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Lord Bramall: My Lords, is there not a danger that we are getting all this out of proportion? Does the noble Baroness agree that it must be in the American interests that Europe should do more in the defence field; in our interests that Europe is capable of handling small, local situations over which the Americans may show increasingly less interest; and in everyone's interest that all this should happen within the overall umbrella of NATO and without undue and unnecessary duplication? Can the noble Baroness confirm that that is exactly what the Government are working towards?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords. I agree unequivocally with the noble and gallant Lord. I can agree that that is exactly the aim to which the Government are working.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, your Lordships will have listened with interest to the noble Baroness's rather convoluted reply to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I should like to ask the noble Baroness this question categorically: do we believe what the Prime Minister said to President Bush in Washington last week, or do we believe in the Nice treaty? These are two totally different things.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, they are not two totally different things. There has been a great deal of discussion around Annex VII to the treaty, and much discussion about what is meant. I should remind the noble Lord of the aim of that annex which states:

There is a whole annex devoted to it. I believe that it is very clear that the interests of the United Kingdom, of Europe and, indeed, those of the Atlantic Alliance and our friends in America are being served by the measures that we are taking forward.

Extremist Protests: Protection of Individuals

3.1 p.m.

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to protect people at risk from terrorist action by animal liberationists.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is completely unacceptable that a small minority of criminals attempt to stop individuals going about their legitimate, lawful activities. The Government are committed to doing whatever is necessary to help the police tackle these extremists. There are already tough laws to protect businesses and individuals. We intend to strengthen these further in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I welcome the steps that the Government are taking to promote better protection in such cases. Can the Minister say whether the Government will treat this form of terrorism as one of the most dangerous organised threats to law and order that exists at present? In particular, will the Government take measures to prevent intimidation of victims' homes, both by keeping private and confidential the addresses of directors of target companies and by looking again at the question of organised groups acting in concert by way of harassment outside people's homes? At present, the law is not adequate in that respect in properly protecting people.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on the position he has taken. I also acknowledge his support for government measures. The measures we are putting into the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which have now been tabled as amendments, will give the police additional powers to deal with protests outside people's homes. The police will be able to direct protestors to move away or disperse; and failure to comply with the direction will be a criminal and, indeed, an imprisonable offence.

A second amendment will amend the malicious communications legislation, which currently makes available to those accused a defence of subjectively believing that their behaviour was reasonable. This will be replaced by an objective test. We are encouraged by the support that we are receiving for ensuring that company directors will be protected from necessarily having to provide their home address. Therefore, we are taking the measures suggested by the noble Lord. We take the issue extremely seriously. It is in all of our interests to give the police the utmost support in operations directed against such protestors.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not only a case of protecting people, but also one of protecting animals from these people? Can the Minister give the House any information about what has happened to the beagles that were recently stolen? Can he say whether any follow up measures have been taken by the authorities to try to find out what damage or harm has occurred to them?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as noble Lords are aware, it is occasionally the case that some of the activities of extremists involved in this sort of "protest"--if one can call it that--have had an adverse

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impact on some animals. That fact is greatly to be regretted; indeed, it is not something that should be encouraged. I cannot provide the noble Lord with the information that he requires because that is an operational matter for the police. However, I know that the police have taken seriously the attack he mentioned and that they have been vigorous in the extreme in following up and inquiring into exactly what has happened. They are to be congratulated on that work.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the courts should take into account the intention to cause fear when assessing the gravity of an offence and before sentencing an offender?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that that would be the case. Courts would take that point very carefully into consideration.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords--

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Order!

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I believe the feeling of the House is that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, should put his question. If there is time, two swift questions can be put.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, although we realise and welcome the indication that the Government are considering tightening up the legislation, one of the crucial issues, as always, is one of resources? Is he also aware that the police force responsible for trying to protect Huntingdon Life Sciences in Cambridgeshire is one of the smaller police forces, albeit one that is extremely well led by a very vigorous chief constable? Is the noble Lord further aware that that force needs additional financial support, given the pressure on its resources? Can he tell the House what can be done in that respect?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have provided the Cambridgeshire constabulary with an additional 1 million to support their activities. In response to the noble Lord's earlier point, I should tell him that we have not just moved forward; we have physically tabled amendments so that the legislation will be changed in the way in which I carefully described. So, yes, we are giving very active support to the Cambridgeshire constabulary and, yes, we are putting in place the legislation to enable the police to act.


Lord Carter: My Lords, immediately after today's second debate, my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement on the Selby rail crash. I should add that I

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am grateful to the usual channels for agreeing to the timing of the Statement. The House may wish to know that that unusual timing is a result of the desire of the Deputy Prime Minister to visit the crash site in person before he makes a Statement to Members in another place.

Latin America and the Caribbean

3.7 p.m.

Baroness Hooper rose to call attention to developments in Latin America and the Caribbean; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Motion before your Lordships today is, I recognise, very widely drawn. In attempting to follow in the tradition established by my noble friend Lord Montgomery, and in my capacity as president of Canning House (the Hispanic and Luso Brazilian Council), I felt it timely to draw attention to developments in Latin America. However, the Minister then persuaded me to add the Caribbean to the terms of reference. I make no apology for doing so.

The United Kingdom has an ongoing role in the Caribbean, and not only with the six remaining dependent territories in the region. The countries of the Caribbean are largely English speaking, but include Cuba and the Dominican Republic, where, after all, Columbus is said to have first landed after his epic voyage. Although this is an area which may be regarded by some as "America's backyard", I believe, looking to the future, that there is every likelihood that the smaller countries of central America--from Guatemala to Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and even down to and including Panama--and the other countries in the Caribbean will want to get together to form a regional grouping for their mutual benefit and recognition, and to give balance to the large and powerful NAFTA to the north, Mercosur to the far south and the Andean Community to the south-west. Britain could, and should, exercise considerable influence in such a development. In doing so, it is possible that we might find a solution to the vexed question of bananas.

The main thrust of my intervention today is to focus on British trade and investment with the region. Sadly, this is deteriorating and we must do something about it. I start from the premise that the United Kingdom is a trading nation and that historically and culturally, as well as economically, we have as strong ties and links with Latin America and the Caribbean as with other parts of the world--if not stronger. Indeed, that was the reason for the foundation of Canning House after the last war, when our traditional markets flowing from the period of empire were changing and disappearing. It was recognised at that time that the countries of Latin America were rich in resources and potential. But it was also recognised that it would be necessary to promote and stimulate trade and commercial links. That is the task and challenge that we still carry out at Canning House.

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It is only fair to say that this had been envisaged by George Canning as far back as the early 19th century. He famously said,

    "I have called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the old".

Canning's foresight led to British forces and finance supporting the liberation movements which swept through the continent with Bolivar and Miranda in the north, and San Martin and O'Higgins in the south, to mention but a few leading names. That in turn led to considerable British involvement and investment in the railways, shipping and other industries, and to the establishment of sizeable British communities which exist to this day in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile in particular. However, sadly, I think that Canning's name is better known in Buenos Aires than in London.

Just as Canning in his day was influenced by war and enmities in Europe, today we still take a European point of view. The situation is now very different. We are united in Europe. When we talk bilaterally about the United Kingdom and the countries of Latin America, it is vital to remember that the UK has a leading role to play as part of the European Union, particularly in relation to the special agreements now being implemented or negotiated between the EU and Mexico, the EU and Mercosur and the EU and Chile.

A recent report by Trade Partners UK--the agency created by the newly-formed British Trade International to promote British trading activities worldwide--gives an interesting picture. To attempt to summarise the report's main conclusions is difficult. It shows that UK exports of goods to Latin America tumbled some 20 per cent in 1999 and for most of 2000; it was beginning to bottom out only by September 2000. Mexico was the bright spot with growth every year since 1995, totalling a rise of 132 per cent. The UK's performance was worse than the percentage fall of total imports to all the major markets of Latin America. The decline during 1999 was across most sectors, with pharmaceuticals an exception. Latin America now enjoys a record trade balance with the UK of 1.2 billion, perhaps the largest ever. UK market share suffered falls in key markets although it held up in Brazil.

There can be some consolation in the fact that trade in services appears to have held up reasonably well and that UK investments continued to grow although the UK's leading position in terms of investment is now being overtaken by Spain, particularly in banking, telecoms and the energy sector. As a final conclusion, the report states that the IMF is cautiously optimistic about growth but the cooling of the United States economy could have implications for the region, particularly Mexico.

What can we do about this sorry picture? I hope that the Minister will be able to come up with some initiatives to encourage us. Since the Link in to Latin America Campaign--initiated, I am proud to say, by the Conservative government in the early 1990s--which led to considerable gains in our trade

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performance, the past two years have seen, with the exception of Mexico some considerable setbacks for the UK in terms of traded goods.

Many individual organisations, chambers of commerce, trade missions and agencies such as the Latin American Trade Advisory Group and the Caribbean Trade Advisory Group have made considerable efforts, as have the commercial department of individual embassies, but there is still a long way to go. There is no doubt that a concerted effort such as the Link into Latin America Campaign can and should have a major impact, particularly if it is led from the highest possible level by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I hope that whoever is in those posts after the next election will make a point of visiting the region as a priority and will, at the very least, prove less difficult as regards arranging time to see and talk with distinguished visitors when they come to this country.

I recognise that some Ministers have made successful visits to the region accompanied by high level groups of industrialists. Apart from the Minister herself, I mention the visit of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to Brazil; the visit by the leader of another place, Margaret Beckett, to Mexico; the visit by the Secretary of State, Clare Short, to Bolivia and other countries in the region; and the most recent visit to Brazil and Chile by Nick Raynsford in connection with the PFI. I hope that appropriate monitoring and follow-through is taking place to build on the links, contacts and good will established by those visits.

Other important and major developments need to be watched carefully. I have already referred to the need for the UK to lead in the EU and its internal debates towards a common position that will enable substantive negotiations on a free trade agreement with the Mercosur countries of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, and other individual countries involved in EU agreements. That is particularly relevant in terms of agricultural policy and modifications to the common agricultural policy.

Another issue relates to "dollarisation". The dollar is already established as the currency of Panama and, most recently, Ecuador. It is a de facto currency in Argentina. There is also the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a United States initiative which in all likelihood will be driven forward and given a push by President Bush.

In calling attention to developments in Latin America and the Caribbean, we must consider not only our trade and commercial links and investment. Other themes will be dealt with in more detail by other speakers. They will include cultural links which imply a recognition of cultural heritage and exchanges of art and artists, and full and frequent discussions on environmental issues.

The important subject of drugs touches us as a consumer country, as it does the producer and transit countries. Since the major drug summit called by Margaret Thatcher in London in 1990--attended by, among other leaders and senior Ministers from Latin

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America, the then President of Colombia, Vergilio Barco, and leading representatives of the United Nations and the European Union--I am unaware of any recent initiatives by the Government. However, I draw attention to the international drugs conference held in Bolivia at the end of last week at which, I understand, two MPs from the House of Commons were present. I trust that something positive will result.

On the education front, I have referred previously to the enormous increase in GAP exchanges and university exchanges. There is the potential for many young people to have more knowledge of Latin America than my generation had. The British Council plays an important role. It does terrific work. For that reason, I lament the fact that it is closing down its centre in Ecuador. It is the only closure due to take place in South America.

Democracy is important in Latin America. Twenty years ago it hardly existed--certainly not in a pluralistic form. The recent elections in Mexico have produced a change of party in government, with the presidency of Vicente Fox. The democracies of Ecuador and Peru are fragile and struggling, but they are holding out. In that context, the role of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with its regular exchanges of parliamentarians, is very important. We recently received a group from Mexico. I know that several speakers in today's debate were introduced to Latin America as a result of IPU visits. Given the bridges that we must build in Chile, I hope that there will soon be an IPU visit there. The IPU international meeting in Cuba due in April is evidence of the increasing openness and transparency in that country today, which I hope presages a return to full pluralistic democracy there.

It is difficult--indeed, impossible--in the 15 minutes allowed to me as the mover of the Motion to do justice to a vast continent, full of opportunities and closely linked with Europe. It is a continent of diverse peoples, fascinating history and culture, towering mountain peaks, great lakes and forests, waterfalls, beautiful beaches and islands and, at this time of year, the musical rhythms of carnival. It will be equally difficult for the Minister to wind up. I wish her luck. I know that we are assured of her deep personal interest.

I end by pressing the Minister on three points. The first is the need for high-level contact and follow-up in our relations with the region. The second is the need to ensure the continuation of the important work of the Latin American Trade Advisory Group and the Caribbean Trade Advisory Group. Thirdly, an initiative is needed to take forward the concept of further and deeper co-operation between the Caribbean and Central American countries. I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.

Lord Brennan: My Lords, I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I commend the work done by Canning House and its staff, so ably led by the noble

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Baroness, Lady Hooper, and before her by Viscount Montgomery. It is one of the most important links between our nation and Latin America.

As the noble Baroness pointed out, it is 175 years since Canning made his famous speech, thought to be one of the great parliamentary speeches of recent history. It was important because he acknowledged with great foresight that the opening up of the Americas--not just north, but south as well--would mean immense trade benefit for this country and the world. In the last century, although not so much in this, Britain followed the path that Canning had in mind. At the beginning of a new century, it is appropriate that we should adopt his enthusiasm once again.

This country has three qualities that commend themselves to co-operation with Latin America. The first is our open and expansive desire for trade. Secondly, we are determined to protect democratic institutions. Thirdly, we are committed, where appropriate, to giving development help to those countries that desperately need it. Latin America needs our help on each of those points.

As well as defence of the realm, trade is the paramount function of the Government. It is significant--I am a little more optimistic than the noble Baroness--that we are now approaching 600 million of exports to Mexico. That has increased by as much as 8 per cent in the past calendar year. Mexico has a new president, a desire for change and a wish to trade beyond the Americas with the United Kingdom and Europe. We should foster trade relations with it.

The European Union has just agreed a free trade arrangement for services, intellectual property and other modern export items. That is a tremendous change of ethos by the Mexicans and by us, but it needs to be developed, not taken for granted. I commend to the Minister two firm, clear steps that will advance trade in Mexico and Brazil. First, we should encourage the holding of a forum this summer, if feasible, on trade with Mexico. It would be open to the City, all aspects of manufacturing and the world of commerce. Secondly, and very importantly for the developing nations of South America, our Prime Minister should make a visit if possible. Only when you go abroad--as the noble Baroness and I do quite regularly to South America--do you appreciate the standing not just of our country, but of our Prime Minister, not because of his party politics, but because of his ability to evidence the wish for change. A visit by the Prime Minister to South America would be of enormous practical as well as symbolic value.

I chose Mexico as an example of trade development because the number of South American countries is enormous and there are great trading differences between them. For example, in Bolivia, British Gas and British Petroleum have the opportunity to develop what is thought to be the biggest gas field in the Americas, including North America. Let us trade with Latin America with enthusiasm.

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My next point is democracy. I am going to put before your Lordships' House some depressing facts, but out of them has arisen a confidence in the people of the Americas to meet disaster with courage. It is amazing that from the Fujimori era in Peru there exist, as far as is known, videos of 211 leaders of the community doing deals with Mr Montecinos. I mean deals for the community. They cover business, the army, politicians, the law and the media. That state of affairs could cause a dramatic loss of confidence in public life in some societies, but that has not happened. The people of Peru have successfully fought that notorious state of affairs, with a transitional government staffed by people of such eminence as Perez de Cuellar as Prime Minister, Diego Sayan as Minister of Justice and Susana Villarain as Minister for Women's Affairs. That is a complete change of attitude. I call on our Government to continue their policy of ensuring that the elections in April in Peru are honestly carried out and thereafter to continue financial and governmental support for the judiciary, the police and the world of politics as we democrats know it so that there is no repetition of what has just happened.

I do not condemn Peru or its history by what I have just said--I commend it. It is a country that is surviving dire trouble. I ask the Government two things: first, that they continue their financial and political support; and, secondly, that they do so because, symbolically, if Peru survives this, other South American countries will take it as a fine example that they themselves can deal with such major events which strike danger into their very society.

I turn to the issue of development. Whatever our tribulations, we are a rich nation. Some countries in South America are desperately poor. Honduras, with little or no strength of economy, suffered the ravages of Hurricane Mitch. It has taken that country perhaps two, three or four years to reach the stage of thinking about recovery, not achieving it.

I call upon the Government to continue that which I know they have done; that is, vigorously to criticise the state of affairs whereby, years on, the European Union has failed to deliver the money which Honduras needed following Hurricane Mitch. A severe administrator would call it a debacle; a humanitarian would call it an outrage. It cannot go on. When countries need help, our example should be the one relied upon by others. With DfID, Sweden and the World Bank, we play a crucial part in the development of such countries as Honduras and Nicaragua which suffer serious economic troubles.

I have mentioned just a few South American countries. I want to close by referring to the Caribbean. The Anglo-Caribbean Jurists Association, financially supported by the Government and professionally supported by the lawyers of this country, is anxious to improve the training and standards of our colleagues in the Caribbean and to maintain law and order at its finest in this English-speaking part of the Americas. Through what I have said, I hope that I have demonstrated what I set out to

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indicate: we want trade; we protect democracy; and we give development aid where it is needed. In all those regards, Latin America needs us. Let us not fail it.

3.22 p.m.

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on obtaining this debate. As one might expect, in moving the Motion she speaks with great authority and enormous experience. My own contribution will be much more modest. I want to refer to only one country in Latin America--Peru.

My interest in that country was first stimulated not, as noble Lords might expect, because Peru produced, and the Irish ate, so many potatoes, but because of a rather more sombre point of common interest. As noble Lords will know, like my own part of the United Kingdom, for a long time Peru suffered from politically motivated terrorism. I believe that all of us were delighted to see come to power out of apparently free and fair elections a new government who wished to address firmly and properly the question of terrorism. Of course, in many ways that happened under President Fujimori.

I began to take an interest in that country because a number of professional colleagues were interested in understanding not only the origins of conflict there and in my own part of the world and how those might be addressed, but also how one might deal with a post-conflict situation. Sometimes, dealing with the after-effects of conflict is a much underrated problem.

However, when I went there, I discovered that the situation was not as I had expected. Many people would not speak openly. At that time, many people were talking about the tremendous work done by President Fujimori: he dealt with the terrorist campaign and righted the economy, which had been in a disastrous position. Surely that was a fine recommendation for what he and his government had been doing.

However, I found that people were too frightened to talk. When I had spent a little time there and had begun to encourage them to speak in privacy, it became apparent to me that all was not well: the press appeared to be free but were in no way free to speak about important matters; the security forces were not seen as the protectors but as the oppressors of ordinary people; and human rights abuses were rife and widespread.

I am glad to say that those facts have been recognised by our own Government and by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Resources have been made available, for example, for the British Council to work with the press. The BBC was also involved in training and assisting people. Indeed, Dennis Murray, a correspondent from Northern Ireland who had experience of working in a terrorist situation, went out to assist in developing the skills of journalists working in difficult circumstances such as those. Much work was also done with NGOs, particularly in the field of human rights. I believe that we have all begun to discover that free and fair

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elections are not all that is required in creating a liberal democracy. Peru is perhaps one of the most recently striking and tragic examples of that fact.

The situation began to become more clear, not only to ourselves but to the people of Peru, who, as the noble Lord indicated, began to summon up the courage to change matters and to change them strikingly and dramatically. I was in Lima during the week when the situation changed and when the Speaker of that Parliament subsequently went on to other, more striking things, such as becoming the interim President of the country.

In those circumstances, when the British Council, partly funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had played a role--one should not overstate it; nevertheless, it played an important role--in developing human rights and activist skills and in encouraging the press to report on some of the dreadful things that had been and were happening, it seemed to me that a powerful case existed for increasing the resources available. It seemed to me essential to capitalise and to develop those skills at a time when the building of a democracy had become so necessary because political parties had largely disappeared. Certainly, the case for at least maintaining the input of the British Council was unanswerable.

However, it came as something of a shock to discover that at that very moment the British Council was deciding to reduce the resources available in Peru and, indeed, as the noble Baroness said, to close the office in Ecuador. At the very time when we were achieving some success and could capitalise and build upon it and have a real impact, I was particularly struck that in Peru all the resources had been cut back.

I speak as a strong supporter of the British Council. In many ways, I consider it to be one of the great unsung institutions. It is appreciated much more outside the United Kingdom than it is within it. It does tremendous work. This is not the time and the place to speak in glowing terms or, indeed, to study the changes in strategy that have taken place recently.

However, I believe that sometimes mistakes are made in carrying out rationalisation. One reduces the amount of resources available to relatively smaller places and invests them in larger places. Sometimes when resources are lost, it is better to put what money there is into the smaller places where it can have an effect rather than to take it to the larger places where the leverage will be relatively limited. Peru is a large country but, in comparison with some of the other countries in which the British Council is working, it is not so large. Removing resources when we were on the cusp of reaping the rewards for our success seemed to me misguided and a mistake.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give me an indication that she shares that concern by acting in an entirely well disposed and friendly way towards the British Council and by encouraging it with the continued assistance that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has given to various projects.

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Of course, it is not only projects of that kind that are important, and it is not only a matter of resources. Other things can be done. In my own part of the world, changes are taking place with regard to policing. That has freed up people with enormous experience of working in conflict situations and of dealing with relationships between the security forces and the community. Those people with skills and experience could well be of assistance in a situation such as exists in Peru, where the relationship between the security services and the community is very bad, and with very good reason.

There are other ways in which the situation could be improved. The air links between the United Kingdom and Peru have been scaled down during the past few years. Frankfurt international airport is taking over responsibility for Lima airport and seeks to use it as a hub to serve the whole of the South Pacific and the Far East. Others can see what needs to be done in terms of building democracy and improving human rights. That will help with the construction of the new Peru, which needs to benefit from trade links.

When things go well, we tend to pull out. I fear that that is something of a characteristic in our country. In academic life, our research at a basic level often demonstrates an important advance, but we leave it to others to capitalise on commercial and other advantages. I fear that we may have made a similar mistake in respect of Peru. I hope that it will be possible to ensure that we build on the excellent work that has been done there and in other countries.

3.40 p.m.

Lord Rea: My Lords, in contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, I shall use a wide-angle lens to cover a range of topics without going into too much detail rather than the zoom lens that he used to focus on one topic. That will make the life of my noble friend the Minister more interesting.

Looking through my 28mm lens from high above the Caribbean, I see in the distance the north coasts of Colombia and Venezuela. The Colombian embassy sends me its regular bulletin, Observatorio de los derechos humanos, or the Observatory on Human Rights, for which I am very grateful. Two recent issues concentrated on laws to counteract forced displacement, disappearances, genocide and torture, and the protection of journalists, of whom 157 have been killed since 1985. Those examples are only part of a long drawn-out conflict that is going on in Colombia. President Pastrana, who was elected on a platform to seek peace, was shown on "Channel 4 News" on Sunday visiting the FARC in the rebel-controlled zone. He is a man of courage. However, more conservative opinion in Colombia is impatient and suggests that he is being too soft on the rebels, as do some in the United States, which is now mobilising the military arm of Plan Colombia. The Americans claim that the FARC are behind narco-traffic in cocaine. In the Channel 4 film, President Pastrana seemed

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uncomfortable at the arrival in increasing numbers of helicopter gunships. The FARC was clearly preparing to defend itself against an assault.

Many feel that the United States' war against drugs, which is now to be directed against peasant growers of cocaine, hides another agenda--that of crushing a left-wing popular uprising that threatens the status quo. That would be in the tradition of the United States' policy in Latin America, which is to destabilise any country that seems too far to the left of centre. It often does that by economic, covert or arm's-length military means. I expect the current government in Washington to tend towards continuing that policy, which would be extremely dangerous. In Colombia, American fingers might well get burnt. I urge the Government--with, of course, the greatest of tact--to use their special relationship to urge great caution in the operation of Plan Colombia.

Next door to Colombia is Venezuela, which now has a president who stands rather to the left of centre. He is carrying out significant policies such as increasing social spending on the strength of high oil prices. Those policies are long overdue but they may make the IMF and its friends in Washington a little nervous. Will my noble friend comment briefly on our relationship with the present government in Venezuela? In many ways, we share a common outlook although I am not sure whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consider the economic policies of President Chavez to be sufficiently prudent!

I turn briefly to the Windward Islands, on one of which--Dominica--I enjoyed a wonderful holiday in early January. The first inhabitants of that island, the Caribs, fiercely resisted and repelled many early would-be colonists. Their handsome descendants, some of whom have distinctly oriental features, still live in the north-east part of the island. I am afraid that my noble friend will not be able to give us the good news that the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific producers have won the banana war. At least there is agreement about a transition period. Will that be long enough to allow for the necessary diversification of the islands' economy to develop? What assistance, I ask my noble friend, is the United Kingdom giving to assist that process of diversification? I have to admit that I am puzzled by the detail of the "first come, first served" tariff quota system that has been agreed. However, I am sure that she will be able to describe the current position when she replies.

I turn to Cuba, the largest Caribbean island and, with its 11 million people, a major player in the Caribbean both in terms of trade and culture. That has been achieved despite the United States' embargo, which many felt would lead to the collapse of Fidel Castro's socialist experiment. Instead, it had the opposite effect, because strong leadership is better tolerated by a population when there are external threats. After reaching a very low ebb during the early 1990s, caused by the collapse of Soviet economic support, the economy is now in recovery. That is in

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large measure due to the successful and rapid state-sponsored growth of tourism. That recovery phase provides a big opportunity for trade, and investment in joint enterprises. British entrepreneurs have been part of that effort, considerably assisted by the Cuba Initiative launched by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the interest of the Department of Trade and Industry, especially that of Brian Wilson, a former Minister at that department.

Other EU countries were off the mark more quickly than we were with regard to Cuba, and they were more flexible in arranging credit facilities. However, a memorandum of understanding with the Export Credits Guarantee Department for limited credit for Cuba was reached in 1999. I gather that the agreement has not yet become operational. Can my noble friend report any progress in that regard and on the rescheduling of the Cuban debt to the Paris Club?

As well as increased trade, there is a welcome increase in cultural exchanges with Cuba, including the opening of a British Council office in Havana. Can my noble friend say whether that has resulted in more scholarships for Cubans to come to study in Britain, and are the figures likely to increase? With regard to the reverse situation, how many British students are going to Cuba to study as undergraduates or postgraduates? Are there any plans for regular exchanges or linkages between academic institutions?

As a doctor, I was very pleased that a seminar for 100 or more British GPs and their Cuban opposite numbers, which met in Havana last year and which was arranged by Professor Patrick Pietroni, went so well. In fact, it is being repeated this year. Although we had things to teach at the seminar, we also had things to learn. The Cuban health service is unique; it has a much lower doctor-patient ratio than anywhere else in the world. Every GP has a strong public health role, and preventive medicine and health promotion have equal priority with curative medicine. A strong primary healthcare system in Cuba is one of the main reasons why it has one of the best health profiles in the western hemisphere, despite economic adversity and sanctions.

Like Scotland, Cuba produces a surplus of doctors and it offers to supply medical personnel to other countries that have suffered disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes or floods, particularly if we--that is, the United Nations or the European Union--can provide the money to get them there. Cuba cannot afford to do so. In fact, Cuban doctors have been working in several other developing countries, especially Africa, for some years. Cuba also has a programme offering medical training to poor students from other Caribbean and Latin American countries--a rather effective way, I suspect, of gaining respect and influence.

Fidel Castro, the longest-surviving head of state in the world, is an incurable optimist. At the millennium

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summit of the United Nations in September last year, he said at the end of what must have been his shortest ever speech--it lasted around three minutes--

    "The dream of having truly fair and sensible rules to guide human destiny seems impossible to many. However, we are convinced that the struggle for the impossible should be the motto of this institution that brings us together today".

I am sure we can all agree with those sentiments, even if we do not agree with his form of government.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, it always amazes me, when one walks around the Palace of Westminster quietly in the evening, having had a drink or two, and looks around that one finds that history is there--Latin America or wherever it might be; the great men. When we wander around Westminster Abbey we feel the same. When we look at our colleagues today we ask, "Are they great men, or will they be great men when they die? Where is the spirit of adventure?"

I wish to begin with the Royal Gallery and the tableau of the Battle of Trafalgar. One reminds oneself that that was a battle fought on the way back from the Caribbean, or on the way to somewhere else. Why was it that people went out to those parts of the world? Why did the French and the British fight in the Mediterranean in the summer, like some of the yacht races today, and fight in the Caribbean in the winter? They got there just as quickly as the two great yachtsmen--the Frenchman and the young English girl who went round the world.

They went there because they needed commodities--agricultural, minerals and a few other things besides. But they also went there--dare I say?--for buckaneering, piracy or exploitation. We remember that the British Fleet would spend some time in Bonifacio; it would then move on to Mahon, then to Gibraltar and then to English Harbour. Then it would seize what it could from Spanish and French ships and return with plunder for Her Majesty the Queen.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, may be mistaken. I believe I am right in saying that the longest-serving head of state is Her Majesty the Queen. I may be wrong, in which case I am sure he will acknowledge my error.

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