Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
2:30 pm

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond

Lord Wright of Richmond (Crossbench)

rose to call attention to the current priorities in Her Majesty's Government's conduct of foreign and commonwealth affairs; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I would first like to thank the long and distinguished list of noble Lords who have decided to take part in this debate. I particularly welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, has decided to take this opportunity to make his maiden speech. I know how much we are all looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

I have deliberately worded the Motion to enable your Lordships to cover a wide spectrum of international affairs this afternoon, and to give you the opportunity to state where you think the Government's international priorities should lie. Perhaps I may, not for the first time, express my regret at the decision, for the last few years, to bracket foreign affairs with defence and overseas development in the debate on the Queen's Speech. I hope very much that business managers will reconsider this in the future. Closely linked though all these issues are, bracketing them together in one debate has simply not given ample scope for a full discussion of foreign affairs—a subject in which this House has a unique repository of expertise, shortly to be reinforced by the very welcome introduction of my friend and colleague, Sir John Kerr.

It is perhaps worth emphasising the inevitable gap between setting priorities and sticking to them. We have only to recall the exceptionally high priority that President Bush promised to give to his relations with Mexico within weeks of his inauguration, before the events of September 11 changed the Administration's priorities so dramatically. International affairs, unlike domestic affairs, are never under the sole control of any one government—even a superpower like the United States. Foreign policy problems tend to leap out of the dark and to threaten the priority given to even the most carefully considered and long-term strategies.

Nor can any government conduct their foreign policy without taking into account the interests and priorities of other governments including, of course, their friends, partners and allies, and their commitments to those many international organisations, including the United Nations and NATO, of which the United Kingdom is a member. In that connection I might remind your Lordships that we shall next year be holding the presidencies of both the Group of Eight and, for the last six months, the European Union.

There is also an increasing temptation for governments to allow the media to set their priorities for them, with the risk that important, but forgotten, issues tend to be given insufficient, if any, priority. Without claiming any great prescience, I remind your Lordships that in a speech which I made in this House almost exactly nine years ago, I warned of two so-called "forgotten areas of the world" that had no prominence at the time, but which later turned out to cause a great deal of trouble and attention; namely, Afghanistan and Liberia.

Some of your Lordships may wish to use the opportunity of this debate to draw attention to some other areas of the world which are today in danger of being forgotten. Indeed, I wonder whether the priority that the Government are inevitably giving to current troubles in Iraq may not be in danger of putting both Afghanistan and the Balkans back on to the "forgotten" list.

Setting priorities also carries with it the inescapable need to give some issues a lower priority, which governments may later come to regret. We have only to note recent complaints by Christian Aid that security needs in Iraq, and for counter-terrorism, are diverting much needed and promised aid from the poorer countries.

I am not arguing that priority setting is pointless. As I know from my former role as accounting officer of the Diplomatic Service, it is an inevitable part of preparing the departmental case for the public expenditure round. One of the difficult challenges for the Foreign Office accounting officer is to ensure that the requirements for the BBC World Service and the British Council are carefully balanced with the requirements of the Diplomatic Service.

The world has never been more dangerous than it is today. It is as important as it has ever been that the network of diplomatic posts worldwide should be properly resourced, both to fulfil their essential role in public diplomacy, in which they must work closely with the British Council, and to ensure their security. As we resource our Armed Forces and our development programmes, we also need to think carefully about the priority that we attach to getting our diplomacy right. One of the disastrous mistakes of United States policy towards Iraq was to leave all the planning, such as it was, in the hands of the Pentagon and to exclude the diplomats and those who had first-hand experience of Iraq. This is a time for more diplomacy, not less.

As for priorities, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention, as I am sure the Minister will, to the excellent booklet produced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in December last year, entitled UK International Priorities. Although that document is subtitled:

"A Strategy for the FCO",

I am told that it was drawn up only after full consultation with other government departments, in an attempt to establish consensus on where the whole Government's international priorities should lie. Not surprisingly, the FCO's paper concludes that our relationship with the United States will continue to be our most important individual relationship and a vital asset, and that the relationship between Europe and the United States will be of paramount importance for the United Kingdom's—and the world's—future security and prosperity.

I hope that we shall hear from noble Lords this afternoon some views on our relations with the United States and with the European Union. On the latter, we have recently had good debates in the House, both on the constitutional treaty and on the European Court of Justice. The Government may argue that we do not have to allocate priority between the transatlantic alliance and Europe, as we can claim to be a bridge between the two. Sadly, the history of our involvement in Iraq over the past year has shown that the Government, in my view unwisely, have put an excessive priority on at least appearing to stand shoulder to shoulder with our American allies, with some damage to our stated goal of remaining at the centre of the European Union.

I have already quoted one previous intervention of mine. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I also quote from a passage in my speech in a debate on foreign affairs which I similarly had the privilege of introducing in this House more than six years ago. It has a certain resonance in present circumstances. Having rejected the French description of our relationship with the United States as that of an Anglo-Saxon Trojan horse within the walls of Europe, I continued that,

"it is important, if our relationship with the United States is to add substance and value to our membership of the European Union and vice versa, that we do not give the impression—as I fear has too often been the case in the past—that we are prepared to give uncritical support to all American policies. Nor is that the way in which we can hope to influence the United States Administration or Congress".—[Hansard, 28/1/98; col. 235.]

I do not think that I can better that warning, particularly in the light of our current policies in the Middle East. It may have come as a surprise to your Lordships that I have not concentrated, in my introductory speech, on Iraq or the wider Middle East—partly because I wished deliberately to broaden the agenda for the debate, and partly because we quite recently had the benefit of the excellent debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. All I wish to say today on that vital area of the world is that I believe that the United States has made a fundamental and dangerous error in failing to put the highest priority on pushing forward the peace process in the Middle East, in spite of personal assurances by President Bush in Belfast that he would do so.

It was, in my view, a disastrous error to have given higher priority to Iraq—which, as we all now know, had nothing to do with the events of September 11—than to the problem which lies at the hub of much of the instability in the Middle East, and of Arab and Muslim mistrust of the West. It is not, of course, just a question of adopting an even-handed negotiating approach vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestinians, although that has sadly been lacking in United States policies. We also need to find ways of encouraging both Palestinians and Israelis, who have a shared and genuine interest in peace, to renounce violence and to find a way forward in negotiation.

I hope that the debate may provide an opportunity for noble Lords to make some practical suggestions. Most of all, I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that Her Majesty's Government continue to put the highest priority towards ending the unacceptable violence and killing of innocent civilians by both sides; and towards achieving a comprehensive and just settlement for the future security of Israel, and for the creation of a genuinely viable Palestinian state, in close co-operation with our European partners and other members of the quartet.

A solution to the Palestinian problem is not only vital in itself, as a means of alleviating the suffering, deprivation and insecurity which it is causing for all concerned. Our own policies towards the Arab-Israel dispute will affect, for better or worse, the extent of mistrust and bitterness towards the West which the unresolved horrors of Palestine and Iraq are likely to leave in Arab and Muslim minds for many years to come. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Robertson of Port Ellen

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen (Crossbench)

My Lords, I am very grateful for this opportunity to address the House for the first time, so I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright, for his initiative and congratulate him on securing the debate. He and I know each other well. We had the pleasure of being together on the British Council board for a few years when he was Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office. We also had the memorable distinction of participating in the only vote in that board's history, and finding ourselves on the losing side when it chose to go to Manchester instead of Glasgow for its new headquarters.

I am also delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, is winding up the debate, not only because she is one of the most eloquent and effective members of the Government, but because I had the advantage of having her for a very brief period as my deputy at the Ministry of Defence. That was before I was moved out of Parliament, out of the Cabinet and out of the country and given a new name. It is known in the United States as the witness protection scheme, but it was to NATO that I went, which precluded me for obvious reasons from speaking in this House since then. I thank noble Lords for the warmth of their welcome and the depth of their understanding about why I was not here for so long.

The four years in which I held the position of Secretary-General were remarkable, dramatic and in many ways unpredictable—events, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, has said, out of the dark. I went in there in the aftermath of Kosovo, four years after the intervention in Bosnia. We had a potential bloodbath in southern Serbia in early 2001 and then a near civil war in Macedonia later in that year; and, of course, on September 11 the whole world was turned upside down.

In February of last year we had a crisis in the alliance over giving help to Turkey under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty. I was responsible at the time for the decision taken for NATO to go into Afghanistan and the decision in principle, unanimously taken last year, to support Poland as it took responsibility for a multinational division in Iraq.

NATO is a very different organisation from the one I went to in October 1999. There are seven new members of the alliance, three of them part of the Soviet Union only 15 years ago; new relationships on paper and in practice with the European Union; a new equality-based council with the Russian Federation; new capabilities for the new world that we live in—a new command structure and a new Supreme Allied Command transformation to bind together the armed forces of America and Europe; a new NATO response force designed for the challenges of the future; a new commitment to getting the right capabilities for tomorrow's challenges and not for yesterday's enemies; and new roles in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

So, NATO is an international organisation that went through a transition, faced the challenges and made the changes, both internally and externally. I believe that it has faced the challenges of terrorism proliferation and of failed states and that it is better equipped than ever before.

A T-shirt was presented to me in Colorado Springs last September at a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers. It was in exchange for a bottle of fine 17 year-old Islay malt whisky—so that killed the stereotype of the mean Scotsman for ever. But the T-shirt was a very important memento. On the back was the emblem of the ministerial meeting and on the front was the slogan, "This ain't your daddy's NATO". I was very proud of that T-shirt. I have not yet found the circumstances to wear it, but the legend is important and NATO is there.

NATO is one of the most important organisations that we have been involved in and are members of now. It is a huge bargain for the money that we spend, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to give a commitment on behalf of the Government that, at long last, the United Kingdom Government will stop putting a block on enlarging the NATO budget, which they, like the French and German Governments, have conspired over the years to keep at record lows. I believe that NATO is the one multinational organisation in the world where the United States Government want to spend more money, but are prevented doing so by certain governments—and the British Government could take a lead.

I have one reservation about many of the things that we did during my time at NATO—my worry and my concern as a passionate Atlanticist and a passionate European integrationist over the lamentable record of the European powers in sharing the security burden with the United States of America. Unless the European countries spend more money on defence—and spend it more wisely—then it will be impotence and not influence that results from the transatlantic relationships. We need more deployable troops; we need more big planes; we need more precision weapons; and we do not need the heavy metal armies that were useful, if they were useful at all, against the Soviet Union in a bygone day.

Perhaps I may say a word in conclusion—I am told that I must limit my speech to six minutes. I know that someone was once quoted as saying, "If you can't say what you need to say in 20 minutes, go away and write a book". To crystallise one's views in six minutes is difficult, but not, I hope, impossible.

I do not think that, in this brief time, it is either appropriate or necessary to revisit the arguments regarding, "Why Iraq? Why now?". I supported the invasion then and I support the principle of it now. An evil man in the region and in the world has been disposed of. The world is a better place, although it will be tough to get through. But the issue of "the now" is more urgent than the argument about "what if?". I think that there are too many stakeholders in failure, and yet there are so many people in Iraq who are stakeholders in success. In the next four weeks, as the leaders of the world meet next week in Normandy, the following week at Sea Island in Georgia, then at the European Union summit, and then in Istanbul at the NATO summit, I hope they will focus on how best we can safely find a way to hand over authority to the Iraqis themselves—because, be assured, if we do not sort Iraq then Iraq will come and sort us. That is the lesson of history and I hope that we learn it.

Those who have doubts about whether that is possible might care to go to Sarajevo and talk to another Member of this House who is on leave of absence at the moment—to Paddy Ashdown, who I visited on a number of occasions and who is doing a brilliant and successful job there. It is not yet nine years since the massacre at Srebrenica, but we have gone from the killing fields of Srebrenica to the Eurovision Song Contest for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not many people would have made that prediction in 1995, when we intervened there.

So, let us be optimistic. Let us try to look at the long game and take the tough decisions now. World leaders will be on the spot and we must all wish them well.

Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon

Lord Howe of Aberavon (Conservative)

My Lords, by a strange coincidence I have the privilege of following an outstanding maiden speech, exactly as I did on 14 September 2002, when I followed the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. So my pleasure in welcoming the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, is amplified by the fact that he has set a marvellous sequel to the pattern set by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown.

I have known the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, for long time and he was one of my opposite numbers during my time at the Foreign Office. In particular, I remember the occasion when he had to respond to my rather startling and disturbing announcement about the shooting of three IRA men in Gibraltar. That was a very confused occasion. I was not able to give him the Statement until five minutes before I made it—and it was quite different from what it had been an hour before. He might have responded in any number of opportunistic ways, but he responded with robust, candid support, which I have always valued.

I remember also, perhaps particularly as a Welshman, his joint handling, as shadow Scottish Secretary, with my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, of the tragedies of Dunblane. Their joint management of that terrible episode did great credit to our political system on both sides, and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, played a very large part in that. So nothing has surprised us about his subsequent record, his distinguished service as Secretary of State for Defence and, of course, in NATO, during the four years that we have been missing him in this House.

The noble Lord closed by making exactly the right points, based on that experience, and I underline his encouragement to our European partners to begin playing a much more serious role in fortifying ourselves effectively to play the part that we ought to. His advice on that and many other issues will be enormously welcome and I congratulate him most warmly on behalf of the entire House.

It is also a pleasure to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, because we, too, have had a significant partnership over many years. He opened this debate with the authority and clarity that we have come to expect of him and I underline absolutely one of his most important points—the need for us to have, as a nation playing a proper part in the world, a Diplomatic Service that is properly resourced and whose advice and wisdom is properly respected. Both are equally important.

I depart from the noble Lord's pattern of priorities, because it is some time since I have spoken on the topic of foreign affairs in this House for reasons with which I need not trouble noble Lords. I want to say something in particular about the consequences of what has been happening in relation to Iraq over recent years. I shall focus much more critically than I would have wished on the performance of the United States, as well as on the entire pattern of our own reactions to what was happening—my reaction and the world's reaction. We failed to judge correctly the anger with which the United States, and its leaders, was likely to react to an event of hugely provocative and humiliating significance in its history.

I look back on my own advice, and perhaps I may follow the noble Lord's example of quoting from one of my own speeches. On 14 September 2001, I said clearly that robust action in self-defence was justified, but only if three conditions were fulfilled and that,

"it is essential to be sure, or as sure as one can be, that the evidence of guilt is equally robust";

it is essential,

"to sustain the unflagging long-term unity of international support that will be essential to success";

and it is essential to give,

"a renewed commitment to tackle even-handedly both sides of the Middle East conflict, which fuels and exacerbates the hostility towards the United States".—[Hansard, 14/9/01; col. 26.]

Each of those points, if they were important then, can be seen to be even more important now.

Perhaps we made the mistake of believing that we were dealing with the United States after the self-restraint it had showed on so many occasions during the years of the Cold War. We supported it, quite rightly, in the actions it took against Afghanistan; but with much less wisdom and enthusiasm over what happened in Iraq.

Most tragically of all, the ultimate aim became regime change—but not so much regime change as regime destruction with little, if any, consideration of what was to replace it, save for much rhetorical commitment to democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, pointed out how successful that has been in the Balkans, thanks to great good fortune and wisdom there. In many other countries around the world, one has seen how hard it is to construct anything resembling a democratic system of government.

One can look at the history of Iraq and the description of it given by King Faisal I after he had been in office for some 10 or 12 years. He said:

"There are still no Iraqi people . . . they are devoid of any patriotic ideas, connected by no common tie, prone to anarchy, perpetually ready to rise against any government whatever . . . the immensity of efforts required to tackle these troubles can only be imagined".

The history of tyranny which followed in the later years shows how huge was the task to which so little consideration was given. The truth is that so far it has done nothing to enhance the stability of the region. On the contrary. It has done nothing to prevent the spread of terrorism and the task has been made infinitely more difficult by the repeated rhetorical emphasis of the conduct of a "war on terror", which confuses rather than simplifies the task facing us.

We come to the exit from the situation of great complexity in which we now find ourselves. I have only one observation to make on that in the limited time available. As regards what happens now and in the weeks and months ahead, as my right honourable friend Michael Howard pointed out, and was justified in doing so, this country is entitled—indeed, it is under a duty—to insist on the advice which it gives being harkened to and, above all, to a much more positive response to our advice in tackling the difficulties of establishing some form of tolerable self-governance in Iraq.

That advice was summed up a week or two ago in an article in the Financial Times by Professor Anthony Lake, President Clinton's national security adviser for four years. This comes from someone of authority in that country:

"Real internationalisation of the political authorities and the security forces is desperately needed now. That means more than asking the United Nations and NATO to help. It means actually transferring real power and authority to a UN-authorised international mission and a NATO-led security force".

That that should be the objective is surely now clear beyond doubt. That it will be extremely difficult to achieve is, tragically, equally clear. We may well be carrying a burden more direct than we would wish for longer than we would wish. All the more reason for our advice to be clearly given and for it to be listened to with respect, as it ought to be.

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Lord Alderdice (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, the great wealth of your Lordships' House is to be found in the extraordinary breadth and depth of experience which is brought to debates by its Members. It was never better exemplified than by my three predecessors today: the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, to whom we owe the conduct of the debate; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon; and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen. I speak not only for myself but also for my colleagues on these Benches when I say that it is a delight to hear him in this Chamber and to be able to look forward to many more illuminating contributions out of his experience and understanding of wider world affairs and the place of our country in them.

The terms of the debate were set out not only in the wording of the Motion but also in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. He said that this was an opportunity to pull back from the immediacy of some of the particular and serious problems before us and to take a wide-angle lens to our conduct of foreign affairs and foreign policy. Surely the purpose of a foreign policy is summed up in three simple notions. First, it is to defend the welfare of the citizens of our country from external threats and from any internal threats consequent on them. Secondly, it is to facilitate citizens and our private, public and national institutions in promoting their legitimate interests—economic, social, cultural or otherwise. Thirdly, it is to maintain and benefit the good name of the country. That assists all of us, our citizens and our public institutions, in achieving all those things.

There can be little doubt that these are appropriate and reasonable aims. The eight strategic policy priorities set down by the Foreign Office sum them up and are perhaps a little wider. But the problem is whether any particular policy delivers what it sets out to do. Looking back over the past four years, it seems that the citizens of this country are not now more secure whether at home—even within the confines of the Palace of Westminster, as we were recently reminded—or travelling abroad.

In conducting our affairs—economic, social, cultural, educational or otherwise—we are not better off than we were four years ago. Many parts of the world are more antagonistic towards us, our country and our citizens. Sadly, I fear that the good name of our country is not held in such high esteem as it was some years ago. Therefore, it is not a question of whether the aims of policy priorities are good, but whether they deliver what they set out to deliver.

This is lamentable. I use the word cautiously but with emphasis because the deterioration in our world is serious and could well get worse. Many of the great strengths of this country have been set to one side. The history of moving from an imperial past to a commonwealth of nations is remarkable. We often forget how remarkable, virtually singular, the achievement is. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements in foreign policy over the past century is that a once imperial power was able to have such extraordinarily good, positive and onward-looking relations with former colonies.

The development of the European Union, to which we have, perhaps in a slightly hiccupping fashion, made a contribution, is hugely important. From a parochial point of view, even in the past few years the contribution to peace around the world, particularly in Northern Ireland, has been a success, even if it has not completely delivered. It is a positive thing. The situation is better than it was.

The standing of our judicial, journalistic and other institutions around the world was high but now it is not so high. Why is that? It seems to me that it is because we have forgotten some of the lessons. The first is that foreign policy is not a short-term issue; it is a long-term matter that requires sticking with one's approach through the ups and downs. There is a great tendency to overreact to immediate events and not to understand that the content of immediate events is far less important than the process of one's approach to dealing with the long-term issues.

Whether it was the development of the Commonwealth, the building of the European Union or peace processes in places such as South Africa and Northern Ireland, or the development of our constitution and our courts and the whole ethos of our community, none came about by short-term reaction; they came about by long-term, slow, thoughtful and consistent building, characterised by integrity and respect.

It seems to me that if we are to see success in the avowed aims that we set down in terms of policy priorities, we must be prepared to adhere to, and stick with, an approach to foreign policy characterised by consistency in the long term, respect in all our dealings and an integrity that shines through. I say in passing that we should not jump to the whim of a current administration, even when it is that of a long-term friendly country. Let us not be mistaken: many of our American colleagues do not feel that the current administration is following American interests. Precision and measurability of policy priorities is very fashionable, but it is far less important than wisdom in implementing the priorities.

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Lord Grocott (Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household; Labour)

My Lords, perhaps I may remind the House that this is a four-hour time-limited debate. That is beyond the control of me or anyone else. Clearly, if everyone runs beyond the limit of six minutes per speaker, there will be very little time left for the later speakers. That is not a criticism of anyone; it is a statement of arithmetic.

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The Bishop of St Albans (Bishop)

My Lords, on behalf of my colleagues, I join everyone in this House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, on a remarkable maiden speech. The combination of wit and wisdom, candour and expertise in six minutes meant that its impact was brilliantly focused. If he is able to give some of us on these Benches a few tips in creating sermons, we should be very glad to hear from him. I look forward very much to learning a great deal from the noble Lord in the years ahead and, again, I thank him most warmly.

In the 1970s, I worked as religious education adviser in the diocese of Hereford, which meant that I was invited to schools to talk to sixth-formers. I was invited to a school in Telford, where the title of my talk, which was given to me by the school, was "This Man believes in God", the implication being that youngsters had better take a careful look at this particular specimen because I was doomed to die. I was a kind of theological and anthropological dodo.

Noble Lords will be aware that, far from dying out, religious belief seems to have become an increasingly dominant element in our world. No strategy concerning priorities in foreign policy can be described as adequate if it fails to take seriously religious elements within both situations where there is conflict and those where peace is being created.

As noble Lords will know, there are two distinct elements within interfaith activity. The first is dialogue between the faiths themselves. I take this opportunity to thank particular heroes in that field in this country. I think, for example, of Brian Pearce of the Inter Faith Network and Sister Margaret Shepherd and her colleagues at the Council of Christians and Jews. I now declare an interest: I am the national chairman of that council. It is a huge privilege because I am acutely aware of the unsung work that goes on in combating racism and increasing interfaith understanding on a daily basis.

CCJ and similar organisations in this country are entirely dependent for their work upon voluntary, charitable giving. But if interfaith dialogue is a major contributor to social cohesion in this country, which it is, is it not possible for more government help to be given in supporting our work?

Secondly, just as there is a need for dialogue between the faiths, so there is also a need for dialogue between the faiths and government. The instruments of that kind of dialogue at a national and regional level are at an early and unformed stage. But those mechanisms, too, will need significant government resource if they are to be effective.

Noble Lords will know that Article 51 of the draft European Union Constitution speaks of,

"open, transparent and regular dialogue",

between EU institutions and the faiths. Whatever one thinks about that constitution—whether one is for or against it—the fact that Article 51 exists in draft form is evidence of the seriousness with which all European countries are taking religion in the 21st century.

As a nation, we have a huge amount to be proud of in the way in which interfaith understanding has been created over many decades—in schools, hospitals and the voluntary sector—and, in truth, as a nation we have much good practice to share with European partners.

I say all that about inter-religious and interfaith dialogue in this important debate about foreign policy because of the role that religions play in shaping our world. The religions that are talking to each other in the United Kingdom are the very same religions that are found elsewhere in the world. The religions that need to have dialogue with the Government in this country are the same religions which spread across the globe. Creating understanding in the United Kingdom is not separate from foreign policy; it should be seen as an integral and necessary part of it. If we can create understanding here, we may be able to model in this country ways of interacting between faiths and between faiths and government which can be developed elsewhere.

At a practical level, it would be very good—perhaps this already happens—if officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could increase their dialogue with other parts of the government machinery, especially with the Home Office, in order to create a coherent, intelligent and well researched map of interfaith activity. Such a map would show not only what is going on in the United Kingdom, of which there is a great deal, but what is going on in Europe. Such a mapping exercise could then provide the foundation for a far more proactive stance, encouraging good interfaith relationships across Europe and the world and good faith/government dialogue in the United Kingdom, Europe and, again, across the world.

The creation of understanding is the key to a peaceful world. It is my belief that religions must be a part of that process—a process which tries to create a world free of conflict. Of course, I recognise that it is a huge task, but if we who express our faith, whatever that may be, can play a significant role in that process and be resourced to do so, I believe that the benefits could be absolutely enormous.

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Lord Parekh (Labour)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for proposing and brilliantly opening this extremely important and timely debate on foreign policy priorities. Before I make my own contribution, I want to say how much I enjoyed the witty and wise speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and how much I look forward to his contributions in the years to come.

The foreign policy of any country, especially a great country such as ours, cannot be ad hoc or based on newspaper headlines or on tactical considerations and short-term expedience; it must be based on certain fundamental principles. I want to take the opportunity to suggest four basic principles which I believe must regulate the foreign policy of a country like ours.

First, we must aim to create a just and peaceful world; a world that is stable and where injustices do not fester and make people so desperate that they are tempted to resort to terrorism in order to redress those injustices, and where human beings are able to lead decent lives. I regard that as one of the most important and central principles of our foreign policy.

We have often expressed right sentiments on such acute conflicts as Israel and Palestine, but I am afraid that we have not been able to do very much, either because we got distracted by all kinds of short-term considerations or because we decided, for reasons I do not always understand, to rely a little too heavily on the United States and abdicated our responsibility for that part of the world.

We have rightly taken some important initiatives in tackling economic injustices and poverty, especially in Africa. I welcome the new commission on Africa, though I regret that it has taken us several years to set it up. I very much hope that it will not end up simply making recommendations that might never be implemented.

I also very warmly welcome the initiative that our Government have taken in pushing debt relief high up the agenda of international institutions, including several bilateral debt cancellations and increased developmental aid. However, my enthusiastic response to that is tempered by the fact that we have not done very much in democratising international financial institutions, such as the IMF and the World Bank. Nor have we done much to render them transparent and accountable.

That is so partly because we have not made economic justice our top priority and partly because we have not tried to mobilise progressive forces in our own society and elsewhere in the world. We need to link up with the many organisations that are actively struggling for economic justice, and make sure that we utilise their energies in creating a better and just world.

My second principle is that we need to foster respect for international law and international institutions in a climate of global civility. That is not achieved by rhetoric and sermons, but by ourselves setting a good example. Much violence in the world arises because human rights are ignored. Obviously, we need to foster a climate in which human rights are respected, but we need to be careful about what that involves. Often that is presented as an attempt to export democracy. I cannot imagine anything more absurd and flawed than that. Democracy is not just a matter of constitution, it is a matter of institutions and culture. Those things take decades to develop. Rather, we should be thinking in terms of creating a regime of human rights and the rule of law and allowing them to exercise and generate their own momentum.

In that context we have again begun to talk of humanitarian intervention. That is a commendable principle, but one that is always in danger of getting out of control if we ignore its grounds and limits. At all costs we should ensure that humanitarian intervention does not become a cloak for pursuing dubious national interests, or even a means of reshaping the world in our own image. In that connection I want to refer to some excellent work done in British universities by international relations experts, especially in Aberystwyth—where recently I was privileged to be elected as an honorary professor.

The third principle has to do with what I shall call restoring a modernised version of the principle of balance of power; not the 19th century version, but a version that is appropriate to the 21st century. No single country should be allowed to dominate the world. That is neither in that country's interest nor in the interest of the world. We should aim to create multiple centres of power. Here I may sound like a French academic, but that is not the intention. The intention is that while having multiple centres which regulate each other, we should avoid the French mistake of thinking that each one should take a confrontational attitude to others.

One of our goals should be a polycentric world in which these different centres work together to create a better and sensible world. We are ideally equipped to do that by virtue of our membership of the Commonwealth, of Europe, with our Atlantic connections and by virtue of the large empire which left us with a large number of friends and close connections in Africa and the Muslim world. I can think of no other country that is better equipped to be a bridge between different centres.

Finally, I want to turn to the important question of good relations with the United States. Obviously, we have close ties with the United States and we must build on them. But we need to be careful how we define the special relations, how we pursue them and what price we are expected to pay for them.

The United States is a vibrant democracy and speaks in many different voices. The voice that we currently hear is only one of them. If we identify too closely with that voice—namely the neo-conservative—alone, we are in grave danger of alienating many progressive voices in the United States. We should make it clear to the United States that we respect its great values and traditions and that it can count on our fullest support as long as it lives up to those values. But, should it ever fail to live up to those values, it can equally expect criticism—friendly, obviously, but nevertheless firm criticism from us. That is not anti-Americanism but the opposite; it is a way of urging that country to live up to its own great ideals and becoming its conscience.

We constantly talk about being a bridge between the United States and Europe or having special relations. If we are not careful such metaphors can easily make us prisoners of an antiquated and rather foolish way of thinking. A great country cannot simply expect to hang on to the coat-tail of another; it has its own view of the world and should be pushing for that. Rather than be a bridge between this and that centre of power, ideally we should be thinking in terms of using our own initiative and bringing these various centres together.

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Lord Hannay of Chiswick (Crossbench)

My Lords, having spoken to your Lordships' House on the European Union, on the United Nations and on the Middle East in recent weeks, I am avoiding those well worn pastures and wish to speak on two countries, Cyprus and Iran, both of which I think should have a place in our priorities. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for having made this possible and enabling me to participate in a debate adorned by the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen.

When speaking about Cyprus I must clearly declare the fact that I was the Government's special representative for seven years, from 1996 until 2003. Nothing that I say on the subject now in any way represents the views of the Government, whose representative on this matter I ceased to be a year ago.

The outcomes of the two referendums held in Cyprus on 24 April were sharply contrasted. In the north the Turkish Cypriots endorsed the UN Secretary-General's plan by 64.9 per cent; and in the south the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan by more than 75 per cent. In the north Mehmet Ali Talat, newly installed as prime minister after the parliamentary elections of last December and backed by the AK party government in Ankara, turned the page definitively on the rejectionist policies of Denktash and persuaded his people to accept the loss of territory, the displacement of many thousands of Turkish Cypriots and the rapid reduction in Turkish troop presence for which the plan provided.

In the south the administration of Tassos Papadopoulos, backed by Christofias, the leader of the communist party, took up the rejectionist baton which had been dropped by Denktash; and in so doing they ensured that the 9 per cent of territory on offer was not returned to the administration; that the tens of thousands of Greek Cypriots who would have returned to their property would not be able to do so; that Turkey's troop presence would not be reduced; and that there would be no cap on the number of Turkish mainland citizens who could come to the north and get Turkish Cypriot citizenship. One could truly say that the Greek Cypriots voted with their hearts while the Turkish Cypriots voted with their heads.

That outcome, and the consequent stymieing of the Annan plan, was both a triumph and a tragedy for the UN, and for the international community which had backed its efforts so determinedly. To have brought more than 30 years of negotiations with two parties, which no one would describe as easy going, to the point where what was generally considered outside Cyprus as a fair and equitable set of compromise solutions was on the table was a major achievement in itself. To have overcome the doubts and opposition of the Turkish Cypriots and of Turkey, maintained for decades by Denktash, who had dominated the policy of both the north of Cyprus and Turkey, was little short of the miraculous.

Was the rejection by the Greek Cypriots in any way justified? I do not believe so. No one who has read Papadopoulos's appeal for a "no" vote, which was a root and branch assault on the fundamental aspects of the Annan plan, not just a criticism of its latest iteration, can seriously believe that he had been negotiating in good faith for a settlement up to that moment. Nor did his behaviour at the last round of negotiations in Switzerland, when he refused to prioritise his list of desired changes and declined the smallest symbolic gestures of reconciliation to his Turkish Cypriot compatriots or to the Turkish Government, support that view. Driven by zero-sum calculations that compromises acceptable to Turks and Turkish Cypriots must by definition be detrimental to the interests of Greek Cypriots, he led his people into a strategic error that equalled those of 1963 when they hijacked the post-independence constitution and of 1974 when Archbishop Makarios was overthrown by force.

What should happen now? It will be most interesting to hear the views of the Minister on that. In my view, it is important that the Greek Cypriots be left in no doubt of the real anger and disappointment throughout the international community at their decision. No one disputes their democratic right to take that decision; but people have to live with the consequences of their decisions. The Greek Cypriots have chosen to reject the views of the UN and of their new partners in the European Union. They can expect no support for their case and should get none. In March 2003, when Denktash torpedoed the negotiations, the Secretary-General and the whole international community made it clear that, until there was a change of policy, there was nothing more to talk about. That surely needs to be the same message now even if the destination is different.

The Turkish Cypriots can reasonably ask that they should not be the victims of this setback; and yet it is they who are left in limbo outside the European Union. The immediate decision to pledge 260 million euros and the provision for trade across the green line will help the Turkish Cypriots, but what is now needed, surely, is to remove all discrimination against people who are, after all, citizens of the European Union and to prepare the Turkish Cypriots and their legislation and administrative practices for eventual European membership. What would not make sense would be to pursue Denktash's will of the wisp of recognition as an independent sovereign state. Every step by all parties now needs to be towards the Annan plan, which remains the only viable basis for a settlement, and not away from it.

When Iran was discussed in this House last November, I suggested that we, and even more so our closest ally, the United States, needed to develop a more sophisticated and better articulated policy towards that country. So far the United States, while it seems to have moved a little away from the "axis of evil" caricature, regards Iran as little more than a potentially awkward neighbour to two countries—Iraq and Afghanistan—of greater security policy importance to it; and as the possessor of a highly suspect nuclear programme. But it is a country with 70 million inhabitants, exporting millions of barrels of oil a day, with its own security concerns; a country moreover which is most certainly not part of the Arab Middle East, to be somehow lumped in with that group. It surely needs to be addressed directly and on its own merits. It is hard to see how that can be done successfully without any contact or dialogue between it and the United States. If the Americans can talk to the North Koreans why on earth can they not talk to the Iranians?

I have no illusions that the dialogue that we or the Americans may have with the Iranians will be straightforward or trouble free. We will have to talk about Middle East policy, about the nuclear programme, human rights and the treatment of women. But unless we can situate those difficult points within a wider framework that takes account of Iran's own security concerns, we will get nowhere. To do that should not be impossible. Iran has an important interest in the stability of its eastern and western neighbours; it is a key security player in a sub-region—the Gulf—of great importance to us and the Europeans. I would hope that, in the contacts we have with Washington at every level, we will be registering some of those points.

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Lord Biffen (Conservative)

My Lords, if we had injury time to be used in these time-limited debates, I would use it several times over to express my appreciation for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, to wish him a happy time in the Chamber and to tell him that I remember with great affection with what tenacity he opposed the Single European Act in his days in the House of Commons.

If I were in the House of Commons today, I would have voted against the invasion of Iraq. I say that so that the House may know from where I come. I would have done so primarily because I believed that, having invaded Iraq, we would find it immensely difficult, if not intractable, to extricate ourselves at some convenient and propitious moment. Well, I would be happy for the vanity of that judgment to be pricked. If the draft Security Council resolution is intended to start a process that will establish an effective Iraqi authority that will gainsay my fears, I will be only too happy. But at present, I travel with a great deal of anxiety.

I take at once the point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, that we must understand that the United States' whole psyche was shattered by the Twin Towers episode. It destroyed a sense of security and confidence that it has not yet repossessed and has led to some quite extraordinary behaviour on the part of the American Government which will prove damaging for the West and the Alliance.

I shall make only three points. The first concerns the conduct of war. The great emphasis on technology, on aerial bombardment, added to the behaviour of the American infantry on the ground, is the conduct of war in such a fashion as to exclude totally the idea of winning hearts and minds.

Secondly, there is the desire to build a society and constitution based on substantially Western concepts of human rights, law-making, law enforcement and legislature—the whole gamut—which are difficult enough for Western societies, let alone to be imposed on countries that have little in their traditions that pay regard to the origins that we have. I say that in no sense as making a value judgment; it is just a practical judgment. At times, President Bush sounds as though he is a born again Woodrow Wilson. That is one more difficulty to add to the plenty that we already have.

My third point, which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, to whom we are indebted for this debate, concerns the conduct of American policy on the Palestinian and Israeli dispute. The television screens, week in and week out, bring home to us the violence and near hopelessness of that dispute. I shall not here try to adjudicate blame, which would be a most fruitless task to entertain. But there is no doubt that what has happened across the Middle East, especially in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, is poisoning relations with the wider Arab world. We will not defeat Al'Qaeda by Western techniques, attitudes and weaponry. There is more to it than that. There is a battle for ideas in which, to take the point made by the right reverend Prelate, there is also an engagement of spiritual issues.

When we consider that, it is a long haul. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, reminded us that, so often, the great issues in public policy are for the long haul. When I think of the recent few months, I think of Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Rafah and Guantanamo. They are all without doubt dragon's teeth that are being sown that will have a rich harvest of well armed hoplites, making the future infinitely more difficult than would have been the case if we had constructed the response to Al'Qaeda rather differently than has been determined by the Americans.

I have no desire to enter into partisan political judgments on the matter but I will say this: I can feel friendlier towards old Labour than to the current Administration. Given how Harold Wilson dealt with Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnamese dispute, it seems that you could be good friends with America and still be a realist.

4:10 pm
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Lord Weidenfeld (Crossbench)

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, on his maiden speech. I have known and admired the noble Lord for many years for his contribution to national politics and the arts, and to inter-allied bridge-building and international co-operation, while displaying the self-ironising yet authoritative manner that he showed today.

The noble Lord, Lord Wright, would certainly agree with me that clarity of vision and a sense of proportion must be prerequisites to this groundbreaking debate, which he has so helpfully initiated.

We are all agreed that the resumption of negotiations in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is very urgent; that a two-stage solution is inescapable; and that the bloodshed must stop. But I submit that it is an illusion to think that this conflict is the cornerstone of the battle against extremism and terror. It must be tackled pari passu with serious efforts to bring about reform and a radically changed mindset on both sides.

On the Arab side, polemics about the Israel-Palestinian feud have served for far too long as an alibi for masterly inactivity in the domains of social, economic and political reform. The recent Arab League meeting in Tunis came up with no constructive solution. There is talk again of a renewed Saudi initiative. But how can we take that seriously, when Crown Prince Abdullah ascribed responsibility for the recent devastating terror acts in his kingdom to Zionist culprits? How seriously can we take Chairman Arafat's willingness to resume talks, when on 15 May he cursed the existence of the state of Israel and praised the martyrs of the intifada without condemning the terrorists? Were those just rhetorical flourishes destined for home consumption? In the glasshouse world of instant global communication there is no difference between internal and external pronouncements.

It has been often suggested, perhaps with a side-glance at our own experiences in Northern Ireland, that talks can go on amid waves of terror, and that there must be no, or only minimal, retaliation. But the comparison is not valid. Not even the most ferocious member of the IRA would aspire to a solution beyond a united Catholic Ireland. Hamas and Hezbollah go for the jugular: the total extinction of the Jewish state and massacres throughout the Jewish world community. You cannot tell the mother who has lost four children through a suicide operation or young clerics who are assembling the limbs and innards of people murdered deliberately and purposefully—and not collaterally—that talks must go on regardless of continual attacks.

On at least two occasions recently, I spent an evening with Israeli leaders, once with Premier Sharon and once with a prominent member of the left-wing Peace Now movement. Both meetings took place on the eve of a planned encounter with the Palestinian sides with the purpose of arranging an armistice. Yet on both occasions an aide rushed in during the meal and reported a major suicide attack. The intended meetings with the Palestinians were cancelled, and the public was crying out for strong action.

I sincerely hope that Prime Minister Sharon will carry his cabinet next Sunday and succeed in pursuing his plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. I hope that he will do that without meaningful changes. I hope that he will also overcome resistance in his own party, and that petty party politics and career ambitions will not stand in the way. This plan deserves our support. The American President endorses it. Europeans and indeed some weighty Arab voices accept it, albeit with certain reservations. But it is a definite way of hoisting the road map from stony ground on to the conference table. Anyone who reads the Bush/Sharon correspondence very carefully and without bias will see that there is great scope for flexibility. Yes, it has a touch of the constructive ambiguity that so often in the history of diplomacy has allowed agreement to be reached with sacrifices on both sides.

Do not misread or underrate Sharon's wish for renewed negotiations and willingness for major concessions. When General de Gaulle, on his return to power, first visited Algeria, he cheered the supporters of l'Algérie franc"aise. But the same de Gaulle chided them a few years later for still clinging to "l'Algérie du papa". General Sharon believed at one time in Greater Israel and masterminded the building of many settlements on the West Bank. But I am convinced that today what might have been desirable to him is no longer possible, and that this determined and stubborn warrior could well be the main agent of change in a direction that would ultimately lead to peace. Even if it were not given to him by fate to reach the last stretch of the road, he wants to tread it. I submit that we should give him the benefit of the doubt.

In the remaining half minute, I wish to talk about a land where I have just been: the Ukraine. I remind noble Lords that that country will have vital elections on 31 October and an opportunity of electing a more democratic, decent and humane government. We should not, over our concern with the admission of Turkey to the European Union—which I consider to be vital in a geopolitical long-range context—forget the fate of a people of 50 million, drenched in European history and longing to be part of the European family of nations. If we could succeed in deepening our relations with Russia economically, culturally and through a military partnership with NATO, it should not be unrealistic to speak up for, and ultimately to achieve, the adhesion of a much tried and severely tested people.

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Lord Brennan (Labour)

My Lords, the situation in Iraq is of grave concern, in the short term and, even more so, the long term. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, has given us the opportunity today to carry out careful scrutiny of this problem and to speak about it with candour.

The conduct of foreign affairs by this nation is based on two foundations. The first is to recognise and apply our national qualities: a sense of fairness and justice, a profound obligation to our armed services, and a commitment to help countries that need it to improve and, if necessary, re-establish themselves as a country. We value those qualities and are valued for them. The second foundation is the pursuit of our national interest, but in a way that serves our national reputation.

Applying that analysis to the aftermath of the war in Iraq, three matters arise. The first is fairness and justice. The events at Abu Ghraib prison and the shocking images that we have seen should be the subject of the following by this country: first, to condemn it; secondly, to do so forcefully; thirdly, to call, from either the United States or this country, if criminal investigation shows it to be appropriate, for prosecution with efficiency and expedition. Why? All to show that our sense of fairness and justice is applicable to war. Can we rightly say that we have spoken out forcefully on this question so far?

The second matter is safeguarding our soldiers. I have no military knowledge, but as a parliamentarian I am entitled to ask what is the plan, and where do we go next? As a parliamentarian I would strongly question any further expansion of troop numbers in Iraq or any significant alteration of our military role there unless the following conditions were satisfied. First, that such proposals had been fully discussed with, and agreed to by, as necessary, the general staff of our Armed Forces. Secondly, if there is to be such action, there should be an adequate supply of manpower and equipment. Thirdly, what is to be done must be indispensable, militarily as well as politically, and not capable of being done by anyone else. Lastly, there must be a properly thought out set of exit strategies. Our Armed Forces deserve nothing less. Have we achieved this sense of obligation in present circumstances?

The third matter is promoting our national interest and protecting our national reputation. Yesterday, Richard Perle, no less, frankly conceded that an army of liberation had become an army of occupation. That is the reality, which even he has accepted. The way forward, in our national interest and for our national reputation, is to help Iraq to rebuild itself governmentally, institutionally, and economically, all within a system based on the rule of law. That would be consistent with the quality that I previously described by which we seek to help other countries.

Each of these three—fairness, protecting our soldiers, and standing up for our national reputation—are interdependent. Damage to one can produce damage to all. I cannot see any feature of the needs of the coalition between this country and the United States that would prevent this country following these three objectives plainly and publicly. Indeed, if there were any restraint on it, that would call into question the nature of the coalition. I do not wish to criticise the United States of America. Her Majesty The Queen, on the visit of President Bush last November, said that we are strong allies and we usually agree; sometimes we disagree, and once in a while we fall out. That is the result of mature friendship.

We should speak frankly, certainly in this House, when we need to. History will judge what is going on in Iraq by what Britain did to stand up for the values that I have described. I am sure that the Prime Minister and my noble friend the Minister are determined to achieve those values and will give us reassurance. That is what the nation expects.

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Lord Eden of Winton (Conservative)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, in his excellent speech opening our debate today asked what are, or should be, our priorities. In my view, they should be to continue to remain alert against, and to deal with, the underlying causes of terrorism, and that means to deal with the Middle East situation, which is at the heart of terrorism. In the long term, the removal of Saddam will be seen to have helped against terrorism. Here and now, however, we are naturally much more concerned with what has been going wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan. I do not for a moment discount what has been achieved, sometimes against seemingly insuperable odds. There is no doubt that valuable progress has been made and much good has been done, but so much more would have been possible had the preparation been better and attitudes different.

In Afghanistan, the warlords are again in the ascendant. They are benefiting from billions of dollars from poppies and from smuggling—and with that money comes power. With power comes ruthlessness and brutality; and it is the poorer people who suffer and for whom the hope of a more peaceful existence is once again destroyed. I agree with the point made by my noble friend Lord Biffen about appearing to be advocates of Western-style democracy. We should be wary of trying to foist our own pattern or system of government on those countries. I know that idea is fully accepted by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw who, in his admirable speech at the Foreign Policy Centre in March spoke of promoting,

"good governance, human rights, tolerance and the rule of law".

The precise system of government, and the ways in which people participate in it, should be for the people to decide. That must be the case for both Afghanistan and Iraq, but for that to happen the conditions must first make it possible. That means that we must understand their history and be sensitive to their traditions and customs.

Caution rather than arrogance should be the guide, yet America seems to be following too closely the example of Israel. In fact, America is much too closely identified with Israel for its own good. Excessive, almost panicky use of force is no way to win hearts and minds or inspire confidence among the people who you claim to help. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, referred to the repulsive obscenity—my words, not his—of Abu Ghraib. That has savagely and sadly changed the landscape. It has been devastating for the coalition; it has been a tragedy for Iraq; it has been massively frustrating for British forces; and it must have caused the Prime Minister to wring his hands in despair.

What, in these circumstances, should be the objectives of British policy? It must be, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, indicated, first and foremost to restore calm and bring back the powers of diplomacy; to take account of the aspirations of the people of the region, who want food, water, housing, education, security, and the rule of law. That applies equally in Iran. I was interested in the speech given by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. It is true that today in Iran there operates the tyranny of fundamentalism, which is stifling potential, especially that of the younger generation of men and women. They need to hear our voice; they need to hear more than Al-Jazeera; more even than CNN. They need to hear the voice of the BBC World Service, which does so much good. I hope that when the noble Baroness replies, she will indicate that the Government are determined to expand and develop that medium of communication.

Of course we should stand firm in Iraq and see the process through, but who will decide? There are confused signals coming from America, from the British Government and from inside Iraq. If we are not to walk away now, who will decide when we should do so? On the wider front, clearly we must keep our forces strong, with the capacity for a quick and flexible response wherever a threat arises. That means remaining an active member of NATO, and it means avoiding being locked in to a bureaucratic European system. We should remain strong and steadfast, but not an uncritical friend of America, so that our role can continue to be a civilising influence in the world, where tolerance, individual freedom, and the rule of law can prevail.

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Lord Weatherill (Crossbench)

My Lords, despite the limit on speeches today, I will spend a few precious seconds in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, on his admirable maiden speech, and also the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, on initiating this debate on a Cross-Bench day. I have him to thank for sending me to numerous countries during the time of my Speakership, and I always remember his injunction to me that if all went well he would be very grateful, while if it all went badly he would utterly repudiate me. Looking back, I realise now that I was merely a visiting card for his ambassadors.

I hope it is not necessary to spend time in reminding your Lordships that, like the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, I spent five formative years of my life in the Indian army. My regiment, the 19th Lancers, had a squadron of Sikhs, a squadron of Hindus and a Muslim squadron. I should like to be the first today to echo the congratulations of the whole House to the Indian people on their continued tradition of democracy and democratic elections. After the trauma of partition in 1947, who would have thought that a nation of 1 billion people, three distinct geographical regions and many different religions—Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Muslim and others—could conduct a general election with such efficiency and success, and achieve this with an electoral system of voting which has caught the attention and interest of the whole world?

In his address to the nation after the general election last week, the outgoing Prime Minister, Mr Bihari Vajpayee said this:

"Dear Countrymen, Elections to the 14th Lok Sabha are over. The voters have given their verdict. I accept the verdict . . . India is the world's largest democracy. It is always with the will of the people that governments have been formed—and changed. This power of democracy is a matter of pride for our country, something which we must always cherish, preserve and further strengthen".

I know we all agree that the Indian people have justifiable pride in the recent election in their country.

At partition in 1947, my regiment became part of the Pakistan army, and I have paid regular visits to it. Last year, I took my wife and she was charmed to be referred to regularly as "Bharbi". For those of your Lordships who do not speak Urdu, that is "brother's wife—your husband is our brother, so you are our sister-in-law". I join your Lordships in welcoming Pakistan's return to the Commonwealth family. Pakistan's geographic location means that it is a most important country in the present fight against terrorism and for global security and stability. I warmly welcome the Indian Government's promise to continue the peace process with Pakistan. It is important that this is not disrupted, delayed or derailed. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will press both Governments—India and Pakistan—to keep this process on track.

We should also use our influence on our American allies to ensure that Pakistan is supported to the full in Afghanistan and in its efforts to eliminate terrorism in its own tribal areas. Pakistan's role in combating terrorism cannot be over-estimated.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, said that it might be appropriate to mention other countries in this debate, other than Iraq and others with perhaps greater importance. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is in London this week, and I hope that some of your Lordships will come to meet him in Portcullis House this Friday and hear his speech. I declare an interest as patron of the All-Party Group on Tibet. I have visited his Holiness in Dharamsala, northern India, and in the process I have come to know him well. In our country, we seek to encourage the settlement of dispute by "parley rather than by the sword". His Holiness has told me that he is tending to lose credibility among the young Tibetan refugees, who feel that his support for this process is getting them nowhere, and that the world will not take notice until they are allowed to go back into Tibet and shoot up the Chinese. If ethical foreign policy means anything, it must mean active support for leaders who seek solutions to difficult problems by way of discussion and by peaceful means.

His Holiness is meeting the Foreign Secretary on Friday. Unhappily, the Prime Minister is not able to see him on this occasion. I hope that one of the results of his visit will be the appointment of a special commissioner on Tibetan issues, as exists in the United States of America and the European Union, to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the problems and greater freedom for Tibetans in their own country. His Holiness seeks not independence but a greater degree of self-government and, above all, the end of the human rights violations to which the Tibetans are subjected in their own country. He deserves our full and active support.

4:35 pm
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Lord Desai (Labour)

My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. He has said one of the things that I wanted to say about the success of democracy in India. He also mentioned the welcome readmission of Pakistan into the Commonwealth.

In such a debate and with so little time, one has two choices. Either one can concentrate on one aspect or one can spread oneself thinly. I shall start with a theoretical point: one can be idealistic in such a debate, as my noble friend Lord Parekh was, or one can be a realist, as my noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen was in his excellent maiden speech. I intend to be realistic because I am pessimistic about the world being a good place in which to live either now or in the near future.

I have already spoken on the Middle East, and I have said that I do not think that the Middle East problem is soluble. Until the two countries themselves decide that enough is enough and come to terms, no outside power will help. Indeed, every outside power hinders moves to a settlement in the Middle East. I point to the example of India and Pakistan. The agreement of that dispute, which is, perhaps, not as virulent as that in the Middle East, will be brought about by the two countries themselves. India and Pakistan always said—India definitely said—that they did not want to internationalise the dispute over Kashmir. They saw it as a dispute between India and Pakistan that would be solved as such. Although we can make the right noises, it is good that the great powers have kept out of advising and pressurising the two countries too much. That is why I believe that the agreement between India and Pakistan will, when it comes, be more deeply embedded than would an agreement arrived at through imposition by some sort of international troika or whatever.

I supported the war in Iraq, and I need not apologise for doing so. However, as many noble Lords have done, I would dissociate us from the appalling things that have happened in Abu Ghraib. It is important to say that what has happened to prisoners in Abu Ghraib or in Guantanamo is not a part of British policy in the Middle East or anywhere else. We do not endorse such things, and we do not do such things. What is more, it is clear that, in America—I have just been there—there is not as much shock about it as one might have expected. Someone said to me, "This happens in our prisons all the time. What are people surprised about?". It does not happen in our prisons, and I hope that nobody will bring us photographs showing that such cruelty happens in our prisons. If it happens in American prisons, we must distance ourselves.

We are America's friends. We are its friends in the Iraq operation, and we believe that it was a good thing to eliminate Saddam Hussein, as my noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen said. However, we do not believe that it is necessary, subsequent to a human rights-based intervention, to violate human rights in Iraq. We must be careful to create that distance. When America refused to be part of the International Criminal Court, people wondered why. Now, it is absolutely clear why Americans will not be part of the International Criminal Court. I do not blame them. If their culture domestically is as much in violation of human rights as it happens to be—this is not news; there have been human rights studies done about that—it is quite clear that they cannot be part of the International Criminal Court.

Given how powerful America is and how capable it is of doing good—I believe that it is capable of doing a lot of good—we have to draw a line somewhere in our friendship. I do not criticise the Prime Minister for being a very enthusiastic partner of America, but we have to draw the line somewhere, as my noble friend Lord Brennan said. We have to fall out sometimes, and this is a time to fall out.

Many noble Lords have said that countries cannot be made democratic "like that" and that they become democratic on their own. That is a very strange doctrine in the light of history. Take, for example, Japan, Germany or Austria. Japan's reconstruction after the Second World War as a democracy is an example where it could easily have been said, "Oriental cultures cannot absorb democracy": or who would have expected that India would be a democracy? That is partly because of what happened in the independence movement and the influence of Gandhi, but also partly because the local roots of democracy were sown in India in a series of reforms from the beginning of the 20th century.

Democracy can be exported. We should export it. The best thing that we can already export is patience.

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Lord Bramall (Crossbench)

My Lords, in this wide-ranging debate, it would indeed have been nice to put the past completely behind us and concentrate on that most difficult of all occupations, thinking deeply about the future. But we cannot ignore what sadly is still happening in Iraq. Not only must our exit strategy for the moment be our highest priority; unless we come to terms about what happened there, why it happened and draw sound conclusions, it is unlikely that we will tackle successfully the many problems, including terrorism, still emanating from that disturbed part of the world.

In Iraq, having been given many different reasons and justifications for what we did and why we are there, which have since proved erroneous or counterproductive, we are being repeatedly told that the endeavour on which we are now embarked is to bring democracy to Iraq. One can but wonder what legal—or, now, even moral—mandate the coalition really has to do that, rather than to leave it to the Iraqis.

Entering a country in support of a past UN resolution to seek out and destroy any weapons of mass destruction might have been one thing, but to remain in occupation in order to impose an alien political system and culture—when, if the Iraqis are united over anything, it is a rejection of the current occupation—is quite another.

Of course, having brought Iraq to a state of manifest disorder, whatever our motives, it is not unreasonable to feel that the coalition ought to see the occupation through to a more benign conclusion. Certainly, handing over political power early would restore some legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the world. It is to be hoped that that would make it much easier to involve the United Nations in some way.

The trouble is that that also raises a dilemma. If the security situation is by then no better, it is doubtful whether such a government would survive; while, if the coalition forces remain to try to improve things, even under a UN label, they will almost certainly exacerbate the situation and make a coherent exit strategy more difficult.

While coalition forces remain, they must work very closely with and at the behest of the Iraqi Government, who should indeed have the overall responsibility for security. Once we have decided to withdraw totally—in my opinion, in view of all that has been happening, that should be sooner rather than later—we would at least have the opportunity to start tackling the future problems in the Middle East in a different and, I submit, more sensible way. That would be more relevant to the terrorist threat and more sensitive to the views of the people and governments in the area.

There may be some egg on faces—some of it deserved—and some destabilisation for the Iraqis themselves to sort out, which would perhaps concentrate on local aspirations and use a more federal administration for law and order. But I would prefer to heed the Suez precedent of quick withdrawal and soonest mended rather than reinforce with extra troops something which may not even be achievable. When General Braddock lay mortally wounded, ambushed in the forests of North America in the 1750s, he engagingly said, "Next time we will do it better".

We really should know by now that, unlike naked aggression, terrorism cannot be defeated by massive military means, but by concentrating more on the twin pillars of competent protection and positive diplomacy. By protection, I mean building up our home and overseas intelligence, which would greatly reduce the risk to us and to others, and then, based on that intelligence, rooting out those planning and perpetrating criminal acts. In keeping up our guard, sensibly improving our physical protection and, of course, maintaining our morale, we could always be confident that, having done what we can to prevent those things happening, our many-sided society can handle and take in its stride, within the rule of law, whatever abominations may be thrown at us, as we have done in the past, and not be provoked into high profile but unproductive responses.

The diplomatic pillar means listening, building commercial and cultural bridges, infusing rather than imposing values and ideas, helping friends help themselves and using only highly selective military force in co-operation with host nations or in the context of a UN mandate. If there are genuine key issues on which the mainspring motivation of terrorism thrives, diplomacy should help to address these as a matter of urgency.

If there really is such a thing as a war against terrorism, we will certainly win it. We will do so by subtlety, by diplomacy and by using our brains and selective use of force, but certainly not by brute force.

4:47 pm
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Lord Jacobs (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for introducing the debate and, in particular, for generously contributing eight minutes of his time, which we on short rations eagerly need.

Today, the world is faced with three large intractable problems; that is, world terrorism, Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I shall address the question of why the Israelis and Palestinians are making no attempt whatever to solve their problems by negotiation. Is it because they both have right on their side?

The Palestinians are in the right because, first, they have lived in the old land of Palestine for more than 1,000 years. Secondly, in 1948, the United Nations voted to partition their country without even consultation. It gave a substantial part of it to Jews who were living there to form the state of Israel. Thirdly, after the 1967 war, Israel began the occupation of the West Bank and has remained there for more than 36 years, which is six times longer than the British occupation of Germany after the Second World War.

Fourthly, Israel has established permanent settlements in what will be the state of Palestine with 220,000 Israelis living there. Surprisingly, 70 per cent of them are there primarily for economic reasons, including the provision of excellent housing. The remaining 30 per cent, which is just 70,000 out of a total Israeli population of 6 million, are there for ideological reasons. Israel, in its attempt to protect the settlements and provide security, has divided the country into small segments by the use of road blocks and the construction of many new roads reserved for the use of Israeli settlers. Normal social and economic life is no longer possible for the Palestinians.

The Israelis also have right on their side. First, Jews settled in the present land of Palestine and Israel 3,200 years ago. Secondly, following the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews died—representing one third of the world's population of Jews at that time—in 1948 the United Nations voted to partition Palestine for the Jewish people to create the state of Israel. The very next day Egypt, Jordan and Syria, by force of arms, attempted to crush the newly formed state. They did so again in 1967 and in 1973. Those attacks forced Israel to begin the occupation of the West Bank.

Today, there is a plan known as the road map to peace, which was devised by the United States, Europe, Russia and the United Nations. It reads very well on paper and in my opinion Israel is capable of carrying out all of its terms. However, it will not do so unless the Palestinians do the same. On the Palestinian side, it fails at the first hurdle, for the Palestinians are obliged to curb the suicide bombing attacks by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aksa. If we can accept that Arafat wants to end the bombings, he does not have the means to do so and if he tries the result might end in civil war.

What do the populations of both countries think? Around 70 per cent of the people of Israel want a peace agreement. At a recent parliamentary Middle East meeting, I asked Mr Bazouti, a well known authority on Palestinian problems, whether there was an equivalent to the Israeli Peace Now! movement. He replied that the overwhelming majority of people, albeit silently, favoured peace with Israel. So clearly the majority of both peoples want peace but cannot force their governments to negotiate.

If there is one bright light on the horizon, it is the Geneva accord. This is a private initiative between senior Israeli and Palestinian politicians that attempts to create a peace agreement acceptable to both sides. The Israeli delegation was led by Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli Minister, and the Palestinian delegation by Yasser Abd Rabbo, a former Palestinian Minister. The Geneva accord was signed on 1 December 2003.

Comparing the two plans, we find that the objective of the road map is to allow the resumption of negotiations, while the objective of the Geneva accord is to resolve the outstanding final status issues. The British Government commended the Geneva accord for its conclusions, which offered clear solutions to the disputed issues. However, they preferred the road map to peace which, at the time, appeared to be a workable solution. However, many now agree that the road map to peace has failed primarily because the Palestinians are unable to meet their obligations.

Where do we go from here? I believe that the most realistic possibility for peace between Israelis and Palestinians is the Geneva accord. I now propose a three-stage structure: stage one should be for this plan to be studied by the three countries most able and willing to support the Palestinians—Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the United States and some European countries which are able and willing to support Israel should also study the plan. The second stage should be to present the agreed accord to Prime Minister Sharon and President Arafat, but also to leaders of the other political parties in Israel as well as to the leaders of the other factions in Palestine. The third and final stage should be for a referendum to be agreed between Sharon and Arafat, and to be held in Israel and Palestine on the understanding that, if the accord is approved by a majority of those voting in each country, it would be adopted.

I hope that these ideas are worthy of the further consideration of noble Lords.

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Lord Thomas of Swynnerton (Crossbench)

My Lords, I propose to speak about terrorism, which is generally supposed to be the most serious challenge facing both foreign and domestic policy making. There are two versions of terrorist activity. The first is the local form, such as the IRA, ETA in the Basque region, Corsican terrorists in France and others. It is also, I think, permissible to regard Hamas as an organisation with basically local aims. Contemptibly brutal though these organisations have been, they have aimed at local targets rather than widespread international ones.

Now we are faced with what seems to be a larger and more ambitious terrorist movement, Al'Qaeda, which seems to want to shock the West into surrender in a variety of ways and on a wider scale, although with one major local aim, which is to drive the United States out of Saudi Arabia. The essence of Al'Qaeda seems to be that it is an austere, fundamentalist movement of Muslims possessed—I use the word of Dostoevsky—by certain ideas. It is sometimes suggested that this movement, like other terrorist movements, can be dealt with by addressing the breeding ground that lies behind it, one of poverty and misery. However, I do not think that that is relevant here. Al'Qaeda, along with most other terrorist movements, does not have economic roots. I believe that Marx would have agreed with that statement, were he still living. Those involved with Al'Qaeda are men determined to create a different world from our own. Discussion about the rule of law as we define it has absolutely no relevance to their machinations.

It is perhaps comforting to be reminded that there have been other such movements in the past. Noble Lords will be glad to know that I do not refer to two armies of the Middle Ages, both Muslim, which derived from the preaching of an austere Moroccan hermit—the Almoravids and the Almohades—although they certainly did have something in common with Al'Qaeda, and within Islam I think I am right in saying that the past has much less perspective than it has with ourselves.

Rather, I shall refer to the anarchist terrorist movement which was the cause of many tragedies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Anarchists were also austere and moved by the dream of an ideal world—one without governments and without capitalism which would be created when, as they put it, the last king was strangled in the guts of the last priest. Exactly like Al'Qaeda, anarchists believed in what they called the "propaganda of the deed". Surely if they murdered an archbishop in particularly striking circumstances or blew up a train, the bourgeoisie would quiver into surrender.

In some ways the anarchists were more successful than Al'Qaeda has been up to now. They assassinated a President of the United States, they murdered an Austro-Hungarian empress and they killed three Prime Ministers and one archbishop of Spain, among many other people. Known as "internationals" in the first instance, they were particularly busy in Spain where they blew up trains, caused havoc at a royal wedding in 1905, bombed an opera house and set off many other explosions.

However, in the end the anarchists became completely convinced of their own inefficacy because despite their cold brutalities, they could not bring the ideal world they had planned a whit closer.

Perhaps through skilful propaganda and the use of ideas, that realisation can be contrived in the long run—artificially, no doubt—with the leaders and followers of Al'Qaeda. Alternatively, and perhaps this is a frivolous suggestion, they might be ruined by the soft life, which did contribute to lessening the drive of their distant predecessors, the Almoravids.

Finally, turning to how to carry on the campaign against terrorism, which is essential and which, in this country, seems to be being accomplished with great skill, it is necessary to do whatever we need to do in a spirit of honour and within the framework of a love of the law which, in every detail, should distinguish us from our opponents.

In 1916, Trotsky, who I suggest was just as dangerous a man to western civilisation as bin Laden seems to be today, was imprisoned in Spain as an illegal immigrant. He refused to take his hat off. He asked to see the rule which insisted that hats should be removed in prison. There was no such rule and so he was allowed to keep his hat on. That suggests the spirit with which prisoners, however appallingly brutal they are, should be treated by civilised captors.

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Lord Mitchell (Labour)

My Lords, there are few in your Lordships' Chamber whose experience in the diplomatic affairs of this country can compare with that of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. I am currently chairing a Select Committee investigation for your Lordships' House and I have been privileged that the noble Lord has sat in on the committee; his advice and guidance have been invaluable.

I wish to speak about the subject of global threats. I shall address two global threats and, I hope, draw a conclusion.

The first global threat is and has been that of Iraq. I have supported the war in Iraq for one overriding reason. It is true that Saddam Hussein was a barbarous dictator—a mini-Hitler terrorising his people and attacking his neighbours. It is true that I and others fully believed that Iraq had been developing weapons of mass destruction. And it is also true that Saddam Hussein had been constantly flouting a mandatory United Nations resolution. However, my support was based on none of those issues; my personal reason was more basic than that.

Nations go to war to protect their economic interests. Our national interest is the stability of the Persian Gulf. Well over half of the world's proven reserves of oil are located in or around that strip of waterway. Oil is our lifeblood. The prospect of any rogue nation or any terrorist group being able to hold a knife to our jugular is to me simply unacceptable. That is the reason that I supported the war.

War is a gruesome and bloody business. Our magnificent troops risk their lives every day. This is not the time to go wobbly. I, for one, support the Prime Minister in his determination to bring law and order and democracy to that much blighted nation.

There is another global threat which even a recent report commissioned by the Pentagon has described as greater than that of international terrorism, and that is global warming. In January this year, with two other noble Lords, I was fortunate enough to visit the British Antarctic Survey Base at Rothera. We flew even further south, to 72 degrees latitude, where we saw a beautiful but frightening sight—a waterfall cascading down the rocks to form a stream, which from the air we clearly saw had become a rudimentary river. We were witnessing in those southern climes the firsthand effects of global warming. The Antarctic is melting, the Arctic is melting, and it is a massive threat to us all.

The Pentagon report entitled Imagining the Unthinkable paints a gloomy assessment of the greenhouse effect and what it calls "abrupt climate change". Melting ice produces fresh cold water, which is less dense than salt water and is flooding the northern Atlantic. By 2010 it could slow down or shut off the Gulf Stream. The climates of eastern North America and western Europe could turn sharply colder. The interiors of our continents could soon have a climate similar to that in Siberia. Then it will not be oil that will be the scarce resource; it will be water and food. And if we know anything about human nature, when given a choice between starving and raiding, humans raid.

The Kyoto Protocol was watered down to meet the requirements of the United States, but the Bush Administration is now refusing to ratify it. Indeed, the Administration is even refusing to accept that global warming exists, let alone that it is almost certainly caused by the emission of carbon dioxide gases.

The twin global threats of the war in Iraq and climate change have one common thread—oil. We go to war to protect our oil supplies; we then burn the oil and this then causes our planet to warm. A warmer planet threatens all our futures.

There is a fight to be fought and no one is better placed to fight it than our Prime Minister. The United States needs our support in Iraq and, quite rightly, we are giving it in the most demonstrable way. But there must be a quid pro quo. We need to persuade the US Government of just how important global warming is to mankind's future. The American nation emits 25 per cent of all carbon dioxide yet has only 6 per cent of the world's population. The time has surely come for the United States to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and to offer the world the leadership it so desperately needs.

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Baroness Cox (Conservative)

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright, for initiating the debate and for giving us the opportunity to discuss many issues of profound significance. I will focus on the catastrophe in Darfur as it must surely feature as one of Her Majesty's Government's priorities today.

The International Crisis Group's report just three days ago entitled Sudan: Now or Never claims:

"There is just enough time to save hundreds of thousands of lives directly threatened by [the Sudanese] government-supported militias and looming starvation, but only if the world acts very urgently".

Therefore, although the Darfur crisis was raised in your Lordships' House last Thursday, it merits further consideration and will, I hope, elicit a more substantive response from the Minister today.

The ICG report calls for,

"immediate, focused action, especially from the UN Security Council, to stop the killing and widespread atrocities, prevent mass starvation, reverse ethnic cleansing".

But this is only one in a growing number of reports documenting the scale of this tragedy. The May 2004 Human Rights Watch report entitled Darfur Destroyed: Ethnic Cleansing by Government and Militia Forces in Western Sudan claims:

"The Government and its Janjaweed allies have killed thousands of Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa—often in cold blood, raped women and destroyed villages, foodstocks and other supplies essential to the civilian population. They have driven more than 1 million civilians, mostly farmers, into camps and settlements in Darfur where they live on the very edge of survival, hostage to Janjaweed abuses which may turn them into extermination camps. More than 110,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad".

Human Rights Watch condemns as "too little, too late" and "shameful" the response of the international community. It regrets that, although there have been strong statements from the European Union, there has been little public condemnation from key individual governments, such as the United Kingdom.

No one can claim ignorance of the horrors of Darfur. Last Friday's edition of the Scotsman described in chilling detail the situation justifying the allegation of genocide. The front page headline reads:

"Mass murder, rape and a million refugees on the move, but the international community turns a blind eye to a people's suffering".

Mukesh Kapila, the outgoing UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Sudan, describes Darfur as,

"the worst humanitarian crisis in the world",

adding:

"This is more than just a conflict. It is an organised attempt [by Khartoum] to do away with a group of people".

Kofi Annan, addressing the UNHCR on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, made specific mention of Darfur, arguing that the international community cannot stand idle, while John Prendergast of the ICG refers to Sudan and Darfur as "Rwanda in slow motion".

Those who are primarily guilty of such slaughter and suffering are the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum and the Janjaweed militias on horseback it supports. United Nations teams which visited Darfur discovered,

"disturbing patterns of massive human rights violations",

many of which may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, perpetrated by the Sudanese government and their proxy militia.

The regime in Khartoum puts the blame on so-called rebels, but this is ultimate hypocrisy. No one except the Government has the capacity for aerial attacks, and numerous reports testify to attacks on innocent civilians by helicopter gunships and bombardment with 500 kilogramme bombs dropped from government Antonovs.

Last Thursday, the Minister answering, the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, spoke with passion and indignation, but the content of her message was woefully inadequate. Surely Her Majesty's Government can no longer talk with credibility about lobbying and remonstrating with the National Islamic Front regime. How long can Her Majesty's Government talk peace when there is no peace, ignoring the fact that the Government of Sudan continue to kill while they talk peace? And the Government of Sudan's sincerity of commitment to the peace talks is further disproved by recent military offensives against civilians in Upper Nile, with 75,000 people now driven from their homes in that part of Sudan.

Immediate steps must be taken. Will the Minister give an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will promote effective measures to require the Government of Sudan to open all Sudan to independent international humanitarian aid and human rights personnel, and to ensure that refugees are allowed to return to their homes with adequate security guarantees, thus reversing the ethnic cleansing? We also need to promote a UN Security Council resolution condemning the violations of international humanitarian law in Sudan, especially the indiscriminate killing of civilians and the obstruction of humanitarian aid. We need to impose an arms embargo with enforcement mechanisms, and bring to justice those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

In conclusion, this debate gives the Minister the opportunity to put the record straight before we in the United Kingdom become even more culpable of standing by and allowing genocide in Sudan to proceed unchecked. If we do not respond effectively now, we shall condone another Rwanda and stand condemned by history as guilty of failing to prevent the suffering and deaths of even more thousands of innocent people doomed to die in the next few months. It must be the hope of those people whose lives we could save that the Minister will not disappoint them today.

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The Earl of Sandwich (Crossbench)

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond already knows that I intend to spend my few minutes on a subject much nearer home—namely, the treatment of international affairs in Parliament and, more specifically, in this House.

Since I came to this House in 1995, there has been a marked increase in public interest in international affairs and especially development. One reason for that has been the growth of the articulate aid lobby and the active participation of tens of thousands campaigning on issues such as trade, justice, aid and debt relief. Simultaneously there has been a surge of interest in overseas travel and the gap year, with a corresponding growth in understanding of world affairs. With the arrival of global citizenship education, schools have organised more exchanges and study visits in line with the revised curriculum. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans rightly mentioned the role of religion.

The Government have responded positively by gradually restoring the aid budget and continuing their support for the excellent BBC World Service and British Council. Since September 11, of course, the picture has changed again, and there has been increasing public concern about our conduct of foreign affairs in relation to anti-terrorism and, more recently, Iraq. Some confusion has also arisen between our own development policy and our Government's apparent conversion to President Bush's apparent evangelism in the Middle East. On occasion, it seems that development has again become subservient to foreign policy.

Without entering that important subject further, I shall say only that alongside that public awareness has been a pressing need for greater parliamentary scrutiny of international affairs in both Houses. My contention is that proper scrutiny in this House has been quite inadequate. We are apparently guided by a convention that House of Commons Select Committees, especially those on foreign affairs and international development, already cover the waterfront. At the same time we are reminded that two of our own EU sub-committees already handle significant areas of foreign affairs, albeit through the prism of the EU.

A number of Peers whom I have consulted, who have considerable experience of international affairs and have either held office or served in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, believe that those arguments are no longer good enough. We have carefully examined the list of subjects covered by the Foreign Affairs Committee and International Development Committee in the past three years, and found that it is surprisingly limited. Terrorism and Iraq, for example, are well covered, but security in Afghanistan was not until this month, nor was most of the Middle East. China has not been examined for four years. India, most of Asia, Latin America and even Africa—except for Zimbabwe—have been ignored. Nepal has been left out, despite our close past association and the present crisis there. There are many such examples.

A committee pattern established more than 20 years ago for the Commons cannot any longer be held to be suited to this House. It is time that we considered it again. Besides that, we now have an impressive galaxy of talent in this House. New appointments in the past few years have included former Foreign Secretaries as well as diplomats and academics. We have all benefited from the speech today of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and we look forward in due course to hearing from Ted Rowlands.

It is no good the Government saying that we have ample opportunity to speak in debates such as this, to ask parliamentary questions or question Ministers. Such reserves of talent could just as well be channelled into productive committee work and obtaining the proper evidence to back up recommendations. My suggestion is that after the next election we should establish our own Select Committee to consider specific aspects of foreign affairs that are not being covered elsewhere. That committee would not duplicate the Commons committees but would consider the neglected areas and the longer term subjects, reporting on subjects such as conflict resolution in Africa, the Commonwealth, United Nations reform, island states and intervention in failed states and in emergencies.

With regard to the EU committees, highly respected as they are—and for very good reasons—it is arguable that the Lords has become a bit Eurocentric. It is not enough to view the whole world through a European window, especially when we know how much damage the EU is still doing to the trade of developing countries. However important the new European treaty is, especially to our political parties, which seem to be able to make capital out of it, this country has a wider perspective.

Finally, the Minister may think that this is a subject for this House and not for the Government—which is of course, strictly speaking, correct. However, it is also a subject that concerns the Government and on which the Government have a view, because of the additional scrutiny of departmental work. It could well be that this Government do not want to be questioned by another committee. On the other hand, I put it to the Minister that Members of this House are well informed on international affairs—perhaps, dare I say, better informed than those in another place. I suggest that civil servants and Ministers might appreciate more constructively critical reports from this House in future. Above all, I believe that the public deserves a better service from Parliament in international affairs.

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Viscount Waverley (Crossbench)

My Lords, the repercussions of today's situation are as vital to global interests as any since the Second World War. We in Parliament must ensure that those tasked with safeguarding those interests are given the tools; and that those tools include transparent and strategically apt policies.

Regrettably, our centuries of experience do not always deliver as warm a relationship with some strategic partners as we might wish or, misguidedly believe we have; unrealistic priorities, tight budgets and excessive administration are taking their toll. And it must be remembered that while the Foreign Office leads, delivery is a cross-departmental endeavour, including that of intelligence agencies. This last, tasked with watching Afghanistan and Iraq, were an obvious economic casualty in the early days, and that situation must not be repeated. An immediate solution to relieve this would be to wind up the overseas divisions of UK Trade and Investment, which bring nothing of substance to the table. Instead, crucial economic intelligence and improved modus operandi could be advanced from the private sector.

Returning to the theme of global interests, today's global discontent is not generally about Islam/Christian ideological differences but rather is rooted in glaring East/West, North/South wealth distribution inequality compounded by double standards, corruption, poverty, ignorance and endemic hopelessness. An unjust world has been created that is unacceptable to increasing sections of global citizenry. And just as we have now learnt to our cost that marginalising regional issues is not an option, so we can no longer fail to deal directly with the underlying causes, finding solutions sensitive to religious and ethnic variances. No longer can global harmony be sacrificed at the altar of insularity in the name of national interest.

Dismantling insular policies would bring immediate benefit to all the troubled and troubling corners of our fragile world; from Iraq to Iran, from Palestine to Israel and, as relevant, from Nigeria to Colombia. Until we do, three issues of specific enormity—drugs, terrorism and illegal immigration—will continue to thrive. Yet it is sometimes myopic criticism by armchair veterans who should know better, but do not, that delay solutions in volatile situations; in effect giving succour to lost causes against the advice and wisdom of professionals, including those of British Government representatives.

Let us consider, my Lords, the significant current Early Day Motion signed by 207 British Members of Parliament calling for the curbing of British military assistance to Colombia. I question whether the action of those MPs is derived solely and properly from the conscientious consideration of all the facts and the disregard of political patronage. Why do they have no reported interest in the bigger picture and appear satisfied with inadequate briefing before adjudicating on a complex situation?

The background of the umbrella non-governmental organisation behind this EDM would repay closer scrutiny than hitherto appears to have been the case. Indeed, I call on the Government urgently to review the funding arrangements of this, and, indeed, other similar exploitative and manipulative NGOs, thereby curbing the misinformation so readily available today.

A much-needed but fragile peace clings on within Colombia, giving law-abiding Colombians respite from a 40-year murderous civil war, with its persistent acts of kidnapping and terrorism, including indiscriminate bombings and atrocities that have extinguished more than 100,000 lives.

Do not be lulled into thinking that the issues are too far removed from UK interests. We are directly impacted through the production and distribution on to the streets of London each year of an estimated 40 tons of cocaine, which not only funds the debilitating internal war, but also fuels the global network of terrorist organizations. Were any of those MPs to suffer children who have taken, or worse, are hooked on, drugs, they would reconsider their position in short order.

Accuracy is all, so permit me to set the record straight. A little-known fact of this civil war is that there are now 2 million displaced people, giving Colombia the third largest global displacement profile. Yet through this reign of terror, democratic ideals have been safeguarded by successive administrations.

Undeniable advances are recognized by the United Nations covering general human rights by the military, which now has an unrivalled popularity rating. Another misconception being promoted within the House of Commons includes the essential role of campesino soldiers, for example, who assist in delivering local security. MPs suggest that they form part of a local militia. The reality is that they are paid for by the state, carry out essential tasks and are commanded by full-time military commanders.

Other self-defeating inaccuracies contained in the EDM fail to reflect the dramatic security improvement in the first full year of President Uribe's administration. Through misinformation, this plays exactly into the hands of those who are attempting to disrupt the rule of law.

In conclusion, British military assistance to Colombia—in reality it is the Americans who supply the bulk with the United Kingdom targeting social development—is certainly necessary, appreciated and insufficient. Ill-informed opinion masquerading as fact simply prolongs the grief.

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Baroness Stern (Crossbench)

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Wright for initiating this important debate and to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, for his eagerly awaited contribution.

I wish to address one issue only: Foreign and Commonwealth Office policy on the promotion and protection of human rights. If anyone had doubted that human rights are not an abstract minority interest of liberal-minded but unrealistic people with bleeding hearts—the preserve of what is sometimes called, with a resonance not intended to signify approval, "the human rights lobby"—the past few weeks could not have made it clearer. Human rights abuses are real. They happen to real men, women and children all the time, and not just in places like Uzbekistan—where we have reason to be grateful to the Government that the British representative there speaks out and is allowed to continue to do so. Human rights abuses can happen anywhere and can be perpetrated by the citizens of anywhere.

I am thinking in particular of the horrible pictures we have seen from Iraq, showing prisoners being ill-treated in Abu Ghraib prison. We have no pictures of Guantanamo Bay, but we have stories. Some of these pictures undoubtedly meet the definition of torture as set out in the 1984 convention against torture:

"Any act which by severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession".

Those pictures will indeed become, in the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, earlier in the debate, "dragons' teeth" and prime elements in the battle of ideas. Those pictures are, of course, standard pictures of torture and human rights abuses the world over for those who have the misfortune to have to look at them over time. The commission of such acts is not always so newsworthy. Nor do such acts always have such serious consequences for the reputation of the states whose citizens have carried them out as did those committed in the pictures from Abu Ghraib.

In this context, I welcome most warmly the inclusion of human rights in the sixth FCO strategic priority, which is:

"Sustainable development, underpinned by democracy, good governance and human rights",

with the specific aim of,

"promoting the universal implementation of international human rights and humanitarian standards".

The point about these standards is that they are universal. They are not western, northern or southern; they are not Christian, Islamic or Jewish; they are agreed by the United Nations and therefore by all states.

In my view, this inclusion of human rights in the FCO's priorities is not cosmetic, nor is it a sop to those who still think that foreign policy should have an ethical dimension, when the realists have already moved on. Supporting human rights is not idealistic. It is a prime ingredient in the construction of a safer world. So I welcome the support for human rights work that is part of FCO policy; I congratulate the Minister on the publication of the FCO annual human rights report; and I welcome the statement by the Foreign Secretary at the beginning of the report where he says:

"A concern for the victims of human rights abuses lies at the heart of the Government's foreign policy".

Those subject to the death penalty in the United States are often such victims, and the Government have made many representations on behalf of death row prisoners in that country. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, was quite right to say in this debate that treatment similar to that in Abu Ghraib occurs in the prisons of many of the individual states of the United States. Perhaps the Government will wish to take up those abuses with the United States Government.

The annual human rights report does not just comment on other countries' failures to respect human rights; it mainly describes the practical and dedicated work undertaken by this Government to promote and protect human rights. The initiative taken by the then Foreign Secretary in February 1998 to set up the Human Rights Project Fund has had many practical outcomes. The fund has supported projects combating torture in Russia and discrimination against Roma children in Bulgaria, promoting religious freedom in Egypt, training senior police in China, supporting the human rights commission in Rwanda, and many more. It has achieved huge coverage with very small expenditure and has made a difference to the lives of many people.

Will the Minister tell us the trend in FCO Human Rights Project Fund spending? I hope that she will be able to tell the House that there are plans for it to increase substantially. In particular, can she tell us what the UK is doing to combat torture around the world?

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Lord Selsdon (Conservative)

My Lords, two Sundays ago, on that important day, 8 May, invited by the mayor of a small hill village, I stood before the war memorial and the church listening to splendid music in the presence of the heads of the pompiers, the police and the gendarmerie and of a British vicar. Unknown to me beforehand, it was Armistice Day. One of the youngest people in the village and one of the oldest came and laid a wreath. After the prayers, the national anthem came through the loudspeakers, then the anthem of the United States, then that of Canada, and then that of France. As I looked out over the Mediterranean, I realised that that was where the Moorish invasions had come from and it was from there, on 15 August 1945, that 1,000 ships or more had come for the liberation of France. I had forgotten that Armistice Day was on 8 May 1945.

I wondered why the French, British and American flags were all red, white and blue. I have no idea. Why did the French give the United States the Statue of Liberty—liberté, égalité et fraternité? Why was it that on the White House lawn on 16 April President Bush turned to Tony Blair and said, "We stood together during the past century when liberty was assaulted"? I thought, hang about, did we really stand together? What actually happened? Of course, the United States came into the First World War in March 1917, but I think only because three of its ships were sunk by submarines with extensive loss of life. Of course, it came into the Second World War in December 1941, but I think that was only because of Pearl Harbour when it declared war on the Japanese, and subsequently Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

I wondered about 11 September. Was it also a knee-jerk reaction that led to the war in Iraq, or was there something deeper and more sinister? I remembered—I once thought that he was in your Lordships' House—that the American Chief of Justice, Earl Warren, said that in civilised life law floats in a sea of ethics. That takes me immediately to ethical foreign policy. The founder of ethical foreign policy—the chief ethicist, if that is the word—resigned because foreign policy was no longer moral or ethical. I wondered what our foreign policy was.

In the world in which I work, I find that more and more the same question is being asked—obviously, it is about Iraq. But the following question is being asked more now; namely, what have the British been doing? I tell people, "Don't worry about Iraq. It is the duty or the responsibility of everyone in the United Kingdom to support the Prime Minister because he has the right to go to war". People say, "What about that wonderful man, Lord Robertson? He is in NATO; can't he do something about it? Why isn't he involved?" The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, should know, and would understand, the respect in which he has been held throughout the world during the past few years. I thank him for his excellent speech today.

On the other hand there is the growth of anti-American feeling. I have spoken about this before and I have already declared my American relative and military relationships in the United States. I wonder why the United States has not understood that it is becoming the enemy of the world. Many people—Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt—warned that those who do evil must be very careful. Was the war in Iraq evil? In my view it was simply a punitive mission, possibly the greatest punitive mission that has ever taken place. However, I am not quite sure what the motives and reasons behind it were, and where the future lies.

As I listen to your Lordships, I find that again and again we are in danger of repeating ourselves. We have to look forward and ask what are the priorities of the United Kingdom. Inevitably, self-interests are involved. Regrettably, the ultimate weapon of diplomacy is war, and war is a matter of life and death.

In the wars of the past century we lost the British Empire, as it was then, comprising 7.2 million people. The United States lost 300,000 people in each of the world wars and another 100,000 in Vietnam. I wonder how many lives have been lost in recent events and how many more will be lost. War, unfortunately, is a matter of life and death. We go to war in general to save life and to restore peace, but where there is war in any one country there may well be a threat everywhere else in the world, as we were reminded by Mr Roosevelt at the start of the 1939 war. Diplomacy should be about peace. Let us hope that we may find a peaceful way forward.

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Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wright, on tabling this Motion for debate today. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, on his excellent maiden speech. I have no doubt that we shall hear more from him.

I shall confine my remarks to Iraq. As one disaster follows another and a new outrage against the Iraqi people is revealed almost daily, I become more than ever convinced that the illegal invasion of Iraq should never have been embarked upon. I also become exasperated when I hear history being rewritten by the Prime Minister and President Bush.

Support for the invasion of Iraq was secured in Britain on the basis that Iraq possessed large quantities of weapons of mass destruction ready for use against British targets within 45 minutes. Let us get that on record as often as we possibly can. Since no such weapons have been found, Mr Blair has shifted his ground and is attempting now to con people into believing that the war was to liberate Iraqis from a vicious dictatorial regime—a regime, incidentally, that we supported when it suited us.

President Bush has convinced the Americans that the Iraq adventure was part of the war on terror; but there were no terrorists in Iraq before the war—Saddam Hussein had cleared them out. But now, according to the United States' and British Governments, Iraq is full of terrorists fighting coalition troops. Indeed, official spokesmen insist that those involved in the fighting and suicide bombings are not freedom fighters against the coalition but foreign terrorists. So, by their own admission, Britain and the United States have created in Iraq a hotbed of terrorism in a country that before the invasion was a terrorist-free zone.

There certainly has been terror—terror wreaked on Iraq over the past 14 months by coalition forces. According to independent reports, between 10,000 and 15,000 Iraqis, many of them women and children, have been killed and many more injured. Large-scale damage has been caused to property, including religious buildings, while services that were previously working are still defunct due to the coalition assault on Iraq and the failure to have a post-war plan of reconstruction. Some 8,000 Iraqi men are still held in prison without trial or charge.

We now know that the United States with unbelievable insensitivity used the very same infamous Abu Ghraib torture prison used by Saddam against his political opponents to inflict torture and humiliation on Iraqi people. To their credit, many Americans, probably a majority, were horrified and sickened by what was being done in their name by United States occupation forces. But not, apparently, Mr Rumsfeld. He had the gall to visit the prison not to protest at the horrors perpetrated by some of his forces on Iraqis, but to tell those forces that "they were doing a grand job". That was a monstrous and offensive thing to do. No wonder he felt comfortable shaking hands with Saddam during the period of the Iraq/Iran war when poison gas was being used against the Iranians and the Kurds.

I want now to return to the matter of Iraqi casualties because I am concerned and, indeed, disappointed at the attitude of our Government to the suffering of Iraqi civilians at the hands of coalition forces. We know exactly how many American and British troops have been killed since the war began. Indeed, the last figure I saw was 777 Americans and 67 Britons. We all feel sorry for them and their relatives and friends. However, when we ask for the number of Iraqis who have been killed, we are told that there are no official figures available. Apparently, little effort has been made to find out. We have to rely on independent organisations such as Iraq Body Count and the Red Cross to collect the figures. The latest figures from Iraq Body Count are 11,005 killed, although that did not include 800 killed in Najaf, 235 in Baghdad and 20 in the Basra region. The British Government can give us no official figures, because they have not bothered to count the dead Iraqis. People, especially in the Middle East, can be forgiven for believing that the British and American Governments consider Arab lives far less important than those of westerners. That smacks of blatant and disgusting racism of the worst kind.

The great pity is that the horrors inflicted on Iraq, and the deaths of United States and British soldiers, could have been avoided. The best thing that could happen is for the whole matter to be handed quickly over to the United Nations, with British and coalition troops withdrawn as soon as possible.

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Lord St John of Bletso (Crossbench)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond for introducing this very topical debate, at a time when foreign policy stands at the top of the political agenda. I should like to focus my remarks on Africa, a continent that our Prime Minister recently described as,

"a scar on the conscience of the world".

For much of the past century, Africa has been a place of paradoxes—of hope and despair, of good news and bad news—and so it remains. However, Her Majesty's Government deserve credit for their proactive approach to Africa. In addition to our support for NePAD, the G8 Africa Action Plan and the Africa Partners Forum, I fully support the recently launched Commission for Africa. I also welcome the increase in British aid to Africa, which is reported will reach in excess of £1 billion next year. That is almost three times what we were giving in aid three years ago.

Our Government's initiatives have, in part, also resulted in many of the success stories in Africa, such as Kenya, Mozambique and Sierra Leone among the many others. On the AIDS awareness campaign, although the pandemic in many areas of Africa goes from bad to worse, it is encouraging that through our efforts the spread of HIV/AIDS, particularly in Uganda, has to a large degree been halted.

However, a lot of the positive progress is undermined by events bringing despair in countries such as Zimbabwe. The recently broadcast interview with Robert Mugabe on Sky News a few days ago, where he insulted our Prime Minister and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, typified his contempt for the voice of reason and showed how detached he was from reality. However, slow progress is being made to resolve the disastrous situation in Zimbabwe, and high-level discussions are still in progress.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Robert Mugabe pays more attention to the words of President Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Chissano of Mozambique than to the words of President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, whom he considers his junior. I spoke to President Mbeki last year, and he gave me assurances—eyeball to eyeball—that there would be change this year. I should be corrected; it will certainly not happen in that time.

What measures are Her Majesty's Government taking to seek the support of Presidents Obasanjo and Chissano to expedite the timetable to achieve a government of national unity with the powers to rescue Zimbabwe from disaster? Britain's recent policy of assisting negotiations discreetly from the sidelines has been criticised as ineffective, yet it is working. I understand from several senior members of ZANU-PF that they would be in favour of Her Majesty's Government taking a more proactive role in brokering high-level negotiations between the MDC and ZANU-PF, to talk about their differences and explore what can be achieved. Even in the midst of despair, there is some hope.

President Mbeki's vision of an African renaissance is attractive, and his leadership role within NePAD is praised, but his central theme—that there should be African solutions to African problems—has been spoiled by his own ineffective approach to the tyranny raging across his northern border. Inside South Africa, a sound economy keeps the country on an even keel and, with the free distribution of anti-retroviral drugs, at long last there are signs that the government are slowly addressing the devastating spread of HIV/AIDS. Her Majesty's Government continue to play a highly constructive role within South Africa at many levels, which is to be welcomed.

We have also played a pivotal role in restoring peace and stability in Sierra Leone. However, peace and stability in Sierra Leone largely depend on similar conditions being maintained in Liberia, to which my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond referred in his "forgotten" list. Outside agencies should consistently bear that in mind.

I want to draw your Lordships' attention to the situation in Equatorial Guinea, a small west African nation that has become one of Africa's largest oil producers, but is ruled by a brutal dictator. Human rights organisations have been expressing grave concerns about the levels of abuse in Equatorial Guinea for some time. The recent news that President Obiang Nguema is preparing to supply oil to Zimbabwe should set alarm bells ringing around the world.

I cannot remember a time when so many bold initiatives and programmes were being launched in Africa, yet the situation in Zimbabwe is a handbrake on so much of that progress. I strongly urge Her Majesty's Government to focus their greatest efforts, both in private and public, on resolving the problem, to the benefit of every country in Africa.

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Lord Hylton (Crossbench)

My Lords, Serbia is important to Europe but may easily be forgotten. I shall try to sketch a two-way deal that would be excellent for all. Serbia should be persuaded to bring war criminals to justice, to help prevent trafficking in persons, drugs and weapons, and to co-operate in destroying and controlling small arms. It would assist in implementing the Dayton agreement, especially in Republika Srpska. It would help to determine the future of the Serb minority in Kosovo, and might grant a long lease of most of Kosovo to an Albanian authority.

In return, Serbia would gain substantially, by guarantees of reasonable access to its historic sites in Kosovo; by receiving aid and assistance, particularly for policing and civil and criminal justice. It should be compensated for damage from wartime bombing. Above all, it should receive major inward investment, with the ultimate prospect of NATO and EU membership. Such a deal would lead Serbia towards democratic prosperity, to the benefit of the West and the next-door neighbours. It is worth devoting much diplomatic effort to gain such a prize.

What has bedevilled international relations and generated terrorism, and threatens to antagonise Islam and the West, is the future of Israel, Palestine and their Arab neighbours. There can be no more urgent priority. We have to recognise that the Palestinian economy is destroyed. Two thirds of the people live in poverty and half depend on food aid. Israel also suffers, with its tourism almost gone and young people leaving for better prospects elsewhere.

One cannot doubt that the current Sharon plan for Gaza is not for withdrawal but for disengagement. It would leave two blocks of settlements, one in the north and another in the south. All fences would stay in place, with a one kilometre wide military strip around the perimeter. A million Palestinians would be left in an open-air prison, disconnected from the West Bank.

Similarly, Palestinians fear that the completed wall and fence will split the West Bank into separate pieces, cut off from the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Israeli settlements, by contrast, would be linked by secure roads to the rest of their country. The Palestinian areas, like Qalqilya at present, would become enclosed ghettoes. This is a plan for military containment, not for peace.

Israel needs our help to end the occupation—at a stroke that would revive the Palestinian economy and allow elections to take place, which all the Palestinians I have talked to, including some elected members of their Parliament and distinguished medical professionals, want to see happening. They want to revive their democracy. Such elections could produce a valid partner for negotiating a two-state solution.

For too long, the richer nations have paid to maintain millions of refugees and have also prevented total destitution among Palestinians. The developed world should now invest in military observers, and if necessary in military forces, to end 37 years of occupation. Israel has a reasonable fear of terrorists and cannot disengage by itself. Therefore, I urge Her Majesty's Government to devote their whole diplomatic strength to create a situation from which peace can emerge.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, this has been a debate on strategic priorities for foreign policy that has demonstrated how difficult it is to set such priorities. I was extremely glad to listen to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen. I have suggested to him since then that he should form an all-party group for the study of Islay and that I am willing at any time to make a visit to that island for a detailed study of it and its major products.

The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, in his opening speech, suggested that we should separate discussion of the external role of the Foreign Office from that of defence and international development. I have to say that, on listening to the debate, I strongly disagree with him. What we need in Britain is the careful co-ordination of all instruments of foreign policy and it is evident from what has been said that international development as an instrument of foreign policy, defence, diplomacy, nation-building and state reconstruction are all part of the way in which Britain has to relate to the rest of the world. I am glad that in this country the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence work very well and closely together—unlike in some other states of which we are painfully aware at the moment—and both work well with the Department for International Development, both here and abroad.

We have a global commitment, but we have to recognise, we do recognise and the excellent paper produced last December by the Foreign Office recognises, that Britain cannot meet the challenges without close co-operation with others. For example, I notice that we have 153 posts in member states of the United Nations. There are now 192 members of the UN. We, like the French, have now accepted that we cannot manage to maintain representation in every state around the world. There are virtues, for example, in the proposal currently under discussion among Foreign Ministers for a European Union external action service in which we and our fellow members would share posts in some of the smaller countries that might blow up to become problems in four or five years' time, but might not.

There is an excellent statement in the paper, which talks about Britain's,

"need to combine our economic, diplomatic and military weight more effectively"

with our EU partners. I echo that and do not see that as a threat to British sovereignty. I see that as entirely appropriate in furthering British national interests.

The key elements to British foreign policy are, first, western co-operation with the United States and our European partners. I agree strongly with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, that it is unhealthy to have one state dominating the global economy and the world political system. Secondly, we need to have a more balanced relationship, which again means a stronger European Union and a partnership between Europe and the United States. The paper rightly talks about having a "partnership" rather than Britain pursuing a dependent relationship between us alone and the United States. I am deeply unhappy about the image of Britain as a bridge between Europe and the United States. Bridges are what people walk over, whereas we need a dialogue with the US. The third element is our commitment to multilateral institutions and international law, through which medium-range powers like ourselves can operate effectively.

Regarding European policy, I regret that this Government have been inconsistent, without a clear strategy and without a clear overall concept. Far too often we look over our shoulders at the Murdoch press. A stronger European common foreign policy is in Britain's interest. Britain has led in promoting a European security and defence policy—a hard battle, but one in which we have as many allies among other EU governments as back-sliders.

We have not pushed as hard as we might for a more effective European development policy which would involve substantial further reform of the Commission and its ability to implement such a policy. Above all, there has been a public diplomacy failure to explain British objectives, either at home or abroad. It pains me when I see British Ministers slipping back again into the language of "us versus them" in the negotiations on the Constitutional Treaty, when we are now committed to a referendum which, I assume, Her Majesty's Government hopes to persuade the British public should be passed and as regards which we wish to persuade our friends across the Channel that we are attempting to achieve the same objectives as them.

We should operate our policy towards the United States as a candid friend not as a loyal subordinate, as a number of noble Lords have said. I agree strongly with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, about that. There is after all, at the moment, a substantial divergence between British and American assumptions—that is, the assumptions of the current administration and the currently dominant party in Congress about global threats and challenges. In Washington the preoccupation is with hard military power, "shock and awe", quick-in and quick-out "state destruction", as the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, remarked, instead of state reconstruction and nation-building—the sort of things that the British Army does so well.

The Foreign Office strategy paper talks a good deal about the new threats that we face on climate change, population explosion and global inequality. Sustainable development is one of the eight strategic priorities mentioned. That is not acceptable in the current discourse in Washington, where climate change is still not entirely on the political agenda. The paper underestimates migration as a major issue for us and others in international politics. It notes that the current estimate is that between 130,000 and 150,000 people enter the United Kingdom each year and stay—adding roughly a million people to our population every six to seven years. That will be a major issue, including how we cope with the countries from which those people are being pushed towards the rich world.

The dangers of "the West versus the rest", of slipping into a situation in which the rich world sees the poor world as antagonistic, where there is a clash of civilisations or one in which Islam is seen as—I quote Charles Krauthammer—"the existential enemy", is one that we have the deepest interest in opposing.

I strongly agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans about the importance of understanding among faiths in this country and outside. Foreign and domestic policy go together. During the past three week-ends, I have spoken to about 1,000 British Muslims and I am conscious of the importance of linking these issues together.

The mood within the American Right had a degree of rage against the outside world. It sees the hosts of Median prowling and prowling around, the forces of evil surrounding them. Happily, we do not share that sense of good versus evil. Therefore, there is a deep need for Her Majesty's Government and for America's other allies to engage within the American debate to explain why we see the world differently from the current conventional discourse. Our Prime Minister will be in the United States in two weeks' time to attend the G8 summit and I hope that he will take the opportunity to state in public some of our reservations about current American policy. He should not lose that opportunity.

On the importance of international law and institutions, we have seen a US Administration which has tried to escape from the constraints of international law and which has tried, deliberately on occasions, to weaken the influence of international institutions. Thankfully, people in Washington now recognise how much it was a mistake to downgrade the Geneva Conventions; to assume that the US need not accept the constraints which the rest of us accept. But there is a real problem that the United Nations could be overloaded by having the problem of Iraq dumped upon it. The UN is most valuable as an international institution, but it is not that strong and we must be careful not to overload it.

We have heard a certain amount about NATO, an important institution to us but also in real danger from the backlash of what has happened during the past three years. Some in Washington have wanted to use NATO as a toolkit in support of US global objectives without listening to their allies and some European governments, particularly in Afghanistan, have failed to take their obligations, once agreed in principle, seriously.

On the Middle East, clearly operating through the EU and the UN, through the quartet, must be the way forward. Catching the American global Middle East initiative and transforming it into a broader dialogue about economic, political and social reform in the Arab world are all actions we must take together with our European allies. In Afghanistan, we must sustain engagement and persuade our allies to do that.

In Africa, we must note that the current US Administration does not feel engaged there, but that European interests are directly engaged. Further state collapse in Africa would immediately bring waves of refugees to Britain and other parts of Europe and therefore it is correct for Britain, with its European partners, to be as actively engaged as possible. I welcomed Operation Artemis, the first EU military operation in the eastern Congo last year. I welcome the Prime Minister's commission for Africa. We need to sustain a commitment under difficult circumstances when we are often blocked by corrupt and weak regimes. We have limited resources for our foreign policy and as we pursue it we therefore do best to work with others as well as we can.

I strongly agree with everything said by my noble friend Lord Alderdice about the risks to our reputation over what has been happening in Iraq. Reputation comes from long-term engagement and from explaining our principles and strategy to our domestic public and those abroad; it comes from commitment, consistency, coherence and, as we hope the Prime Minister will explain on his next visit to the United States, occasionally criticism.

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Shadow Minister, International Affairs; Conservative)

My Lords, I begin by declaring some interests: as a parent of a son serving in the Army in Basra; as a financial adviser to the Kuwait Investment Office; and as a Conservative Friend of Israel. I hope that those labels do not disqualify me from offering some reasonable, balanced views on the dangerous issues that have been debated so fully today.

I, too, warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for promoting the debate and introducing it with such enormous wisdom and elegance. Of course, we expect that from him, given his record and his past. I also thoroughly enjoyed the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, former Secretary-General of NATO. I am sorry that under our rules his speech was so truncated because I could have stood a lot more from him. And I hope that we get a lot more in due course because he spoke much wisdom.

I want to begin with some brief, general observations about the conduct of foreign policy before turning to the specifics. First, in pursuit of our priority objectives—safeguarding our national security and interests, however broadly we interpret them—some of us have argued for two decades that we should think more in terms of soft power. Translated, that means meeting today's threats, hostile stances and sources of destructive tension not just by hard military strength and force—what the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, called heavy metal armies—but by the powerful projection of our cause, case and desire for friendship through the persuasive instruments of diplomacy, information, well-honed development policies, cultural activities, skilful activity within international organisations and the ample use of semi-official and non-governmental linkages, as well as the private sector.

That is what the authors of the Foreign Office document, UK International Priorities, really meant when they talked about a "new agenda" in foreign policy and wider participants in international relations. They did not use the term "soft power", but that is what was behind some of the writing in the document. It would be difficult to think of a more obvious situation calling for the maximum deployment of soft power than the current efforts to defeat global terrorism and change hearts, minds and attitudes, and even styles of governance, throughout the whole Middle East region.

"Soft power" means that yesterday's Cinderella organisations such as the BBC World Service or the British Council—to which the noble Lord, Lord Wright, referred—or educational, medical and environmental development programmes become not the after-thoughts and leftovers but the front edge of the campaign to secure friends and win hearts and minds. And so do organisations such as the Commonwealth, which has not had much of a mention in the debate. Many of us feel that far from it being an organisation of the past, it is a superb but underfunded global network of the future.

That is why the events of recent weeks—the Abu Ghraib torture and abuse stories to which several noble Lords referred—are so utterly disastrous. They are the equivalent in modern terms of a major military defeat. It is why carrier fleets, strike fighters, high-tech missiles and the classic instrument of hard power are only half our defences and protection and can deliver only half our foreign policy. There is the other pillar, which is becoming more significant. The noble Lord, Lord Biffen, with great wisdom, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, rightly emphasised that point.

Speaking of soft power leads me to my second general point, which is that, in these conditions, no country can go it alone—not mighty but very vulnerable America; not some cobbled-up European superpower designed as a counter-weight of some form; no nation; and no armed force. The fact is that, thanks to technology, we now live in a totally networked structure in which all the old ways of looking at the world in terms of permanent blocks, hegemonies and hyper-powers are becoming utterly meaningless.

I think that that, above all, is why even those of us who are the United States' strongest admirers—I am one of them—find the Washington evangelical rhetoric about America being the greatest power on earth and the world's only superpower, bristling with missions and visions and so on, so worrying, unconvincing, ephemeral and, frankly, counter-productive, as some of your Lordships have rightly said.

At such a time as this, people may talk, understandably, about distancing ourselves from America. But what we really need—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, made this point—is to be more closely involved than ever with the American debate in order to drive home the new reality about the network nature and fluidity of the international order. We need to drive home the imperative need for the Americans to work closely and co-operatively with their many potential allies and willing friends and to use their own "soft power", if you like, rather than rely on the doctrines of overwhelming force and the big stick alone. That would not work.

In that context—this is my third general observation—we seem to be faced too often in these debates with two polar ideas. Either we are told that Middle East states must all succumb to the imposed Washington, Jeffersonian or Westminster democratic model—my noble friends Lord Biffen and Lord Eden rightly questioned that simplicity—or the opposite: that the Islamic theocracies are "inevitable", that they cannot be stopped and that Islam and democracy are somehow incompatible and we may as well face that fact. Both those polar views are equally silly and equally dangerous.

I often wonder whether any of the many experts now telling us that the coalition should hand over power to the Iraqi ayatollahs have any idea what that would do to the stability of the entire Middle East. The wise and gradualist reformers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Bahrain, who—if anyone looks at what they are trying to do—are all seeking to pluralise their governance, would all have the rug pulled from under them if Iraq turned into an extreme Islamic state. The outcome would not be stability and it certainly would not be representative democracy; it would be the rise of street revolution and of new intolerant cliques—anti-Western, anti-freedom, anti-women, anti-peace and anti-almost any form of civilised human advance.

In the immediate situation in Iraq, the key question, which has been touched on in this debate, is of course how sovereignty is to be handed over and whether the latest UN resolution, which we understand has now been tabled, does the trick. My own view is that, in fairness, it is certainly more than cosmetic, as some critics are all too ready to call it. But obviously the success of the resolution and the next stage of policy depend on some crucial problems and questions, and I hope that the Minister will be able to touch on some of them.

The first is: can Mr Brahimi really perform magic and, in the next few days, come up with the right names which will command confidence in Iraq? Will the new Iraqi Government have the veto on all or any coalition or so-called "multilateral force" operations, as the Prime Minister seems to want? Having said that, nowadays it is extremely hard to find out what government policy is—it changes so fast—other than receiving it second-hand through journalists. And what will be the status of our troops?

Is the British contribution to be strengthened? Half the newspapers say that it is and others say that it is not official yet. I gather that plans are already under way to move British contingents northwards from Basra so that the whole southern half of Iraq becomes a British military zone. When will we be told about that rather than have to pick up the occasional rumour? More broadly, can the coalition slip out of its occupying power jacket and don the garb of a more pro-Iraqi aid to the civil power? Will there be a national Security Council-type mechanism in the Iraqi government in Baghdad to allow that?

The answers to those questions are not in the draft resolution, which is silent on most of those matters. On the other hand, those who say that the whole operation should be not only UN-approved, as I hope it will be, but under full UN control are, I believe, deluding themselves. The UN does not have the capacity, the will, the track record or, at present, the reputation—certainly in Iraq—to do what the Iraqis must do for themselves. I believe it was Dag Hammarskjöld who, long ago, said that the UN is set up not to take mankind to paradise but to save it from hell. I think that that is the kind of fairly modest level of aim which we should entertain in thinking about the UN.

We now urgently need from the Government a firm and clear view based on a robust, open and frank debate about the way ahead in Iraq, as well as in the wider Middle East and on the dubious Sharon plan, which I do not have time to comment on, and on where we think coalition policy could be improved by both soft and hard-power deployments judiciously mixed together.

I have no criticism of the Prime Minister for making Britain's views on all this clear, whether or not they differ from those in Washington. Indeed, I believe that he should have done so earlier. I see nothing wrong with that; nothing inconsistent with our fervent wish to see this whole project succeed; and nothing wrong with the Opposition wanting this debating process out in the open, as the Liberal Democrats do as well. I hope that the Prime Minister will set out that strategic picture when he speaks at the UN and the G8. I hope that he will base it, coming from a parliamentary democracy as he does, on ideas and viewpoints that have been properly tested here in parliamentary debate and discussion. I totally agree with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that our committee system in both Houses, and certainly in this House, could do a lot better in that respect.

We have to get the priorities right in our democracy. We cannot afford to spread our resources and energies over everything in a kind of vague haze of good intentions and good will. We cannot make everything a priority as, reading the Foreign Office paper, I sometimes feel some Foreign Office planners want to do. Now, as never before, we must identify in a hard-headed way, and well ahead of time, the real threats to us and to our people from tomorrow's world and identify from which direction they are coming, whether far or near. We will not be forgiven for failing to do that.

6:18 pm
Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Labour)

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for introducing this debate and for doing it with his customary authority and command of the subject. His was a lucid and powerful overview of the overall foreign policy priorities from the position of a former diplomat, former ambassador, Permanent Secretary and, significantly, accounting officer.

Our debate has been graced by many distinguished contributions, but none more so than from my noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen. The whole House owes my noble friend a debt of gratitude for his outstanding service as NATO's Secretary-General. It was a privilege to serve with him as a defence Minister; it was also a great deal of fun, as your Lordships will have been able to deduce from my noble friend's contribution. And it was a privilege to represent the United Kingdom at the last NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting, which he chaired last December. I said to him then that he would be greeted in your Lordships' House with enthusiasm and affection. I am very glad to see that, deservingly, that has been the case.

I have a huge task in answering this wide-ranging debate. I start with thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Wright, for his kind words about the FCO White Paper, published last December, which set out the United Kingdom's international priorities and how we intend to achieve them. It may be helpful to touch upon those in order to put my subsequent remarks about specific areas and policies into context.

The strategy analyses changes in foreign policy since the end of the Cold War and publicly sets out for the first time our underlying assumptions about how the world will develop over the next decade. As domestic and foreign policy become increasingly intertwined, it has been important that our international priorities were not agreed with just one department but right the way across government as a whole, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, noted.

The White Paper identified nine priorities: a world safer from global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction—in regional terms the strategy puts the Middle East at the top of those priorities; protection of the United Kingdom from illegal immigration, drug trafficking and other international crime; an international system based on the rule of law, which is better able to resolve disputes and prevent conflicts; an effective EU in a secure neighbourhood; promotion of the United Kingdom's economic interests in an open and expanding global economy; sustainable development underpinned by democracy, good governance and human rights; security of United Kingdom and global energy supplies; security and good governance of our overseas territories; and delivering high quality public services.

That is a very ambitious global agenda. The priorities are closely interconnected. Security is vitally important but it cannot be isolated from sustainable development or from robust international systems. If we are to fight terrorism and proliferation effectively, we need to promote democracy, good governance and human rights. To reduce poverty in Africa we must end the bitter cycles of conflict there.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is right; foreign policy does, indeed, take time. Results do not come overnight and consistency is vital. That is why we have drawn up a Foreign Office strategy. Underlying our approach is a strong commitment to a multilateral system. I agreed strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said. No one country, not even the superpower United States, can tackle this agenda alone. We look for collective international approaches underpinned by strong alliances, and the rule of law.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, put his finger on the central issue: do our policies and priorities really deliver what we want? They cannot be pursued in isolation and the strategy sets out our approach to the key relationships we need to achieve in order to progress these issues. Our most significant partnerships with other countries will be within the European Union and with the United States. There is no choice for us between the EU and the United States.

In that respect I have a very honest disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Wright. Transatlantic partnership, not just between the United Kingdom and the United States but between the EU as a whole and the United States, is indeed essential if we are to make any progress on the issues that we really care about. In that context, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that the United Kingdom is not so much a bridge between two camps as a catalyst for partnership to which a majority on both sides of the Atlantic remain deeply committed and which is vital for our future security and prosperity. We also need to develop our relationships with other key partners bilaterally through the EU and in particular with Russia, China, Japan and India.

The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, spoke eloquently about our role in Iraq, and I thank him warmly for what he said. I believe, of course, that much of what he said is right. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, also devoted much of his address to Iraq, as did the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, together with my noble friends Lord Brennan, Lord Desai, Lord Mitchell and Lord Stoddart of Swindon.

Some noble Lords have been trenchant and uncompromising in their reiteration of outright disagreement in principle to military intervention in Iraq. Others have expressed disquiet over particular aspects of conduct there. We continue to share the objective of a free, stable, unified Iraq and we remain committed to finishing the job that we have begun. Perhaps I may say, clearly, that I utterly reject the appalling accusations that were put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, but I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Brennan for saying what he did early in our debate about human rights abuses in Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere. Such abuses are abhorrent. They are an affront to us all. They disgust every decent human being. I would go further and say that we went to Iraq to get rid of this sort of abuse, not to perpetuate it. The United States agrees, as I heard Colin Powell, the United States Secretary of State set out in Jordan clearly, frankly and unequivocally just 10 days ago.

Rather than reflect on the recent past, perhaps I may look over what will happen in the next few months, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, asked. The handover to a sovereign Iraqi Government will take place on 30 June and we expect the announcement of the interim government to be made by Lakhdar Brahimi on or shortly before 31 May. The interim government will have self-imposed limitations of power reflecting the views of prominent Iraqis, not reflecting the views of limitations imposed from outside Iraq but from within Iraq, including Ayatollah Sistani. Those will be there so that an unelected government should not have powers to take fundamental decisions with long-term impact, particularly on constitutional issues before there is an elected government.

Elections for the transitional national assembly will be held by the end of January 2005. The UN is due to announce the establishment of an electoral commission by the end of May. It estimates that it will then take eight months to prepare for the elections. I hope that your Lordships will be pleased to know that already 11 ministries have been transferred to the Iraqi authority.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, asked about the UNSCR. The text has been distributed to the Security Council and coalition partners and the initial response has been generally positive. We are still aiming for an agreed text by the end of the first week of June. The key goals of the Security Council resolution are to mark clearly a new phase in the political transition, reconfirm the mandate of the multinational force and to specify the future role of the United Nations.

Security is a constant source of difficulty and anxiety, as I have seen from my own visits to Iraq. US and UK forces operate in very different areas with different challenges. Tactics in each area reflect the situation on the ground. We want to avoid violence and confrontation wherever possible but remain ready to use appropriate force as a last resort.

The post-30 June security arrangements are crucial, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, argued. The Iraqi Government will be fully sovereign. Therefore, the multinational force will remain only at the invitation of that Iraqi Government. But the key is handing over to the Iraqis themselves. More than 131,000 Iraqis are currently providing security and there are now 78,000 Iraqi police working on the ground.

I turn to the other big issue addressed by many noble Lords—the Middle East peace process. The noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond, Lord Biffen, Lord Weidenfeld, Lord Eden of Winton, Lord Jacobs and Lord Hylton, all concentrated on these points. I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Wright, that we continue to attach the highest priority to this issue. All Ministers do and, as the Minister with particular responsibility, I do. But we do not do so to the exclusion of all else, and we do not do so as an excuse for lack of progress on other issues in the region.

The announcement that Israel intends to withdraw the Israeli defence forces from Gaza and dismantle all Israeli settlements there as well as four in the West Bank will be a significant step towards the goal set out in the road map and in Security Council Resolution 1397, the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace.

But as the Minister responsible for the Middle East let me make two points clear. First, any withdrawal must be without prejudice to the final status issues negotiated between the parties; that is, borders, refugees and Jerusalem. Secondly, the road map remains the best—indeed currently the only—way forward to the two-state solution; that is, Israel living in peace and security with its neighbours and Palestine stabilised as a viable and contiguous state.

I thought that the quartet statement of 4 May made this position abundantly clear and went further. It came forward with some practical suggestions for how this could be achieved; suggestions about security, financial help for the Palestinian Authority administered by a trust fund through the World Bank and, vitally, work about monitoring developments on the ground.

We support both sides taking actions in line with the road map, unilaterally or otherwise, provided it is done within the context of a road map. We are calling for Israel to co-ordinate its withdrawal from Gaza with the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority also needs to react positively to the initiative by taking the steps needed to improve security and its capacity to take responsibility for law and order.

I agree strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, said on this issue. Above all, it poisons so much else in the region. I have travelled widely in the past few weeks. I have been to four international conferences with colleagues in the Arab world in the past 12 days. Let there be no doubt that as far as they are concerned—I would say this is true of them all—this issue above any other, even that of Iraq with all the recent hurt that it has suffered, has to be tackled with determination, courage and understanding.

I thought the communiqué from Tunis was very helpful. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, that I thought it addressed terrorism and organised crime and rejected what it called "the spirit of hate" in all its forms. I urge the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, to read the Arab League Tunis summit communiqué.

In respect of what the noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, said, I agree that the Geneva accord is a bright light, but so is the Tunis summit statement, not least because it raises the whole question of Arab modernisation—of democracy, economic reform, development in a civil society, tackling poverty, human rights and the rights of women. It put them firmly on the Arab League agenda.

So I hope that the G8 will pick up these initiatives at the Sea Island summit and react in a spirit of partnership, acknowledging, as all people of common sense must, that reform comes from within a country—it cannot be imposed from outside—and that the countries in the region are in many ways as different as we Europeans are from each other.

I turn to the points made about NATO by my noble friend Lord Robertson and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. As your Lordships are aware, NATO heads of government and states will meet in Istanbul at the end of June. The agenda will focus on three main issues—operation, capabilities and partnership. We want to use the summit to encourage the additional military assets required by ISAF's expanding operations in Afghanistan. A decision to terminate the SFOR operation in Bosnia is also likely. That will pave the way for a UK-led EU stabilisation force to take over.

Progress on the Prague capability commitment set out by my noble friend Lord Robertson in 2002, will also be reviewed. The recent accession of the seven new allies provides an opportune time to modernise NATO's partnership programmes. The Mediterranean dialogue should be made more substantive with more focus on practical co-operation. Discussion will also take place on establishing a series of relationships with countries in the wider Middle East—if that is what they want. NATO is also planning to hold meetings with Ukraine and Russia.

Perhaps I may turn to some of the geographically specific issues which were raised. I think that Iraq and the Middle East peace process are rather different in this respect, so I turn to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on Iran. In contrast with our friends the United States of America, we believe that the best approach to Iran is our policy of critical engagement. Iran is too important and complex to ignore. We are better able to promote reform through frequent dialogue. We share key interests in regional stability and drugs, but of course we are very aware of the difficulties in dealing with Iran.

We have grave concerns about Iran's nuclear programme, its human rights record and its support for terrorism and for groups that oppose with violence the Middle East peace process. The EU has stressed that relations cannot develop without concrete Iranian action to address human rights concerns. The UK and most EU partners co-sponsored a Canadian-run resolution on human rights in Iran at UNGA last year.

We welcome Iran's progress so far in disclosing its past deceit about its nuclear programme. But Iran still has a great deal to do to satisfy the international community. We want to work more closely with Iran to defeat terrorism. We also want deeper EU commercial relationships with Iran.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, that we are trying to reach out to the Iranian media. I hope that he will be pleased to know I actually spent an hour with the Iranian media this week doing exactly that.

My noble friend Lord Desai concentrated his remarks on India and Pakistan, as did the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, with whom I agree very warmly indeed. Over the weekend the new Indian Government was sworn in. That was the climax to what was a thrilling exercise in vibrant democracy by the world's largest electorate.

The relationship between India and the UK is very good. Co-operation with India is essential to achieving at least six of our eight strategic priorities. We have shared interests in tackling key global challenges—terrorism, environmental degradation, climate change, drugs, international crime, illegal migration and people trafficking, regional conflicts and impediments to trade.

The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, also touched on the issues in relation to Pakistan. Her Majesty's Government welcome the recent public statements made by the new Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the external Minister Natwar Singh for confirming their commitment to strengthening, widening and deepening India's bilateral relations and continuing the peace process with Pakistan.

The Pakistani Government have also reaffirmed publicly their continued commitment to improving relations with India and the peace process. We hope that the Indian and Pakistani Governments will continue to build confidence through their peaceful engagement. As a friend of both countries, we, and indeed our key international allies, stand ready to assist and support India and Pakistan as they move forward.

My noble friend Lord Parekh and the noble Lords, Lord St John of Bletso and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, spoke—some movingly—about Africa. A more prosperous, stable and peaceful Africa would benefit not only Africans, but the entire world community. Terrorism, illegal immigration, instability and, above all, poverty in Africa have implications outside that continent.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, for his encouragement of our role in trying to bring together the parties in Zimbabwe. I agree that there is a vital role for Zimbabwe's neighbours to support that process.

Currently we are spending a great deal more in Africa than in the past. The amount has risen rapidly over the past 10 years. By 2005–06, the United Kingdom will have increased its annual bilateral assistance to sub-Saharan Africa to £1 billion. Africa will be a priority for the United Kingdom in the run up to our G8 and EU presidencies and beyond.

As part of our commitment to the G8 Africa Action Plan, we have focused on key action areas, such as peace, security, governance, trade, education and HIV/AIDS. Again, the spread of retroviral drugs is very much to be welcomed, as the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, said.

Conflict remains a huge barrier to Africa's development. We support conflict prevention, management and resolution initiatives in Africa and are actively engaged in the peace processes in Somalia, Sudan, DRC and Uganda.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, spoke with her customary passion about Darfur. I can tell her that a UN presidential statement was issued yesterday, following intensive work by the United Kingdom with our international partners. It expressed grave concern at the situation in Darfur and called for the parties to protect civilians and facilitate access to humanitarian organisations.

The Sudanese have announced that they will issue visas to humanitarian agencies within 48 hours. I shall keep the matter under review. I am happy to talk further to the noble Baroness on the issue. I agree with her that this is a terrible and vicious problem and that we ought to engage with the area more.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, spoke about Cyprus. We respect the outcome of both referendums and the Cypriots' right to decide. I shall try to be as clear as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked. We regret that an opportunity was missed for a settlement. The Secretary-General's plan is the result of many years of work and we believe that it is a fair and balanced compromise that offers a real prospect to Cyprus to move forward as a united island within the European Union.

We look forward to the Secretary-General's report on the talks about the future of his Good Offices mission. I want to be clear on this: we see no prospect for an early resumption of talks. Now is a time for thought. It is an opportunity for the Greek Cypriots to reflect on whether their choice was the right one for them, for Cyprus and for the European Union.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that we have a duty to those Turkish Cypriots who voted in favour of a settlement and EU membership. I think that I spelt that out fairly clearly the other day when I spoke in your Lordships' House.

The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, spoke about Colombia. I fully agree with him that UK military aid is not fuelling the conflict. Our aid is helping to dispose of bombs, build democratic accountability for the Armed Forces and develop better rules for engagement. Stopping the aid would hurt the people we are trying to help.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised the subject of Serbia. In Kosovo in particular, as the noble Lord said, there is much to be done, as the March violence exposed. Minorities, particularly the Kosovo Serb minority, need to feel safe and to have access to institutions and services. The Kosovo Government need to be given support, but they also need to show that they really are capable of exercising more responsibility, most importantly on the economy.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans raised interfaith dialogue. In particular, we have supported the Alexandria process under the guidance of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey. We have supported work on the Israel/Palestinian interfaith dialogue, and we are supporting work on interfaith dialogue in Iraq. We were doing that as recently as last weekend in a seminar. We also support the work in Africa of Coventry cathedral.

Our support has been not only in terms of participation but also in terms of hard cash. At home we have an outreach programme trying to bring together the faith communities across a whole range of discussion on foreign policy issues. As an example of that commitment, we held the first ever multi-faith week in the FCO from 7 to 11 October last year. I would be happy to discuss that further with any right reverend Prelate on the Bishops' Benches or other noble Lords who feel that it would be helpful.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, asked about funding for human rights. The FCO will continue to support grassroots human rights, good governance and democracy projects. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, since 1998 the Human Rights Project Fund has funded more than 700 projects in more than 90 countries, worth £30 million. With the creation last year of the new Global Opportunities Fund, which ran in parallel with the Human Rights Project Fund, the FCO supported more than 150 new human rights, good governance and democracy projects, which were worth over £11 million.

International action against torture is a priority for the Government. We launched an initiative to tackle torture throughout the world in 1998. We are lobbying for the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. I shall write to the noble Baroness to fill in more of the substance on that point.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, directed our attention to counter-terrorism. That is a priority for the Government. Security Council Resolution 1373, passed in September 2001, set the standard for states and made them accountable for their performance. All states have now reported to the counter-terrorism committee at least once; this country has reported four times. In March the Security Council decided to strengthen the committee further, and last week the Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed the first executive director to lead a strengthened expert team. We wish him well; he will enjoy our full support.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke with real conviction about establishing a foreign policy committee in your Lordships' House. Sadly, on this occasion, I do not agree that that is a real priority. That is certainly not because I am not happy to answer noble Lords' questions or indeed noble Lords' debates in this House, which I always enjoy. But he was right when he said that it was a matter for the House itself. It is very much in noble Lords' hands if they wish to take the matter forward.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for his acknowledgement of the importance of the British Council and the BBC World Service. I would not wish them to go unmentioned, as they are very important aids to us in taking forward our priorities, as he rightly acknowledged.

The noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond, Lord Alderdice, Lord Selsdon, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Howell of Guildford, all concentrated quite a lot on transatlantic relations. Of course the context of our transatlantic relationships has changed fundamentally over the past 15 years. The common threat from the Soviet Union that unified Americans and Europeans has disappeared. That is a very good thing, as we all know. The European continent is firmly on the path to freedom and prosperity.

However, the end of that overwhelming threat means that we must find new ways of co-operating. The major task for Europe and America is now to build a common approach to the challenges and threats of the 21st century. To some, the disagreements over Iraq have demonstrated that Europe and America view those threats very differently. Iraq exposed divisions not only between Europe and the United States but also within Europe. But both Europeans and the United States have made clear that we want to move beyond those differences. On the fundamentals, including the threat that Saddam Hussein posed, we agreed fundamentally. As the European Security Strategy, published in December last year, demonstrates, Europe and the US agree that the major threats we face come from WMD, terrorism and failing states. We also agree that we must tackle a broader agenda, including climate change, poverty and disease, in order to build a global consensus based on security and justice.

Noble Lords have debated a huge agenda today. The FCO's network of 233 posts is a vital asset in advancing this global agenda. It is a delivery mechanism for the whole of government, not just the FCO. Over half the staff who work in it are engaged in providing information services, consular and commercial support and visas. We consider that public service role an absolute priority in its own right.

To excel in all those areas is a very tall order for an organisation that employs fewer people than Harrods and costs less than 0.25 per cent of GDP. To achieve our aims, the FCO will need to become more flexible, better able to make use of diverse talent and work even more closely with other government departments in this country and with multilateral organisations overseas.

I have worked in and around Whitehall for almost 28 years, in a variety of different government departments and representing senior civil servants as a whole. I commend to noble Lords the diplomatic corps, whose expertise and commitment are the rock upon which our foreign policy is built. Under the leadership of Sir Michael Jay, the Foreign Office has become more open and responsive and has reached out more, not only overseas, but to communities in this country, too. It has a clear path set ahead now, through its strategic objectives, and the men and women who work for it should be a real source of pride to all of us.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond

Lord Wright of Richmond (Crossbench)

My Lords, this has been an important and wide-ranging debate. I am extremely grateful to the many noble Lords who have taken part. I thank and congratulate, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, on his excellent maiden speech. I also thank the Minister for the characteristically comprehensive, courteous and skilful way in which she has summed up the debate.

I take fully the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on my proposal that foreign affairs might be somehow separated from defence or international development in the Queen's Speech debates. Perhaps that is not a sensible way to proceed. But I am very grateful for the opportunity to hold this debate on what the Minister referred to as our global agenda.

I suggest tentatively that the House authorities, business managers and the Government might view positively the idea that we should have such wide-ranging debates more often than, say, six months, which is about the strike rate at the moment. Although I retired from the Diplomatic Service 13 years ago, I think that I am still allowed to be grateful to the Minister for her remarks on it. Our role in international affairs is too important not to be given a wider airing from time to time.

I hope also that the House authorities and the Government will look sympathetically on the proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that this House should be given more opportunity in its committee system to review and scrutinise international affairs more widely than the present restriction to scrutinising European affairs—I do not suppose that one could call European affairs limited.

I apologise to my noble friend Lord Joffe for the extent to which my debate may have transgressed the time allotted to his important Cross-Bench debate on charitable donations, which noble Lords are about to enjoy. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.