Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

With ZANU-PF being in a state of disarray, with several factions being held together by Robert Mugabe, and with the President being 86 years old-many would say 86 years young-there is a real opportunity for a breakthrough. It is well known that Robert Mugabe had a major dislike for the Labour Government and he has made it clear that he would like to work with the Conservative Government. I hope that we can have a full debate on current developments in Zimbabwe in your Lordships' House. On that note, I pay tribute to the contributions of the late Baroness Park and the late Lord Blaker, both of whom have made major contributions in your Lordships' House and who are sorely missed. I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on his ministerial appointment. He certainly has deep knowledge of the challenges and opportunities in Zimbabwe.

In conclusion, democracy, trade, technology and regional integration are certainly transforming Africa. It will not achieve the key millennium goals, but lack of money is not the key issue. Focus must be on good governance, transparency and accountability-in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, "robust audit trails". I wish our coalition Government good steer in implementing their ambitious programme.

6.02 pm

Lord Blackwell: My Lords, before contributing to this debate I should mention my business interests and their international operations set out in the register. It is a great privilege to speak in this important debate at

26 May 2010 : Column 70

the start of a new Government. Like others, I am delighted to follow on from the opening speech of my noble friend Lord Howell, who brings great experience and wisdom to his resumed role as a Minister and whose speeches and writings on this topic I have greatly admired over the years.

I am conscious that much of what I have said in this House over recent years on foreign affairs has focused on our relationships with Europe. I hope that the House will forgive me if I say very little about that today because my message is that we risk being overly fixated on Europe at the expense of looking outward to the exciting opportunities in the wider world. We are, of course, a European civilisation. Europe is the family home in which Britain has been shaped and grown, but while Europe is our past, it does not define and should not constrain our future. Our future lies beyond Europe in the global opportunities in the wider world.

Important as Europe is, we need to recognise that it is now the continent that over the next few decades will experience some of the slowest growth-slowest economic growth, slowest population growth and slowest wealth creation. That will be exacerbated if old Europe clings to its attachment to inflexible social and economic policies and inward-looking protectionism. The growth, excitement and innovation over the next century lie elsewhere in the world. Britain, with its historic trading skills and global connections is almost uniquely placed to benefit from that new world order. We are still, in our own right, one of top five global trading nations. We must build on our huge advantages, inspire young people with the vision of Britain as not only one of the premier global trading nations but as a huge force for freedom, common understanding and partnership around the world.

The statistics speak for themselves. The growth rates in India and China mean that by 2050 those two countries together are likely to account for roughly half of the world's GDP. We should welcome that. Just as the development of North America drove world growth in the 19th and 20th centuries, these countries will lead the development of world prosperity in the century to come. Both India and China now produce more graduates in science and engineering than either the US or Europe and the gap is widening. Their investment in research and innovation is rapidly catching up and is likely to outstrip the US and Europe in the next few years, fuelling their own knowledge-based economies. It is the same picture with many of the other fast emerging economies around the globe.

During the past two decades, some two-thirds of the increase in the world's GDP came from growth in the existing industrialised nations. Over the next decade two-thirds of the world's growth will come from the newly developing economies. It is those markets that provide our prime opportunity for growing trade and investment. Sharing in this growth must be top of the UK's priorities. Fortunately it is an opportunity for which Britain is particularly well placed. We only have to travel the world in a business context to appreciate the advantages that come naturally to us.

First and foremost is the English language. Because of that and our historic links there is often a shared

26 May 2010 : Column 71

base of English education. There is respect for our legal traditions and our democracy, and of course, for the BBC World Service. We are blessed with a strong band of skilled and respected expatriates, often from families with a history of overseas service. Here in Britain we have skills, talent and reputation in many global service industries, such as financial services, of course, but also in arts and culture, biotechnology, engineering, law, and many others. These may seem soft benefits but their impact on the real world of trade and commerce should not be underestimated. These same factors have made Britain still the primary European destination for inward investment from India, China and other developing nations. That makes another invaluable linkage.

Yet in most of our post-war period, in particular the previous decade, it has seemed as if we have been turning our back on our historic connections, letting our reputation and influence decay, while other nations have jostled to take our place. We need to cast off the prejudices and myopia of the post-war generation and look at the world through a new prism. An important part of that is to reset our national mindset to see the Commonwealth not so much as our past but as a core part of our future. The world has changed from the days of huge power blocs. The fundamental building blocks of a prosperous and peaceful world order in the 21st century are stable and secure nation states at ease with themselves and able to forge links and co-operation from a position of self-confidence and recognition of common interests. The 21st century, with global internet communication and economies built on trading knowledge, lends itself to a global network of co-operating nation states that share values, language and common interests. It is the era for which the Commonwealth could have been purpose-built, encompassing one-third of the world's population and already more than a quarter of the world's GDP, including many of the developing economies such as India, Malaysia and Singapore, with the fastest economic growth, and countries such as Canada and Australia which are rich with natural resources-a 21st century club of co-operation, partnership and mutual respect

Yet it has been treated almost as an embarrassment and a reminder of a colonial past rather than as a gateway to the future. When the Foreign and Commonwealth Office-despite it name-last set out its priorities in the 2006 White Paper, it included just one passing reference to the Commonwealth on page 23, but the Commonwealth appeared nowhere in the nine government priorities. Spending on embassies and representation around the world has been squeezed to focus resources on Europe. At the same time as cutting back, we are committed to funding a massive expansion of the EU's own diplomatic service which aims to build representation in 136 countries and employ thousands of staff. Co-operation between friendly nations to look after each others' interests in far flung locations is always sensible, but this goes much further and it is inevitable that Britain's commercial interests will at best be diluted if not pushed down the queue. Equally, the BBC World Service has been treated as an

26 May 2010 : Column 72

easy target for cuts, instead of valued as one of Britain's most powerful and envied assets.

By contrast, the post-war vision of creating an integrated regional power bloc in Europe is an idea whose time has passed. Indeed, the attempt to force the nations of Europe into a centralised political and monetary union built in its own tensions, and the cracks are now showing. That is why I support the Government's clear stance against shifting any further powers from the UK to Brussels. We need a constructive relationship with a stable Europe in our back yard, but Europe needs a different model for changed times, and the UK needs a fresh start.

I welcome the statement in the coalition programme that, alongside a strong relationship with United States, we will strengthen the Commonwealth as a focus for democratic values and development, will work to develop a special relationship with India and closer engagement with China and intensify our cultural, educational, commercial and diplomatic links with other nations beyond Europe and North America. Those are targets which the Government should see as core to their purpose.

I end by citing briefly from a paper published by the Centre for Policy Studies in 2006, the author of which was none other than my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. In that paper, he stated:

"Britain badly needs a new foreign policy appropriate to the twenty-first century. Specifically, our international stance must become less narrowly Eurocentric and be adapted to make much more use of the more modern and far more adaptable Commonwealth network which is at our disposal".

I could not have put it better and I look forward to supporting my noble friend in pursuing those aims in government.

6.11 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on his appointment as a Minister. As he has demonstrated today in his opening address, he has a masterly knowledge of the areas that he will be covering and will be very much welcomed by this House. I particularly warmly welcome the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, to his responsibility for defence. I would have preferred it to have been unencumbered by the responsibilities of being a Whip as well, but the years of hard work and commitment to defence and the honest manner and balanced judgment with which he approached it in opposition was a credit to him, to his party and to this House. I know that that will carry through to his appointment as a Minister. I look forward to working with him and hearing his many contributions in this Chamber-starting with his first winding-up speech as a Minister.

My noble friend Lady Kinnock demonstrated her enormous knowledge of the topics that she covers. I was delighted today to see that the feisty approach that she has to topics that are so close to her heart, but also ruled by the head, which is a marvellous combination, will be carried through in opposition.

I very much welcome the announcement of the Strategic Defence Review in the gracious Speech. That decision had been taken by the Labour Government,

26 May 2010 : Column 73

and I am delighted that the coalition Government will follow it through. The last time that we had a defence review, we were in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan, and it was conducted on a completely different basis from what we are expecting from our Armed Forces today.

We on these Benches have always supported the brave and courageous men and women in our Armed Forces, who have demonstrated clearly that they are prepared to pay-and many have paid-the ultimate price. We will continue to support them and support the coalition Government on any policy which is to the benefit and in the best interests of our Armed Forces. I welcome the announcement today that the defence budget for this year will be maintained. I read into that a limited commitment; we will be watching that very closely.

Although we on these Benches are a bit out of practice in opposition, we are quick learners and we will be following very closely and analytically how the Government deliver on the policies that they have promised, not only in the election manifestoes of both parties that form the coalition but in the coalition document itself.

The reference in the gracious Speech to the Strategic Defence Review is one of the shortest paragraphs in the Speech. It does not refer to timing, process or intended outcomes. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Astor, to cast some light on that when he winds up. Neither it nor the coalition document refers to the 2007 commitment given by the now Defence Secretary when he was shadow Defence Secretary that a Conservative Government would increase Army personnel and manning by three new battalions. That was confirmed again in 2009, but there has been no reference to it since, so I ask the Minister to confirm that that promise will be met.

The coalition document refers to MoD running costs being reduced by 25 per cent. That is a substantial amount. We know that to get anything like that reduction will take time. Therefore, in the mean time, will there be new money for the announcement of the doubling of the operational allowance for personnel in Afghanistan, or will it come from somewhere else? If it comes from somewhere else, where is that in a badly stretched MoD budget? We talk about Afghanistan because it is a huge issue for us, but we have Armed Forces personnel in operational theatres throughout the rest of the world. I question whether it was the right decision to announce that doubling to the exclusion of personnel in other operational theatres-I am talking about Iraq, but not solely Iraq. Is it being considered whether to extend it to other personnel?

The coalition document also states that they will look at scope to refurbish Armed Forces accommodation from efficiencies within the MoD. Are those efficiencies in addition to the 25 per cent? Where are the efficiencies intended to come from? Will they come from operational Armed Forces or civilian staff?

In the Armed Forces Pay Review Body report this year, which the Labour Government accepted, the chief executive of the defence housing services informed them that last year saw the largest expenditure ever on Armed Forces accommodation-£50 million was brought forward from future years' projected spending. Do the coalition Government intend to stick to that? If so,

26 May 2010 : Column 74

that is adopting a Labour Government policy. What is the intention behind the coalition document? The document goes on to say that the Armed Forces' pay is included in plans for fair play. I think that that was a Liberal Democrat policy, but what does it mean? I do not know what that means, especially as the Armed Forces have the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. Is it intended to change its remit? If so, why? Is it intended to interfere in the work that it is doing? Those questions need answering.

I was pleased to see the trio of Ministers go to Afghanistan so quickly. That said, I suspect that David Beckham's visit at the same time got more airtime, TV minutes and bigger smiles on the faces of the Armed Forces personnel. However, I was always brought up to believe that if you go into someone's house, you adopt good manners even if you do not agree with them. The statement equating Afghanistan to a 13th century medieval country was a foot in the mouth by the Minister concerned. Let us hope that we can get over that and start to have good relations that will help our Armed Forces in Afghanistan. We owe much to our Armed Forces. In return, I am pleased that the new coalition Government are talking about the importance of the military covenant. That is how we repay to them what they are prepared to give to the country.

We will have many debates on the Strategic Defence Review; I look forward to them; but both the gracious Speech and the coalition document raise more questions than they answer.

6.20 pm

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as a member of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.

I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, in her remarks about and compliments to the new Minister of State at the Foreign Office, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. In the many debates we have had in this House, I have always been very struck by his great ability to see the world as it changes and to grasp that it is beginning to alter radically. He has always reminded us of that by telling us about the emergence of new countries, such as China and India, into real prominence, and about the vital importance of taking their interests and influence into account. He is right in that. He is a man with a wide grasp of what is going on in the world. Many of us have come to deeply appreciate him over the years in which we have had the great benefit of hearing him contribute to debates on international affairs. Let me also say that the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, shares the amazing characteristic of her husband in being able to equate her passionate commitment with her brilliant eloquence. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing what she has to say as the opposition spokesman on these matters.

It is important to say things that are true about parties other than our own in this House. One of the missed opportunities was when the former Prime Minister, the right honourable Gordon Brown, who had established a considerable international reputation in the field of

26 May 2010 : Column 75

nuclear non-proliferation, inspection and, not least, verification, decided in April, because the election was so proximate, not to declare what he was inclined to declare; namely, that the United Kingdom would not use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear country that was in alignment with its requirements and in compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It was a long step forward in the long battle to have a more civilised approach to nuclear weapons. Understandably, the former Prime Minister felt unable to make that statement at the United Nations in New York because the election was so close. Only a few weeks later, we had such a statement from President Obama in the nuclear posture review. In taking the position that he took, he repeated that commitment to non-nuclear-weapons countries in compliance with the NPT. That was an important step forward for the United States.

I was at first concerned that, as a country, we were not taking a sufficient lead in this matter, not forgetting that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty conference will end in two days' time, on 28 May, and that we might therefore lose the opportunity to be heard internationally on an issue of the greatest importance. I was therefore very pleased that the Foreign Secretary in the coalition Government said what he said today in the House of Commons, and I hope that every possible step will be taken to convey that speech to those still engaged in negotiations in New York. He said that he would state openly the number of nuclear warheads that the United Kingdom has in deployment and in active alert status at present and expects to have in future: 225 nuclear weapons in total and as a maximum. That was an important statement and bore out the commitment of the P5 nuclear powers to be transparent with the rest of the world, which is a crucial element in building trust.

The second thing the new Foreign Secretary said in another place today was that the new Government will take the view that the nuclear posture of the United Kingdom should be radically reviewed. In other words, we will look at it again in the light of the movements forward in the fields of international relations, foreign policy and so forth. I was delighted about that because various messages have reached me in my capacity as a member of the international commission that our position in the discussions and negotiations in New York was substantially hardening on the issue of disarmament. It therefore meant a great deal to me that the Foreign Secretary took this position with regard to the nuclear posture in future. We know that the nuclear posture review in the United States led to a restrictive interpretation of the use of nuclear weapons, and I hope that we will see a similar development here in the United Kingdom so that we can encourage what may be a once-in-a-century opportunity to move towards reductions in nuclear arsenals and a more sensible attitude towards the alert status of so many nuclear weapons in the world.

In that context, I shall add one other important point. As the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference moves towards its final statement on 28 May-the presidential outline of the conclusions is already available-I hope that it will set out a series

26 May 2010 : Column 76

of specific, concrete steps that can be taken to push on from the review conference towards further treaties and agreements on reducing the prospect of the use of this terrible weapon.

I shall quickly say a few things about specific cases. First, I welcome the decision by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty conference to call for a conference, headed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, on the Middle East. As all of us in this Chamber know, the situation in the Middle East has become rather like something caught in the choking mechanism of a human being-that is to say, unless it can be removed, sooner or later the world's prospects for peace will decline rapidly. The situation has gone on year after year, and we still hear a great deal of talk about the two-state solution as it begins to disappear more and more rapidly as a result of-forgive me-such things as the increase in settlements and the blockade of Gaza.

The second issue I want to touch on is equally controversial. It would be helpful if the Government looked more closely at the Turkish-Brazilian agreement with Iran for a large part of its low-enriched uranium to be passed to Turkey-a loyal member of NATO-for processing, thereby removing a large part of the LEU stocks from Iran to a country that is much safer from our point of view. It was dismissed too easily and quickly without sufficient concern being shown or given to the prospect of finding some way out of the endless misery of our relations with Iran. North Korea seems to be passing into a period of extreme irrationality, and we have to think about how to deal with that almost impossible situation.

Finally, let me echo the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, who said that a substantial number of clubs and organisations have been set up in this House and in Parliament-in particular the top-level group, the parliamentary committee to which the noble Baroness referred-that are concerned to move forward the prospect of greater reductions in nuclear arsenals and all the rest of it in every way that they can. I believe that that has been an important contribution by this House as well as by the United Kingdom. We have a long and distinguished record of contributing to disarmament negotiations and of recognising that there are more ways than simply warfare to deal with the world's conflicts. In that context, I echo what the noble Baroness and the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Ramsbotham, said about Trident. We need to look at that decision in the light of the movements in the world as a whole towards, we hope, a different kind of world. That decision should be made in that context and in no other because, as was said so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, we want a foreign policy that is appropriate to the modern world, not one that simply harks back to the Cold War.

6.30 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I have always been extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for his tremendous encouragement and support when I have raised various issues in your Lordships' House, particularly at Question Time, and

26 May 2010 : Column 77

to the noble Lords, Lord Astor and Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I therefore join others in welcoming them to the posts that they now hold. I know that they bring invaluable experience and great weight to those offices. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock of Holyhead, for her terrific support, not least on issues connected with Africa, especially Sudan.

Recently, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, gave weighty support to a proposal, which I placed before the Chairman of Committees-the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara-that a House of Lords Select Committee on international affairs should be established. I hope that that will continue to enjoy the support of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Today's debate once again underlines the phenomenal experience that such a Select Committee will be able to harness. Happily, such a reform will not require an Act of Parliament, or indeed a referendum.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page