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My worry is over what has directed foreign policy. I do not go for this business of aid directing it. I believe in aid and trade. I do not believe that you can do without an adequate military force in order to maintain stability. Here we have a situation where our foreign resources and military forces are under-resourced. It was not so long ago that a Government said that we would never be east of Suez; but nobody would have dreamt that we would have a single frigate covering the whole east coast of Latin America and the Caribbean, yet getting credit for a helicopter being able to shoot out the engines of drug smugglers. Nor would they dream that at the same time we were stopping drugs in that part of the world, we would be encouraging them in Afghanistan—not intentionally, but reluctantly.

I find a situation of considerable instability in my own mind. I have worked in most of these countries, and have usually been forced to move by my employer to where the action was to be. In 1974 the increase in oil prices suddenly made people think about energy. We have the North Sea, but somehow we did not even make that work. The warnings came year after year, when people said, “One-third of all energy supplies come from the Middle East”. But they had forgotten about the “-tan” countries—any country ending in “-tan” is automatically Islamic. Few of us knew the names of those countries. The oil, energy and mineral resources of the former countries of the Soviet Union were well known; that was why they extended their interests: it was not due to the dogma of communism but a realisation that centralised control of natural resources could provide great power.

Although our country was once the greatest trading nation on Earth, we are not really traders any more. For many years I was president of the British Exporters’ Association, whose annual event last year, held downstairs here, was attended by more people than ever. Although 270 turned up, I could not find an exporter, but I could find every financial institution the world had ever created. I was told that the only exports we now do are in the military sector. We import people, but we have created a great economy by being the best place for anybody who is not British to live and work. The tax regime is very favourable, and every internationalist would regard this as possibly the safest haven in the world. It is on that basis that our reputation can be built.

Our foreign policy, I am afraid, has been incorrect. We must remember that there was a period when we supplied military equipment to Iran very willingly. Suddenly, we switched to Iraq. The Soviet Union was supplying India, and we suddenly switched to India from Pakistan. What were our objectives during that period? Did we have a strategy? One thing we knew: the Middle East would be unstable. I almost quote the noble Lord, Lord Desai; there were things I always

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call the three “T”s. First, there was territorialism: land grabbing. Then, there would be tribalism: which particular group of people should have the right to that land. Then there would be—you could call it revolution or insurrection—terrorism.

When the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, was on the Front Bench, I used to watch her body language with great pleasure when she was defending government policy; you could see that she was not quite in favour of the policy but she was a very good spokesman on foreign affairs. A friend abroad once sent me an e-mail with a photograph attached saying “Is this really your Minister abseiling down some ice wall in the Antarctic? Gosh, the Labour Party really is looking up these days”.

I am trying to say that we have the ability but not the policy. We have to know that the rest of the world is more necessary to us than it is to the United States of America. We have to know, because of our too close association with the United States in the wrong way, that we have now joined it and that our reputation around the world is falling. That is simply because the United States is now regarded as an enemy of the world. It does not wish to be. Often, in order to unite a country in trouble, you must first create fear of your regime. Secondly, you must create a common enemy whom you can hate. It is regrettable that the United States has become an enemy.

On our international policy, I do not believe in multilateralism; I believe in a collection of bilateralisms. We should make and build relationships directly with everybody, and not indirectly through third or fourth organisations. The point was made a little earlier by noble Lords opposite. They were great Europeans, but I remember that when I was treasurer of the Conservative Group for Europe I had to raise money to pay for the British delegation to have support in Strasbourg and the EU because the Labour Party did not want to go into the EU. It does not matter how things may change. We are, in a way, in a strong position at the moment in this country. We have to think that our foreign policy should not repeat the past. The greatest cock-up has been our foreign policy over the past 10 years.

1.27 pm

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in a debate and to listen to him. He always has something novel and interesting to say.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: Quite right.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: I find it fascinating, my Lords. Whether one agrees with him or not is not the point, but he made some interesting comments today. Also, like every noble Lord here, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his interesting and carefully thought-out opening speech.

I will follow up on a speech made by my noble friend Lord Wright in a debate last month and concentrate on the Foreign Office and the Diplomatic Service. It seems that the past 10 years have seen

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foreign policy gradually transferred into No. 10, with drastic cuts being made in what has always been one of the smallest and most efficient departments in Whitehall. Inevitably, cuts mean careful selection, which is usually disguised as prioritisation—a dreadful word. As a result, the Diplomatic Service appears far less important than it was, which is unfortunate.

After 52 years of close involvement in Latin America, I propose to use that part of the world as an example. I have great affection for and experience of it and I speak with great prejudice on it. I am following up on the interesting remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned five strands that are important in our foreign policy, but it was noticeable that they excluded Latin America. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, referred to a splendidly interesting policy document on Latin America, which starts with a good opening paragraph on why Latin America is important. However, I am afraid that I did not quite agree with her after that. The document deteriorates somewhat; it subsequently goes into rather a lot of negatives and is rather patronising, implying that Latin America might have a place in the world in about 2010. In my view, it has a place in the world now. It is quite capable of conducting affairs. Its countries participate in the United Nations actively, with two of them attending the G8 negotiations and discussions. They very much have a place at the top table now.

What have we seen in Latin America in the past few years? Four embassies have closed and others are threatened, and the staff in London and overseas have been reduced in quantity and quality. That does nothing for morale in that great institution. It has been noticed and has an effect on our influence in, for instance, votes in the United Nations, which cannot be achieved by osmosis if you are not in the country concerned. As the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, said, we need to have bilateral relations.

During the past few years, we have unfortunately seen foreign policy slightly dictated by the United States. Latin America is an example. The United States has ignored Latin America for years and we have recently tended to follow it in that respect. That is a great pity because Latin America is a homogeneous region—one of the few regions that is. It is integrated and largely democratic. There are pluralist democracies in all the countries, with the exception of Cuba. Venezuela may follow suit and we have to do something about that. In the past 10 years, we have been following America somewhat slavishly, including into unnecessary foreign wars, as noble Lords have mentioned. The result of our neglect of Latin America, and American neglect of Latin America, is the rise of President Chavez and the division of Latin America into two camps. That has never happened before in what is a largely homogeneous area about which we have great knowledge and in which we have enormous experience. Latin America would like to be much more involved with the European scene.

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I noticed that the Prime Minister in waiting has indicated that he proposes to re-establish Cabinet government and restore the civil services to their previous important roles. If that happens, it would be very good news indeed. To have a Foreign Secretary with real authority, as was the case yesteryear, would be excellent, and I hope that it happens. That is not to diminish what the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, has done, because I have enormous admiration for him, as I have said in previous debates. It is unfortunate that he covers the whole world more or less single-handed, albeit with the assistance of the noble Baroness, Lady Royal. That is not satisfactory; it is not a solution. He should be promoted, and I hope that the next Prime Minister will do so. I hope that I have not damaged the noble Lord’s possibilities by saying that. I do not expect him to reply to these comments, but maybe he, and his colleagues in other places, will take note. It would be much better for our Diplomatic Service if it could be restored on a worldwide basis with trade and aid incorporated into its remit so that we had a coherent total foreign policy organised from one large and important ministry.

1.34 pm

Baroness Quin: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute some thoughts to this debate on foreign policy. While there was much in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that I disagreed with, I recall with pleasure working alongside him when he was chair of the UK/Japan 2000 group. I pay tribute to him for the work that he did in that group in building warm and productive relationships with our Japanese colleagues. The noble Lord is not in his place, so I hope that that will be relayed to him. In his speech, he referred in somewhat disparaging terms to a number of issues in government foreign policy since 1997. His comments were instantly and tellingly rebutted in the speech of my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, which I commend.

I had the pleasure of working alongside Robin Cook as his deputy in the shadow ministerial team from 1994 to 1997 and in government in the Foreign Office from 1998 to 1999. His approach and the Government’s subsequent approach showed a strong and welcome ethical dimension to foreign policy. As previous speakers have mentioned, that ethical dimension was illustrated in a number of the policies that the Government pursued. It was particularly seen in the early and successful efforts to establish an EU code of conduct for arms control. It was also evident in the action taken in Kosovo and in other areas.

My noble friend Lord Anderson referred to the intervention in Sierra Leone, which was tremendously important in rescuing people from appalling brutality and a savage civil war, in which children were made to become killers and huge numbers of innocent people were murdered or had limbs savagely amputated. An intervention such as that needs an ongoing commitment, and the Government have shown their willingness to commit by the way in which they have remained involved in the poverty reduction strategy and in helping to build up the Government and civil society.

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In this connection, I shall ask the Minister a specific question. A few days ago, it was reported in, I think, the Observer that there is a question mark over the payment to Sierra Leone of £15 million to build up public services. I understand that it may have been frozen because of concerns about possible misuse or corruption. Can my noble friend give us an update on that?

It is good that progress is being made towards holding parliamentary and presidential elections in Sierra Leone. It is also significant that the president is standing down after two terms. That is something that we have not always seen elsewhere and it augurs well for a smooth transition in the progress towards democracy in that country, although I am conscious of the difficulties that may exist.

The Government’s overall commitment to Africa through the establishment of the Africa Commission and, particularly, through the lead that they took on debt forgiveness and cancellation are important aspects of their approach to foreign policy since 1997.

It is not surprising that Afghanistan and Iraq have frequently been mentioned in this debate. Like the vast majority of parliamentarians, I was very supportive of the Government’s intervention, alongside other countries, in Afghanistan. Virtually all of us were aware that that meant an ongoing commitment, and I pay tribute to the work that is still being done in Afghanistan and wish it well for the future. I felt differently on Iraq. I was a Member of the other place and spoke in the debate that led to the vote on going to war in Iraq in March 2003. Like many others, I agonised about it. In the end, I could not support the Government because I felt that the inspectors should have more time and I was alarmed by the contrast with Afghanistan, where there had been such impressive international solidarity. That scale of international solidarity was not evident on Iraq. I wanted to see more allies for that cause.

However, I believe that many of the criticisms that were levelled against the Government then and subsequently about the decision to go to war in Iraq were unfair, particularly about intelligence issues. At the time, I was a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is a cross-party committee including Members from your Lordships’ House. As parliamentarians, members of the committee voted in different ways on the decision to go to war in Iraq, but we all agreed on the report published in 2004 that exonerated the Government from sexing up intelligence or dealing with intelligence or intelligence agencies in an improper or politicised way. It is still a good report, which I commend as a good read. It stands up well even in the changed circumstances of today.

Last week, we had a good debate on European affairs, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Today the summit is under way. I conclude my contribution to this debate by referring to one or two aspects of our relationship with Europe and to the subject that is currently under consideration. First, I believe that the constitution was an ill judged initiative, particularly since what was likely to result, and what has resulted, is not a constitution but a

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classic European Union treaty. Indeed, it is a treaty more modest in scope than many that preceded it, such as the Single European Act—a point that was made tellingly in the debate on European affairs last week. The hype about the constitution has, I believe, been counterproductive.

Secondly, I am sad that much of the coverage around the Charter of Fundamental Rights has been negative. I say respectfully to the Government that I wish that they had sometimes sounded more positive about what I believe is fundamentally worth while and is not a threat to Britain in the way that it has been portrayed. The charter is basically a restatement of rights that already exist. Article 51 says:

So I am puzzled. The European Union has taken the rights of people at work seriously right from the word go, even in the Coal and Steel Community treaties. I hope that my noble friend can explain more fully our position on the charter. Obviously, if there is a genuine problem for Britain, the Government are justified in raising it, but I have not been able to find out so far what that is.

I believe strongly in an outward-looking European Union that deals with the great global issues of trade, the environment and tackling world poverty. However, in saying that, I am conscious that that is a goal to which the Government have long been committed and I applaud their efforts in that direction.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, concluded his speech by saying that the Government’s successes were far outweighed by their failures. I would put it entirely the other way round and I pay tribute to the humanitarian and internationalist approach pursued by the Government.

1.42 pm

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I rather agree with the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, even if some may have thought it a little brief and perhaps slightly crude. I very much regret that foreign policy since 2001 has been so closely tied to American coat-tails. I would describe the policy of the United States as having been ideological, ill informed and unsuccessful. It has created more enemies than friends. This country has little to show for such close alignment with the United States. We have not promoted our real interests. We have incurred huge expenditure and, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig of Radley pointed out, our Armed Forces have become overstretched, sometimes underequipped and not always in the best state of morale.

In Iraq, we were persuaded into war on spurious evidence. Containment would have been far wiser. Four years on, Iraq faces serious internal violence. There are 2 million refugees and many thousands of people are displaced. The country has very high inflation and little justice or democracy. The situation leaves Iran somewhat stronger, while chaos in Iraq puts Jordan and Syria under severe strain. That has

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affected normal trade, burdened both those countries with refugees and drawn in al-Qaeda.

New opportunities have arisen since the Arab League relaunched its peace plan. The league could well address public opinion in Israel to convince voters of the benefits of free movement and free trade. There is surely scope for the European Union to add its economic weight to the political influence of the Arab states. Such co-operation could not only promote peace but also improve the whole Mediterranean region, thus saving the lives of many boat people.

I am very glad that the honourable gentleman Mr Ed Balls has been studying the economy of Palestine and I trust that full use will be made of his work. Will the Government bring together the European Union and the Arab League, alongside the resources of the Palestinian diaspora and the City of London? Investment to create a prosperous Palestine alongside a secure Israel is greatly needed.

Many mistakes have been made since Israel removed settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005. Urgent public works were then identified, but none, so far as I know, was approved, much less started. Then there were elections, which Hamas won. I urged at that time that there should be no preconditions and that every possible channel of communication should be kept open with Hamas. Instead, we had extreme political correctness and were hog-tied by lists of terrorist organisations. The Hamas Government were boycotted and financially starved while Al Fatah was supported and equipped, thus increasing the risks of civil war. To avoid famine and disease, the temporary international mechanism had to be devised. The result was that more money was spent on aid than previously, but aid was less transparent and of poorer quality.

The next major opportunity came this March when eventually, with Saudi help and at the third try, a Government of national unity were formed. Once again the quartet and many others refused to speak to the Palestinian Prime Minister—another round of divide and rule. As we now know, that was against the advice of the UN special envoy. Mistakes will continue to be made unless we recognise that Hamas is democratic and that it is essentially focused on Palestine and not on global jihad. It is different from Hezbollah and totally so from al-Qaeda. It is not, as has been alleged, an agent of Iran. It is a disciplined movement capable of preventing lawlessness, and we have already seen some signs in that direction.

Hamas, I suggest, has already granted de facto recognition to Israel by the following actions: first, by offering a long-term ceasefire; secondly, by seeking to negotiate access between Gaza and the West Bank; and, thirdly, by joining the Government of national unity and accepting their platform. I believe that it is hypocrisy and a double standard to demand that Hamas accepts every point of previous agreements while Israel breaches its obligations over, for example, settlements and the alignment of its wall.

In this respect, I draw particular attention to two articles in today’s InternationalHerald Tribune, one from Hamas and the other by Roger Cohen, who has

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clearly interviewed Mr Wolfensohn, who, as noble Lords will recall, was the former quartet envoy on the spot. Hamas will not go away just because it is ignored. It is a reality with which we should engage. Any alternative to it is likely to be far more extreme. We should seek to persuade the European Union as a whole to be as flexible and realistic as Norway and Switzerland have been showing themselves to be. We should avoid a three-state solution like the plague. Free access and movement in and out of Gaza and the West Bank are essential for a functioning Palestinian economy, without which Israel will always be insecure. We should work patiently for a new type of power sharing, for which some in Fatah are by now ready.

I believe that the Middle East strongly influences home policy and civic peace here, as we can see from the barriers outside Parliament and from the existence of British-born bombers. Middle East peace is a vital interest for us and for the world. We should pursue it through a more independent foreign policy. That will best be done when we have a competent Foreign Secretary who is responsible for foreign policy, guided by the advice from our missions on the spot and in a way that allows space for voluntary peace initiatives.

1.51 pm

Lord Soley: My Lords, I shall endeavour to be brief. I have a medical appointment shortly after three o'clock that I am anxious to keep, so I hope that the House will understand if I have to step out early, although my calculations are that I will not. Having said that to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and my noble friend on the Front Bench, it is perhaps mean of me then to criticise the noble Lord’s opening speech. I congratulate him on organising the debate; it is important.

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