Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. If there were to be a referendum, will he say that there should be 25 member states, but with no changes to any of the rules and regulations?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I will be saying what the Foreign Secretary was saying the other day. If a referendum took place and produced a negative result—although it might not—we would be back at the default position of the Nice treaty, parts of which we thought were very good and parts of which we thought were over-loaded. The basic mechanics are in the Nice treaty, and could perfectly well cope with the situation described by the noble Lord.

Finally, I shall just glance at the new international priorities document, which the Minister mentioned and which came from the Foreign Office yesterday. These great essays from Foreign Office thinkers are always a little puzzling, because individually our diplomats are the most marvellous people. They are skilled, efficient, charming, helpful, courageous and—sadly—must be very brave indeed, as they risk and lose their lives. However, whenever the Foreign and Commonwealth Office emits a collectivist view of the world, it always seems to me to have a touch of the Forrest Gumps about it.

At least we have got away from the jejune idea that one must only drag out the label "ethical" to achieve a foreign policy. What does that paper do instead, however? It offers up a number of hugely obvious insights about the modern world—namely, that foreign affairs are not really foreign. That is quite right, but it was in a book that I wrote five years ago, so it is not exactly new. It says that we face a new non-state and unpredictable pattern of enemies via terrorism. We have

3 Dec 2003 : Column 328

all known that for years, since long before 9/11. It says, too, that energy supplies are under threat. They have always been under threat, and were under threat when I had responsibilities in those matters 25 years ago.

However, the White Paper seems to miss the really big emerging features of the future—perhaps they are so big it cannot see them—first, that the UK is not somehow in constant danger of being marginalised in Europe and therefore obliged to submerge itself, or its destiny—I hate that word—into some supposedly emerging EU superpower. Even Robert Cooper, the Prime Minister's Foreign Office guru on foreign affairs, calls that,

    "a dream left over from a previous age".

A new kind of Europe is developing of which the White Paper does not seem to be aware. We should be the champions of that new kind of Europe.

Secondly, US hegemony is not all that it is cracked up to be. Big is vulnerable, not necessarily beautiful. Thirteen carrier fleets cannot solve global terrorism or dominate world trade. Thirdly, because these FCO authors keep coming back to a view of the world comprising the two blocks of the EU and the US, they seem to spend a lot of time agonising about how to avoid being trapped in a choice between them. Not only is that choice utterly irrelevant, it does not even exist in the modern network world. We are all now absorbed in the same network anyway. Finally, the paper misses the gigantic point that our best and most supportive friends and links may lie increasingly outside the European arena altogether, for example, with Japan and the Commonwealth.

I believe that more emphasis on the Commonwealth network would enable us to handle the Zimbabwe tragedy much more effectively. In response to the challenge of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, I reminded her of the detailed proposals that we have put forward again and again for helping that process forward. She very kindly wrote to me and responded in detail on some of those points.

Nations, especially old ones like ours, are unimaginably complex things. Neither their internal constitutions nor their external allegiances can be shoved about and altered without the most intimate, lengthy and consensual discussion and debate. I believe that our history and our culture grasp us by a thousand invisible fingers. Those ties cannot be wrenched apart or just shaken off by great modernising leaps forward or by the steamroller of majority tyranny, or even by the charade of a so-called "big conversation" with the people, which I hope will be shortly laughed out of court.

This is now a fluid and frightening world in which we should be building on, not tearing down recklessly, our institutions at home and in which our diplomats, like our Armed Forces, have to keep up a constant and vigilant redefining of our fundamental interests and how we best contribute globally to their defence and promotion. Some issues we handle best with our European neighbours, some with great America, and some with our friends in Asia, the Commonwealth and Latin America—which does not even get a mention in the Foreign Office paper. Only when that clearer perception,

3 Dec 2003 : Column 329

based on our capacities as an agile and confident nation, is firmly at the epicentre of Government foreign policy thinking can we really be comforted that the British people's most crucial interests really are being as best protected as they can possibly be in modern conditions. Only then can we rest, if only momentarily, on our swords.

4.3 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, with 44 speakers tonight and a great cornucopia of issues to cover, I shall limit myself to speaking on a few areas. I shall deal essentially with defence. My noble friend Lady Northover will deal with international development and my noble friend Lord Wallace will deal with foreign affairs. However, I start by welcoming the two maiden speakers, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce. I must share a comment that I overheard in the corridor which could be said only in this House. One Peer turned to another and said, "You know you are getting old when the Bishops start looking younger". I also welcome the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, whose comments we shall be able to hear rather than see a report of them in the media.

The three areas that I wish to consider are: Iraq; the spending levels in the Ministry of Defence; and manning levels. However, I should say a few words on terrorism. I, too, offer my condolences to all those in this House and outside who have been affected by the recent atrocities, including the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill. We hope that her son recovers speedily.

We on these Benches have great admiration for the work carried out by the Metropolitan Police, by all members of the anti-terrorism squad and by all those involved in security during the President's visit. It was a sign of their skill and ingenuity that that visit, which could have caused such problems, passed off without incident.

The issue of Iraq is one to which we have returned on many occasions. I believe that many noble Lords will speak on it tonight. Recently a poll in the newspapers showed that support for the war in Iraq had grown. I believe that resulted from a misunderstanding of terminology. We on these Benches support staying in Iraq until the situation has calmed and we are able to leave a democratically elected government and a stable situation there. However, that does not change the fact that we were against the war in the first place. Although the Minister in his opening speech said that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a benefit, that could not have been an objective of the war. The war was not fought to remove Saddam Hussein, however beneficial that may have been; the war was fought because of the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. That issue affects the aftermath of the conflict.

In the run-up to the war government departments were not looking at an exit strategy or how to deal with the situation in Iraq after the war. The MoD was looking, quite rightly, at how to fight the war to the best of its ability; the Department for International Development was looking at how to deal with the likelihood of the advent of large numbers of refugees;

3 Dec 2003 : Column 330

and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was particularly interested in gaining support for the war. Ministers spent a great deal of time abroad trying to gain that support.

That is a real issue because the concept of how the aftermath of the war was to be dealt with was based on some false assumptions, especially on the part of the Americans. The first assumption was that the war would be quick and easy. Thankfully, that was the case. However, the assumption that the "liberating forces", as they were termed, would be met with garlands and flowers did not turn out to be the case. Peace did not return quickly. We witnessed looting and anarchy on our television screens. It is notable that, so much further down the line, security is still the major topic of conversation. Further, it was assumed that oil revenues would pay for the war but, of course, that source of revenue is still not flowing.

If the aim had been to remove Saddam Hussein, which would have been illegal under United Nations resolutions, the priority would have been reconstruction. That would have given us a clear exit strategy. Although we support the retention of our troops in Iraq and the work that they are doing there, we have not changed our opinion that the war was fought for some of the wrong reasons. It is interesting that yesterday in Istanbul the Foreign Secretary mentioned that lessons had to be learnt regarding some of the problems that we face. Perhaps that could be the subject of an inquiry. I apologise if I have made a mistake. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, gives the impression that I have made a mistake. At the moment we are playing a game of catch-up, which is very dangerous as we have only a finite period in which to return Iraq to a stable system of government. Like many who watch events unfolding on television, I notice that every time we talk about attacks there is no mention of Iraqi civilian deaths. I was particularly upset to hear that no figures for Iraqi deaths are kept. That cannot be a system in which stable normality is returning because, as night follows day, the rise in the body count of Iraqi civilians will lead to anger, and that anger will be directed at those in Iraq.

I shall return to the weapons of mass destruction, which of course were the stated reason for the war. In Questions earlier today in another place, the Prime Minister stated that he still believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I have a question—I hope that the Minister can give some indication if not a definite date—about when the Iraq Survey Group will publish its results. Will those results be open to public scrutiny? I hope that none of its information will be deemed secret, because we have to know the reason why we went to war.

The weapons of mass destruction are not a side issue. The Americans are spending 1 billion dollars with the aim of finding the weapons. Some of their best intelligence resources are directed at that aim, not at the fight against insurgence. Much has been made of the fact that there might not have been weapons of mass destruction, but that the intentions were there. That is irrelevant. Anyone who had studied Saddam Hussein must have known that he had every intention

3 Dec 2003 : Column 331

of rebuilding his arms at the first opportunity. The very fact that weapons cannot be found has to be due to the UN and its incredibly successful operation.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page