutions and weapons inspections. Congress has called for unilateral military action, if necessary, in the Gulf. I believe that any military action without very

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clear objectives, and without either the support of the Security Council or the practical assistance of the Gulf states, could be both politically and militarily disastrous.

I have noted the remarks of the noble Baroness the Minister in response to Questions in this House two days ago about the military objectives of such action, but I am bound to say that I am still unconvinced. Have either the objectives or the consequences of a military attack been clearly thought through? Have colleagues on the Security Council been consulted on either? Have the implications of a successful, or partly successful, military attack against installations containing lethal materials such as anthrax--if that is indeed one of the objectives--been fully assessed?

To return to the Arab-Israel peace process, of course we all hope that the Americans will succeed in their attempts to revive it. Certainly, no attempt can be successful without the sustained efforts of the United States Administration. But the Arabs know that behind the Administration is a deeply biased Congress, and I do not believe that we shall be serving our national or European interests if we give our Arab friends, or, indeed, our Israeli friends, the impression that we are prepared merely to give the Americans uncritical support from the sidelines. I therefore share the hope, expressed by some noble Lords in the debate on 15th January, that we shall now, in our current presidency capacity, take steps to involve the European Union more directly in the peace process.

As your Lordships know, the European Union is already by far the largest provider of aid to Palestinians. I believe that only with the direct political involvement of Europe, and a determined attempt by the European presidency to persuade all parties to stick with the process outlined at Oslo, can there be any hope of reviving the peace process or, indeed, the Euro-Mediterranean process.

The Middle East is only one area where I believe that Europe could and should be more actively engaged, and where I hope that the British presidency can give a firm and even-handed lead in exploiting the very considerable economic and diplomatic potential of the European Union.

However, I do not want to talk about the Middle East solely as an area of conflict. It is, of course, an area of vital economic and commercial interest to the United Kingdom and to Europe--to a far greater extent than to the United States. Noble Lords will have seen that there are some grounds for optimism in the recent speeches and interviews by President Khatami of Iran, to which I hope that the European Union, under our presidency, will give a suitably measured and positive response. I am glad to note from ministerial statements that we continue to oppose the extra-territorial legislation of the D'Amato-Gilman Bill.

The Middle East is, of course, one of the parts of the world--although only one--where Islam is the dominant religion. I am sure that other noble Lords will share my apprehension that the tragic events in Algeria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan will encourage the myth--and I profoundly believe it to be a myth--that

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Islam represents the threat of the future and that Moslems have somehow filled the "threat vacuum" left by the break-up of the Soviet Empire.

That myth was propagated by a much-publicised article five years ago by Professor Huntington and later repeated in a misguided public statement from Mr. Willi Claes, then Secretary-General of NATO. By contrast, I have myself witnessed the extraordinarily favourable reactions in the Moslem world to attempts by, for instance, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, to correct these myths.

I believe that that misrepresentation of one of the great monotheistic religions of the world is having not only a damaging effect on our interests, and on the interests of the West, among countries which have traditionally been our friends and where we are credited with having a close understanding of their culture and society; it could also have a damaging effect on the attitudes of our own rapidly growing Moslem communities in this country. I commend to the House an authoritative and deeply disturbing report produced at the end of last year by the Runnymede Trust, entitled Islamophobia--a Challenge for us All. Copies of that report are available in the Library of the House.

Our imperial history has given us, or should have given us, ample experience of dealing with inter-faith differences and misunderstandings. To talk of an Islamic threat to the West is as offensive to the Moslem world as would be their claim that sectarian killings in Northern Ireland illustrated a threat from Christianity to the civilised world. We are not alone in the European Union in having a rapidly expanding Moslem population. North Africans in France; Turks in Germany; and the influx of Albanians and Kurds into Italy, all argue for a rational and balanced approach to the problems set out in the Runnymede report.

That report deals primarily with Islamophobia as a domestic British problem. I believe that it should be seen as a potential, or rather actual, European problem which could have dramatic implications for Europe's political and economic relationships with much of the Third World. I hope that, here again, we can begin to tackle what is essentially an ethical problem as a challenge to our presidency of the European Union, a challenge on which I believe we are uniquely qualified to give a lead. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

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