Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:48 pm on 14th November 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 6:48 pm, 14th November 2002

My Lords, this has been an informed debate, drawing on the considerable experience and expertise in this House. It is always difficult when summing up to do justice to a debate of such high quality. In the time available, it will not be possible to answer all of the specific questions that have been raised, but I shall write to noble Lords if necessary.

I believe that we all agree that we are living through a period of profound change. The world is more interconnected than ever before, yet we are living at a time when some of the differences between us also seem to be more stark than ever before. However, the universal principles of the UN Charter, respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, have spread around the world. There are exceptions, but the values that underpin our democracy are being adopted more and more.

My noble friend Lady Symons set out the Government's foreign policy, defence and international development priorities in her comprehensive opening speech. I want to concentrate on the key themes which emerged during the debate and which will dominate the international agenda for the foreseeable future. I shall group my remarks into three themes: the threat to our collective security from terrorism, state failure and weapons of mass destruction; the balance of global prosperity, the impact of mass migration and movement of people across the world and, in particular, the relationship between the developed and developing world; and the importance of maintaining an effective international rules-based system to regulate the conduct of relations between states.

First, I turn to the issue of security, Iraq and the situation in the Middle East. Many noble Lords touched on that point, including the noble Lords, Lord Howell, Lord Wallace, Lord Owen, Lord Biffen, Lord Wright, Lord Hannay, Lord Redesdale and Lord Parekh, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. Securing Iraq's disarmament is one of the great security challenges for the world. UN Security Council Resolution 1441 sets out the pathway for peace. As my noble friend Lady Ramsay made clear in her extremely informative speech, the history of UN weapons inspections in Iraq is littered with examples of deceit, evasion, intimidation and harassment. I thank noble Lords who have recognised the significant work and achievements of my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, of our officials in securing a unanimous resolution of the UN. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, a credible threat of force was key to obtaining a resolution.

We must work to reduce the underlying tensions which drive the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and create the risk of them being used. That means continued efforts to build confidence between India and Pakistan, on the Korean peninsula and in the Middle East. Our goal in the Middle East is to achieve an Israeli state free from terror, a viable Palestinian state based on 1967 boundaries, and a comprehensive regional settlement.

With regard to the issue of settlement building, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wright, the Government's policy is clear. Settlements are illegal under international law and are an obstacle to peace. Israel should freeze all settlement activity, and we have made our views on that clear to the Israeli Government. It will be difficult and there will be setbacks, but these are challenges that we cannot afford to duck.

The same is true of the campaign against terrorism. We have made real progress in Afghanistan—an issue raised by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. But the terrorist threat remains and is likely to be with us for a long time to come. We need a patient, long-term strategy for dealing with it, combining the full range of instruments, intelligence gathering and law enforcement to disrupt terrorist groups and prevent them acquiring weapons of mass destruction. We also need action to address the root causes of terrorism. We must work hard to tackle the problems of political and religious extremism, particularly in the Middle East. Like my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel, I commend the work being undertaken through the Alexandria Process. We must also take action to prevent situations of state failure of the kind that allowed the Taliban to seize power in Afghanistan.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the issue of terrorism in the UK. The Government are determined that this country should not be used in any way as a base for supporting terrorism overseas. The Terrorism Act 2000, which entered into force in February 2001, sent a powerful signal of our rejection of the claim to legitimacy of international terrorist organisations. We recently added four international terrorist organisations to the list of proscribed organisations, which now stands at 25.

But the global threat should not blind us to the security challenges that still confront us closer to home. The creation of a secure neighbourhood for Europe remains a priority for this Government. The imminent expansion of NATO and the European Union means that the task is already halfway complete. We must work to ensure that the reunification of the continent does not create new dividing lines, alienating countries which stand at the new Europe's borders.

Britain has led the way in adapting its defence structures to the new international security environment. The Strategic Defence Review and the subsequent new chapter provided the basis for a major programme of modernisation based on the need for more flexible forces and adoption of cutting-edge technology. That will require additional resources but the Government will not take any chances when it comes to protecting Britain's security. We are committed to significant real increases in defence spending to ensure we make a success of the modernisation programme.

We are also committed to adapting our security alliances to the new security environment. NATO remains the cornerstone. It has been so successful that observers sometimes underestimate its continuing relevance. Without it, for example, we would not have achieved the kind of progress we have seen recently in the Balkans. It is vital that we continue to maintain and expand the zone of peace in Europe by bringing new members into NATO, by strengthening NATO's relations with Russia and other key partners and by adapting NATO's internal structures. That includes reinforcing Europe's contribution to NATO to further development of the European security and defence policy and higher defence spending. There is no question of the undermining of the transatlantic alliance. On the contrary, President Bush and others have made clear that a stronger European defence identity would help to strengthen NATO.

The noble Lords, Lord Burnham, Lord Howell, Lord Selsdon and Lord Marlesford, all raised questions about defence equipment. The Government have long recognised that delivering equipment needed by our Armed Forces in time and to cost is challenging and needs reform. Indeed, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, would agree that delivery on time and to cost is difficult, given that the procurement project that he listed was started before 1997. That was the reason behind the move to Smart acquisitions, which was introduced as a key element of the Strategic Defence Review. Our recently-published defence industrial policy re-affirms the principles of Smart acquisition, which are beginning to deliver real results.

I turn to global prosperity and in particular our development agenda. I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, to her new role. I look forward to working with her on those issues. The noble Baroness set out clearly the challenges facing many countries in the developing world, including Africa. The Government's over-arching priority is to work for the elimination of world poverty and the achievement of sustainable development. That will not be easy. One of the achievements of this Government, and in particular of my right honourable friend Clare Short, is the recognition internationally that we cannot deal with development issues without tackling wider issues relating to trade, market access, governance, environmental sustainability and aid effectiveness.

The international conferences in the past year, starting at Doha with the new trade round, Monterrey on financing for development, the G8 meeting at Kananaskis where the Africa Action Plan was agreed and most recently the World Summit on Sustainable Development have all contributed to that global development agenda.

I thank noble Lords for the positive comments they made about my own role as Minister with responsibility for Africa. On the African continent, development indicators are going backwards. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear his personal commitment. The New Partnership for Africa's Development is Africa's own blueprint for its future development and prosperity. At its core is a commitment to good economic and political governance and to a system of peer review.

My noble friend Lord Desai made comparisons between developments in Africa and in Asia. To his list of differences between Africa and Asia—he spoke of leadership and agricultural revolution—I add the importance of trade, a point to which I shall return. There is no doubt that the situation in Zimbabwe has cast a shadow over NePAD. That is an issue I have discussed many times with the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, in this House. I think that the noble Lord is aware that I do not agree with his assessment of our policy.

I have said many times in this House that we cannot allow mismanagement in one country to derail the whole process. Yes, the situation in Zimbabwe is critical: rampant inflation, high levels of unemployment; use of violence to achieve political ends; a humanitarian crisis brought on by economic mismanagement and now the politicisation of food aid.

Conservative Front Bench spokespersons, including the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, have pressed me many times on our policies. We cannot see what the Official Opposition would have achieved in following its policy priorities, except endorsement of Mugabe's fast-track policies in terms of land reform, which has left thousands of farm workers homeless and jobless by paying compensation to farmers forced off the land. We have secured what the Official Opposition could not—an international consensus with the Commonwealth, with EU support and support from the United States and other countries.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, raised the question of visas in Zimbabwe. The new visa regime will help to ensure effective UK immigration control and make it easier for Zimbabwean visitors to travel to the United States. Large numbers are currently refused entry to the UK and returned; large numbers abscond after being granted temporary admission; and increasingly large numbers have unfounded asylum claims. Only 64 per cent of asylum seekers are refused entry.

With respect to the fees, we are under standing parliamentary instructions to recover the full costs of our consular and visa operations worldwide. We were running our operation in Harare at a loss to the British taxpayer of £400,000 in the last financial year. That is why we have had to move to using the parallel rate. The method of applying for visas is one that we use in a number of British missions throughout the world.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, spoke about the important role of women in international development. I agree with the noble Baroness. But I think that she has misunderstood our approach. The millennium development goals are goals which the whole international community has signed up to and they are a cornerstone of our development agenda. One of the means that we use to achieve that goal is direct budgetary support with partner governments that are committed to reform. We do that through a memorandum of understanding where responsibilities and obligations on both sides are set out clearly. There is regular monitoring of that. We shall continue to support NGOs in the United Kingdom and in developing countries. I can assure the noble Baroness that women's equality remains a key part of our strategy. I shall write to the noble Baroness with more details on that.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester raised the situation of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We welcome the UN panel report on the exploitation of mineral resources. We are consulting widely on our response to the report's recommendations. The right reverend Prelate is quite right; bringing peace to the DRC would bring substantial benefits, not only to the country but also to the region and to the continent.

We have had a number of breakthroughs, including the Pretoria agreement and the ongoing work on the inter-Congolese dialogue. However, we remain concerned about the humanitarian and security situation in north-eastern DRC and we have reminded the Government of Uganda of its obligations to the local population.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford talked about debt relief. HIPC has been an important success. Twenty-six countries will get over 60 billion dollars in debt relief. But we are aware of the continuing problems facing some HIPC countries and we remain concerned about the long-term sustainability of HIPC countries. No amount of debt relief can guarantee future sustainability. That requires prudent new borrowing, access to adequate concessional financing and strong growth strategy.

On trade I agree with much of what the right reverend Prelate said. My noble friend Lady Symons is holding regular meetings with Commonwealth high commissioners to discuss developing country concerns about trade.

We are deeply concerned about the growing food crisis in southern Africa and in the Horn of Africa. I remind noble Lords that we are the second largest humanitarian donors to Zimbabwe. We have increased the percentage of the budget that goes on aid. It was 0.26 per cent in 1997. It now stands at 0.32 per cent and will be 0.4 per cent of GDP by 2006.