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Lord Truscott: My Lords, I, too, commend my noble friend Lord Drayson on an excellent opening speech and also welcome my noble friend Lord Triesman to his new role in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

I also welcome the Government's stated intention in the gracious Speech to strengthen commitment to the continued effectiveness of NATO and to establish a single system of service law for the Armed Forces.

In July, Her Majesty's Government will take over the presidency of the European Union and have pledged to,

I believe that the UK and the EU have an abiding geo-political strategic interest in current developments in the Russian Federation and the republics of the former Soviet Union. We cannot have an increasingly prosperous and secure Europe whilst ignoring the problems on our extended eastern border.

The EU now stretches from the Baltic to the Black Sea, encompassing much of the USSR's old "near abroad" and Russia itself. For better or worse, the challenges of the countries of the former Soviet Union, including central Asia, are now our challenges. In a globalised and shrinking world, there is nowhere for the EU to hide. This is not simply because your Lordships should be concerned about the spread or retreat of democracy for its own sake, but also due to a range of issues where Europe and Eurasia's interests coincide. These include environmental matters, energy supplies, nuclear non-proliferation, the war against terror, the development of open market economies, dismantling protectionism and eradicating poverty and disease. Allied with these are combating organised crime, corruption, money-laundering and drug and people trafficking.
 
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The recent fifteenth EU-Russia summit took place in Moscow on 10 May, a day after the commemoration of the USSR's victory over the Nazis 60 years ago. Building on the 2003 St Petersburg summit, the EU and Russia set out a "road map" to realise the four common spaces: a common economic space, a common space of freedom, security and justice, a space of co-operation in the field of external security and a space of research and education, which include cultural aspects.

But in reality, progress on all of those areas has been slow. The Moscow summit set out ambitions for co-operation, rather than establishing a concrete agreement. Plans were made to step-up co-ordination in international diplomacy and to make visa rules simpler for travel between the EU and Russia. President Putin's support for the EU's stance towards negotiating with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, and Russia's role in backing a Syrian withdrawal from the Lebanon, are to be welcomed.

Elsewhere, results have been disappointing. Some commentators point to EU-Russian relations being at a post-Soviet low, and the reason is not surprising. Internally, Russia is backsliding on the limited democratic gains made since the collapse of the USSR, recently referred to by President Putin as "the greatest geo-political catastrophe" of the 20th century.

With all national television channels in government hands, and a largely supine opposition and media, the Kremlin's centralising and authoritarian tendencies continue to grow. From Moscow's viewpoint, the recently relatively peaceful revolutions in Kyrgyzstan, the Ukraine and Georgia are a geo-political setback in its own backyard and sphere of influence. The expansion of EU and NATO, including the Baltic states, is seen more as a threat than an opportunity.

President Vladimir Putin's moves to appoint governors and scrap independent MPs' mandates is seen as another heavy-handed attempt to assert authority from the centre, to impose the power "vertikal". And of course the bloodshed in Chechnya continues without respite.

The trial of Mikhail Khordorkovsky—it is still ongoing and we await the announcement of the verdict—and the dismemberment of the Yukos oil company, previously the country's most successful and westernised energy company, is another example of political expediency triumphing over economic logic. The result has been a reversal of the previous positive capital inflows and a decline in growth and investment. The Kremlin has torpedoed its own goal of doubling GDP by 2010.

What started as a move to rein in an over-mighty and presumptions oligarch, one of a select group to benefit from the dubious privatisations of the 1990s, has descended into a free-for-all to divide the spoils among Kremlin insiders.

In these circumstances, only the truly hardy will invest in Russia. Moscow's trump card remains its energy resources. Russia is the world's second-largest oil exporter and the largest exporter of natural gas. The EU is Russia's largest trading partner, while the
 
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Russian Federation supplies more than 40 per cent of Germany's natural gas and one third of Europe's oil and gas in total.

There is a danger that western energy companies and governments will overlook Russia's internal problems in order to extract its natural resources. Those who do invest, as BP-TNK has recently discovered after facing a billion-dollar tax demand, need iron nerves and a long-term perspective. Germany, France and Italy should avoid courting Moscow at the expense of a coherent EU-wide strategy towards Russia and the former Soviet Union.

Nowhere is the dilemma of the West's relationship with Russia and the republics of the former Soviet Union as painfully apparent as in Uzbekistan. Reports indicate that more than 700 Uzbeks were killed by their own security forces in the east of the country in recent days.

The war against terror notwithstanding, the EU and the United States should remain united in condemning human rights abuses perpetrated by President Islam Karimov's regime and his government in Tashkent. The US and the EU should also support calls by the UN for an independent investigation into the alleged massacre of citizens in Andijan. Russia takes a different view. Even so, democracy, freedom and the right to life itself are universal rights which should be upheld even where it may prove uncomfortable to do so.

1.23 pm

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, the Government have recently published the 461-page report on the Commission for Africa—full of ideas and proposals, but remarkable for the fact that the word "Zimbabwe" appears only three times and the country is not discussed at all, and yet the formula for good governance which it presents exactly fits what Zimbabwe was until only four or five years ago. I wonder how the Government intend to implement this report, which is likely to form the basis of our policy and actions when we go to the G8 meeting and for a long time after. How do the Government intend to negotiate with the African Union on the many demands which NePAD makes of us? How do they intend to bring the whole issue of Zimbabwe into the open in the UN and to try to ensure that expensive, often incompetent, sometimes corrupt collections of UN organisations do what they were created to do? We need to take a long, hard look at the long-term damage this Government's policies are likely to do to our foreign relations.

Her Majesty's Government recently announced that nine embassies and high commissions are to be closed by 2006 and that 21 consulates are also to be closed. All this to raise £6 million per annum towards an overall target of £86 million to be saved. In addition, 60 to 70 members of the "senior management structure" have agreed to retire early. It is interesting that DfID's budget for Africa alone for 2003–04 was £357 million. That did not include the generous aid it gave to Zimbabwe under the UN umbrella. DfID
 
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alone has 348 UK-based staff in post abroad and in all but one country it has its own DfID in-country offices with their own administration.

In answer to a Written Question in another place about the number of visits to those missions, it was stated that visits,

I wonder whether the FCO has a decent visits budget.

I greatly respect the work of DfID, but it needs to complement, not replace, a diplomatic presence. It is fashionable to say, as the Guardian did on 16 December last year, that:

In negotiating with the African countries over NePAD, Her Majesty's Government will need experienced political assessment on the ground as well as at home. African countries, like any others, have leaders in governments. It is they, not the man in the street, who make the policy and to whom we need to relate, and that is the Ambassador's job. They have been pretty good at it for a long time.

There are other important and serious consequences of this Treasury-driven short-term policy of destroying a major human investment—experienced diplomats. While the Treasury has been forcing through sales of assets—it even wanted to sell the Paris Embassy—and making serious losses, it has apparently forgotten the many lucrative contracts which are secured year after year by excellent commercial departments in embassies. You do not secure these through telephone calls and the media. If the idea is to rely in future on the proposed EU missions, I beg leave to doubt whether even the most high-minded Belgian, or Hungarian, or Portuguese would feel any obligation to advance our economic and commercial interests when a contract is in view.

Turning to the question of our influence in the world, so long represented abroad by the FCO, has it occurred to the Government that all those small countries in the Pacific and in Africa have votes at the UN? The French have not made this mistake, and China is rapidly establishing posts in both the Pacific and Africa. The Government think, I am told, that in Africa, and no doubt elsewhere, they can close small missions and operate from "hub embassies", flying someone in from time to time. When civil war breaks out, it is not possible to conduct the evacuation of British subjects from a war zone without good local contacts—I can vouch for that—and in any case the first thing today's aggressors do is to close the airport.
 
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The same considerations hold for natural disasters like the tsunami. Are we going to expect locally engaged employees, however trusted and committed, to hold supplies of blank British passports and consular seals in an unprotected private residence to look after the British tourist when he has lost his passport and his money? It will not take long for either criminals or terrorists to acquire those passports through theft or threats.

The Government should not allow that priceless asset, knowledge and experience, to be thrown away. Those 70 ambassadors are going just when they should and could be of most value and at the peak of their powers. Many of our most successful Arabists—we have one in this House—and Sinologists first served in the area as young diplomats and made friends. When they returned as heads of mission, they had natural access to the holders of power whom they had known as young men. May I warn the Government that in squandering a long-term investment just when it should be most valuable, they are sending a signal to young men and women who might seek a challenging and rewarding, though always poorly paid, diplomatic career? They will see how little such a career is now valued, and the same is true of those who once wished to enter the public service but now see that it is better to join McKinsey because they are the people to whom the Government listen and the people whom the Government respect.

As they had really effective contacts within the US Administration and, above all, in the UN, two experienced senior diplomats, Nikko Henderson and Anthony Parsons, played a critical role for their country at the time of the Argentine attack on the Falklands. That is what good diplomacy is about, and we cannot afford to lose such people, such relationships and, indeed, such a tradition. Implementing the many recommendations of the report on Africa without that expertise will, I suggest, be very difficult. It is worth remembering, too, that embassies contain defence attachés, and the commission report envisages, as well as the African Union's own army, the deployment of EU battlegroups to Africa under UN/African Union direction.

It is especially unfortunate that we shall, at a stroke, have lost several potential supporters in the UN, including two African countries, by showing them how little we value the relationship when we need all the support we can get both to counter-balance the growing power of China in Africa and elsewhere—the impotence of the UN in Darfur is one result—and to call some of the UN agencies to account on the floor of the General Assembly for their almost complete failure to tell the world what is happening in Zimbabwe.

The UN is represented in force there by at least three major agencies—UNICEF, the UNDP and the UNHCR. All are active and claim good relations with the Government. DfID gives considerable sums to Zimbabwe through these UN organisations. The UNDP, whose remit is democratic governance, is funding such enterprises as a project for strengthening national capacity for disaster management to help the Government to support local communities to be better
 
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prepared for disasters and more effective in responding when they occur—an interesting approach considering that the disasters are being created largely by the Government.

Moreover, the UNDP has just, with the Zimbabwe Government, carried out a survey of 32,000 households to assess and monitor human and income poverty and to produce a national poverty reduction strategy—very interesting. The UNDP is, incidentally, very happy with the Mugabe Government's support for International Women's Day, demonstrated at a symposium by Comrade Joyce Mujuru about a month before the police broke up a peaceful demonstration by women in Harare—not for the first time.

However, the UNDP has unfortunately been unable to prevent legislation for the closing of all humanitarian NGOs receiving help or support from outside Zimbabwe. I hope that the Government will urge the UNDP to carry out a country report, as it has just done in Iraq—an excellent one, incidentally—and publish it widely.

In its 2003 report, the UNHCR made the amazing statement that,

The sections on Mozambique and Botswana recorded only refugees from Somalia, Angola, the DRC and Rwanda-Burundi. However, in a recent letter to me, the UNHCR recorded that there are 8,466 asylum seekers in South Africa but very few were granted refugee status. The UNHCR evidently does not count refugees unless they are officially identified—for example, in UN camps.

UNICEF, however, has recently publicised the terrible plight of children in Zimbabwe and called urgently for action. Now that the report of the African Union's own African Commission on Human and People's Rights of 2002 has been adopted by the AU itself, it is surely time, with the support of the AU, to secure a full public debate in the UN on the various UN reports on the situation in Zimbabwe. That country would not be surviving without extensive humanitarian aid channelled through the UN, and Mugabe is never backward in claiming his rights as a member of that body to travel to all UN events.

So long as even a statement of concern about the situation is blocked in the UN by China and Algeria on the grounds that it does not belong on the agenda of the Security Council, which, they contend, deals only with international peace and security, the existence of the UN and its extensive network of UN bodies is, I submit, a mockery; so, also, is the recent election of Zimbabwe to the UNHCR. I read that Kofi Annan is to visit Zimbabwe. I hope that we are not to see another Munich.

1.34 pm


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