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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, first, perhaps I may respond with my profound thanks for the good wishes that both my noble friend Lord Drayson and I have received from noble Lords. I am sure that both of us will do our very best. Indeed, as I prepared for this debate over the past few days, noble Lords can imagine my dismay when I saw the lead story on every broadsheet this morning. It appears to have torn to pieces much of that preparation, but I guess that that is what comes with the job.
 
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It is true that it is daunting to follow my noble friend Lady Symons because of the depth of her knowledge of the issues, places and people, her analytical powers and her habitual willingness to answer the question asked. Those qualities have endeared her to the House and I can say only that I share in that respect, admiration and affection. I wish her well and hope that I can do the job with some of the élan that she has brought to it.

I should like also to thank my honourable friend Chris Mullin in another place. He has an intimate knowledge of Africa and was incredibly effective in dealing with our national interests on the continent. I wish him well.

I shall enjoy working with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and with the Liberal Democrat Front Bench as a whole. I refer first to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and because there is always a relationship between issues of security and foreign policy, with the spokesman on defence matters.

This has been an exceptional debate. Members of this House have raised a comprehensive set of issues that are facing our nation and, as they always do, they have called on their expertise in defence and international affairs, thereby demonstrating just the qualities that so distinguish this House. Yesterday I was surprised to hear the Shadow Foreign Secretary claim in another place that the Government's foreign policy was ambiguous. He argued that we were failing to take opportunities to advance our national interests beyond Europe's borders. Having heard the debate that has taken place today, one opened with such purpose by my noble friend Lord Drayson, having listened to the interventions made from all sides of the House and having thought hard about what has been said, I cannot accept that the United Kingdom Parliament is other than fully engaged in every major international issue.

In my first week in office I found myself immersed in problems of conflict resolution and of preventing conflict starting in Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone. The issues lie way beyond Europe's borders, but it is heartening to note that the European presidency, with the regional African body, ECOWAS, have recognised that it is in the mutual interest of us all to seek progress in ending conflict, promoting good governance and anti-corruption, and not least stopping the supply and spread of small arms. That is a UK objective, a European objective, and an objective of the democracies in that part of the world.

Part of my thinking has been prompted by the fact that it is the 60th anniversary of the victory against the Nazi and fascist regimes in Europe by an alliance of people whom history will record as incredibly brave, and among whom those in the United Kingdom stood the most steadfast. So it is a good and serious moment at which to take stock.

In my view, the starting point of our policy is that we have to understand that we live in a highly interdependent world. Some remote conflicts are
 
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inextricably linked to us. Conflicts far away are linked to heroin on British streets, while agricultural policies formed in our own economic community are closely tied to the opportunities that are afforded or denied to people in some of the poorest countries. Globalisation impacts on trade, the movement of peoples and, of course, on cultures. Ideas are transmitted at the speed of light. It is not a matter of mileage any more; you can get to China or Tierra del Fuego with one click.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, accurately referred to the issues that will face Europe and the United Nations in the future. They are issues with which we must grapple. As my noble friend Lord Truscott said, we will have to take into account issues in relation to Russia and developments in the former Soviet Union which are bound to have an influence on our world. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, made a similar point when he said that failure in Iraq would be failure in Jerusalem. This is an interlinked world.

To navigate such a complex world, Britain must rely on its values, its world-wide alliances and friendships, and the opportunities afforded by the wealth of our strong economy. These give us our compass. One key element of this is the importance of inter-faith dialogue and good relations between many of the faith communities to ensure that the dialogues and understandings that can be achieved are built on. That is sometimes understated in our work. To this end, the Government have supported—and will continue to support—a number of inter-faith conferences and meetings around the world, such as the Alexandria process and the inter-faith conference in Bali.

I also note that many Members of the House play a leading role in that work, as do many people outside. I am always bowled over with admiration when I consider the work of Sir Sigmund Sternberg and others in this area.

Before turning to the issues among which we must steer a path, I should say to the House that of course it is always people who deliver values; they are not wholly abstract. I join my noble friend Lord Drayson in his tribute to the men and women of Britain's Armed Forces, who work in a difficult and dangerous environment almost all the time in the interests of peace. Those are our values.

I add my tribute to the members of the Diplomatic Service and other government departments, to the NGOs, the doctors and nurses, the engineers and the volunteers who form another kind of army which works tirelessly to help people across the world to escape war and poverty and to enjoy the freedom, justice, health and prosperity that we take for granted. These people, too, speak to our values, and they do so with practical commitment.

I should say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that the NGOs bring a capacity to debate, associate, reflect critically and act on issues. I know of no society—whether in Iraq or anywhere else—where those values are not appreciated when they are available for people to appreciate them.
 
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In his contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, made the point—and if I have understood it correctly I certainly agree with it—that our values are shaped both by our history and our present cultural diversity. They are twins in the shaping of a modern identity.

So what are our priorities? I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I put them briefly because I want to respond to as much of the debate as I can.

First, we are committed to building a safer and fairer world. The Commission for Africa demonstrates this commitment. Our presidency of the G8 this year provides a key opportunity, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said. Africa is a remarkable and creative continent—it is not all downside and bad news by any means—and its peoples want the best for their families, just as we do.

This great latent talent is held back and sometimes obscured by extreme poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, by conflict, corruption and poor governance. But there are also beacons of democracy, good governance and fewer conflicts. There is a greater determination by Africa's leaders to resolve Africa's conflicts and to work in partnership, as signified by the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD, and the emerging role of the African Union. Britain's commitment is both to continental take-off and to incremental improvements in the lives of individuals everywhere.

There is a growing resolve to own problems and to shape the future. Great strides have been taken in many countries; in Ghana and Nigeria, for example, towards economic reform and improved governance. We are all aware of South Africa's stunning progress post apartheid and its rapid development as a key international player.

Last December in Mozambique—a country that only a decade ago was recovering from a vicious civil war—we saw a free and fair election and the smooth handover of power from President Chissano, who had completed his second term, to President Guebuza, whom I look forward to meeting when he visits the United Kingdom in June.

In other parts of the region we have seen progress that was inconceivable only a few years ago. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, in Sudan, we saw in January, at least in part of the country, the ending of 21 years of civil war. British diplomats, especially our Special Representative, played a prominent role in that, and we and others will continue to monitor and to press for rapid and full implementation of the peace process. But it would be foolish to say that there is not still a huge amount to be done in Sudan. The disaster in Darfur blights Africa; it is vital that the Government and the rebels respect the ceasefire and negotiate in good faith for the benefit of the long-suffering people of the area. It is one of the worst scars on the international scene, and we must see real progress.

There is no automatic position whereby aid will continue to go to places where there is no respect for the agreements that are made. I welcome the Security Council imperative, following the decision to refer the
 
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situation to the International Criminal Court. There is no impunity in past crimes; the issue of Charles Taylor is an illustration of our plain wish to ensure that there is no impunity. I will take up the question I have been invited to take up about the death sentence for human rights campaigners, including Dr Adam. I thank those noble Lords who raised the matter today.

We welcome the African Union's efforts in mounting its most ambitious monitoring operations. It continues to support work all over the region, and we support it in doing so. The Government have committed more than £66 million for humanitarian operations in Darfur since September 2003, and will be making available a total of £288 million over three years for humanitarian and development assistance throughout Sudan. We will work closely with our international partners, continuing to play a leading role in the Security Council, and to improve the situation on the ground.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke about how we can ensure success. I do not know how success can be ensured but we can bend our best efforts and give our assistance to ensure that the African Union, now taking far greater possession of these issues, does so effectively.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester quite rightly points to the difficulties of the fragile and ungoverned states, as he put it, their capacity to investigate crimes and to deal with some of the hard issues. As in Sierra Leone, where the Special Court for Sierra Leone is dealing with events that occurred in Liberia, we will look for the best place to do it and the best opportunity. I do not claim that there is a perfect formula; we must just try and find the ways that work and be intensely practical.

The United Nations and other forces are a crucial resource, and we will have to judge who is useful in any particular circumstance. That is why I have emphasised the role of the African Union in so many areas where ownership has to be taken.

While the situation in the Great Lakes region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo remains very fragile, we have seen progress in the past few years. The civil war in the DRC, in which millions died, has ended. With the help of the UN peacekeeping mission there, the country is on the beginnings of the path to democratic elections. Rwanda continues to rebuild and revive after the tragedy of the genocide in 1994. And in Burundi, all the former rebel groups have agreed to cease hostilities in advance of elections. We will continue to support the countries of the Great Lakes politically and financially to help them achieve long-term peace and prosperity.

In the Horn of Africa, we will continue to invest time, money and expertise in the development of a government for Somalia, which has suffered for more than a decade with the crisis that always accompanies being a failed state. I am seeing the new president tomorrow.
 
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We provided crucial observers for last Sunday's general election in Ethiopia. The results are yet to be announced, but the EU observer mission described them as,

We play a crucial role in pressing Ethiopia and Eritrea to walk back from the precipice on which they plainly stand of military conflict and to move forward in accordance with their international obligations.

I recognise that that progress has not been replicated over the whole continent. As many noble friends have said, the Government share the concern that the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and others, including the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned about the situation in Zimbabwe. I have a good deal of sympathy for what the noble Baroness, Lady Park, had to say. Together with our European and other partners we shall continue to pressurise Robert Mugabe's vile regime to restore democracy and respect for human rights and to resume co-operation with the international community. It will be a difficult task, but I assure noble Lords that it will receive the closest attention.

Our support to Africa will include financial aid, but it must also include growing trade and reform that open the markets of the developed world to ensure that there is real progress. If sub-Saharan Africa could regain just one additional per cent of global trade, it would earn $70 billion more in exports each year, five times what the region receives in aid.

This places emphasis on the G8 at Gleneagles and on the UN millennium review summit in New York in September, where the Prime Minister will play a major role. At the G8 summit in July, the Prime Minister will press for agreement on how best to take forward the recommendations of the Commission for Africa to reduce poverty and to promote peace, prosperity and good governance. He will urge the G8 to agree new and ambitious commitments. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked whether the promises were rolling in in advance of the meeting. There have been some substantive discussions, but there is still a good deal left to do. The Prime Minister will also encourage the UN member states to sign up to a full package of reforms linking the challenges of development, security and human rights, as has been advanced with considerable foresight by Secretary-General Annan.

On the theme of a safer and fairer world, we reassert our pledges to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. They are entitled to live free of violence in democratic nations. Iraq has taken steps on the democratic path for the first time, supported by the multinational force. Our mandate, Security Council Resolution 1546, to be reviewed in June, will conclude when the political process is completed by the elections in December. We will be there as long as the Iraqi Government need us to be there, not a moment longer and not a moment less. It is not helpful in such circumstances to try to set arbitrary dates which give—as we have seen in other conflicts—some of the combatants opportunities to
 
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delay the steps that they ought to take in order to wait for the security position to worsen and for them to take advantage of those circumstances.

My noble friend Lady Turner raised a number of important issues. She should take some comfort from the work that has been done, not least by my noble friend Lady Symons, with women in Iraq to build the civil society institutions that are of such importance to them. As my noble friend Lord Lipsey said, we must do all of this balancing knowledge, not just the knowledge gained in the period before the war but also the knowledge that we have now.

I understand the point that there is still huge trauma in Iraq, but I also understand—as I am sure the House does—that the greatest tragedy of all is the continued murder by terrorists in Iraq of Iraqi people who are trying to secure the freedoms and the liberties that we enjoy. So, I cannot accept the proposition that has been made from the Liberal Democrat Benches, and I do not believe that as a country we should do so.

The United Kingdom will continue to support Afghanistan and its people in their efforts to achieve stability, security and prosperity. We have committed at least £500 million over five years to 2006–07 to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Some £100 million of that will go to counter narcotics. We are committed to working to achieve that through a number of routes.

Of course, a range of questions has been raised about other countries and other priorities, such as the questions that my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis raised on climate change. We will be working hard on that, and I assure him that, when we differ from the United States, we intend to have robust discussions with them.

As my noble friend Lord Drayson said, we shall deal with the fight against global terrorist networks—an issue that has also been raised in the context of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by the noble Lord, Lord Lea, and others. We shall need and we shall work for a global treaty on small conventional arms, too. That remains a priority.

A breadth of opportunity to move forward is open to us in respect of the Middle East. Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank is unquestionably a brave start. The new Palestinian president holds a mandate for peace, and the Palestinian people have an opportunity of legislative elections this summer which will also add to that dynamic. I should say to those who have perhaps suggested that Arab nations are not highly engaged that at the London meeting they were indeed highly engaged—and so are we, in very practical ways. I mention one way, because it is so practical: the police cars that are used by the Palestinian Authority are supplied by us, and the training of the officers that sit in them is supplied by the United Kingdom. I am proud that we do that.

The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, said, I thought so precisely, that all those things would raise expectations. They must do so, because it is entirely right that it cannot be the case that Gaza, being the
 
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first step, comes to be the only step. That point was powerfully made. But it is crucial that leaders of both communities act on the issues that undermine confidence. Israel must stop the illegal expansion of settlements, or there will be no viable Palestinian state. And the Palestinians, as they promised in London, must deliver the security to which Israel is entitled. I confirm that I used the word "illegal", as the question was asked whether we did or did not regard it as such.

We shall show, as the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, invited us, every even-handedness. We shall work with the United States and others in the quartet, which, incidentally, meets regularly. Mark Ott of the European Union has been an important force in ensuring that its work moves forward. We shall try to achieve what we can by way of unanimous international support. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories very soon with that objective. We wish to inject momentum and will do so.

As a past general secretary of a union, I know that it is always unwise to comment on the present state of affairs. However, as I am invited to do so, let me say that when I used to chair the meetings between Palestinian and Israeli trade unionists in an attempt to help that part of the peace process, I found it productive, genuine and honest. I believe that the boycott is a regrettable step that, I hope, will be reconsidered urgently.

My noble friend Lord Drayson has made it clear that NATO has a proven track record of ensuring security. It will remain the main focus on which the allies will develop their collective and global crisis management stance. As the EU develops, its security capability will complement NATO rather than compete with it. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Dykes—to whom I apologise if he has not received a letter which I feel sure that I sent, though I shall check it—that the relationship with the United States has to be strengthened a good deal, with some realism about the United States contribution to the whole process. That is occasioned not least by the rate at which it spends money on defence projects.

Finally, I move to Europe. Enlargement last May has spread stability and prosperity among nations so recently in competing military blocs. The further enlargement of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and accession discussions with Turkey under our presidency are in the United Kingdom's interests. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, that progress looks solid and a cause for optimism in respect of Romania and Bulgaria. I think that we should feel quite optimistic about that.

The whole of the enlargement builds commerce and democratic reform and increases the human rights momentum. We will try to ensure that we carry forward the processes of European economic dynamism in the Lisbon process and fundamental reforms of the common agricultural policy. They demand attention. Methods of improving the discussion of decision-making in a far larger community follows the rationale of co-operation wherever possible.

A framework of co-operation, of course, lies in the constitutional treaty, drawing together so many other documents. I believe that that is why the proposals enjoy
 
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such support from all of the Conservative and Christian Democratic groups across the Continent. I encourage the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, to make sure that the French are aware of that support, because that will certainly determine the outcome of the referendum.


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