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Lord Haskel: My Lords, it is my privilege to welcome my neighbour in Richmond, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and to congratulate him on behalf of the whole House on his maiden speech. He is well known to us all because of his commitment and his long career in public life. His initiation in government was in 1983 in Northern Ireland, where he crossed swords with Dr Paisley—probably a baptism of fire. He survived that and went on to occupy many ministerial posts. He became the Governor of Hong Kong in 1992 and gained the respect of us all by the dignified
 
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way in which he handed over sovereignty. He went on to be a European Commissioner and is now Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

In spite of—or perhaps because of—this distinguished career, he is not always narrowly political, and, as he said this morning, he is not tempted by bruiser habits. I think I can safely say that, to most of us, he sets an example of the highest standards in public life.

Noble Lords: Hear, Hear!

Lord Haskel: My Lords, we look forward to hearing the noble Lord on many occasions and benefiting from his wide experience and wisdom.

A couple of weeks ago, some kind person in the Foreign Office sent me an invitation to a meeting in Portcullis House. It was the annual get-together of the science and innovation department of the Foreign Office, the occasion when staff come to London and compare notes and experiences. I am not sure why I was sent the invitation. Perhaps it was because, five years ago, I had worked with the science attaché in Washington when I was there on official business.

I had assumed that the position of science attaché in Washington was unique because science in America is a sufficiently important matter to justify an attaché. Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to the meeting to find that there were 44 posts in 29 countries. They worked as a network. The scientists were young—mind you, everyone seems young to me nowadays—but they were not the kind of scientists who learn more and more about less and less. They were diplomats, too, and had a rounded view about the international importance of science. I was impressed.

When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, tabled his Motion about the FCO—and I congratulate him on that—I thought that I would draw your Lordships' attention to the science and innovation network. It is a resource that is, and will continue to be, central to the promotion of our worldwide interests. It is central because much of what we want to achieve in our foreign policy is related to science. Let us take as an example an agreement on climate change, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Symons. Such an agreement is being negotiated at the moment and is a stated priority of our presidency of the G8 and the EU. Diplomacy, foreign policy and science are closely intertwined in this matter.

Next week, in Hong Kong, we shall be discussing trade liberalisation with poor countries. The trade and development committee of the Doha round has special responsibility to build capacity in these countries, capacity to enable free trade. Central to this building of technical and scientific competence is the creation of a scientific infrastructure so that agriculture can be improved and industry can move into the modern knowledge economy. Scientific capacity is also needed to defeat AIDS and malaria, to improve health generally in these countries, and, incidentally, to slow down international migration of skilled and trained personnel from third world countries. This is science and diplomacy working together.
 
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Guaranteeing our energy supplies requires science and diplomacy to work together. The world needs international science to help clean up the old sources of energy with clean coal technology and carbon sequestration, which are important to both China and the United Kingdom. We are going to need international scientific collaboration if we are to build a new, modern nuclear power station with minimum waste. And if thermonuclear is an important future energy source, then we will need to be part of an international reactor. These are global concerns which reflect the age we live in—a scientific and diplomatic global age.

My noble friend Lady Symons and the noble Lord, Lord Garden, spoke of security. Scientific concerns are becoming ever more apparent where our security is concerned. There has to be international collaboration on various aspects of cyberspace, explosives of all kinds and dangerous toxins. We need diplomatic scientists to understand and control these things. It is right that these resources should come from the Foreign Office. The relationship is too close and the risks are too great for divided loyalties.

Science and diplomacy also go together in regulation. There are worldwide different and conflicting views on regulating many matters: therapeutic cloning; the ozone layer; toxicity of everyday chemicals. Regulation of these matters requires both international diplomacy and scientific understanding to ensure that the international regulatory framework provides a level playing field that encourages innovation but prevents economic and commercial damage from free-riding low minimum standards. Science and diplomacy are a joint thread running through all of this.

Perhaps the most important way in which science and diplomacy can promote the worldwide interests of this country is to use science to promote British business while at the same time promoting British science to attract new investment into the United Kingdom. This country has been a big investor in science. This Government really believe in the old saying, "If you think science is expensive, try ignorance". I have tried to show that we will benefit from this investment not only through innovation and new technology but also through diplomacy. Science is central to our foreign policy objectives.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, spoke about cuts and de-layering. My noble friend Lady Symons spoke about resources under pressure. I therefore hope that my noble friend the Minister can assure me that the science and innovation unit at the Foreign Office will receive care, attention and support from Ministers, because it is an important resource for the promotion of our worldwide interests.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I remind noble Lords that this is a timed debate and the timing is extremely tight. It will be stopped after three hours and we need to leave time for my noble friend to answer all the questions. When the clock moves on to seven, we are actually in the eighth minute. Do forgive me.
 
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12.25 pm

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, when I was in Lesotho last month, I visited a small museum in Morija, a village about an hour's drive south of the capital, Maseru. On display were a variety of fascinating artefacts and literature about the country and the Basotho people. In the early 1800s French Protestant missionaries were active among the local tribespeople. Later that century, the Basotho were in danger of losing control of their land to Boer settlers. After several wars, the land became a British protectorate. A letter on display in the museum, written by the Basotho chief, Chief Moshoeshoe, to the governor of Cape Province in November 1869 caught my eye. Moshoeshoe, who had been unwell, wrote:

Possessing, he said,

he nevertheless hoped that the gift of a leopard skin destined for Her Majesty would reach her.

Seventy years later, over 21,000 Basotho citizens served with the British forces during World War II. Many lost their lives in that conflict. But their commitment to the UK was still as great as in Queen Victoria's reign. They were proud of it. We were grateful for that support. Fast forward another 60 years. What do we find? At the Armistice service in Maseru which I watched on Sunday 13 November, all the custom and ceremonial of such moving occasions—the remembrance of sacrifice, of human tragedy; respect for the dead and wounded—were rigorously observed. It started with a two-minute silence and a trumpeter playing the "Last Post".

I spoke about this event two weeks ago in the debate on the Commonwealth. I also wrote to the Minister immediately on my return to London to question why there had been no formal British representative to lay a wreath. The King and Queen, members of the Government and several other distinguished citizens all laid a wreath at the foot of the impressive war memorial. Further wreaths were laid by foreign diplomats, but none from Britain. The Americans, the Chinese, the Libyans, the South Africans, the French, the Canadians, the Germans, the Irish and the Dutch were all represented by ambassadors, a high commissioner or consuls and laid wreaths. What a discouraging and discourteous message to send to a proud, now independent, nation that has given blood and loyalty to this country. One of a large number of World War II veterans present—there were well over 150, some still wearing their old uniforms—laid the final wreath. Flying prominently from his black beret was a small Union Jack flag.

I recount this story, not just to highlight the apparently insensitive way in which today's Government are treating Lesotho, but to draw attention to an even more important general point.
 
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Sudden, even small, changes of this nature send an adverse message to a much larger fraternity within the developing nations of the Commonwealth. Many such countries, including Lesotho, have much to offer as they grow—and grow they will. Clearly, with embassies or consular representation in Lesotho, the Chinese, the Americans, the Libyans and others, as well as international organisations such as the UN, the EU and the AU, whose representatives also laid wreaths at the memorial, all feel that there are commercial and other opportunities for the countries that they represent.

It surprises me that this Government, presumably entirely for financial reasons, are disengaging and not seeking to promote British interests more strongly in the developing nations of the Commonwealth. As the primus inter pares of the Commonwealth of nations, surely it is right that the Commonwealth interests are strongly espoused by this country. While the loyalties of previous generations are being remembered by those who participated, we should not be retrenching and pouring cold water on the past.

In the time available to me, perhaps I may mention one other aspect of our response to foreign events which falls short of what this country should achieve. I know from the horrific personal experiences of two British friends caught up by the tsunami in Thailand that they were offered far speedier and more relevant help from German diplomats than by staff from our own embassy, and that included the immediate offer of free flights back to Germany.

Our response to the desperate need for helicopters following the recent earthquake in Pakistan was delayed because decisions to deploy were caught up in an interdepartmental wrangle about which of them should shoulder the costs. Our helicopters stayed for only a month, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, mentioned, and they have now been withdrawn. We do not seem to have capacity to cope sufficiently with these sorts of disasters and the ongoing demands of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not fair to blame service and civilian individuals who are trying to cope with the problems on the ground as they arise. It seems more a reflection of a systematic failure to appreciate the equipment and manpower limitations and the need to respond at the pace which such disasters demand.

This is not a new problem; I have seen it happen time and again. The cost of sending RAF helicopters to help Mozambique when that country was flooded in 2001 was disputed between the MoD and DfID, and departure was delayed. The public rightly expect the government of the day to respond to disasters. Money is said to be available, but those on the ground or those trying to get help into the area seem to be frustrated by a lack of rapidly delegated financial responsibility and the authority to get on with it.

Interdepartmental bickering over which should bear the cost, or delays in authorising those on the spot to provide financial and other assistance, must be handled better. This is an endemic problem, and it does this country, and the many individuals who try to
 
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help, little credit. I hope that the Government will deal with it properly and be frank enough to admit to our limitations if they cannot.

12.32 pm


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