Latin America — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:53 pm on 24th June 2010.

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Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Labour 12:53 pm, 24th June 2010

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool for his kind remarks and I am delighted to deliver my maiden speech in this debate, which I believe the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, has pushed so hard to have.

Before my introduction on Monday, I felt that I sort of knew the House of Lords quite well. Until his death two years ago, my father-in-law, George Thomson, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, had been a Member for many years. My brother-in-law, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, speaks for the Liberal Democrat Front Bench from time to time. When it comes to the debate on the composition of the House, if I am not exactly strongly in support of the hereditary principle we have at least tried to keep it in the family. For good measure, my history tutor at Oxford, my noble friend Lord Morgan, is also a new colleague, which I am delighted about.

Still, on Monday, I was rather like a nervous school boy-the 11 year-old on my first day at Carlisle grammar school with all the fears of the mysterious rituals and initiation rites that were to follow. My nervousness has been much allayed by the kindness and warmth with which I have been greeted-not just by my fellow Peers, but from the House staff whose courtesy and helpfulness in dealing with new Members is quite wonderful. I want to put on record my heartfelt thanks to them.

Some may be surprised that I have chosen to make my maiden speech in a debate on Latin America. I spent 10 years of my early life in local government as a councillor in Oxford and then Lambeth. I remain a firm believer in local democracy and am against overcentralisation. I am passionate about economic development of the regions. As a lad from Cumberland whose father was a railway clerk and grandfather a miner, it is matter of great pride to me to be the chair of our local economic partnership, Cumbria Vision, and I hope to join a strong Cumbrian contingent voicing the needs of Cumbria in this House.

From my work in No 10 and Brussels, I care deeply about the future of the European Union. I believe that all of Europe, Britain included, is the winner if we can work together to build a strong, integrated and dynamic single market, revitalise a social model to which many in the rest of the world aspire, and become an effective force for good in our new multipolar world.

That brings me to Latin America. I was brought up on Tip O'Neill's famous political adage, "All politics is local", but I now believe that all politics is also global. The task is to build a new politics of sustainable globalisation. Think how the banking crisis, immigration and terrorism shaped the debates at the recent general election. Think what the coalition Government have decided in the past week or so. I am not trying to make a party point but simply wish to offer a reflection. They have no alternative but to obey the dictates of financial markets to bring down the public deficit quickly. In other words, we have no sovereignty as a Government or a people to challenge the need for 25 per cent cuts in our main public services. That is what Latin America suffered at the hands of the IMF under the Washington consensus in the 1980s and 1990s. We all have to strive somehow for a better global way.

I first became interested in Latin America as a result of an initiative that Tony Blair and President Clinton took to set up an international network of progressive centre-left leaders in which key Latin American countries took a keen interest. The think tank, Policy Network, that I now chair and which was chaired previously by my noble friend Lord Radice, is about helping to build that progressive network. In 2003, we had a conference in London which Presidents Lagos of Chile, Kouchner of Argentina and Lula of Brazil came as honoured guests. In the past three years, I have twice been to events led by the Chileans and President Bachelet.

For progressives, Latin America has made impressive strides in the past decade. Democracy has replaced dictatorship, the ballot box and the military junta, and remarkable social progress has been achieved. While the Governments of progressive Latin America are not slaves to the market, they have come to terms with the market and shown how they can redistribute its rewards in progressive ways. When Pinochet left office in Chile, 40 per cent of Chileans lived below the poverty line. Now the figure is only 12 or 13 per cent. The number of young people going to university in the past 20 years has risen from 10 per cent to 40 per cent. When the right-wing candidate for president won the election this year there, was a peaceful transition marred only by the calamity of that awful earthquake.

In a way, the Latin American progressives are the perfect exemplars of my noble friend Lord Giddens's third way. In foreign policy, they do not wish to be the lackeys of the United States. They are never going to sign up to some modern version of the Monroe doctrine, and they may even be a bit wary of President Obama's more sympathetic multilateralism, as we see from Brazil's recent vote in the Security Council on sanctions against Iran. Domestically, however, they are searching for means of social progress that avoid the painful injustices and extremes of American free-market capitalism.

In my experience, that makes them very interested in the European model. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, that they have not made a lot of progress beyond the nation state, but I have found many Latin Americans who are interested in the possibilities of regional integration on the European pattern and are trying to learn from our experience. I believe that Europe has a real opportunity for influence there, but, as in so many areas, the European Union has yet to fulfil that potential. Part of that is about getting our act together in Europe and recognising that as nation states alone, we have limited power in the new world that is emerging. We have to get our act together. That is particularly true in diplomatic representation, given the huge economies which are having to be made in the British embassy network as a result of the present financial crisis.

When we speak the language of multipolarity, we as Europeans must recognise that that means a shift in the balance of power in the world. Let us take the IMF. If we are to tackle the global imbalances that still threaten financial stability, we desperately need to bring all the emerging big economies of the world on board within the IMF structure to make it truly representative of the world as it now is. The EU member states' insistence-this is not just a problem of Britain, it is a problem of all the big member states-on maintaining their gross over-representation on the IMF's councils stands in the way of that necessary power shift

Let us take free trade and Doha. The Latin Americans hesitate to lower their tariffs on Europe's high value-added exports while their food exports are denied access to European and American markets. Brazil is hugely competitive in agricultural products such as sugar and beef, but the US and EU are both reluctant to adjust to that, although the overall impact on our growth prospects and economies would be favourable.

Finally, let us take climate change. We simply cannot lecture the Latin Americans on their growing carbon emissions and destruction of forests while we in the industrialised world fail to tackle the problems of industrialisation that are our legacy and our responsibility. The EU must make itself the global leader in low-carbon transition. I believe that that would be a sustainable platform for recovery.

In conclusion, it is a great privilege to speak in this House for the first time. If I may express a personal regret, it is that my parents narrowly missed being alive to see it. I hope that for all my time in this place, I will continue to speak truly to the values of social democracy and internationalism that they imbued in me.