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8.11 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, it is a humbling moment for me to congratulate, on behalf of these Benches, two very fine maiden speakers, both speaking from a lifetime honed with experience. I can do no more than offer my sincere congratulations, and the view from these Benches that the House will continue to be enhanced by their significant, serious, and thought-provoking contributions.

This has been an enormously informative and valuable debate, for which we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Wright. We all agree that presidency of the EU is both an honour and a challenge for any member state. It places an imperative on the host country to offer leadership and guidance, most particularly in the arena of foreign affairs, and to demonstrate a co-ordinated and effective voice for Europe on the world stage. On behalf of the Opposition, I wish the Government success in fulfilling that vital obligation.

Today, the constantly shifting sands in the hourglass of global political geography demand different regional priorities, and some of yesterday's challenges, even those of only half a decade ago, have been replaced by a new set of no less complex challenges which require the international community to rise to them with diplomacy and initiative. In a year when the UK will also chair the G8 summit and host the second

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Asia-Europe summit, which will be on European soil for the first time, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of their golden inheritance, granted in no small way by the work of many of the noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon--an inheritance which allows this country to stand tall and command respect for its views and influence with our partnerships and colleagues in Europe and at the UN, among the Commonwealth countries, and in our transatlantic relationship.

Yet it will not be enough to live on the interest of that legacy. For the Prime Minister to lead Europe on the world stage in the way he envisages, he and the Foreign Secretary must be equipped with the tools of decisive leadership and skilled co-ordination, and they must combine quiet diplomacy with effective action in order to address the myriad international issues of today and tomorrow.

Your Lordships' sheer breadth of knowledge and insight on some of those very issues has allowed us to circumnavigate the globe many times today, and if it would not detain your Lordships' House for an unpardonable length of time, I would willingly retread some of that ground and risk burdening the Minister with a raft of questions on the lead the Government intend to take on some of the compelling issues currently facing the international community. However, I will not. As has been rightly pointed out, the Minister already has a sufficiently Herculean task.

Suffice it to say from these Benches that we would appreciate the opportunity to hear the Minister outline the Government's plans on some of the key issues of the day: the complicated issue of Turkey's accession to the EU; progress on the ratification of the ground-breaking comprehensive test ban treaty, designed to end nuclear weapons testing and explosions for all time, and the Government's prognosis on its early ratification by all states; progress on reform of the UN, so that it can meet the challenges of the next century; reaching agreement on the EU mandate for negotiations on a successor to the Lome Convention, highlighted this evening by my noble friend Lady Young; the military option to address Iraq's continued defiance of the will of the international community, given President Clinton may well be held hostage by the fact that tough military action against Saddam Hussein's renewed sabre rattling could be perceived as a cynical attempt to deflect public attention from his domestic crisis; the unresolved Kurdish problem; the promotion of democracy and good government in Africa, particularly in the Great Lakes region--a point well made by my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey--and, finally, I should like to ask for a commitment of the Government's enduring support for that beacon of fair and respected news coverage--the BBC World Service--the point being well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby.

Nor do I intend today to discuss the critical challenge of the historic and vital process of EU enlargement and the accession process which will begin under the auspices of our presidency, and through which we will fulfil our promise to the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. I have no doubt that the Minister, noble

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Lords and I, will have ample time to rehearse those arguments during the imminent scrutiny of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill which shortly comes before your Lordships' House.

The issue of human rights is critical. In many of the countries that we have been discussing--as was wisely pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury-- the perpetrators of human rights abuses rightly earn the condemnation of the international community. The victims, however, deserve the action of the international community. During the UK presidency of the EU we must lead in terms of specific action to ensure that the international community continues to keep faith with all those who suffer human rights atrocities. For the human rights of the people of Iraq, the people of Algeria, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, pointed out, and the people of Myanmar are regularly abused whether by the actions of terrorists or by their own governments.

The Opposition welcome the Prime Minister's statement that,

    "to support free trade, human rights and democracy and to play a major role in the great international issues of the day [requires] political will, not hot air".
The UK presidency now offers the opportunity and the obligation for the Foreign Secretary to take a lead in voicing foreign affairs policy, and to be judged by his deeds and not his words, by his substance and not his rhetoric. I would point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, that the Minister of State has long since made it clear that, despite the rhetoric, there would be a seamless transition from the ethical foreign policy of the previous government--namely, that of critical dialogue and constructive engagement--combined with strong international pressure, when he said in another place:

    "In the vast majority of cases, we will strive for a constructive engagement ... Putting it crudely, there are sticks and carrots and there are difficult tactical choices to be made ... Within that framework of engagement, we are keen to ensure that, as an important agenda item, there will be discussion of human rights".--[Official Report, Commons, 3/6/97; col. 305.]

The Opposition could not agree more, but would add that a critical dialogue does not in any way imply the acceptance of a regime or its legitimacy, but if the Minister insists that the Government's ethical foreign policy is a new and original departure from previous UK policy, perhaps she will tell the House where it will result in examples of stronger action on behalf of the Government towards perpetrators of human rights abuses, which would not have taken place under the previous Government. I know that the Minister will agree that human rights should be above party politics and remain a key element of Britain's leadership during the term of its presidency of the EU.

My noble and learned friend Lord Howe rightly pointed out the importance of economic policy in the development of Asia and the Pacific. If we focus on just one small country in the central Asian region, Kyrgystan, we witness an entrepot in the region, coming at the crossroads for potential trade among its neighbours, a country which, through strong leadership and a remarkable record of bringing all its multicultural people together in a pluralist democracy, has led to the emergence of a new state which seeks co-operation with

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the West, like so many of the countries that emerged after 1991. We can watch an economy being built on the premise of our model of private sector regeneration. Of course, that model is being moulded into one appropriate for the local people--in this case, the Kyrgyz people.

The underlying point for us in this debate today, and for the Government, is to offer assistance to the newly emerging nations of central Asia, being built on the premises of a pluralist democracy and private sector-led economic growth. This requires a high policy priority because the support to these countries will have far reaching consequences in central Asia where the political and commercial evolution of these countries is currently the focus of Western Europe but also very important to the United States, Russia and China.

In response to the noble Lords, Lord Wright, Lord Healey, Lord Hurd and Lord Chalfont, among many other of your Lordships, I know there is unwavering consensus between the Front Benches and throughout your Lordships' House that the UK's commitment to the Gulf and to peace in the Middle East should be total and absolute. There is much consensus too, not only on the critical importance of peace but also on the route to that ultimate goal. Despite the change in Government, the UK's position on this crucial issue will, I hope, remain unchanged. The outcome of the peace process in the Middle East must offer permanent peace on the basis of security for the Israelis, and prosperity, justice and self-determination for the Palestinian people based on respect for international law.

No one can doubt that the Middle East peace process is in grave crisis, bereft of political will and impetus, drained of dynamism and impetus. Without a rudder or a compass, the crisis-buffeted process is half capsized. As each day passes with no progress we seem further away than ever from attaining that elusive but priceless prize of peace.

The latest Washington round of bilateral talks between President Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat respectively have brought scant reason for optimism. The meetings only served to highlight Palestinian paralysis in the face of Israeli intransigence, while the influence of the United States has proved unable to break the stalemate. In this context I think it is very important to consider what assessment the Government makes of Hanan Ashrawi's remarks on a Palestinian delegation to Washington when she asked for more European involvement in the peace process, and I quote:

    "as they have a more even-handed policy when it comes to our rights".

Will the Government confirm that while we respect the United States guiding of the peace process, and while we pay tribute to the vision of President Bush after the Gulf War and President Clinton's achievement on the White House lawn, the UK must make an active contribution which corresponds to our historical links with the Middle East and the high expectations of those in the region who look to this country? Will the Government confirm that, particularly during our presidency of the European Union and at this critical

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time for the peace process, our role is not just to support but to weigh in effectively at appropriate moments in the negotiations and to mobilise the European Union to do the same?

And so we need to use the UK presidency of the European Union to seek to negotiate to unblock the impasse and to ensure that the efforts of those who have worked so tirelessly and that those who, both named and nameless, famous and unknown, have given their lives in the quest for peace process did not do so in vain.

We all agree that the UK has a proud tradition of carrying out its responsibilities throughout the world with honour and respect. Provided the warnings of the noble Lords, Lord Wright and Lord Moore of Wolvercote, are heeded about the need for a well funded FCO Vote, including the Diplomatic Corps, the British Council and the BBC World Service, we will be able to continue with this work.

As noble Lords on all sides of the House have stated, this is a time to act and to demonstrate the truth and strength of the UK's principled policies. This is the time to lead by example. In this way the UK will use its presidency to contribute towards achieving lasting peace and widespread prosperity throughout a world searching for geo-political stability in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. On behalf of the Opposition I wish the Foreign Secretary well in his momentous task.

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