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Lord Alderdice: My Lords, in the nature of things, the gracious Speech is something of a series of brief bullet points, but many of them are to be welcomedin particular, the EU constitution referendum Bill, although the next few weeks will reveal to us whether
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or not it continues to be entirely relevant. I suspect that we on these Benches give a particular welcome to the legislation for the treaty of accession of Bulgaria and Romania, given that both those countries had liberal Prime MinistersSimeon Saxecoburggotski and Calin Tariceanunegotiating the entry process.
Moves to address the situation in Africa, briefly referred to in the gracious Speech, are welcome, although of course the situation is profoundly problematic. I must confess that I do not entirely share the views of the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Southwell that many of the problems there are caused by trade liberalisation. It seems to me that much of the problem consists in the lack of liberalisation on our own part in the European Union and in the United States. If we were prepared not only to insist that others open their markets but to open our markets, that trade liberalisation more widely felt would be a blessing to all. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will use the opportunity of the presidency of the EU and the chairmanship of the G8 to press for greater liberalisation on our own part, rather than merely expecting it of others.
It is also the case that a huge problem in all these countries is corruption and poor governance. When the right reverend Prelate speaks about such countries having the right to make their own decisions in their own best interests, he is of course, in theory, right. The difficulty is that many of the decisions taken by the rulers of those countries are taken not in the best interests of the countries but in the short-term and frequently malign interests of their rulers. That is a very real problem that we must confront.
The conflict in the Middle East also rated a mention as a very high priority of the Government. That is important because it is such a central feature of the difficulties in our world. But it will not be sufficient simply to wish well and give encouragement to the two partisansthe Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority. From all our experience and from all the researchperhaps particularly in Northern Irelandit is absolutely clear that a robust process must be constructed to ensure that, when things go awry, as they always regularly do, there is a process which can hold people together through the ups and downs and which involves the outsiders that are an important part. The United States, of course, the European Union and the frontline Arab states all have to be part of a robust process. I just do not see such a process at this juncture, and I do not think that simply wishing in the post-Arafat period that things will work out will bring the kind of success that we want to see.
Often when we think about reform of the United Nations, we imagine it to be reform of an organisation. In many ways, it is an attempt to reform an institutionalised process. The UN is really the process of multilateralism. When we talk about reforming and improving that, we are certainly talking about something important, but I hope that we are talking about it realistically and that some of the things that we want to see will come to pass. I hope that China will
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not use a veto to keep out Japan and that Pakistan will not try to rally support to keep India away from permanent membership.
Real problems have to be confronted, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government's position on the extension of the Security Council is not merely a rhetorical one but one that we can hope to deliver on. In recent times, I have been concerned about the lack of deep reflection and thought in some of the positions taken. For example, it seems to me that there is an assumption that all those who adopt the tactic of terrorism throughout the world are somehow related and on the same sideand, by the way, on the same side as anyone else who happens to be an enemy of ours. If, for example, I regard Saddam Hussein as my enemy and al-Qaeda as potentially attacking me, that does not mean that I am about to be attacked by Saddam Hussein or that he is aiding al-Qaeda. However, if we treat them as a common enemy, we should not be surprised if at some point along the road they end up making common cause, in which case, all we will have succeeded in doing is making a bad situation worse by not thinking through the matter in a clear way.
Another example is weapons of mass destruction. We talk about them as though they were all the same thing. Chemical, biological and radiological diffusion devices are all very dangerous, but they are not the same thing as nuclear bombs. Chemical, biological and radiological diffusion devices can destroy many people and communities, but nuclear bombs have the capacity to destroy whole civilisations. Apart from something like a one kilotonne fizzle bomb, the likelihood of a terrorist organisation using a major nuclear bomb, as distinct from chemical or biological weapons, is a very different matter.
By confusing state and non-state actors, different technologies and different people coming from different places, we do not help to clarify the problems in our own mind, which is something that we need to do. It is clear that with chemical, biological and radiological devices we need to implement many of the safeguards that are already there. When it comes to nuclear bombs, it is clear that we no longer have the structure to address them. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is no longer an adequate mechanism to deal with that difficulty.
The decision by Iran on uranium enrichment and the announcement by North Korea on plutonium rods are very worrying. I suspect that they look at Iraq and ask themselves the question, "If Iraq had been a fully equipped nuclear power, would it have been attacked in quite the same way?". I fear that the judgment to which they have come is that to protect themselvesIraq did not have the capacity to protect itselfthey must become nuclear powers with weapons that they can use. If that is one of the long-term consequences of the approach taken on Iraq, it would be very serious. We have to find a way of dealing with such matters, but pre-emption is not the way to address them. Getting one's retaliation in first is not a way of preventing conflict; it may very well be a mechanism for stimulating it.
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We are in a new environment in which the old ways do not work. The old approach to deterrence was state against state. One could see a degree of equivalence, but we are now in an asymmetric world. The threat of some of the most serious terrorist attacks does not come from people who are resident, or in some cases have been resident, in some of the countries to which we are pointing. The recent research on 400 and more salafi jihad operatives shows that they are from the diaspora. Most of them have been living in western Europe, so if an attack is launched by some of them on a facility in the United States of America, where will be attacked? People in the United States know that although such people have been living in Europe, they cannot attack Europe, so the notion is developing that although a state has sponsored an attack, it is any state that has not satisfied the United States' position on WMD that is open to attack. We face profoundly serious consequences, largely because there has not been sufficient thinking through of the process, the threats and the approach.
That is also true for some of our defence preparations. I understand and see the necessity for the attraction of shiny, new machinery, expensive and inspiringindeed, awe-inspiringtechnological advances. However, the most important pieces of conflict resolution and peace-building technology come with people. When it is a matter of making a difference, we have to train people; when it is a matter of intelligence, it is clear to me from my experience in Northern Ireland that one needs people much more than just technology. If we cut back on people, whether in embassies, or military personnel or other operatives, we make a serious mistake because people are absolutely key to all this.
When I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, speak earlier about the worrying threat of state against state confrontation, everywhere from north-east Asia to the Middle East, and of intra-state problems everywhere from Nepal to west Africa, I found myself sharing his concern that we are moving into, and are already in, dangerous times. The response to that should not be the emotional one of being frightened by terror or frightening situations, but that your Lordships' House should be used by Her Majesty's Government to reflect on matters before proceeding rather than coming to report on matters that have already been undertaken.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, there has been something rather surrealistic about the recent general election campaign. Despite the fact that it has been about the choice of a government for a country which has the fourth largest economy in the world, which has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and which is a leading player in the European Union, almost nothing of any significance or novelty was said by any of the three main parties about international affairs or about the foreign policy of the country which they aspired to lead. That is not because there is broad national consensus on those mattersfar from it.
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Over the future of the European Union and Britain's role within it there is a sharp and fundamental divide between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats on the one hand, which favour endorsement of the EU's constitutional treaty, and the Conservative Party on the other hand, which would reject that treaty and seek to renegotiate substantial parts of our EU obligations.
On Iraq, where opinions are divided differently, but where they are every bit as sharp, the debate has focused almost exclusively on events that took place over two years ago and in a setting which related more to domestic politics than to the fate of the country in question or to the paralysis of the UN Security Council at the moment of decision.
Yet within a few months, crucial decisions will need to be taken which will affect the future development and effectiveness of two organisations, the EU and the UN, through which much of our foreign policy is now transacted. The European Union faces a daunting obstacle posed by the successive referendums being held to ratify the constitutional treaty and possibly, although by no means certainly, by the need to respond to a negative vote in one or more member states.
The UN, at the summit meeting called for September in New YorkI welcome the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, to that very important meetingwill need to take decisions based on the reform proposals now on the table, or risk being increasingly pushed into the margin of events. Meanwhile, neither organisation can afford to focus exclusively on those systemic issues; each faces a huge and pressing daily agenda. In both, Britain, as EU and G8 presidency, has an important role to play and potential to affect the outcome either negatively or positively.
The EU's constitutional treaty is clearly living dangerously, with opinion polls in three of the countries where referendums are being heldFrance, the Netherlands and the UKpointing to at least the possibility of rejection. Having carefully studied the text of the treaty and the useful, detailed commentary provided on it by the GovernmentI thank the Government very warmly for the documents that so far have been providedI agree with my noble friend Lord Williamson that much more needs to be provided, but I believe that they have made a good start.
I am in no doubt that it is in the European Union's and in Britain's interest that that treaty be ratified and that it should enter into force. While it is not substantively the most ambitious step the European Union has ever takenthe founding treaties, the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty and successive enlargements can all be said to have been of greater significanceit is, however, of great symbolic importance. It lays down a much clearer and more satisfactory basis for the future development of the Union than has ever existed hitherto. It moves forward in areas such as asylum and immigration and the common foreign and security policy, where the need for stronger common policies has been clearly
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demonstrated; it re-shapes the institutional balance to give more strategic direction from the European Council; it provides a role for national parliaments where none previously existed; and it does all that without making any changes to the need for unanimity in key areas such as taxation, the cap on spending, further treaty changes and the admission of new members.
What if there is a negative vote in one or more of the countries holding referendums? To discuss that now is neither to show a hankering for such an outcome, nor to put forward some theoretical plan B which would be a perfectly satisfactory alternative to plan A. No such plan B exists.
The rejection of the treaty would be a major setback, but, if it were to occur, it is important that the reaction to it should not further damage the Union and lead to even greater disunity than the divide over ratification would already have demonstrated. I cannot believe that it would be a realistic proposition to expect a member state which had voted "no", by however small a margin, to reverse that decision in a second vote in the near future.
The circumstances under which that particular course was successfully pursued in earlier cases in the instances of Denmark and Irelandwith relatively modest measures of reassurance on a very limited number of national concerns and with no change to the text of the treaties being ratifiedare unlikely to be applicable on this occasion. Nor do I believe that it would make sense to attempt an early renegotiation of the treaty. The text encapsulates a whole mass of hard-won compromises, the reopening of which would be far more likely to lead to discord than to agreement.
Thirdly, I do not believe it is wise to seek to insist that countries further down the referendum chain continue that process. I notice that those advocating this course are generally from countries which are not holding referendumsasking other people's electorates to dive into empty swimming pools does not seem to me likely to prove very constructive.
So what would be the best way to proceed? First, the European Union will need to demonstrate that it is not going to lapse into a prolonged period of introspection and divided councils. Unity will be at a premium. That is a strong argument, if one were needed, against putting forward ideas of core or pioneer groups. It will also require that the European Union does not just use words about unity but actually reaches decisions on a whole range of subjects, from the completion of the single market and the Lisbon agenda, through the budget limits for the next seven years, to further enlargement and the pressing issues on the foreign policy agendaIran, the Middle East peace process and the revitalisation of the United Nationsand the need to steer the Doha round of trade negotiations to a successful conclusion.
At the same time the European Union will need to go on adapting itself and its institutions, as it has done so often in the past, by means that fall short of the requirement for treaty change and ratification. Why
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should the Commission, for example, not give national parliaments an opportunity to comment on draft legislation and acceptvoluntarily and not under legal obligationto reconsider their proposals if a third or more of national parliaments were to make objections on the grounds of subsidiarity? It mayindeed, I sincerely hope it willbe that none of this will be necessary. But there is surely no harm in beginning to think these matters through.
Then there is the process of UN reform, on which the Secretary-General has now drawn together the threads of the report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and of the review of the millennium development goals established in 2000 for the period up to 2015. He has set out an ambitious but well argued agenda for decision at the September summit in New York. What is needed here is to make progress on a broad front, avoiding talk of artificial trade-offs between security and development but nevertheless recognising that the two are closely interlinked. It will be important too to avoid being distracted by the oil-for-food imbroglio which, in truth, merely underlines the case for UN reform.
If it becomes clear nearer the time that a proposal such as that for the enlargement of the Security Council cannot in the short term make progress, it is critical that that is not used as a pretext for stalling other reforms whose validity and viability are not dependent on enlargement.
If the UN can move forward by agreeing a comprehensive strategy against terrorism along the lines suggested by the Secretary-General in his March speech in Madrid and can reach agreement on a definitive outlawing of all terrorist acts targeting non-combatants; if a peace-building commission can be established to plug the gap in the UN's armoury for dealing with failed and failing states and post-conflict peace-building; if multi-layered improvements in the various regimes preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction can be put in place; if co-operation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organisations can be put on a sounder and better-funded basis; if guidelines for considering the use of force and the responsibility to protect those whose governments are either unwilling or unable to protect them themselves can be settled; if a better flow of resources, and new instruments for mobilising those resources to help development, check pandemic diseases and roll back world poverty can be guaranteed; if progress can be made towards establishing a sounder basis for dealing with human rights abuses; if these policy changes can be made then the revitalisation of the United Nations will be on the right track. It may sound a tall order to look for all that, but that is the measure of the challenges that the UN and its members face.
The two main areas of policy I have addressed have considerable overlaps. When the Prime Minister goes to New York in September he will do so not only on behalf of this country but as the president of the European Union. When he presides over the G8 meeting at Gleneagles in July he will also be representing the European Union and he will be handling a whole range of subjects that will crucially affect the outcome of the
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New York summit; and when he assumes the presidency of the EU in July, the handling of that job will influence the future development of the Union and its constitutional arrangements. So a lot is at stake; and both opportunities and risks are there in profusion.
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