Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am sure we are all extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his very comprehensive overview. Like him, I greatly look forward this afternoon to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, both of whom will be able to speak with considerable authority on their subjects and more widely.

It is good that we are opening this foreign policy debate by emphasising defence issues, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has just done. After all, we are told
24 Nov 2004 : Column 30
that national security is supposed to be the keynote of the gracious Speech that we are debating. It is absolutely right that national security is, indeed, the key issue at the heart of our foreign policy today—that is, the protection of our physical security, our national trade and commerce and, not least, our national energy security. Incidentally, Ministers always seem blissfully unaware of the looming energy crisis facing this country and the measures needed to deal with it, but I realise that that is for another debate and not for today.

In today's dangerous world, the front line is everywhere, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, rightly said. National security must be defended internationally; independence relies more than ever on interdependence; and homeland security and global security are now ominously and bewilderingly interwoven. Any kind of terrorist attack anywhere on the entire planet, especially if it involves terrorists getting their hands on new weapons of mass destruction and other horrors, sends shivers and shocks through the entire global network of which we are an inescapable part.

So if it is claimed, as it has been, that national security is the keynote to the gracious Speech this year, I have to say that it seems an extraordinary time to be cutting our Armed Forces, closing down four infantry regiments, and taking both frigates and destroyers out of the ships of the line, not to mention an Army recruitment freeze and cuts in the RAF. I heard the Minister's explanation, but the timing seems to me most unfortunate. One would have thought that, in the same world, now was the time to build up our forces—modernise them, of course, to meet the demands of new technology and fourth generation warfare, but not slice them down.

My noble friend Lord Astor will, with his usual skill, go into those matters in much more detail later in the debate, but I want to add one more point on the subject of defence. Perhaps I may gratuitously give a piece of advice to Ministry of Defence officials and, indeed, Ministers. I fully share the tributes that the Minister paid to our Armed Forces and to the superb work that they are doing in very difficult circumstances, particularly in Iraq but also Afghanistan and many other places. But if they want to keep Army morale really high, then for heaven's sake can MoD officials go easy with initiating investigations into soldiers shooting people at checkpoints? I read that another one was launched just yesterday. The officials who want these inquiries should imagine themselves in the situation where every suicide car bomber coming towards them can mean their oblivion and where there are zero opportunities for a decision between shooting them and the end of their own lives. This all needs super-sensitive handling, and many of us wonder whether that handling is as sensitive and as understanding as it should be.

Surely we now require bold steps to solidify and reinforce the international security and intelligence communities and to build a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach—I believe that the buzz word is "holistic". Non-military and military, economic and informational strategies and our overseas programmes
24 Nov 2004 : Column 31
all need to be brought together to turn both hearts and minds, to defeat the world jihad which has been openly declared against us, not least by Saddam Hussein before he went down, and to outwit Al'Qaeda and its multiple Islamic offspring groups at both the military and the ideological levels. One alone is not enough.

Instead, in the gracious Speech we have—I hope that this will not sound too frivolous—a law against graffiti, which is fair enough; a law promised for fatter personal pensions for the judges—well, so be it; an attack on Eton College; and a Bill to modernise regulations in kennels and riding schools. I am sure that that will stop Al'Qaeda in its tracks.

The Government seem to think that the brunt of the anti-terrorist task will be solved by yet more legislation and by chucking a brick at our civil liberties. I realise what they are trying to do but this is an unbalanced approach—we have to say that—and I think that a more rounded approach is needed if national security is really at the centre of our considerations.

I turn to the subject of Iraq. There can, of course, be no exit there but success, which means the eventual cohesion of that benighted country under a pluralist and respected government and a return generally to normality. Let us not underestimate how much normality there is in Iraq, although we never see it reported. I think that those who say that we should now throw in the towel and who casually talk of the need for an instant withdrawal underestimate disastrously just what a huge catastrophe for many major nations a scene of break-up, civil war and Islamic extremism taking over in Iraq would be.

Every country with major Muslim populations, or those next door to them, is watching with trepidation for any weakening by the coalition or the multilateral force allies. They include India—we often overlook the Indian interest; Russia, of course, which may have other agendas, as we are trying to understand in Ukraine at present; Turkey, obviously; and even China and others. They all have a direct interest in a firm and settled outcome in Iraq and in successful elections on 30 January, as do the surrounding Arab states, which are now at the important meeting at Sharm el Sheikh. These people are our potential allies, along with Japan, Australia and others, and they are the ones with whom the new Bush administration and this Government should be seeking to work ever more closely.

Incidentally, I understand that the Foreign Secretary has gone to Sharm el Sheikh. That is perfectly understandable, but he has, of course, left the foreign policy debate today in the other place bereft of his thinking. We in the Lords will have to fill the gap with the estimable assistance of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. We are always glad to hear her views on the latest thinking on foreign policy from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Meanwhile, we can be sure that Iran and North Korea, which were described as charter members of the so-called axis of evil—a phrase that sounds rather out of date now—are watching for the slightest
24 Nov 2004 : Column 32
weakening. We can be sure that those in Tehran are now weighing up whether to stick with their latest promise to the EU3—I hope they do—to "voluntarily suspend" uranium hexafluoride production, or simply to take all the sweeteners that have been offered and, after a suitable pause, to carry on as before. I am sure that the North Koreans are trying to play the same kind of calculus and game.

Whether American policy, under the re-elected president, is up to those challengers we shall have to wait to see. I hope that President Bush's colleagues have learnt one thing which T E Lawrence taught us in Britain an age ago—that one cannot impose democracy on proud Arab peoples. All reform must come arm-in-arm and in partnership. While democracy can take root anywhere, it cannot be imposed anywhere. Our US allies may also come to learn what we learnt a long time ago, that successful projection of power is mainly about the training and subsequent use of indigenous troops in such areas.

Fallujah has fallen and many killers are surrounded or dead, thanks not least to the operations of our own Black Watch and other forces, and to the obvious relief of ordinary Iraqis. Will the insurgency, which appears to be a far more organised form of resistance by ex-Ba'athists than was previously understood, simply move to other cities? I believe that we all want an answer to the question of whether we, the British, have a close dialogue, or trialogue, with the Americans and the Iraqi Government on the strategy of trying to get rid of the no-go areas before the election. Such a strategy is understandable, but is it right?

We shall also have to see whether Mr Bush really means business on Israel and Palestine now that Arafat has gone, an issue that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, raised. I cannot help asking: was it not a little excitable and impetuous of the Prime Minister to rush to Washington and publicly demand new plans, conferences and initiatives on the Israel/Palestine issue before those matters have been properly worked out between the US and the European powers, perhaps in private? We have the road map and the Taba offer, which, alas, the late Mr Arafat turned down. But much more work is quietly needed before we should go public with loud demands for new initiatives. Such matters need to be dealt with much more carefully and I am not impressed by what has been done so far.

Rhetoric is easy, is it not? Calls for solutions in the Middle East and calls for a new deal for Africa are one thing, but consistent and solid progress is quite different. Of course, we all agree with the Prime Minister on the need for African advance, but how is Zimbabwe advancing, except into a mire of dictatorship and xenophobia, as instanced by the latest frenzied assault on all foreign assistance agencies in Zimbabwe, as Mr Mugabe kills off the last freedoms of that once great country?

Has the killing really stopped in Darfur? Her Majesty's Government have been talking tough. Well done for that, but what about the action? Is it genocide or not, and if it is genocide, are we saying so clearly and openly and getting other countries to move with us with enough vigour? I do not know, but I hope so.
24 Nov 2004 : Column 33

One thing is absolutely certain and obvious: transatlantic cohesion and effectiveness in addressing all those explosive and tragic issues are essential and they will not be helped by trying to build up an anti-American, European Union rival bloc. I am sure that most noble Lords agree with that, wherever they stand on EU matters.

The trouble is that that is exactly what too many leading EU politicians seem to want—a superpower status, and now, it seems, a seat at the United Nations. That is repeated every day. Although the noble Baroness has rebuked me several times for even mentioning the matter, it keeps recurring. Incidentally, the UN's reform and cleaning up is very urgent. I hope we hear more in the debate this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, who has some ideas on this matter, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is very experienced. I, for one, do not accept that the UN in its present form should be the sole source and arbiter of international legitimacy. As the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, has suggested, I believe that we need better instruments or off-growth from the United Nations for limiting sovereign power to make for a better world.

Those EU ambitions, including the drift into an EU defence separatism into which this country is gradually being pulled, are highly undesirable and destabilising developments—and yet, regrettably, the proposed new EU constitution appears to reinforce them, not moderate them. I say "appears" because the problem with the whole debate is that we are fed completely contradictory views and interpretations about the constitution document. Some say that it will do nothing very much to change things. That has been a consistent line from the government Benches. Others say that it is a huge and necessary step forward to European superpower status. It grieves me to hear those contradictory views from people I respect. They insist on making both those points at once.

The process of European integration, or European centralisation in all its arthritic and constricting forms, has been going ahead anyway, and will continue, unless—this is the key point—we take resolute political steps to redirect the European Union in a more flexible and up-to-date direction.

The constitution notably fails to do that. It returns not a single power to nation states. It blurs, rather than specifically defines, the borders of power between the EU institutions and national governments, and it certainly transfers extensive new powers away from nation states and into the hands of the EU institutions, including, of course, the Council of Ministers. It does that by abandoning the veto in 15 areas; by introducing 24 new articles under QMV; by reducing our powers to block unwelcome legislation by an estimated 30 per cent; and by talking of the ill defined and highly disputatious concept of shared powers.

I do not see how that analysis can be denied. It is there in the text. The constitution was meant to check the process and it was meant to bring Europe back to the people. Instead, it confirms and reinforces those trends by giving full legal status to the whole process, including
24 Nov 2004 : Column 34
the charter of fundamental rights, and lifting it for the very first time on to a higher legal basis to which the European Court of Justice will understandably adhere.

In short, by allowing certain dangerous trends to continue unchanged, yet giving them a new legal status, the constitution does both of those contradictory things at once: it alters very little that needs altering and yet changes everything. I say, "Let the constitution be sent to every household in the country so that people can really see what a dubious prospectus they are being asked to endorse".

For us, the referendum on the constitution cannot come too soon, so that a mature nation can speak. Everyone knows exactly why the Government hold the completely opposite view to that. So we say—apparently with the support of half the Cabinet, but only half—"Name the day and name it quick". It is not named in the gracious Speech.

I am glad that the constitution Bill will define the exact referendum question. The Electoral Commission, in a letter to my noble friend Lord Blackwell, proposed as the question:

I hope the Government will stick to that because I think that it is about right.

The proposed constitution is not a binding force for Europe. It divides; it does not unite. The Prime Minister's former adviser, Mr Derek Scott, remarked that it is "a missed opportunity". He called it,

I think that that was well said by Mr Scott.

I think that good mainstream Europeans, of whom I count myself one, should oppose the constitution in the form in which it has emerged. Of course a greater Europe needs rules—it will need even more rules when we are joined by Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey beyond that—but it does not need 300 pages of legal verbosity which will leave all the present destructive trends unchecked, centralise powers further and bring Europe not an inch—I should say centimetre—closer to the people. The case for Europe is not the case for this constitution.

We need to have the confidence in this country to develop our own European policy and, once the misconceived constitution is rejected, to come forward with it boldly and not apologetically. I totally disagree with Peter Mandelson and others who suggest that this would lead to a major crisis. I think that it will be an opportunity and not a crisis.

It is by our approach to Europe's future that we define ourselves—in what kind of country and under what form of government do we want to live, and how can we achieve a domestic democratic renaissance here in Britain? We should have that kind of leadership, instead of the sort that gives us anti-hunting bans and a PM imprisoned by his own party. As someone said the other day, there has been nothing like it since they locked up Henry VI while telling him that he could go on being King.
24 Nov 2004 : Column 35

The PM talks about bridges, high wires and pivots. But there is no need for those precarious contraptions. We should maintain the strongest Atlantic alliance, both in foreign policy and defence arrangements. We should be constructive builders of a democratic Europe in our region—that is quite proper and sensible—based on nation states. And we should work hard to be partners with moderate Islam in ridding itself of twisted, godless and evil extremists. I was happy to participate on Monday evening in the launch of this year's Islam Awareness Week. Above all, we need to take true account of the rising power of Asia and our Commonwealth friends, particularly India.

That is the perfectly straightforward programme and strategy that our country needs, and requires the courage to need, but which neither the gracious Speech nor the Government's foreign policy generally seem to offer. But we live in hope.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page