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Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, may I ask a rhetorical question? I do not really expect an answer. If we are to be advised not to read the government party's manifesto, where does that leave the Salisbury convention?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, it is exactly where it has always been left—interpreted exactly as anyone wants to interpret it on any particular day of the week.

5.7 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I apologise for missing the opening speeches due to unforeseen circumstances. I will mind the gap and keep my contribution brief. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his appointment, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on his new role.

I visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in January, where I was fortunate to hear first-hand from both peoples at the dawn of a unique political moment in the region's future. Just days earlier, the Palestinian people had had their first real taste of democracy and
 
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elected in Abu Mazen a welcome and pragmatic new leadership. Understandably, people have strong views about the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, but it took a real act of political courage to propose withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Thousands of settlers are protesting outside the Knesset every day, and death threats against Sharon cannot be ignored. The Israeli Labour Party joined the coalition not for political expediency, but to provide the required support for the Gaza disengagement plan—an opportunity that cannot afford to be lost.

It was clear from the very outset that a new hope had emerged with Abu Mazen. Few expected him to be able to defeat terror overnight; the crucial difference, however, was that at last a leader was in place who might genuinely attempt to combat it. Since the start of the year, both sides have advanced on a path of cautious optimism—a return to the negotiating table, increased security co-operation, handshakes between the chief protagonists, goodwill gestures, and the return of first Jordanian and then Egyptian ambassadors to Tel Aviv. Hopes rest, in the foreseeable future, on the plan to withdraw from Gaza. We must focus relentlessly on what we can do to facilitate that plan and make it work.

Hamas's success in the municipal elections in the Gaza Strip promoted speculation that Israel would postpone withdrawal, but Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has since declared that Israel will continue as planned. That is a welcome announcement. But the situation remains very delicate, as we all know. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the British Government are to be commended for taking a leading role on the world stage in terms of support for the disengagement plan as a building block towards peace and a return to the road map—a stance confirmed in yesterday's debate in the other place, where the Minister for Europe, Douglas Alexander, confirmed that the Government had been forthright in their condemnation of the building of illegal settlements by the Israeli Government. He also stressed the importance of the Palestinian Government delivering on their commitments to reform and, especially, security.

The UK has also led the way in maintaining the momentum created by disengagement via the London conference in March, which focused on the reform of Palestinian security, political and economic infrastructure and international engagement. I welcome the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, that the UK Government will continue energetically to be involved.

The British Government rightly take the view that disengagement from Gaza is a way of moving forward. There are huge problems to be dealt with, both in the West Bank and Jerusalem, but broad-based international support remains critical. Yesterday's announcement that the Foreign Secretary will shortly visit the region is a further welcome signal of Britain's intent to remain fully and positively involved—and I wish him and his Foreign Office colleagues every success in their diplomatic endeavours over coming months.
 
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5.10 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we welcome the new Ministers. When I look across at them I first think that Ministers are getting much younger. When I, as a boy, first joined the choir school across the road, the father of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, was still singing treble. When I look across at the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, I anticipate what he will say about the AUT's decision to boycott Israeli universities. As a former member of that union, I remember our good, left-wing general secretary and I would be interested to hear what he has to say about that, now that he is a member of the Government.

We have covered a wide range of subjects. Following the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, I should add in passing that, if he leaves tonight, there are still 10 days of campaigning left in France to work for the "yes" campaign. We have touched on Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East. I would say to those who said that Iraq is now more important than Afghanistan, that finishing the task of rebuilding Afghanistan is vital—not just for our security and the drugs trade, but for the security of Afghanistan's neighbours to the north, as well as to the east and the south.

A number of noble Lords spoke impressively about UN reform, the UN millennium goals and the further report of the UN high-level panel. I would have loved to touch on one or two matters in the Labour Party manifesto, which some of us read and think may even matter. For example, it stated:

That was an interesting statement from a government who continue to promote arms sales. I look forward to stronger proposals on that from the Government.

The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and my noble friend Lady Northover mentioned corruption. I noticed that the Labour Party manifesto gave a commitment to "zero tolerance of corruption". It stated:

Again, I look forward to proposals from the Government to ensure that that is tightened up. Half of the offshore financial centres in the world are under British sovereignty. There is much that Her Majesty's Government could do to tighten up the corruption which leads to money flowing from those to whom we give aid or the transfer of royalties back to institutions which are under British financial regulation.

I want to talk about the underlying link between foreign policy as a whole and our national identity, because that is the problem with our foreign policy. We do not know who we are, what we think our place is in the world, where we think we belong and who our natural partners and neighbours are, as opposed to our natural rivals, indeed, enemies.

Identity politics will be a central issue in British politics for the next five years. Externally, the issues will be whether we see ourselves as European or a part of the Anglosphere and whether we see ourselves as open to a dialogue with Islam or caught up in a war
 
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against Islam. I have spent much of the past five weeks working in constituencies which have substantial populations of British Muslims and I am conscious that that is a debate about ourselves, not just about foreign policy.

We must also be concerned about our openness to Asia and Africa. That also comes home to us on the doorstep and in our cities. We are torn—as we particularly saw in the Conservative election campaign—between the benefits of diversity in renewing our cities and renewing British culture and the fears of a loss of Englishness. Above all, the fear of loss of identity is an English fear.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, talked about the need to make closer links with Asia. Happily, our south Asian population does well in promoting British trade with south Asia, working on both sides. However, although we have substantial Japanese and Chinese communities in British cities and universities, we do far less trade with east Asia than does Germany or even France. That represents an underlying confusion and hesitation about what kind of country we want to be and how we see ourselves in the world. I do not buy the argument about Britain being more international than our continental partners. In many ways, we are more parochial than some of them.

The greatest unresolved issue remains Europe versus America. I strongly agree with Tim Garton Ash and others who say that we are still operating under the shadow of Churchill and his view of the English speaking peoples, which is where we belong, with an ambivalent commitment to continental Europe. That is buried in our past of the Protestant Anglo-Saxons versus the Catholic authoritarian Continent.

As Prime Ministers, Edward Heath and Harold Wilson took us into the European Community but did not manage to root us in Europe. When Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister, there were many on the Continent and some here who thought that it was splendid to have someone who had no prejudices against European co-operation. Indeed, in her last year as Prime Minister, she attempted to tackle the question of who we think we are, setting up a committee, to which Lord Russell and I acted as advisers, to redefine British identity through the history syllabus as taught in what she thought of as British schools, only to discover that the English and Welsh ministries of education did not have power to tell Scottish schools what history to teach.

When John Major became Prime Minister, he said that he wanted to take Britain to the heart of Europe and was then driven backwards to the fringe. When the current new Labour Government came in there was a lot of brave talk about leadership in Europe, being at the centre of Europe and also, of course, of Britain serving as a trans-Atlantic bridge, a pivot or a balance. In turn, this Government have taken a similar drift back from European commitment to following the lead from Washington.

That is not to pretend that the EU itself is in good shape. Today, we have heard different opinions on the constitutional treaty. I, on the whole, agreed more strongly with the sentiments expressed by the noble
 
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Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Williamson, and others. But whatever happens about the constitutional treaty, there is an underlying crisis within the EU of direction and a loss of direction. Part of it is the failure to adjust to the recent enlargement, which has transformed the nature of European integration.

I was pleased to hear the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, always one of the most intelligent critics of European integration, on the extent to which the current enlargement and pressures for future enlargement raise questions that many current governments are not prepared to address. There has been a huge failure of leadership within the European institutions, and in France, Germany and Italy, to talk about how we define the priorities for an EU of 25, which is about to become one of 27, 28 and in time of 30.

But the British Government cannot escape their share of responsibility. The indirection of British policy, the absence of constructive criticism, of attempts to build coherent coalitions, to persuade people and follow through British initiatives, is also a major part of the problem. Part of it has been that, like education policy, European policy has been run from No. 10 rather than from a particular department. It used to be said of President Mitterrand of France that when he was ill France did not have a foreign policy. I have often felt about Britain's European policy that when Mr Blair was in Washington or preoccupied with other things, we did not have a European policy. We certainly have not had a consistent European policy.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is apparently fond of referring to the five French Finance Ministers with whom he has had to deal while in office. We are now on our seventh Europe Minister, and I have no doubt that, again, French people will react to that. I also gather that we are on our sixth Minister for Africa. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, but if stocks were turned over quite as fast as Ministers, in the City they would call it "churning". I think it would be a good idea if we did not change Ministers quite so rapidly.

The Liberal Democrats have welcomed a series of British initiatives on European matters. We welcomed the Lisbon agenda but regretted the extent to which the Chancellor and others hectored their European partners on it. We welcomed the European security and defence policy initiative. We note that the Labour manifesto says:

I wish we would. We have let it drift rather sadly since 1999.

We welcome British diplomacy on Darfur. I understand that British diplomats in the UN and elsewhere, alongside the French, have done a great deal to create a NATO/EU/African Union partnership on Darfur. I wish that the Government would celebrate that European co-operation and explain it to the public as part of the benefits of such co-operation.

We welcome British co-operation with French and German Foreign Ministers over Iran to encourage evolution and not to force regime change. So why the underlying drift and why the indirection? First, it is
 
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partly a matter of style. If we have an authoritarian executive in which the Prime Minister and the Chancellor expect that what they decide will pass through Parliament unamended, as the House of Lords has so often discovered, Ministers who are used to command and demand and not to co-operate and persuade, with no experience of coalition politics or of dealing with equals, then find it easier to accept the subaltern partnership with Washington than to work with others to create a European consensus. I deeply regret that this Prime Minister and this Chancellor, like their predecessors, cross the Atlantic to learn and cross the Channel to lecture.

The second reason is Murdoch and the extent to which the Faustian pact with the right-wing press—this extraordinary preoccupation of new Labour throughout eight years in office—has prevented the Prime Minister talking about the long-term usefulness of our European commitment.

But the Murdoch press has a project—the Anglosphere, separate from Europe and not allowing Britain to balance between the two. We need to recognise how strongly the flow of right-wing American nationalism now runs—through the Administration, through Congress, through think-tanks and through the American media. This is a rejection of the multilateral order, including active efforts to undermine the United Nations. It is a rejection of international regulation and of the welfare state at home, and a revolt against the entire Roosevelt legacy.

The Murdoch press sees the United States as exceptional—as the world's dominant power and determined to maintain military and other supremacy, with NATO as an American-led alliance and not as a transatlantic partnership. It sees Islam as a threat, with a long-term civilisational conflict between the Christian West and the Muslim world. It has a real contempt for Europe. Last weekend at a conference on just war, I met a right-wing American Roman Catholic nationalist—a concept I had not had in mind before—who referred on a programme which noble Lords may have heard last Sunday to the crisis of civilisational self-confidence in Europe, which may lead Europe to become Eurarabia by 2050. That is fairly extreme for someone who told me how well he had known the last Pope.

The Anglosphere is seen by such people as an alternative leadership group of the English-speaking peoples, plus Japan and Israel. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Howell, edge towards this concept of a world order—the Heritage Foundation's view of the world—but I wonder how many Labour Party members, apart of course from the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, are happy to be so closely linked to the world view of the Republican right.

Therefore, I felt it was only appropriate that the Foreign Secretary's contribution to the Queen's Speech debate should be made in Washington. It was a good speech and I recommend it. It was a defence of the Rooseveltian settlement both at home and abroad. He spoke about the importance of freedom from want and from fear as well as freedom to—I am not sure
 
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how many of his American heroes understood the subtleties of what he was saying. Clearly he supported the UN agenda for a stronger multilateral response to global poverty and local conflicts. He urged a partnership between Europe and America—not a relationship between Britain and America. Of course, it was not so robust and explicit a speech as George Galloway's contribution to the Queen's Speech debate in Washington, but at least it hinted on matters in the right direction.

The agenda for the coming months on European matters must preoccupy Her Majesty's Government, whether or not the French and Dutch referenda are won or lost. We take over the presidency on 1 July and we need to define what we think the parameters of a wider Europe need to be. I hope that the Prime Minister will devote sufficient and sustained attention to European issues. I note that heavy responsibilities will fall on our new Minister for Europe. We need leadership abroad and at home and open explanation to the British public as the basis for a coherent British foreign policy, after eight years of intermittent attention and transatlantic drift.

5.26 pm


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