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Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister so late at night. However, I was intrigued by her statement that we now have the smallest nuclear striking force of all the nuclear powers. Is that what the noble Baroness said? If so, does she mean by throw weight, numbers of missiles, range of missiles, or what? What is her criterion for that somewhat strange remark?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I was referring to the number and nature of our nuclear weapons system. The remaining defence, which is significant, is Trident. Other countries have many more. In approaching the issue, we have been very clear to ensure that our arsenal is effective but appropriate to the size of the threat presented.
The Government also believe that it is right for war criminals to be brought to justice. We strongly support the establishment of an international court and will publish in draft a Bill to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the court statute. That issue was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham and the noble Lords, Lord Avebury, Lord Dahrendorf and many others. The UK has played a pivotal role in achieving international agreement on the establishment of the international criminal court as a permanent effective body able to punish the Saddams and Milosevics of tomorrow.
The right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the detail of the Bill and our contacts with the Americans. I hope that they will bear with me if I write to both of them on the former issue. As regards the latter, we have always made our views clear to the United States and shall continue to do so--and, I should say, with vigour.
I turn to the issues raised by so many noble Lords in relation to the so-styled ethical foreign policy. The Government have placed human rights at the heart of their foreign policy, and they remain there. We are committed to protecting and promoting the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the core United Nations human rights instruments.
The Government have taken many practical steps to demonstrate that and we have made real changes in policy, leading to achievements and progress on many issues--for instance, the introduction of tougher arms export licensing criteria--and have succeeded in getting European Union partners to implement similar criteria. At the Rome Conference in June 1998, we played a key role in the agreement to set up an international criminal court. We have ratified legislation securing the permanent abolition of the death penalty in Britain, allowing us to lobby other governments for the global eradication of capital punishment. We have increased support for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UK 1998 contribution of £6 million made us one of the largest donors. We strengthened the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's continuing dialogue with civil society. Representatives of Save the Children and Amnesty International have been placed in the human rights policy department, and FCO placements in Article 19 and a minority rights group are planned or under way. The list is endless and at this time of night I shall not trouble the House with more. But I can certainly reassure your Lordships that in this area no government could have been more vigorous.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and others rightly raised the issue of Russia and Chechnya. Notwithstanding the fact that time is pressing on, I feel that I must answer it fully. We believe that there is a need for a lasting peace in the north Caucasus. We are deeply concerned at the human cost of Russia's actions in Chechnya and the risk to regional stability. It is in Russia's interest and our own that she rapidly secures a negotiated political solution. I assure noble Lords that we shall adopt a balanced approach to the issue. The EU has been very active. The Finnish Prime Minister raised the subject at the EU/Russian Summit on 22nd October. Chechnya was discussed at the EU's Northern Dimension Conference in Helsinki on 11th and 12th November and at the EU General Affairs Council on 15th and 16th November. It is on the agenda of the Istanbul OSCE summit which takes place today and tomorrow. I should now say that it is taking place yesterday and today.
A recently returned OSCE fact-finding mission is reporting to the Istanbul summit and the summit is considering deploying to the region the OSCE Chechnya assistance group, now in Moscow, to support international humanitarian aid. We are
I next turn to the issues raised in relation to Africa. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, rightly highlighted the challenges which still exist in Africa. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to the Sudan. We continue to stress to the Government of Sudan and the opposition groups our concern to see a negotiated end to civil war in that region.
I welcome also the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. He was right to raise issues which affect children in those regions; for example, AIDS and education. It was good to hear the African voice in that context.
Many regions of Africa are suffering from the effects of conflict. We are working with other countries, including France and Commonwealth countries, to help support positive change. Having achieved agreement on the UN Security Council resolution, we are now giving active support to the decision to send a 6,000-strong peacekeeping operation to Sierra Leone.
We are giving active support to the Canadian ambassador, Robert Fowler, chair of the Angolan sanctions committee, in his efforts to strengthen sanctions against UNITA. We are also active tackling the factors which fuel conflict in Africa including small-arms proliferation and the trade in illicit diamonds.
International development continues to be an issue which has engaged many noble Lords. I hope that, at this late hour, noble Lords will forgive me for not naming the long list of those who dealt with that particular issue. The Government will continue to place international development targets at the centre of their work to eliminate poverty. We shall encourage other countries and institutions to do the same. We recognise that we must work together in an ever-closer and more effective manner with others and we shall continue to ensure a coherence of policy both nationally and internationally to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of multilateral institutions and to work with NGOs.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to the WTO. That is important to us all. We believe that a broad-based agenda is in the best interests of all WTO members and will offer all countries, particularly developing countries, the opportunity to make solid and substantial gains.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, in the time available, it has been impossible to do justice to the breadth and depth of the issues raised. Where I have not replied to a specific question raised in the debate, one of my noble friends or I will do so in writing.
The Government remain committed to working constructively with our partners to build a more stable, secure, democratic and prosperous world community. In pursuing those goals, the men and women of the Diplomatic Service work long hours in often difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. I want to pay tribute to their efforts and to welcome the willingness with which they are embracing the modernisation agenda in opening up the British foreign policy debate to outside experts and ideas.
It is two-and-a-half years since my noble friend Lady Symons wound up the foreign, defence and development debate on this Government's first Queen's Speech. Since then we have made real and substantial progress, delivering on the agenda she then outlined. We have put Britain at the heart of European decision-making. We have put human rights at the centre of our foreign policy. We have delivered benefits for the people of Britain through trade and investment promotion and consular work overseas. That is a proud record.
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