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I note that the phrase does not refer to two partnerships, one between Britain and the United States and the other between Britain and continental Europe, but one partnership between a coherent Europe and the United States. It has been a core principle of my party’s approach to foreign policy since the 1960s that British interests were best served by such a balanced transatlantic partnership, in which Britain worked closely with its European partners and, with them, built a more equal partnership with the United States. We have held to that view as first Labour and then the Conservatives have gone through violently anti-European phases. We have held

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to that view as the present Government have tied themselves so closely to the Bush Administration that they have virtually handed over major decisions on British foreign and defence policy in the Middle East to the United States. If the Queen’s Speech commitment really means what it says, we welcome it wholeheartedly, but we remain to be convinced.

British foreign policy since the Second World War has attempted to strike a balance between close relations with our neighbours—France, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and the other continental states of western Europe—and the transatlantic relationship with the economic and military superpower, the United States. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, remarked, Tony Blair has been fond of referring to Britain as the transatlantic bridge, the link between continental Europe and the United States and thus a country which wields greater influence in world politics because not only does it help to shape European policy, but also on its own has a reputation and voice in Washington. Year after year in the Mansion House speech he has used the same analogy, until this year. Perhaps he has at last understood that Britain cannot on its own claim a special privilege in interpreting, for example, between the German Government and the US Administration, or between the Spanish and the US Administration, or the Dutch, the Italian or the French; they, too, have their special relationships with Washington. But we have most influence in Washington together, when we manage to speak as a group. Britain on its own, loyally following the twists and turns of American policy, has little influence, as the Prime Minister has sadly and bitterly discovered.

Fifty years ago, in pursuing the Suez intervention together with France, without securing American support or informing his own Cabinet or Parliament of the full reasons for the intervention, the British Prime Minister first alienated our American ally, then abandoned his French partners and finally had to resign. Three years ago, our current Prime Minister fell off the transatlantic bridge in the opposite direction. It is now clear that he committed Britain to war in Iraq in closer consultation with the White House than with many members of his own Cabinet.

My party opposed the moves towards war in Iraq then. We were not convinced by the flimsy evidence offered in successive dossiers. We knew how strongly lobbyists and ideologues in Washington were pressing for regime change. We saw how expert advice on Middle-Eastern politics had been pushed aside in the neo-conservative drive to impose democracy on the region. Yet the British Prime Minister committed himself to follow the Bush Administration.

From that commitment has followed a series of setbacks which still shape British foreign and defence policy. The United States, and Britain as its ally, neglected the reconstruction of Afghanistan once the Taliban had been overthrown. Four years later, our troops are struggling with a task that would have been far easier to carry out with local support in 2002-03 had we not followed the Bush Administration instead into Iraq.



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We went into Iraq alongside the Americans, although without any influence on American strategy or tactics. British representatives were then deliberately excluded from influence over the conduct of the post-war occupation. I regret that we are not able yet to read Sir Jeremy Greenstock’s account of how we attempted, but failed, to gain a voice over the Pentagon nominees who imposed their simple assumptions on the complexities of post-conflict Iraq. British troops, again, are now struggling to cope with the consequences of mistakes made by officials of another Government three and a half years ago.

We are now waiting for the Iraq study group in Washington to tell us what American policy—and, therefore, British policy—will be. It was kind of it, at least, to hear evidence from our Prime Minister by video. I hope it will give British views a mention, at least, in its proposals.

To his credit, the Prime Minister attempted to extract from the Bush Administration a commitment to return to the Middle East peace process and, in particular, to revive the quartet in pursuit of a two-state solution. Like many other British friends of Israel, I am convinced that the only secure basis for long-term security for that country is through a negotiated peace settlement for a viable Palestinian state. The ambiguity of Israeli policy towards settlements in the Jordan valley, the incursions which the wall, or the fence, is making into Palestinian land, the continuing destruction by Israeli troops of houses, orange and olive groves can only fuel further resistance from an embittered and impoverished Palestinian population.

My noble friend Lady Williams will be arguing later in the debate that we need a more active European approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than waiting for the United States to move. Sadly, the American domestic debate on Israel and Palestine is twisted as much by fundamentalist Christians as by an unrepresentative but superbly organised Jewish lobby. These fundamentalists support Israeli annexation of the whole of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, implicitly involving the ethnic cleansing of much of the Palestinian population.

We recognise, uncomfortably, that any substantial progress towards peace will call for a large number of peace-keeping forces from dependable states to provide reassurance to both sides as they disengage from conflict.

The US Administration brought strong pressure on European Governments to provide troops for the expanded UN force in southern Lebanon. I regret that British forces were already far too overstretched to provide significant numbers for this force, but welcome the response from other European Governments. This is, after all, our neighbourhood. Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to our future relations with the Arab and Muslim world. The state of denial by the Bush Administration that their policy and rhetoric have fuelled antagonism to the West and offered a cause

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for radical clerics to foment and for alienated but misguided young men to follow is a threat to British and European security.

That is why our party has welcomed and supported the initiatives the Government have taken towards Iran and Syria. Neither regime is easy to deal with; neither is in any way friendly to European, or western, interests. But “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”, as Winston Churchill famously said. It serves no useful purpose for the Bush Administration to label them as evil and to refuse to engage. We have to find a way, if we can, to persuade the Iranian regime that the outside world is not unremittingly hostile. We need Iranian co-operation, after all, in Afghanistan and in Iraq if we are to succeed in stabilising either of those countries.

The Prime Minister said in his Mansion House speech that there was no halfway house in choosing to be an ally of America; either you are an ally or you are not. But as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, strongly remarked, a good ally is at times a critical ally. I regret that Tony Blair did not use the reputation he acquired within the United States to explain in public where British—and European—interests and values differ from those of the United States, at least as defined by the current Republican Administration. That applies not only on policy towards the Middle East but on climate change, where concerted European efforts are needed to persuade Washington and the US public. I agree with the Government’s chief scientist that climate change is in many ways a greater long-term threat to global order than terrorism; I only wish I had heard our Prime Minister say this clearly to American audiences. I welcome the signs that American opinion is moving in the right direction, with California and other states beginning to take action on their own. Here British interests are identical to those of other European states; we need more Europe if we are to have more effective action to limit global warning.

We need more Europe, too, if we are to manage relations with Russia. President Putin’s regime is suffering all the status anxieties of lost empire, compounded by an apparent willingness to use gas supplies as a political weapon. But more than half of Russia’s overseas trade is now with the European Union; the Russians need us as much as we need them, if not more. Here, as in other areas of European co-operation, we have suffered from President Chirac’s idiosyncratic views of international politics in his efforts to undermine European and western solidarity. Thankfully, he is reaching the end of his long period of office, and the British Government should be actively pursuing a more coherent European strategy.

We need more European co-operation, too, in political relations with the rising Asian powers, China and India. When I was in Beijing last week, I was impressed by the degree of interest that Communist Party officials showed in the potential differences between a Blair Government foreign policy and a Brown Government foreign policy. However, in most of the discussions I held there, it was difficult to discover any substantial differences in political and

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security interests among the European Governments represented there, whatever the economic competition between them. The Chinese Government are interested in strong relations with Europe as a whole, rather than with individual European states.

I hope that the Government will now follow through on the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to ground British policy in a partnership between Europe and America rather than to pursue the illusion of a special relationship with the United States Administration somewhere on a bridge between the United States and Europe.

I hope, too, that the Government will start to tell Parliament and the British public about the benefits of European integration and about Britain's contribution to it. I am constantly surprised to be told by officials in other Governments, for example, about the positive contributions that Britain is making towards the development of European security and defence policy when we hear so little about it at Westminster. It is almost as if the Government are ashamed of what they are doing, or perhaps they have agreed with Rupert Murdoch, as the conspiracy theorists suggest, to downplay our European commitment to avoid upsetting this American-owned newspaper conglomerate.

I welcome the words of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on the transformation of NATO and the creation of a more effective relationship between the European Union and NATO. We all agree on the goal of transforming European forces into a format that is capable of deploying at long range and sustaining operations for extended periods, but I have some reservations about those in Washington who want to transform NATO into a kind of global, white man’s alliance, with Australia and Japan as closer associates. I have some reservations, too, about the pace of further NATO enlargement. Russian anxieties stem from the fact that early membership for Ukraine and Georgia, together with American bases in central Asia and the Middle East, look like hostile encirclement. It is not entirely irrational, therefore, for the Russians to feel hostile towards them. I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, what position Her Majesty's Government will take on these issues at the forthcoming Riga summit.

We on these Benches believe in a strong partnership with the United States, but we believe, as the Queen's Speech states, that it should be a partnership of equals between Europe and the United States, not of leadership and followers. We look forward hopefully to the change of course in government policy that, this suggests, may now develop.

4.02 pm

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I hope that the House will not consider it an abuse if I use the few minutes allotted to me today to talk about the significance of religion in international politics. I was encouraged to do so by some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on which I shall comment in a moment.



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I have one London borough in my diocese where 110 languages are spoken; we have an international community in this country; I am part of an international church; and I chair the board of Christian Aid. So these matters are very close to home. I noticed that Kofi Annan made the following remark in a recent address in Istanbul:

I was very grateful to hear in the gracious Speech that the Government remain committed to their African agenda. I was sorry that none of the opening speakers mentioned this issue, and I hope that those who make closing speeches on behalf of their various Benches will come to it. As chair of the board of Christian Aid, I say to the Government: please hold on to this priority. If we are to tackle the issues of poverty, this is a major priority in our international world.

We are hugely grateful for what has been achieved across the political spectrum on increasing the percentage of GDP given over to international development and aid, on debt relief and so forth. However, if we are to roll back poverty in our world, we must come to terms with the importance of religious institutions.

In this country and places such as Africa, we could say that we live in a post-secular world and that religious communities have an absolutely basic role to play in the task of building for the future. If DfID does not use as effectively as it might the faith-based agencies such as Christian Aid, CAFOD and Tearfund in this country, it will miss an opportunity. When I went to South Africa a few years ago, on Ash Wednesday I stood in a church with a thousand other people. In Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria and elsewhere, religion is a very important feature of people’s lives. If we want to deal with HIV/AIDS and from the bottom up to tackle poverty, we must enter into a conversation about how better to use those networks in their specificity. If there is anything I, as chair of the board of Christian Aid, can do to assist those conversations, I shall gladly do it.

My second point is on Iraq. I have recently read Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, because it is very good to know what the opposition thinks. He starts by listing the wars which he thinks are caused by religion. That is far too simplistic a way in which to think about things; we need a much more sophisticated understanding. The issues in Iraq are political and rooted in history—and one of my problems with policy at the moment is that it seems to have forgotten 20th century history in Iraq—and feed religious sentiments. My debate with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, with regard to fundamentalism in America would be that political traditions can shape

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how religious people respond to events. If you go to the United States and talk to black-majority churches, which might be equally fundamentalist, you would get a different set of political responses. So we need to deal with the complexities of this matter and not to dump on religions issues that actually belong in politics. We need to be aware that some of our political leaders historically can use religious traditions, even cynically, for political purposes. So there is an important policy conversation to be opened up among us, and Iraq is a very good centre for it.

Iraq is a 21st-century nation: it is multicultural and multifaith; there are Christians as well as Sunni and Shia Muslims; there are secular-minded people, religious-minded people and people of different cultural traditions. It is vital, therefore, that if policy is to be shaped in the contemporary world it takes account of those complex cultures. My message this afternoon is that if we are in the business of reshaping policy in the Middle East, we should have a more serious and informed conversation about people’s cultures, beliefs and complex traditions.

I am glad that we shall have another debate on this matter in December. War feeds the very worst things in its impact on human communities. If you want communities that are fed by important religious sentiments to end up fighting each other and destroying each other, create a climate of war and disorder. In the reshaping of policy that is no doubt going on in the United States, in our own Government and among the allies at the moment, I hope that due account is being taken of the impact of these things on people’s cultures. In Iraq there is chaos in those spheres. There is much that we need to be doing together—and if there are things that most of us with a religious tradition behind us can do to help, that is what we are here for. The day in which politics goes in one direction and those in religion go in another is long past, and we need to work together.

4.10 pm

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the gracious Speech touched upon a number of foreign policy issues, and rightly put the Government’s commitment to peace in the Middle East at the top of the list of priorities. That commitment repeated and re-emphasised the Prime Minister’s address to the Labour Party conference in September and his Mansion House speech last week.

The recent changes in the American political landscape, the near certainty of foreign policy recalibration on Capitol Hill and the work of James Baker and the Iraq Survey Group, together with the departure of Donald Rumsfeld, give the Prime Minister a real opportunity, probably his best since 2001, to persuade our American colleagues of the changes that are needed in Middle East policy and to become that “candid friend” that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, spoke of.

The list of separate but related conflicts and explosive pressure points in the Middle East is daunting. Most days we have terrible news reports from Iraq: civilian casualties, sectarian barbarism

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and, all too often, the loss of our own brave troops. Iran has become a new test bed for the strength of the international community on controlling nuclear capability. Syria is at best unhelpful, and at worst probably very menacing. Its borders with Iraq are porous, and its encouragement of Hezbollah in Palestine and Lebanon threatens peace and stability throughout the region. Lebanon, despite its brave Prime Minister’s efforts, is fragile, afraid of the possibility of civil war or of renewed Syrian occupation. Palestine, of course, is split between Hamas and Fatah, with no obvious interlocutor to begin serious dialogue with Israel about Gaza, let alone about the West Bank and a possible return to the road map.

That is perhaps a grim analysis, and, to be fair, it is only a partial one. There is much to give us some hope and some optimism about developments elsewhere in the Middle East. The countries of the Gulf—Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar—are all developing their economies and investing in their future. They are all different, and they are all adjusting their own constitutions to accommodate increased democracy and the growth of civil society. There are elections to bring different voices into the majlis shuras, as well as arrangements for women to be brought into government in Kuwait, Bahrain and the Emirates. Elections are scheduled in Qatar and in the Emirates. Perhaps most significantly, there is a promise of the vote for women in Saudi Arabia. These countries’ economies are all expanding rapidly by between 6 and 12 per cent, and they are all investing in their own people’s futures through education, health, science and technology.

In the Maghreb countries there is more open discussion of human rights, and of the difficult balance between the security of the state and the rights of the citizen to enjoy civil liberty. Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, each in different ways but all facing in the same direction, are engaged in a sustained effort to encourage better relations with Europe across an agenda of transparency and exchanges on trade, human rights and indeed on terrorism. Egypt is changing too. At the conference of its ruling party two months ago I heard delegates cross-examine Ministers about policies on the economy and rural development. There was aggressive questioning on human rights and Egypt’s policy on its relationship with Israel—the sort of exchanges that would have been quite unthinkable even a decade ago.

Our support, even our advice and encouragement, are wanted and welcomed. However, when that support becomes lecturing or patronising, it is regarded with real and intense distaste. We have to guard against undermining the position of the real reformers—and there are many of them in the Middle East—by claiming that their reform is somehow the result of western pressure, rather than of their own hard work at home.

We also have to guard against being perceived as fostering double standards. If we encourage democracy, we have to live with its outcome. We have to talk to those who have been elected to represent the

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views of their people, even if that means opening channels of communication to organisations once considered beyond the pale—by that, I mean Hamas and Hezbollah. By the same token, dialogue with Syria and Iran is vital; not just dialogue, but the active encouragement of the constructive involvement of both countries in the problems of Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon.

I am very glad that Sir Nigel Sheinwald visited Damascus a couple of weeks ago, and I hope that he goes again, and soon, because diplomatic relationships do not spring up overnight; they take wisdom, expertise and, above all, endless patience. Nowhere is that truer than in the Arab world. We need Syria to control its borders, its relationships with Hezbollah and its ambitions in Lebanon, and we must be prepared to discuss how we can help Syria into a genuinely constructive relationship in terms of international recognition, security and trade.


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