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I shall end on this note. I recently met a member of Kadima in Israel. She was sitting alongside Mr Netanyahu, their likely next Prime Minister, and told him that it had taken four years for her party to reach that point of recognition which Israel had to reach on an accommodation with a two-state solution. If the Opposition get into power, will we have to wait a similar time for recognition of the fact that the European Union is our key partner, that we share the same broad objectives over most of the ground and that, day-to-day, we are reaching common positions with our European partners over world issues? That is the reality if we seek to know ourselves, and to move realistically to the future.

12.55 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, I have moved seamlessly from the Front Bench, because I do not want to disturb the protocol of the House when we have two excellent Front-Bench speakers. It is also a fact that, although I spent the first 10 years of my working life deeply involved in foreign policy, first as international secretary of the Labour Party and then as political secretary to Lord Callaghan, this is my first speech in a foreign affairs debate. I have occasionally dipped into European matters, but I hope that the House will treat me with its gentleness for a maiden speaker in this respect—not least because I find myself sandwiched between the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Hurd, two acknowledged experts in this field.

First, the introduction to the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was absolutely masterful. I agreed with almost every word; I suspect that we will both spend the early morning tomorrow thinking about where one or other of us has got it wrong. Seriously, it was a tremendous speech, spoiled a little by his over-confidence in Mr Hague. I want more than one judiciously selected quote from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to convince me that Mr Hague is not a better biographer or after-dinner speaker than he would a Foreign Secretary make, but we will see. We were certainly greatly helped in setting the tone for this debate by that opening from the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford.

As to predictions, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, gave us a good gypsy’s warning. I remember 20 years ago discussing the future of Germany at a think-tank gathering in Berlin. We had just concluded that German unity was a 21st-century matter, when discussions were interrupted to tell us that the East Germans had opened Check-point Charlie and that we should all get in a taxi to go down and look at that move. As

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Harold Macmillan warned us many years ago, “Events, dear boy, events” can sometimes upset even the best futurology.

Some contributions will be useful because they will give us an idea of where the political parties want to take us on foreign policy. As my noble friend Lord Wallace said, the New Statesmantold us recently that Mr Miliband is working on a post-Blair foreign policy. As has already been said, if that means an end to the love affair with some of the wilder shores of American neo-conservatism on foreign policy objectives, it is greatly to be welcomed.

Even more, I look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. If we are, as opinion polls suggest, within 15 months of a Conservative Government, the country is entitled to know how the Conservatives will square the circle between the assurances frequently given in this House by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about their commitment to Europe, and the whole tone and body language of the Conservative approach to Europe. Last week, when I saw Mr Brown, Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy together in Berlin, I wondered what kind of gathering that would have been if a Conservative Prime Minister had been there, safely armed with a victory based on hostility to Europe.

I say that with some experience. In 1974, I was adviser to a Labour Government who entered office committed to European policy crafted in response to short-term party-political needs. I worry that the Conservative Party will do exactly the same and be a disruptive force in Europe just when every bit of evidence and advice we get from friends around the world concerns the need for Europe to pull together and to be a proper partner. We frequently hear about expectations of the Obama Administration, but the message loud and clear from that Administration is the need for a united European partnership to meet the global challenge that we face.

Recently, I went to a meeting of the All-Party China Group that a Chinese Minister attended. He gave the strong message that the visit of Secretary of State Clinton had been extremely successful and that China and America thought that they had the basis for co-operation in the face of the economic challenges facing the world. Speaking from the Chinese point of view, the Minister wanted a European partner in and a European dimension to that effort to join America and China. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, will know about that from her experience.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, often prays in aid the Commonwealth. I am as strong a Commonwealth supporter as anyone, but if you talk to representatives of any Commonwealth country, they want to know these days not what Britain will do for them, but what Britain can influence Europe to do to meet their needs. I look forward to hearing the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

Perhaps I may say one more thing about the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. I went to a presentation on Hong Kong the other day. It was only when I heard how the Hong Kong settlement was working in practice that I realised

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just what a triumph it was for his diplomacy. We now have in Hong Kong a world city that is prospering free, very much thanks to his effort. Although there will be many claims for his successes in his career, Hong Kong will be high on that list.

As for my party, we are secure on the ground to which the right reverend Prelate referred. As liberal democracies, we must hold firm to some good, old-fashioned values. Torturing people is wrong. It is a measure of how far we have not come that 70 years ago, the bombing of a single Spanish town, Guernica, could provoke a masterpiece and world outrage, yet today, we can contemplate “shock and awe” as an instrument of war and look on Gaza as part of the Middle East tragedy.

This country has great opportunities. I visited Syria as part of an IPU delegation. The Foreign Secretary has already been there. There are opportunities to involve Syria in the Middle East peace process. That should be continued. I have one other worry, which again brings us back to our European commitment. I worry about the fragility of east European democracies. If we are to hold them in the democratic family, they will need help and assistance from Europe.

As always, this House contributes great wisdom. I hope that part of the Minister's duties after this debate will be to send a copy of Hansard to the Foreign Secretary.

1.06 pm

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I join in thanking my noble friend, not just for making possible and launching this debate but for the shrewd and elegant way in which he covered the ground. It was extraordinarily skilful.

I am tempted to follow the noble Lord, Lord McNally, because his worries about a future meeting—perhaps in the quite near future—between Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy and my right honourable friend who is now the leader of the Opposition are bizarre. Those happen to be two people with whom I know that my right honourable friend has close and happy dealings a great deal of the time, so the noble Lord can rest assured that his nightmare will not take place, but I shall not pre-empt what my noble friend Lord Howell may say when he winds up.

I want to deal with just one aspect, which is the instrument of foreign policy; namely, the Foreign Office and mainly the Foreign Office at home. I have a personal interest. It is just over 56 years since, my bowler hat in hand, I tiptoed into the Foreign Office for the first time as a humble Third Secretary. Most of my working life—not all of it, but most of it—has in some way or other been concerned with the Foreign Office. I am proud of that association and I know that the Foreign Service today is full of men and women of integrity and high talent. I believe that it continues to provide an attractive and valuable career.

That is all the more reason why we should notice and take account of what I believe is a malaise becoming increasingly apparent in its working. I base that not on statistics or surveys but on a steady accumulation of anecdotal evidence from friends, acquaintances and

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strangers, varied in content but almost unanimous in its thrust. That thrust is that the Foreign Office in London—which is what I am mainly talking about—is ceasing to be a storehouse of knowledge providing valued advice to Ministers and is increasingly an office of management, management of a steadily shrinking overseas service. It is management applying at the request of the Treasury the latest techniques of modern administration: targets, frameworks, mission statements, public service agreements, departmental strategic objectives, and so forth.

I am not qualified to rubbish those techniques and I am certain that they have their place, but method should be the servant, not the master of policy. I have been doing some research for a book. In the 19th century, the Foreign Office was essentially a management office, a tiny one. In that century, policy was for many years gripped by two amazing Foreign Secretaries, Lord Palmerston and Lord Salisbury, who liked to pretend aristocratic ignorance of detail but in fact worked hard and long, treating their officials as clerks and their senior officials as super-clerks—that was a phrase of the time. Lord Salisbury passed on and the officials became powerful national figures: Crowe, Arthur Nicholson and later Vansittart were well-known names. Perhaps that went too far, but I worry now that the Foreign Office in London may be reverting, despite the talent deployed there, to an age of super-clerks, rather than policy advisors who have time to think and to bring weight to bear through their advice to Ministers. This is all in the name of financial discipline and economy and, of course, money is important—money is tight and money will probably get tighter. I am not sure that we set about allocating it in the right way.

When I was Foreign Secretary, I tried to get our overseas efforts looked at as one—I refer to defence, Foreign Office, aid, British Council, overseas services of the BBC. We made some painful progress, but certainly not enough. The present distribution of resources in our overseas effort weighs heavily against the Foreign Office in an age when diplomacy is more widespread and, I believe, more important than ever. Of course, the balance needs to shift—it needs to take account of changes in the world. Much— perhaps most—EU business is now done either in Brussels or between national departments, and that is right. It is natural, though, to me, strange, that Her Majesty’s ambassador in Kabul, Her Majesty’s ambassador in Beijing and the high commissioner in Delhi, now have bigger staffs and carry more weight than our ambassadors in Rome and Berlin; I do not complain at all about those necessary shifts.

We should be aware, however, that shifts and balances are one thing, but the squeeze on the service is undeniable. The House of Commons Select Committee, in what I thought was a very moderate report, talked about the serious risk of overstretch—a net reduction of 400 staff planned over the next five years. It is sad to me and to others—perhaps to most noble Lords present—to see the closure of posts, many of which we have known, and to see our representation, in Latin America and Africa in particular, slip. I am not sure that the choices here are always wise.



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I shall give a very small example—life is composed of small examples. If I were a Treasury official crouched over my computer, looking at the facts and figures, I might well decide it was not necessary to have a high commissioner in Swaziland, as has been decided. That Treasury official would not, however, know that the relationship between the King of Swaziland and the British high commissioner was traditionally very close and important—that relationship cannot be reproduced by the high commissioner in Pretoria, or by an aid official in Swaziland.

That brings me to a point, which has already been touched upon, about our aid programme. It is very good news that the Government have been able to increase that programme substantially. My worry is not about the size of the programme but about the growing feeling that the efforts of DfID bear less and less relation to the foreign policy of this country. It seems to be a different exercise with different priorities. I believe that we need to look at the working of the 2002 Act. There is nothing wrong with specifying the reduction of poverty as the basis and the focus of the aid programme. I will not now go into the question of ministerial responsibility, because that is a controversy in its own right, but I point out that it is perfectly possible to have a separate Cabinet Minister for aid without having a separate department increasingly diverging, in my view, from the foreign policy of this country. I do not believe that the 2002 Act was designed as a decree of divorce between our aid programme and our foreign policy. I think that that needs to be scrutinised.

My main concern—this is a narrow point, but, I believe, an important one—is that the Foreign Office in London has been hollowed out. I believe that it should, once again, consist of and produce a reserve of knowledge that can put advice from overseas posts in a strategic context, hold its own in arguments with the Prime Minister and with No. 10. This, again, is a matter that we could debate separately. The Prime Minister is absolutely entitled to feel sure that the foreign policy that he and his colleagues have worked out is being consistently and efficiently applied. In return, however, the Foreign Office should be equipped to remind the Prime Minister, from time to time, that the world is not exactly as he or she wishes it to be and to put certain restraints on the natural and proper enthusiasms, or, as Keynes said, “animal spirits”, that you find coming out of No. 10. Not all the knowledge needs to be home-grown. One of my regrets as Foreign Secretary is that I did not, in the rush of events, give enough time and attention to the huge body of information and insight from outside Whitehall, outside the foreign service, in the think-tanks, in the universities and so on. This has increased in recent years and I am not convinced so far that the Foreign Office, and the Secretary of State in particular, borrow sufficiently from it.

Diplomacy used to be quite narrow in scope. It used to be about frontiers, colonies and dynasties. Now it is about almost everything under the sun, including the sun, climate change, trade and finance, and energy security—almost every human activity now requires, in a globalised world, intercourse between nation states, which cling to their authority. Not all of this should be done by the Foreign Office, of course

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not, but the Foreign Office should be, as far as Britain is concerned, the co-ordinator, the guide and the shepherd. I think it is very important, in this baffling world, that it should keep and, where necessary, repair and restore its tradition of excellence.

1.16 pm

Lord Bramall: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on obtaining and introducing, so interestingly and ably, this debate on the challenges to our foreign policy at a very crucial time. Among many other concerns and, indeed, opportunities for our foreign policy, surely the most urgent challenge at this moment must be the establishment of a more rational, fully joined-up foreign, defence and aid policy to help lead to a greater stability in the Middle East and south- west Asia, where the Arab-Israel confrontation and the Kashmir dispute are still key and core issues.

To have any hope of success, any new policy can only be developed in conjunction with the new American Administration, with this country as a valued and supportive friend, but one who is not afraid to offer our own views and experience, and as much as possible in conjunction with our fellow European partners. We cannot simply go on charging into military commitments without due consideration of what they will entail, and I am afraid that there is plenty of evidence of that with this Government. Then, when original raisons d’ĂȘtre are shown to have no substance, or when all the difficulties that should have been anticipated become a reality, we not only produce excuses and new reasons for what we have embarked upon but actually start to pursue these, rather self-satisfyingly, as the new aims of operations, however difficult they may be to achieve. For instance, anyone who, having read history, believes that Afghanistan, of all countries, can have a tidy, lasting, western-style democracy imposed from above or from outside, needs his head examined. As the great Duke of Wellington once said, 200 years ago:

“I always had a horror of revolutionising any country from outside for political object ... if they rise up themselves, well and good, but to stir them up is a fearful responsibility.”

That still stands.

It is not so much the British Army that has lost its way in Afghanistan, as a recent, rather sad article in the Economist tried to make out, as that it has never had a consistent and navigable politico-strategic way to follow in the first place and certainly not one in keeping with the resources allotted to it. It would, therefore, not be surprising if commanders on the ground are sometimes a bit perplexed as to the best tactics to follow at any given time. The Army and the Royal Marines, magnificently supported by the Royal Air Force, have undoubtedly done their very best, under the most wretchedly difficult circumstances; they have shown remarkable dedication, motivation and courage and are paying a high cost in terms of lives and wounds. Indeed, only yesterday, my parent regiment, the Rifles, very sadly lost another three riflemen. They have also had tactical successes, inflicting many casualties on the Taliban, which must have weakened the opposition. All that reflects great credit

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on the professionalism, leadership and esprit de corps of our forces. However, as they know, and as many in your Lordships’ House know, they have not got as far in changing the hearts, minds and attitudes of the inhabitants of Helmand province as they would have liked, and as indeed is so necessary for any real stability in the area. They have also had some serious problems with their lines of communication and supplies through Pakistan.

So if we—NATO, because this, perhaps surprisingly, has been accepted as a NATO commitment—are to make any real progress in Afghanistan, and there can be no question, for a number of compelling reasons, of this country pulling out in the foreseeable future, we will need a new coherent strategy and a political and economic programme to help to put that into effect. In bringing this about, there must be no complacency; otherwise, the situation could very seriously deteriorate.

I hope that the experienced and forceful Richard Holbrooke, sent by President Obama to make an up-to-date appraisal of the overall situation, will be able to extend his remit to include recommendations for a more regional policy. Now that the Iranian President has opened the door to dialogue just a chink, it may not be too fanciful to hope that this, too, could contribute to more stability in the area. A new strategy will certainly need as close co-operation with Pakistan as it is possible to get, and that in itself will require careful, skilled and subtle diplomacy of the highest order in view of Pakistan’s very difficult position. So much diplomacy is required but there are so few resources for it at the moment.

We must certainly deliver aid more quickly and effectively than at present. Although I have longer-term reservations about the infusion of more troops, in the short term more troops from somewhere may well be required to give the inhabitants in the south and Helmand province proper and not fleeting protection. We must try, by one means or another, to separate from among those opposing us the more moderates from the Holy War and Arabic extremists, who still have to be dealt with not only by inducements but also with the help of meaningful negotiations, as has happened in that area in times gone by.

It is no good going on slavishly and oversimplistically equating the Taliban with al-Qaeda. Here again, a study of the history of the area will show how wide of the mark that is likely to be, for al-Qaeda looks outwards and internationally, while the Taliban is essentially home-grown and inward-looking, with its inherent Afghan hatred of foreign occupation. Nor, of course, must one become obsessed with the idea so often put forward that a permanently “tamed” and even occupied Afghanistan is the only way to counter, and ultimately defeat, the international terrorist threat to us and to other countries. That is nonsense.

What is now required is for the policy elements of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, put this so much better than I could possibly do—with the invaluable advice, no doubt, of the much respected Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, who may have sensibly been brought in to match the wider responsibilities of Richard Holbrooke and the Ministry

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of Defence, and with the Chiefs of Staff and their advisers, no longer to wait, as occurred under the previous regime, for No. 10 to tell them what to do but to get together, with links with their contacts in the new American Administration and with the overall American commander, and to put forward practicable options to Ministers. Those options, with the resources to carry them through, will have a chance of bringing to that unhappy area just enough stability to enable us before too long, and having disrupted al-Qaeda considerably, as we have already, to hand over any military responsibilities to the indigenous people with our heads held high.

1.24 pm

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, not only, as many other noble Lords have said, on taking on the responsibility of opening this most interesting debate but on the way in which he introduced it. I take particular pleasure in the fact that I am following the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, as will be apparent from certain remarks that I shall make in support of some of what he said.

This debate refers to the new challenges in foreign policy. Of course, we see these against the background of a dangerous and destabilised world. It was already in that condition, and seriously so, before the arrival of the economic crunch, which is yet to have its impact in any significant way on many corners of the world and which I think will certainly make conditions in some countries immensely more difficult than they are even at the moment.

One of the most obvious examples of a destabilised area is the Middle East. I am sure that many others will wish to comment about the situation there. With regard to Israel, I am struck that at the moment when Mr Netanyahu, who might be seen as the more extreme candidate, is about to become the leader of Israel, Mr George Mitchell is arriving as a possible negotiator or conciliator. With his experience of bringing together the extremes in Northern Ireland, perhaps there is just a glimmer of hope there, although I cannot see that it will be more than that. However, if there is no one to outflank the parties, then, if there is any sense left, there is perhaps just a possibility of recognising that at last there must be a better understanding and a chance of achieving a settlement. Certainly, it seems that the Israel/Palestine situation has been deteriorating and not improving.

I wish to turn particularly to the area that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, talked about. He rightly paid tribute, as I wish to do, to the extraordinary courage, dedication and professionalism of our Armed Forces, and he referred to the deaths of members of the Rifles. I am a much more junior member of the regiment which he so signally graced in his time, but I recall that the regiment that I had the honour to serve, which now makes up the Rifles, had as its cap badge the battle honour “Jellalabad 1840” as the clearest possible reminder of the world in which we move. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bramall, said, people who do not know the history of Afghanistan do not deserve to play any part in determining policy hereafter.



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