My Lords, I have to confess that when I decided to draw attention in the Motion to changing hazards and opportunities, I owed a good deal to some extremely useful work undertaken by Chatham House in recent months under the twin titles of Playing to its Strengths:Rethinking the UK's Role in a Changing World and Organizing for Influence:United Kingdom Foreign Policy in an Age of Uncertainty. They are two shrewd and perceptive documents, which prompted me to think about what changes exactly there have been in the more than 30 years since I first had to venture on to the world stage-for the first four years, rather to my surprise, as Chancellor of the Exchequer and subsequently as Foreign Secretary. It is now, astonishingly, no less than 20 years since I attended the last of 11 world economic summits. After such a lapse, I wonder whether I have any right to talk here at all.
There have been some powerful and substantial changes in the agenda, starting with the economic changes. It is remarkable, looking back to 1979, to reflect that the overwhelming problem then was inflation worldwide, our own running at the modest rate of 23 per cent, compared to the central problem today of worldwide indebtedness and the continuing risk of recession. There is just one economic problem that has remained constant, which is the struggle against protectionism, as the Prime Minister pointed out in his statement at the G8 and G20 summits. He emphasised that success in concluding the Doha trade negotiations, which have now been running for some eight years, could add no less than $170 billion to the world economy. It really is time that, somehow, the leaders of the world were able to tie to the mast the protectionists who continue to dominate the outcome of these important summit meetings.
There has, of course, been one big change-the structural shift in the global economy and, in particular, the shift of the centres of gravity in more than one way. Those shifts in economic importance have led to shifts in political importance as well. We have had two debates about them in the past couple of weeks-one about Latin America and one about China-so they have been discussed to some extent already.
What about the foreign policy agenda? In my first term in office, the topics on our agenda were clearly identifiable. There was one group of items left over from our imperial history: Zimbabwe, Hong Kong, Gibraltar and the Falklands. One must even count the Northern Irish problem in that category. Meanwhile, the big picture was dominated on the one hand by the seemingly endless problems of the Cold War and on the other by apartheid and the eternal Middle East problem. I remember being rather dismayed when I was first instructed to go to the Middle East for some days. I took off from Gatwick Airport on a Sunday afternoon, having by chance that morning read the lesson in Chevening parish church about the exodus and other events of that time. I thought that if Jehovah himself could not do much about it 4,000 years ago, I would not have much part to play.
Today, much less is predictable. The inevitable stock of surprise in foreign policy is extended almost everywhere by the resurgence of the risk of terrorism in almost every part of the world. The Middle East conflict is to be echoed on one level by the relationship between Israel and Iran and on a closer level within Palestine itself. I do not intend to devote great detail to that now. Similar problems could arise between the two Koreas. They have never taken advantage of Deng Xiaoping's wise advice of "one country, two systems". Another potential hazard lurks in Taiwan, where a democratically delivered change of Government could lead to a fundamental change in attitudes. There is, in several unpredictable settings, a range of nuclear risks.
How can we best tackle this unpredictable agenda? Certainly, we are far too small to act on our own in almost every case that I have mentioned and we must not be led to think otherwise by that glorious picture display in the Royal Gallery, which reminds us of Britain's successful past. We can be effective only if we are successful in persuading others to work with us in the pursuit of shared goals. However, we must not underestimate our own standing because of such changes. We are still-and can remain-one of the 10 largest economies in the world. However, to borrow a compact phrase from Chatham House, if we are to influence events sufficiently,
"we must strive to excel in the role of thought leaders".
Thinking about and perusing opportunities and alternatives is of the essence in arriving at the right direction for advance. On that topic alone, does the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have anything like the resources with which to lead such a well informed thought process? That single question could lead to an entire debate in itself. Indeed, it led me to open a debate on that subject not many years ago. The situation is, if anything, much worse today than it was then, but it is for others to discuss today. A substantial enhancement of the resources of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is fundamental to the successful conduct of foreign policy in the world in which we live.
I am glad to be able to say that the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and my noble friend Lord Howell, who has been a watchdog on this frontier for more years than I can remember, are, with others, playing the part of leading the thought-leading task and striving to do so from the same hymn sheet. I am afraid that I have been unable to read the Foreign Secretary's speech this morning. It did not reach me in time and it struck me as more confusing than constructive to start comparing the two texts before I addressed the House. In the Queen's Speech debate of
"for the first time, the Government will make public the maximum number of nuclear warheads that the United Kingdom will hold ... our overall stockpile will not exceed 225 warheads".-[Hansard, Commons, 26/5/10; col. 181.]
As we look at the worldwide nuclear problem, we can welcome this as a declared first step in the implementation of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, following the most recent conference on that subject. It is good to know that the United Kingdom is adding its support to the tasks already undertaken on one side of the Atlantic by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and on the other by the European Leadership Network.
We must all be glad about the impact of the Prime Minister's performance at no fewer than three summits-the European Council, the G8 and the G20-in almost as many weeks. He has described himself, rightly enough, as the new kid on the block. He is not the first new kid on the block whose performance I have witnessed. I was closer to the performance of a new and-if I may say so-rather more mature kid on the block when I accompanied Margaret Thatcher and my noble friend Lord Carrington to the Tokyo summit in 1979. I am therefore in a position to compare the Prime Minister's performance with that of my noble friend Lady Thatcher in her first star-like appearance-and it truly was a star-like appearance-on that occasion. I am glad to be able to say that the impact of our present Prime Minister is to a large extent comparable, which pleases me enormously. It is something about which we should all be pleased and from which we can draw comfort for the future.
An aspect which my right honourable friend has also addressed with wisdom and speed, and which needs to be considered carefully, is the so-called special relationship with our friends in the United States. It is, of course, important, but one must not be misled by the comfort of the word "special". The relationship is close, candid and cordial but by no means always concerted. It is important for my right honourable friend to address that relationship closely but to appreciate that it is one on which he has to work almost continuously. We can act misguidedly, as, alas, Prime Minister Blair did when he allowed himself from the outset to support the special relationship at the cost of an importantly wrong judgment about the consequence of the events that we have come to know as 9/11. The sad thing is that at that time he ignored the advice that he was given not only in this House in the debate that took place three days later but by most of our European partners. For my part, I would have been happier had he perceived Britain's role as concerting the advice available from Europe. That might have saved our friends in the United States from an unnecessary disaster.
Clearly, our new Prime Minister has made an encouraging start in his early dealings with the European Union. By all accounts, his visit to the European Council in Brussels went extremely well. He has made it clear that he wants a positive, engaged relationship with our European partners. He has encouraged leaders to adopt more ambitious targets on climate change and argued for Europe to speak together on difficult issues in the G8 and G20 summits. His performance has been received with great relief on the continent. The contrast with the decision last year to withdraw Conservative representatives from the European People's Party has been widely noticed and well received. Equally encouraging is the policy commitment to put on one side the decision to leave the European Defence Agency, which we discussed yesterday in this House. On the contrary, it is encouraging that quite a different note was struck by the Prime Minister when he was asked on
"The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right in raising this issue ... I discussed it over lunch with President Sarkozy ... There are some real opportunities".-[Hansard, Commons, 21/6/10; col. 41.]
Unfortunately, the coalition agreement includes two propositions that have slipped through what one might call the Lib Dem net. They retain the potential not only to distract energies but to sow mischief in our future relations with the rest of the European Union. The first is the promise to hold a referendum on any treaty that transfers powers from member states to the Union. Setting aside the principal argument for and against referenda, I believe that it is important that this so-called referendum lock does not become a straitjacket that prevents us from agreeing in future with things with which we might fare well. If such a provision had existed at the time of the Single European Act, would we ever have agreed to that proposition? Is it sensible to inhibit our behaviour in that way?
The second provision that bodes ill is the parallel promise to introduce a sovereignty Bill so that in future any clash between an Act of Parliament and European Union law will automatically be resolved in favour of the former. However, progress in that direction would not in fact make much sense; it would tear the roots out of the European Communities Act 1972, the preparation of which I played some part in, and would do no good in itself.
If we set those two propositions on one side, the welcome fact is that our right honourable friend David Cameron now has the chance to break free from the ghetto mentality of some-certainly too many-within our own party. Our new Prime Minister needs to escape the damaging psychological constraints of more than two decades of Tory Euroscepticism, inaugurated to some extent, alas, by my noble friend Lady Thatcher in her 1988 Bruges speech. The Prime Minister should allow his natural instincts free rein and choose to act as what I would regard as a normal European leader, able to approach European questions without living in constant fear of what my noble friend Lord Hurd once memorably described, borrowing Plato's phrase, as "shadows on the wall". If he can manage to do this, the opportunities for David Cameron are huge. If he has the courage and vision to make the most of Europe, he could emerge as a great leader serving our national interest. To do this, he must assert a strong and confident Britain at the heart of an enlarged Union, which we have already done so much to shape and which is crying out for leadership. The advent of his new Government gives us hope that Britain can finally find its rightful place in the vanguard-not the slipstream-of the developments that will define the future of our continent.
My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, for initiating this debate. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Maples, as I may not be in my place when he gives his maiden speech. However, I shall read it tomorrow with great interest.
Given the short time that I have at my disposal, I shall have to be quick and somewhat brutal. The first hazard is, as the noble and learned Lord mentioned, the changing economic balance between what I shall the OECD countries and Asia. Although we talk about it, I do not think we quite believe that it is about to happen. Next year the so-called emerging economies will have a larger share of world GDP than OECD countries. Given the current difficulties of the eurozone and the indebtedness that most OECD countries face, I predict that in terms of economic growth the European Union will be a stagnant pool for the next 10 years. It will also have the problem of sorting out the consequence of the Lisbon treaty, or whatever else it is called nowadays. The governance problems will be severe. I also expect that the Anglo-Saxon economies, mainly the US and the UK, will struggle to achieve a moderate growth rate of between 2 to 2.5 per cent. I would rather be cautious on that side than exaggerate our opportunities.
One of the major things we will have to do is to change our mentality about where power is now going. There is still an arrogance-if I may call it that-in our approach to Asian countries and a sense that somehow they must listen to us because we know best. The whole attitude to China's foreign exchange rate policy-its renminbi policy-shows the utter futility of going on like this because China knows what it is doing. It will act in its own interest. We certainly would not appreciate it if the Chinese came to our doorstep and told us to join the euro or something like that. We have genuinely to learn that power has shifted. We will have to be prepared to be much more humble in the years to come because that is the major given of foreign policy for the next decade or decade and a half.
However, great opportunities are available to us. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, mentioned-this ought to be mentioned-people talk a lot about soft power. One of the things that allows us to punch above our weight is our Armed Forces. We have been willing to risk them in conflicts around the world in a responsible way. However, if you look at other NATO countries and other European Union countries, you will note that we have been willing to go out and fight all these battles. Even if these battles have been somewhat vague in their purpose, such as in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone or Kosovo, we have been true to ourselves, and I pay tribute to the Armed Forces for the vital part they play in our foreign policy. They are our strength.
Given those two points, our ability to deploy our forces in such situations for such good causes should impress Asia that we are in Afghanistan not just for our home-security interests but because India has as much interest as we have in our being there. We are able to use this ability in another way. I am sure that the noble Lord who will reply from the government Benches will recognise that we have the Commonwealth-it is a cause close to his heart. Although it used to be a cliché, given the changing balance of power, Commonwealth countries are located in the emerging areas of strength in the world economy. The Commonwealth has presence in Asia, South America and Africa. It is our connection with the Commonwealth which will allow us to have a greater and more crucial role than any comparable country.
Finally, although I appreciate that the Foreign Office likes our ambassadors and high commissioners everywhere to be professionals, we are missing a trick by not using our country's large multiethnic strength. We have many people with good connections abroad and we should use them more as our ambassadors and high commissioners. The Americans do it all the time. We somehow miss a trick and I urge the new Government perhaps to think about it.
My Lords, I do not often venture into the field of foreign affairs, and when I put my name down to speak in this debate I was not aware that it would coincide with a speech by the Foreign Secretary which, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, I have not had the opportunity to read, but which I heard reported on the radio this morning and found very encouraging. Anyway, the debate does coincide with that speech. I do not suppose that the noble and learned Lord knew that it was going to happen but I congratulate him on his timing and on providing the opportunity for this debate.
I want to make two suggestions which, in the light of the reports of Mr Hague's speech, I do with more confidence than I would otherwise have done. It has been a great sadness to me as I have travelled in recent years to see the hollowing out of our Diplomatic Service and the cultural activities which have been such an important source of British influence overseas for so long.
When I was Cabinet Secretary, there was a proposal-it may well be that the noble Lords, Lord Wright and Lord Kerr, were among its architects-to produce a merged programme to embrace all the Government's public expenditure that supported our overseas interests-defence, aid, diplomacy, cultural relations and intelligence. Its purpose would have been to enable a trade-off between these various types of expenditure to be made more easily-between weapons systems and the other means of promoting Britain's overseas interests. The cancellation of a single fighter aircraft could have saved an embassy but, for obvious reasons, the Ministry of Defence did not support a proposal of this sort, and neither did the Treasury. Because the proposal was seen to be so self-interested on the part of the Foreign Office, the suggestion foundered. I was not in the Treasury at the time and I do not have to apologise for my part in its foundering.
Now, when I see in how many countries our diplomatic representation has been reduced or eliminated, and see visa activities in friendly countries having to be handled by posts in other countries-with all the inconvenience and alienation which that produces-I think that our methods of making trade-offs between the different forms in which Britain's overseas interests are promoted need to be looked at again. We need a more rational system for making those trade-offs. I am not saying that that ought to be achieved through a merged public expenditure programme, but the mechanisms of public expenditure control and decision should not be put in the silos in which they have been put in the past.
That is particularly important at this time, because the House is very well aware that difficult choices will have to be made in the period ahead. Defence and foreign relations are not protected programmes, although overseas aid is. The strategic defence review will involve decisions which are difficult enough, but if the consequence of our public expenditure structure is that the review is carried out within the confines solely of the defence budget, and if the Foreign Office vote has to find a further 25 per cent in savings on top of what has already been taken from it-small change in relation to defence expenditure-I fear now that we will do irreparable harm to one of Britain's greatest sources of overseas influence, which is the respect that is still felt for our diplomatic functions and cultural activities overseas.
The other area in which there is scope for better mechanisms for considering trade-offs is our policy in the European Union. The activity, speed and quick-footedness with which Britain was able to reach decisions and policy positions in European Union councils was widely admired throughout the world and did great credit to the Cabinet Office system and the work of UK representatives overseas. Two distinguished previous holders of those posts are in close proximity to me now. Where I always felt that we fell short compared with some of our partners was making the trade-offs at the most strategic levels. I take, for example, the French, and the House will know what I have in mind. Our policy positions were conducted too much on the basis of silos-of particular areas. We were not as good as particularly the French when considering Britain's interests in the European Union in a synoptic way-by looking at what our most important objectives were, what we could concede and where we could use leverage to achieve the ends which were most important to us.
When I was Cabinet Secretary, we produced a committee of Permanent Secretaries who for a time looked at this issue and tried to give the Government some sense of priorities. That was during the time of the previous Conservative Government when there was insufficient unity at Cabinet level for colleagues to be particularly disposed to make trade-offs between each other. However, our system has lacked an ability to make trade-offs at a strategic level. Now that we have a national security adviser, I hope that we might have a national European adviser and that official machinery can be put in place, including a ministerial machinery, to make those trade-offs better.
As I have said, when I thought of making these suggestions I did not have very much hope that they would be very well or easily received by the Government. In the light of the reports on the Foreign Secretary's speech today, I am more optimistic.
My Lords, from time to time it is necessary to stand back from the rush of international developments, get away from a purely reactive response to events that are often outside our control, and try to take an overall look at this country's foreign policy objectives and at the methods and resources at our disposal to articulate them.
Having had the benefit of reading the Foreign Secretary's speech this morning, I welcome the fact that he seemed to take the point that we should get away from a purely reactive diplomacy. It is surely the time for this, with the new coalition Government conducting a wide-ranging review of national security issues. I agree with my noble friend Lord Butler: we cannot afford a narrow, defence-oriented approach to that review, as has often been the case in the past. Nor, with the Cold War far behind us and a multipolar world gradually emerging, does it make any sense to allow defence issues to be decoupled from the wider foreign policy framework. The two must be matched, as they have often not been hitherto. If this debate can make a parliamentary contribution to that review, it will surely be of real value-and there is no one better to lead it than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, whose opening remarks reminded us why he remains one of the most admired and respected Foreign Secretaries of modern times, and whom I had the honour to serve throughout his tenure in office.
Any foreign policy worthy of the name must be anchored firmly in the national interest. As a great statesman of the 19th century observed, "interest never lies". However, defining our national interest in any particular matter is no simple question: it requires intellectual rigour and the avoidance of jingoistic hype. There are two sharply contrasting approaches. The first defines the national interest very narrowly and in a reductive manner-the sacro egoismo of an Italian Minister in the First World War. That was the approach that led us to the protectionism and appeasement policies of the 1930s, and the abandonment of the first attempt at collective security, the League of Nations. It is a template to be avoided now, as it should have been then. The other approach is to define the national interest in broader terms, recognising that many threats and challenges that we now face come from outside our immediate neighbourhood, and that all of them require some kind of co-ordinated, collective global action if they are to be effectively mastered. The broader approach surely is the one that Britain should take.
We are currently deeply preoccupied by our own fiscal and economic predicament. Foreign policy practitioners cannot simply dismiss that as if it did not exist and had no implications for our foreign policy, but we need to retain a sense of proportion. Even in our financially weakened state, we remain in single figures in any global league table of capacity, whether we are talking about trade, investment or the ability to project power and influence. We must not go into a pre-emptive cringe. That is why I greatly welcome the Government standing by their commitment to 0.7 per cent of our gross national income going to our aid programme by 2013. We could improve the way in which the money is spent, particularly by better fitting together the foreign policy and developmental objectives to which it is devoted, and by strengthening collective international efforts to deal with failing states and to stop states failing in the first place.
One key conclusion that we must draw is that to achieve our foreign policy objectives in the future, we will need to act even more in concert with other countries than we have done up to now, and that we are now even less able than we have been in the past to defend our interests around the world by acting alone. That implies an active diplomacy and the strengthening of rules-based international organisations. When we look at the instruments for collective action, two stand out: the European Union and the United Nations. The new Government seem to have got off on the right foot in responding to developments in the EU-far better, dare one say, than was predicted only a few weeks ago. However, there is still too much unnecessarily negative language in the Government's presentation of EU discussions-long lists of things that we are not going to allow to happen-and so far an almost complete absence of any overall positive picture of what the Government want the EU to achieve.
There is, after all, no lack of material for painting that picture: free trade, energy policy and security, further enlargement, climate change and the rollback of state subsidies. There are real opportunities to be seized, given the considerable tension between France and Germany over economic policy, a political vacuum in the leadership of European institutions and the new phase in the development of a common foreign and security policy that is being shaped. This is no time to settle for a purely reactive and defensive EU policy just because some parts of one of the coalition partners do not want anything more constructive and positive.
At the UN, too, and in other universal or near-universal organisations such as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, there are opportunities to be taken, and risks if we fail to take them. I refer to the climate change negotiations in the run-up to the Cancun meeting at the end of the year; to the complex of multilateral nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation talks, where the relative success of last month's NPT review conference set a new direction of travel, but where there remains a long way to go that is strewn with many obstacles; and to the Doha round of trade negotiations, successful completion of which should be an integral part of any exit strategy from the recent financial and economic crisis. All these policy areas are crying out for determined, well focused action-and all are ones where Britain could make a real contribution.
I conclude with a quick word on resources. One cannot have an active diplomacy, which we need, without a world-class, well resourced Diplomatic Service. If we subject our overseas efforts to the double whammy of a 25 per cent loss of funds following the drop in the sterling exchange rate last year, and then to the same top-slicing that other non-ring-fenced domestic departments face, one will not have that-it is as simple as that.
My Lords, it is a very short walk from the green Benches at that end of the building to the red leather Benches here, but in my case it has been a very long journey, both chronologically and spiritually-27 years it has taken. I have been made to feel incredibly welcome here by people I had never met before, by friends on all sides of the House and by the staff and Doorkeepers. I detect a slightly less partisan attitude and tone of voice than I found at the other end, but maybe the malice and daggers are better hidden and more subtly used-I wait to find out. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if, from time to time, I lapse into the old terminology and attempt to address the "chair" or refer to a noble Lord as "my honourable friend". I will learn as quickly as I can.
It is 27 years, almost to the week, since I made my last maiden speech. I do not remember very much about it and I do not suggest that anybody should read it, but I do remember that it was on a Friday morning-the House sat on Friday mornings, as your Lordships' House does-and after it I ran into the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, then Alastair Goodlad, an old friend, who said, "Come on, let's celebrate and have lunch in the Members' Dining Room". When you were a new boy in the House of Commons, like me, you sought out the most low-profile, sub-zero part of the Members' Dining Room to eat in-but not with Alastair. I found myself at a table with two of the party's grandees: the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Lord Hailsham, who was then Lord Chancellor. To say that I was overawed would be an understatement.
I do not think that I said anything, but I remember one thing about the lunch. Lord Hailsham told a wonderful story which was characteristic of him. Waiting for a gap in the conversation, and a propos of absolutely nothing, he said-noble Lords who knew him will have to imagine the voice, because I cannot imitate it-"When my father was at Oxford, there was a don who had met Napoleon". This was a bit of a showstopper: you start to calculate if the arithmetic adds up and decide that perhaps it could. "My father asked the don what he was like, to which the don said: 'Well, you could tell he wasn't a university man'". That was a wonderful illustration of Oxford's attitude to the man who dominated Europe for 25 years, and also a wonderful and typical Lord Hailsham story.
Another friend who is now here and was there said to me: "You will find that the difference here, John, is that in the House of Commons the Back-Benchers do not know what they are talking about and here they do". We have just had an illustration of that from three noble Lords in a row, and I can see several more on the list, so I hope that I do not disprove the assertion.
There are many things that I would like to say about foreign policy in the course of the next few months. I am conscious of the fact that I am in the presence of people who have spent their lives practising diplomacy at the highest level. Much of what I will say is perhaps too controversial for today. However, I will leave the House with a couple of thoughts. The first is that foreign policy must be pursued more clearly in our national interests, and rebalanced in that direction by the new Government. Secondly, I hope that the conflict in Afghanistan can be brought to an early conclusion. It is becoming too costly in terms of both blood and treasure, and I hope that in future we will be more circumspect about military intervention.
I want to make one more substantive point. Your Lordships will find no greater friend of the United States than me. I lived there; I went to business school there; I visit it frequently; and I love and admire the place enormously. I think that we in Europe owe it a huge debt of gratitude. However, I do not think that anyone can follow United States politics or maintain contact with successive Administrations without coming to the conclusion that the special relationship is an awful lot more special to us than it is to them. That is very understandable. Since 1989, the focus of United States interest and policy has shifted away from Europe and towards the Middle East and Asia. The US expects us in Europe to sort out Europe's problems and to pull our weight in a way that we pretty spectacularly failed to do, for example, in the Balkans. There is still in the United States a propensity to unilateralism, with which we feel a little uncomfortable. The US needs diplomatic allies but it does not really need military ones. We have always had our feet three-quarters in the transatlantic camp and one-quarter in the European camp, and I think that we need to rebalance that.
I should like to pick up on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay-that is, the use of the European Union's common foreign and security policy, or at least the intergovernmental part of it. I used to be, and still am, a Eurosceptic, but I used to be incredibly favourably inclined towards the European Union's economic policies and rather disinclined towards its intergovernmental efforts. However, I now find myself standing on my head over that. I think that its interventions on the economic front are on the whole unproductive but that there is perhaps an opportunity in the various mechanisms and institutions of Europe, at their widest, for us to conduct part of our foreign policy in a more effective way than we have been able to do in the past. I do not think that I or my Eurosceptic friends have to fear this, because the European Union will not have a foreign policy initiative that Germany, France and the United Kingdom do not all agree with, so effectively we would have a veto on it. However, I think we agree that the weight, authority and various diplomatic weapons that the European Union could bring to bear would be valuable and could be used much more effectively.
Foreign policy is about the long-term protection and enhancement of the United Kingdom's interests. Sometimes that will involve the promotion of values and democracy, but more often I believe that it will and should be about achieving stability.
My Lords, it is an easy task to congratulate my noble friend on his excellent maiden speech. He comes to your Lordships' House after many years of service in another place. In his role as deputy chairman of the party with responsibility for candidates, he shared with me a passion to broaden the diversity of Conservative MPs. Anyone looking at the Conservative Benches today will see a much changed political party. However, it is as a former shadow Foreign Secretary that today my noble friend displayed an acute grasp of the world in which we live. His speech was a powerful and humorous contribution to the debate and we welcome him to this House.
As the world picks itself up from the aftermath of the financial crisis and continues to grapple with the threat of global terrorism, war, hunger, drought and natural disasters, it is all too easy to look gloomily upon the future. However, as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon illustrated, there are countless opportunities for us to seize, and I add my congratulations to him on securing such an important and timely debate.
One of the strengths of our country and its great institutions is that, following a change in government, there remains a degree of continuity and stability in dealing with our international partners. We are assisted greatly in that continuity by the professionalism and expertise of our diplomatic service and dedicated officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and elsewhere, of which the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, spoke with passion.
However, the new Government represent a change in emphasis and some exciting and important changes in approach. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary wishes to carve out a distinctive new global identity. He believes that successful economic policy is the foundation of successful foreign policy, and he wants to focus on emerging nations and gives particular mention to the Gulf states. As someone said to me the other day, the Middle East is right in the middle of world business. We do more trade with the region than we do with China, and we have historic and deep-rooted friendships. I declare my interest and friendship as chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.
One area where Great Britain has a long-established but growing relationship with the Gulf and the wider Middle East region is education. Just as education nurtures the talent of the next generation here at home, it is also a powerful tool in supporting development abroad. Education links between the West and the developing world-in particular, the Middle East-have the potential to yield benefits far beyond the confines of academic achievement in those countries. In this respect, we are extremely fortunate that our higher education system is world-class and international in outlook. It is an asset on which we should be able to capitalise, and indeed many of our universities are developing links with new parts of the world-arrangements that benefit students at home and abroad.
I have just become the first chancellor of the University of Bolton. From its days as an institute of higher education, Bolton has forged alliances across the world and three years ago established a campus in the Emirates in Ras al Khaimah. In fact, we are now on our third campus because we keep outgrowing our premises. We are currently educating up to masters level hundreds of students, male and female, from 35 different nations in construction, civil engineering, IT and business.
I am also a member of the International Advisory Committee of the Amman Arab University. The founders of the university, who number leading academics and former government Ministers, want their students, many of whom are older and working and unable to study abroad, to have a flavour of the western education which they themselves received when they did their masters and doctorates in the UK or America and which was instrumental in shaping and broadening their outlook. Properly implemented, these links can generate greater understanding between different cultures and traditions, and make conflict and tension less likely. Education is a ladder of opportunity, and a bridge between nations and peoples. We need those bridges, because engagement is the only effective way of promoting better international relationships.
Finally, I could not possibly speak in this debate without mention of Palestine. I declare interests as a trustee of UNICEF UK and of the Disability Partnership, both of which run programmes in Palestine; as the vice-chairman of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group; and as the first chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Arab League. The remarkable and enchanting Middle East region will never reach its full potential while the question of Palestine is unresolved. To this end, the Arab world must continue to push its peace initiative to normalise relations between Israel and her neighbours, and I hope that we support them in this endeavour. Israel has a right to exist but so does Palestine, and there will be peace and security only when Palestinian children can live without blockades and settlements and with real hope of a prosperous future.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon for initiating this debate. It is particularly timely given the need for the coalition to set out more fully its vision of the UK's foreign policy and security. I also welcome my noble friend Lord Maples and look forward to his joining us in the foreign affairs community of this House, which is numerous, as he will discover.
We talk about this period as an age of austerity. It is also an age of insecurity and uncertainty. The Chatham House paper, Organising for Influence, has described this period as the "long crisis" facing globalisation. Ergo, we face an extended period of volatility as the world attempts to reconcile its demographic, economic and security challenges within the constraints of scarce natural resources. Reports therefore of the Foreign Secretary's speech today as a first move to define his strategic vision are most welcome.
This debate takes place a few months after the general election, when the global financial crisis and, closer to home, the EU's sovereign debt crisis was almost not discussed at all, yet it affects all public policy in the domestic context. The economy, employment, energy, welfare and well-being are all impacted by their reach. Although voters were not presented with a vision of the different parties' positions on our foreign policy, the time has come for this discussion. There needs to be a concerted effort to define how effectively the UK can project its influence in the world and what ground its strategic reach must cover.
The formation of the National Security Council is an important first step in this direction and we await, with interest, the publication of a new national security strategy. There is now little doubt that national security is ultimately and intimately bound up with the international-as with financial markets, so too with international terrorism: globalisation has rendered borders more permeable. But the challenge for our NSC will be for us to improve interdepartmental co-ordination with better input and analysis from the intelligence community, while retaining a limited view of national security. One of the frequent criticisms of the US National Security Council is that its remit is too wide, with extensive duplication of analysis. We should seek to redefine national security to deal mainly with risks to the UK and its citizens.
To explain, we should not aim to see longer-term, transboundary threats, such as economic issues or climate change or indeed state failure elsewhere, as a direct risk to the security of UK citizens. The previous national security strategy set out its approach as providing security for the nation, safeguarding our citizens and our way of life. Safeguarding our way of life is far too broad a vision. A more focused view of national security should concentrate on direct threats to UK citizens, which have severe and longer-term consequences for their welfare. Thus terrorist attacks, organised or cyber crime on infrastructure, as well as hard threats such as military action would come under this remit, but climate change, resource scarcity or economic imbalances would not. That is not to say that these longer-term sources of instability would not be on our horizon-they certainly would-but they should be undertaken on a whole-of-government basis and given priority in the Cabinet Office or in a separate Cabinet committee.
I turn to the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I welcome the Foreign Secretary's renewed emphasis on its role and his intention to expand its reach anew. But at a time when its budget is being constricted, it should take the opportunities offered by the EU's External Action Service to reduce its bilateral diplomatic focus outside its strategic interest areas. It should engage actively through leading within the EAS, not from outside. The question arises of course, of what we mean by its bilateral strategic choices.
There is much excitement about the BRICs. The Prime Minster has indicated his interest in a special relationship with India, and today the Foreign Secretary has spoken about Latin America. Instead of chasing new special relationships with those with whom we are not equally matched, as a mid-sized European power, we would be better rewarded by placing our trust in the myriad multilateral forums where we have real clout. The task of building a more stable global economy through reregulating financial institutions or protecting the open global trading system is one to which we are well suited to work through the Bretton Woods institutions and emerging forums, such as the G20 and G8. Tackling climate change and managing resource scarcity are serious challenges, but our diplomatic reach there is best served through the EU and appropriate UN forums. So our focus should be to do a limited number of things extremely well, rather than do everything with varying degrees of success.
In conclusion, we need to focus on limited objectives, on an improved policy coherence, and on prioritising our influence in relation to our capabilities and our power. If a new strategy can achieve that, we will have moved in the right direction.
My Lords, I intend to confine myself to our objectives within the Middle East. Our national interest lies in trade. On Tuesday, I took part in a live video link between this Parliament and some Palestinian MPs, all of whom, as it happens, were threatened with deportation from east Jerusalem. Did we, I wonder, supply the equipment that made that link possible?
Trade also requires peace. Peace processes that never provide conflict resolution are not enough. Conflict management, which leaves the poor in their poverty, is also not enough. We have to try much harder than in the past to achieve peace with justice. Anything less leaves western powers paying for UNWRA, for rebuilding Iraq and for mine clearance and reconstruction in Lebanon. Doing this kind of guilt payment relieves the main actors from responsibility for their actions.
I believe that justice involves respect for international law and the creation of just systems within each country. Our long evolution of law can sometimes help. The rule of law is probably more important than instant democracy in countries that have no tradition of it. We should study the concept of transition, by which I mean that countries may peacefully move from authoritarian and sometimes corrupt regimes to a better future which will empower all their citizens. Civil society in each country has a huge role to play. Trades unions, co-operatives, credit unions and community groups can all contribute wherever they can work within the local culture.
This country should use its soft power to help local civil societies, especially the free media. I understand soft power to include the English language, the BBC, the British Council and our welcome to foreign students. The over-professional sport of football can be helpful. In Isfahan, in Iran, I recently found that many of the locals support British teams. More practically, a few visiting matches in Gaza, Baghdad or Mosul could do a great deal of good. It just needs some imagination and some courage.
To achieve our objectives, we should improve our understanding of the religious contexts of the Middle East. This can be quite difficult for diplomats and policy-makers who have grown up in a wholly secular and scientific culture. They must discover that religion has given sometimes illiterate people the courage and endurance to resist enemies occupying their land. Religion is closely linked with personal honour-izzat, in Arabic. This is all too often humiliated by foreign interventions. Islam, as the majority faith, feels under attack and occupation. In the past, this arose from Russia, and now comes from Israel and the United States. This perception legitimises the idea of defensive jihad. Local grievances combine with the wider sense of persecution. Together they generate anger and hate, which in turn inspire individual terrorists, whether in the Middle East, Britain or the United States. A first step towards our objectives would be to end indefinite detention, torture and totally inhuman treatment of suspects.
I come now to three specific middle eastern situations. Unresolved conflict, as has been mentioned already, between Israel, Palestine and their neighbours has worldwide repercussions. It blackens the name of the West and affects the behaviour of some small minorities in Britain. Can we, therefore, persuade our friends in the United States and the European Union to pursue more enlightened policies? Can we help them to use the full leverage of their differing kinds of power? In both Jerusalem and Baghdad the religious dimension is hugely important. This means listening to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Hamas. The regional context is equally crucial. The Baker-Hamilton commission wisely made this point for Iraq, but it is equally valid for Israel and Palestine. Someone said that peace in Jerusalem must pass through Damascus, so please do not disregard the Arab League. In Iraq, the religious leaders are hard at work, most recently in efforts to reduce corruption.
We should pay closer attention to Turkey, especially since the tragic killings on one of its ships bound for Gaza. Turkey has combined strong Islamic faith with education and economic progress, and it began détente with Armenia and with its own large Kurdish minority. Both moves, alas, seem to have faded away. It is much in our interests to help détente to succeed both in Turkey and for the Kurds in Iran, Iraq and Syria. I have been to Arbil, which shows what Kurds can do given reasonable autonomy. Perhaps Scotland and Wales can show the way in devolution. We should enshrine trade, peace and justice as our objectives in middle eastern foreign policy.
My Lords, we owe a great debt to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, for the way in which he introduced the debate. He regularly reminds the House that I used to write speeches for him. I think he does that only so you notice that they have got so much better.
I read the Foreign Secretary's speech, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, and I would not dream of giving a considered reply to such a serious speech off the cuff; it needs careful thought. I did, however, enjoy hearing him on the "Today" programme this morning, when he cheerfully agreed with Evan Davis that Britain must "bat above its weight". If I were to risk a response, I suspect that I would be "punching on a sticky wicket". He has all the qualities to be a great Foreign Secretary, and in due course he will master the Foreign Office's cricketing metaphors, or better still abolish them.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary will also follow the wise advice of the noble Lord, Lord Maples, in his brilliant maiden speech, and steer his party away from its infantile atlanticism. It is time that the Back-Benchers understood that there is no question of a choice between being close to the United States and being active in Europe. One's importance in Washington now is a function of one's perceived importance in Brussels. There is no conflict; they are mutually reinforcing.
The Motion in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, is about the objectives of foreign policy. My plea is to keep them simple. The objective of our foreign policy is advancing our interests and protecting our citizens. Everything else is secondary. Diplomacy is not primarily about preaching; it is not about preaching on ethics, light-touch regulation or even action against global warming. The foreigners tend to look at what we do rather than what we say. Nor is it about praising our own systems, our society or our culture.
The Foreign Secretary spoke eloquently this morning about the importance of cultural diplomacy, and I too pay tribute to the British Council and the World Service, but cultural diplomacy works both ways, and great global institutions such as the British Museum remind us of the importance for effective diplomacy of studying others' cultures. Effective diplomacy is listening diplomacy, and knowledge-based diplomacy. It understands why others say what they say. It is steeped in their societies and so can predict when they may say something different, and what they will say tomorrow. It spots synergies with our interests, defines possible deals and trade-offs, and optimally focuses our efforts and supports our exporters. It requires long memories and linguistic skills. The Afghan war that we won this century-the autumn 2001 war-was won not by the cruise missiles on the al-Qaeda camps but by the brave men in the mountains who spoke the languages, had been there before, and turned the tribal chieftains against the Taliban.
The FCO vote has been under pressure now for eight years. Real-terms decline in the overall vote has been exacerbated by a preference for maintaining programmes rather than people or posts. I suspect the reason has been that programme spending is more susceptible to output measurement and quantified objectives. Spending on understanding foreign societies is harder to justify to management consultants or the Treasury. I know that the Foreign Secretary has a McKinsey past, but I hope that he will avoid this heresy, for heresy it is.
If the FCO vote were to be cut again, a small service would get still smaller and become less effective, which would defeat the Foreign Secretary's declared aim, which was so eloquently expressed this morning, of expanding our global reach and influence. He spoke of developing and deepening our relations with the United Arab Emirates. I warmly agree, but that means having experienced Arabists in post in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Kuwait, Muscat and Bahrain. We have never had an ambassador in Beijing who does not speak Mandarin, and we must never; we have never had an ambassador in Tokyo who does not speak Japanese, and we must never; but keeping these cadres of qualified people healthy means investing in a manpower margin. These languages are hard to acquire and these societies deserve sustained study, which needs to be incentivised. Understanding Russia means understanding Russian. A new emphasis on Brazil and India is excellent, but if it is to mean anything it must mean not fewer resources but more.
So I urge the Foreign Secretary to prioritise knowledge. We must go for qualified people, not quantified objectives. We want Neil MacGregor diplomacy, and knowledge of a hundred subjects, not McKinsey diplomacy and a world view in a hundred objectives. Good, trained people are the bones, muscles and sinews of diplomacy. The fat of the Diplomatic Service has long gone, and you cannot wield the knife again without losing "global reach and influence".
I have one more point. The Foreign Secretary this morning did not mention Korea. Korea is a key member of the G20 and one of the world's top 10 economies. Its stimulus package was the greenest in the G20, and its growth rate beats all in Europe. It should be a key UK export market, particularly as the Koreans happen to like us. The last Foreign Secretary to visit Seoul was the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, in 1993-17 years and six Foreign Secretaries ago. My point is not that that is insulting, although it is, but that it is counterproductive. Of course there have been meetings in the margins of multilateral meetings and in London, but would we honestly claim that we understood the French if we met them only in Brussels, New York and London?
The fact that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, went out of his way when Chancellor to get to know his French colleague 30 years ago produced major dividends when Monsieur Delors went to Brussels and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, went to the Foreign Office. The fact that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, went out of his way 20 years ago to visit Rome for private meetings with his then Italian colleague paid major dividends straightaway for me as the UK negotiator in Brussels. I watched my Italian colleague's instructions change overnight, to his chagrin. The Foreign Secretary should not take it amiss when the Foreign Office says to him, "Please, please go away". The advice is good, and he should act on it. I hope he will make it a personal objective to visit all his colleagues in all 19 of the other G20 capitals in his first year in office.
That was a well-judged appeal of a departed mandarin.
It is my pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Maples, on his maiden speech. We have worked together in another place, and I learnt then from his wisdom and maturity. It is also a pleasure to congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. As always, he has impeccable timing, given the Foreign Secretary's speech this morning, such that I wonder whether there was a degree of collusion. However, having had a very quick look at that speech, I just wonder whether I should move a postponement Motion, because it would help all of us if we had a moment to sit back and reflect on what he said. It was a very good speech and we should look very carefully at what was said. We all agree that a starting point is the interests of this country as broadly defined, and promoting them as best we can using the assets that we have accumulated over the years, a point which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made very well.
Our interests do not change from one Government to another. Although any new Government will seek, as new boys on the block, to show what they are doing newly, the fact of continuity from one Administration to another is too often neglected, because so many of the problems are unchanged. New problems always intervene-the contingent and the unforeseen.
Let us consider some of the key areas. In Afghanistan, although there is now the suggestion of withdrawal by 2015, the speech of the Defence Secretary yesterday suggests that there is broad agreement between both Governments and our allies. Similarly, on key issues such as the Middle East, about which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, spoke, and Iran, we work on the same lines. The problems are the same, and I suspect that our response will be the same. The previous Government fully agreed with the statement of the European Council on
We had one glorious unilateralist intervention in 1982, but could we now repeat that Falklands intervention? Where are the ships? The intelligence help that we had at the time from the US may well not be replicated, if we consider what Hillary Clinton is now saying about the Falklands. Let us beware of a unilateralist approach, or even a bilateral approach. Rightly, in respect of the European Union, the Government are stressing our relationship with France, but that should not be done as if we want to sideline our relationship with the European Union as a whole.
How well has the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government responded to the concept of knowing ourselves, our history, our assets and the changing external world? The starting point is perhaps not the speech made today but the speech made by the Foreign Secretary last July to the IISS. That was a very good speech. The analysis was very clear. The only marring element, in my judgment, was that it was extremely negative about the European Union-that line of policy which dare not speak its name. The fact is that there is day-to-day consultation with our European partners at all levels, which is a major moulding factor on our policy formulation, and in key areas, such as the Balkans, the common security and defence policy, post-Lisbon, is so important. That is very much encouraged by the United States. Whether one thinks of what we are doing as Europeans in Africa, in Operation ATALANTA or in the western Balkans, the US is very happy that we Europeans take the lead. We should not fail to recognise that.
Turning to this morning's speech, we are to have a more energetic and agile policy. The emphasis was certainly on the BRICs, but I felt rather like Monsieur Jourdain-that we have been doing this all the time. Everyone agrees that we need to get closer to Russia, but sometimes perhaps we have to hold our nose a little. We have had to put some of their excesses, such as Litvinenko, behind us. India? Yes. However, there was a wise article by Jo Johnson MP in the Financial Times earlier this week on India. We should recognise that our US relationship is very important, but perhaps not so "special".
Finally, one of our most important assets is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Yesterday, we had an announcement of several programme cuts. I fear that there will be further major cutbacks in the autumn Statement, including the closure of embassies. DfID is ring-fenced, and the Government should look carefully at its budget and the extent to which some of the activities of the FCO, such as in the field of governance and human rights, might properly be moved to the DfID budget, because of the enormous pressures on the FCO budget.
On the vision thing, we must recognise the temptation for all new Governments to add "a new dimension" to foreign policy. I recall Robin Cook in 1997 talking about "a moral dimension" and economic ambassadors drawn from the business sector. Again, the brand new Foreign Secretary is talking about new approaches, a new vision, and new agility. Time, and practice, will tell.
My Lords, I too, congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, on securing this debate, but even more on the wise words with which he introduced it. I would like to mention two themes from his speech. The first, which was music to my ears, was the outbreak which he perceived-he is quite right-of a greater degree of realism about our relationship with the European Union and how it can be immensely helpful in pursuing our national interests in a wider sense. The other theme on which he touched, which is also crucial, was picked up by the noble Lords, Lord Butler, Lord Hannay, Lord Kerr, and others. That was the danger of further reduction of the position and resources of the Foreign Office.
I have had my criticisms of the Foreign Office. Sometimes, it has been rather out of touch and tending to look backwards, but it is by any possible standards a class act, and we would be very foolish to reduce it to the point of ineffectiveness, because we perceive it as being part of a past world. It is not; it is very much part of the modern world.
I turn to the speech of the Foreign Secretary, which is welcome. To be honest, I was rather surprised to welcome it as much as I did. In his extension to a new perception of the way in which the world is moving, he reflects what has often been said to us in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Let me pick quickly on what I mean. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, pointed out that the procedures under which the economic resources of the West are steadily losing relative strength in comparison to those of Asia and, to a lesser extent, to those of Latin America, and so on, are borne out by the rather frightening figures projected by the G20. They are a probable rate of growth of, at best, 2 per cent in the western world over the next three years; of 12 per cent in China; of 10 per cent in Latin America; and of 9 per cent in India.
Let us be honest, that reflects a steady shift of power and influence in the world with which, as the Foreign Secretary said, we have to come to terms. The first way in which we have to come to terms with it is something that we have been very slow to address. That is that almost all the structures of international governance in the world reflect 1945, not 2010. One example is the failure of the six countries that have attempted to become permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to get anywhere in 2004, when they made a collective appeal. They included Germany, Japan, India and other great countries. It was extraordinary that they got nowhere.
The voting powers of the International Monetary Fund are based on the financial commitment made by the countries concerned. That means that Britain has greater voting power on the IMF than India. It means that Italy has greater power on the IMF than Indonesia. It is absurd how our governance of the world reflects a time so long ago. One implication of the Foreign Secretary's speech-in fairness to him, he said that he would now strongly support an extension of the Security Council of the United Nations-was to recognise the world in which we live and to create systems of law and order that reflect that world.
Let me come very quickly to three examples of the implications of that speech by the Foreign Secretary. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that one cannot reflect everything he said, but one can reflect, in immediate terms, on some of the implications. The first was the decision by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference only a month ago to compel the whole of the NPT to recognise the importance of an international conference on the Middle East under the chairmanship of the United Nations Secretary-General. That resolution passed virtually unanimously, with strong support from non-nuclear-armed countries-the NAM.
What does that mean for us? We heard an excellent speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the growing links between this country and its Arab friends and neighbours, in particular, for example, the new relationship with the United Arab Emirates and the strengthening of some of our links with the Arab world. The implications of that are tremendously serious because they say that when that Middle East conference comes to be, the United Kingdom will need to understand and reflect the genuine concerns and interests of the Arab powers with regard to, for example, the state of Palestine, the future relationship of the Palestinian peoples and even such matters as Israel's silence on nuclear ownership and nuclear control.
My second example was brought to our attention only recently, and it was a bad example. It is the western dismissal of the attempt by Turkey and Brazil-two of the leading non-nuclear countries-to try to do something about Iranian proposals for refining nuclear materials. Instead of taking it seriously and suggesting that a further negotiation might bring about a real move by Iran towards putting most of her low-enriched uranium into safe situations, the West simply dismissed it, as if it were somehow an inappropriate intervention by those two great countries. That was deeply unwise and, to reflect where we are with the Foreign Secretary's remarks, not least about Turkey, we must start taking those countries seriously and show that we doing so. That does not mean accepting everything they say, but it means looking with great attention and care at what they propose.
My final example of this sort of situation is common to us all. It is the situation in Kashmir, Afghanistan and so on. I am not an authority, and I will not pretend to be one, but I think that increasingly the implications of the Foreign Secretary's speech are that we have to bring the neighbours into some of the most difficult conflict situations in the world. I have already talked about the Middle East and about Palestine, and the same implications go for Afghanistan and for other central objects of conflict that are unresolved. We cannot any longer keep interested and concerned neighbours out. We have to start bringing them in, and for that purpose, we need a highly informed Foreign Office.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, for securing this debate. There is now no doubt that the coincidence of the debate with the Foreign Secretary's speech has enlivened our discussions and given them a greater and sharper focus, so I also congratulate him on his good luck in his timing.
We have already heard from noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Desai, about the economic transformations that the world is witnessing. It is quite clear to me that the Foreign Secretary's speech, which I broadly welcome, is actually a cold and fairly realistic response to those transformations in part. Because we have talked so much about economic changes, I hope I can say one word about politics. The noble Lord, Lord Maples, in his maiden speech, talked about the special relationship. It may, or may not, be the case that it is a sentimental illusion to which we have been prone-I make no comment. However, it is the case at this moment that the policy of the United States Government is a new type of foreign policy defined by a rejection of the concept of American exceptionalism and its role in the world. It may be that that will not be acceptable to mainstream American opinion over the next two years but, at the moment, that is the policy, and we have to take account of it because it has crucial implications for our foreign policy. One of the things about the Foreign Secretary's speech is that there is a tone of realism running through it. If there ever was a sentimental allusion, I do not see much sign of it in today's speech.
We must bear in mind that in the 1990s it was not absurd to talk about the 21st century as the American century. At this point, it may have been wrong, but one can see why at that moment serious people might have seen it in that way. At the end of the first decade of this century, it is very hard to see it in that way. The underlying principle of the Foreign Secretary's speech is a recognition of the new world in which we now live with its various transitions and changes.
I shall focus on an important theme that was not mentioned in the Foreign Secretary's speech this morning: our relations with Libya. On
"in respect of the campaign ... to secure compensation from Libya in respect of its past support for the Provisional IRA, we have created a dedicated unit in the FCO to facilitate the families' renewed campaign".-[Hansard, 12/10/09; col. 39.]
The noble Baroness mentioned the possibility of a parliamentary visit to Libya and at the beginning of November, I took part in such a parliamentary delegation to Tripoli. I have to say that I am most grateful to our officials and Ambassador in Libya. I make the point that has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that it is vital that our Foreign Office is able to continue to provide its professionalism in such important cities as Tripoli. It would be an astonishing act of national absurdity for us to do anything to weaken the way in which our Foreign Office works in such important places. We had a series of discussions over two days with Libyan Ministers and officials. They were very interesting, engaging, urbane, sophisticated, useful and helpful. On our return, the Foreign Office issued a statement. However, at this point, it is worth asking the new Government where they stand on the pursuit of this aspect of our relationship with Libya. Will there still be a dedicated unit in the Foreign Office dealing with this question? More generally, where do we now stand in our relations with Libya? This is an enormously complicated question in terms of the transitions within Libyan politics, our relationship with the United States and United States policy in the region. None the less, returning to the original remarks by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, when we think of Libya, are we in the world where we think of hazards or in the world of opportunities?
My Lords, one inevitably follows the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, with a certain amount of trepidation. Noble Lords who listened to his magisterial speech today will understand exactly what I mean. That feeling of trepidation has been further compounded in my case by a number of very distinguished interventions from noble Lords. I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Maples on his maiden speech. He and I share what I think I might call a criminal past in another place and I know that the House will anxiously look forward to many distinguished contributions from him.
Today's debate poses a fundamental, underlying question: what are the objectives of British foreign policy as we face the challenges and hazards of the 21st century? I believe that we stand at a crossroads where we have to ask ourselves a basic question. Do we believe that Britain's interests and the values that she seeks to uphold warrant a global diplomacy? My answer is yes.
However, I fear that over recent years we have failed to give our foreign service the tools for the job. Punching above our weight, to quote my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, who certainly did just that, is fine, but you need, at the very least, some boxing gloves to do it and not a cricket bat, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr.
The cost of the Diplomatic Service in 2010-11 will be £865 million, which is 0.1 per cent of the national budget. In today's straitened times one hesitates to describe that or any other sum as paltry but, just to put it in context-I intend no criticism of the programmes concerned with these comparisons-that figure is less than one-third of what the Department for Work and Pensions spends in a week, it is almost identical to the £823 million spent by the Government on the National Lottery and it is well below, almost half, the £1.6 billion that is estimated to be spent by devolved Administrations to underpin the Marine and Coastal Access Act. I sometimes ask myself whether it is worth the Treasury's time spending even a morning negotiating with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Can Britain or should Britain have a global diplomacy? There are three possible answers to that question. The first is no. Let us face the fact that we are a second division power. Let us stop dancing around the world kidding ourselves that Britannia rules the waves. Let us try to manage our decline into the second division with as much propriety as we can. We may even gain a few brownie points as we go: we could offer up our seat on the Security Council to the European Union.
The second answer, and perhaps the most cynical, is what I suppose one might call the middle way. We could say nothing and keep trimming. The man on the Clapham omnibus will not notice. It has been going on for the past few years. I focus on Latin America, but this scenario is replicated in other parts of the world. Between 2003 and 2005, we closed our embassies in Paraguay, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. I have a horrible nightmare that somewhere down the road, in 50 years' time, we will end up with two embassies in the whole of Latin America-in Mexico and Brazil-and, in any other country, British citizens and companies with problems or interests will be invited to go to the EU representative, who by then, no doubt, will be described as an "ambassador plenipotentiary".
I bow to no one in my support for the European Union. I am an unashamed Europhile. I strongly support the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and the new European Foreign Policy Unit. However-I am confident that this view is widely shared in your Lordships' House-I do not see the European Union as a substitute for the nation state. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who will reply to this debate, may, along with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, share my view that we need a global diplomacy and that Britain's interests and values warrant such a foreign service.
An increase of 2.5 per cent in the diplomatic budget year on year for the life of this Parliament would cost £21,625,000 this first year. Again, just to put that figure in context, the Department for Work and Pensions spends more than 20 times that every day and it is less than we spend on combating infectious diseases of livestock for international development.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is as ingenious as he is clever. He will not, I am confident, want to announce that he is leading Britain down into the second division, nor will he wish to opt for a continuation of the surreptitious decline that we have witnessed over recent years. I am afraid that it is Hobson's choice for the coalition Government, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor. It is: find the money, William, and pay up, George. In the previous century, Britain moved, I think with a certain dignity, from "Rule Britannia" to "Cool Britannia". Failure to act now in strengthening our Diplomatic Service could well mean that the 21st century will earn us the noble title of "Fool Britannia".
My Lords, I am sure it will not surprise my former boss, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, if I decide today to talk about the Middle East. We have had many recent discussions in this House on the situation in Gaza. I would like to return to the long-standing problem of Israeli colonisation of the West Bank and the eviction of Palestinians from east Jerusalem. There are still some 500,000 illegal Jewish settlers on the West Bank, and Peace Now claims that this number is still growing. Palestinians are still facing daily frustration at more than 500 checkpoints and the dreaded wall is still expanding, particularly in the west Bethlehem area, blocking many Palestinian farmers from their own land. The resulting level of unemployment, although not quite as appalling as in Gaza, is nevertheless very serious.
Even worse is the continued eviction of Palestinian residents from east Jerusalem now including four members of the Palestinian legislature-the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to them-who have been ordered to leave on the grounds that the interior ministry has revoked their permits as "residents of Israel". According to the ministry's own information, in 2008 alone, 4,577 Arab residents of east Jerusalem had their permits revoked. The Israeli authorities have ordered the recent demolition of 65 Palestinian-owned structures and the displacement of 125 people, including 47 children.
What we are seeing on the West Bank is a human tragedy and a violation of human rights of major proportions. Senior members of Mr Netanyahu's Government have made no secret of their hope that all Palestinians can be removed from Jerusalem and, ultimately, from the West Bank. If, as I hope, Her Majesty's Government are serious in hoping for the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem, something must be done urgently to stop this appalling and shameful tragedy. I hope the Minister can confirm that his right honourable friend is taking up these cases with the Israeli authorities both bilaterally and in co-operation with our European and American partners-in spite of, or is it because of, Mr Netanyahu's humiliating rejection of President Obama's repeated calls for restraint. Without determined and effective American action, there is no hope of reversing this ethnic cleansing. Sadly, the quartet office in Jerusalem seems to be adopting a totally supine attitude towards these human rights violations by the occupying power.
All of us speaking in this debate face a dilemma. Having heard Mr Hague's interview on the BBC this morning, but not yet having studied his important speech in detail, I warmly welcome his intention to strengthen our diplomatic, commercial and economic contacts with the emerging powers, including Brazil and Turkey. In that context I wonder, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, whether it was wise for the UN Security Council to have rejected both Brazil and Turkey's ingenious attempts to find a solution to Iran's nuclear ambitions and instead to strengthen sanctions that show no signs of having any practical effect. Unless we change our mentality, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, put it, and adjust to the new emerging relationships such as those between Iran, Syria, Turkey, Qatar and Brazil, we shall find ourselves left behind in the struggle for political and economic influence in parts of the world that are of massive significance to this country and for the future of a peaceful world.
I share the hope that Iran can be dissuaded from its apparent ambition, although publicly denied by the Iranians at a very high level, to acquire nuclear weapons. But I was struck by the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, two days ago when he commented that the possession of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan,
"could be a good example of the theory of mutual deterrence working".-[Hansard, 28/6/10; col. 1510.]
Should we be surprised if Iran, neighbour as it is to a nuclear Pakistan, threatened by attacks on its nuclear facilities by a nuclear Israel, and neighbour to Iraq from whose aggression in the Iran-Iraq war it suffered more than a million dead, might draw the same lessons of deterrence as India and Pakistan? Whether it has or not, I believe that the arguments for working towards a nuclear-free Middle East are now as strong as they have ever been.
I still have a minute left and I would like to add two footnotes. The first is that some reference has been made today to the Falklands War. I put it on record that one reason why we managed to acquire and gain international support for our recovery of the Falkland Islands was precisely because we had resident posts in a number of embassies which have been or are being closed. Lastly, and on a lighter note, my noble friend Lord Hylton referred to the support of the Isfahanis for British football. I am astonished. Do they not know that British polo originated on the main square of Isfahan?
I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, for giving us a wonderful opportunity to discuss Britain's foreign policy in, as he stated, a time when our world is much less predictable than before. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, declared, we must therefore change our mentality to see where the power is going, which, as he commented, is most obviously reflected in changes of economic status. As all other noble Lords have commented in the debate, the speech by our Foreign Secretary today in the Locarno Room sets the stage most powerfully. He declared,
"for the first time in years in my view Britain will have a foreign policy that is clear, focused and effective".
I am sure that we will support his aims of extending our global reach and influence, that we should use diplomacy to secure our prosperity, that we should promote our values using the appeal of our culture and heritage, and set out to make the most of the abundant opportunities of the 21st century systematically and for the long term. Particularly, his focus on the broadest possible definition of our foreign affairs and foreign policy, incorporating the UK's strengths such as education and connecting ministries and departments so that there is one foreign policy and not a multiplicity of policies, is more than welcome and extraordinarily promising.
I shall focus for a moment or two on the huge strand of economics, trade and prosperity in foreign affairs throughout the Foreign Secretary's speech. Again, this is enormously welcome, most especially the strong stress on networks and contacts on the ground through our ambassadors in our embassies and high commissions, which seem to be being given the stronger role that they should always have maintained in order to give the UK the certainty and single focus that our interests on the ground have been lacking. As the Foreign Secretary commented:
"There is now a mass of connections between individuals, civil society, businesses, pressure groups and charitable organisations which are also part of the relations between nations and which are being rapidly accelerated by the internet".
That is a most important declaration which we should all promote in incorporating our interests in a way that has not been the case in recent years on the ground, and possibly not even in the UK.
Since completing my second term as a Member of the European Parliament- where for seven and a half years I had the honour of serving as vice-president of the Foreign Affairs Committee-and returning here to resume full-time work in your Lordships' House, I now chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Business Development in Iraq and the Regions. Our aim as an APPG-we have strong membership from all parties in both this House and the other place-is to encourage and foster the economic development of Iraq and her neighbours with the UK in particular, with special stress on the significance of culture and education, both vocational and tertiary.
This follows an earlier initiative-designed also to strengthen Iraq's free market in the private sector-that I co-founded last year, the Iraq-Britain Business Council, IBBC, which I also chair in an honorary capacity. This has become the leading membership organisation for business development in Iraq and the region. This, too, is a not-for-profit organisation which enjoys high-level support from both the UK and the Iraqi Governments. It brings together key business leaders to provide a joint platform for identifying mutual interests and common goals. In this first year, in support of the Foreign Secretary's comments on cultural and educational exchange, we have already begun to found a private university within the Iraqi state sector, which we hope in the fullness of time will include all relevant technical and business departments and an all-important school of humanity.
I believe powerfully in the stress laid in the Foreign Secretary's speech on bilateral relationships and on elevating relationships across every sector. This is of vital importance for the United Kingdom in terms of economics and politics, which have not been as close here as in other key member states of the European Union and beyond. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as the key focal point for the promotion of all UK interests, should have that strength and power. It should also have, wherever possible, significant financial and personal support to make that happen.
Foreign policy is not only a reaction to what is happening but should lay the foundations for good decisions for many years to come. That is where the stress that the Foreign Secretary and other Members of this House have already placed upon research, study and exploration over a wide range of ministries in the United Kingdom is vital. Foreign policy is about the standing in the world of the United Kingdom. This can be created and maintained only over the long term, as well as by reactions in crises. All of this must rest on common values. Therefore, we should not be afraid to promote as hard as possible, in every possible way, democracy, the fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.
The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, raised the question of the important values that are implemented in strategic thinking in the EU Council of Ministers. The UK should be in front and pre-eminent, both there and on the ground. With a new External Action Service, a strong Foreign and Commonwealth Office and a clear, directed foreign policy we will go much further than we imagine we have the capacity to go today.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate our former Foreign Secretary on his timing today and our present Foreign Secretary on his new approach and wider outlook.
My concern today, again, is Afghanistan. Apart from the timetable of withdrawal, I read or heard nothing this morning to confirm that we still support the United States' strategy following the dismissal of General McChrystal in somewhat discouraging circumstances. It may well be that the US strategy is in disarray and it could be the moment for us to exert influence in Washington. I hope the Minister will give some more clues on this today because the situation for the Afghan people seems more desperate than ever.
The British public are losing interest in the Afghan project and I offer one possible explanation: they were deceived. They broadly supported the initial campaign to send troops, not because they were defending this country-which was never a realistic proposition-but because they wanted to protect the Afghan people from tyranny. Events in 2001 provided the trigger but at the time, as in Iraq, it seemed that the Afghans wanted to be liberated and would naturally accept the temporary presence of foreign forces and aid workers.
One mistake was to attempt to reconstruct the country according to a model that was too rigidly Western, but I do not blame only the Americans for that. Far too much inappropriate aid was wasted in the first few years and much of it went to satisfy the appetites of warlords as well as foreign consultants and companies bringing money back home. When President Karzai criticises foreign Governments for encouraging corruption through large aid transfers, he is absolutely right. That is what happens with large contracts. Stories of large transfers of funds to the Gulf have now even led Congress to suspend the US aid programme.
There was an even more important mistake, which was to identify foreign aid too closely with the military campaign. Today not just USAID but DfID has a vast aid programme in Helmand, not primarily because of the extent of poverty there but because it has been seduced into a hearts and minds campaign that runs in tandem with a war against insurgents. In Marjah, US marines with back pockets full of dollars are offering to build mosques, clinics and schools in the hope that the insurgents will somehow be persuaded to come down from the mountains and rejoin a peaceful community, but that is not going to happen.
The principal UK aid agencies have warned against this "reconciliation" policy for some time. Indeed, the British Overseas Aid Group called on the Ministry of Defence in January, as the Minister may know, to complain about the confusion caused principally by the provincial reconstruction teams. The PRTs were intended to protect and work alongside civilians, but in effect they are military operations rooted in military discipline. I have regularly mentioned this in debates here. If the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues genuinely want to involve civil society more in forward planning in foreign policy, I suggest that he contacts our own aid agencies at the earliest opportunity.
Soldiers can be very efficient in short-term reconstruction, and indeed have successfully built refugee camps, bridges and buildings such as schools and health centres elsewhere. However, when it comes to earning trust among the local population, the involvement of local people in decision-making and the longer-term planning of health and education policy, aid is better left to the specialised aid agencies. There are a lot of NGOs working in Afghanistan with many years' experience but, instead of building up their resources, the war and investment in security firms has made their work more vulnerable. Private security firms are the very antithesis of peaceful reconstruction and have caused a lot of resentment.
Some of the best development work going on is far from the battle front. I was involved in a project secretly training women teachers during the time of the Taliban, and similar clandestine projects continue today in many parts of Afghanistan, run or funded by UK aid agencies. But surprisingly, Afghanistan, although nearly bottom on the list of poorest countries, is not getting the same support per head from the UK as other countries. Much of our aid is concentrated in so-called "secure areas" covered in troops and barbed wire. One may well ask the Minister, "What is our real objective in remaining in Afghanistan? Do the Afghan people have any evidence that we are there for international development, or is aid becoming an arm of our security strategy?".
Now that the aid budget is ring-fenced, there is a temptation for other departments to give it different names and label their own work as international development. The noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Anderson, have both mentioned the obvious overlaps between aid and diplomacy. I congratulate DfID on the innovative work that it does in countries such as Kenya, Sudan and Nepal. I admit that the arrival of the coalition has given departments the opportunity to review their programmes after many years, and this must be welcomed. A good example is Sudan, where the FCO and DfID are developing a common programme. This is what should happen.
I am not part of a "troops out of Afghanistan" campaign. We have a commitment to NATO for another four or five years. But while our casualties have increased, the priorities have surely changed. It is my sincere belief that the public are expecting us to remain as channels of development assistance, not as a fighting force. The Army may well have successes but it cannot guarantee that the local population will receive our assistance or proper protection.
My Lords, in thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, for launching this debate, I should like to concentrate on just one part of that very large canvas that has been sketched out. That one part-quite a large part-is China.
A great deal is said about the enormous development of China over the past few years. Statistics flow out and they are all fantastically impressive. For example, it is responsible for 7 per cent of the world's GDP; China will very shortly overtake Japan as the second largest economy in the world; huge numbers of PhD students and engineers are turned out every year. All those statistics are significant. Our own relationship with China is significant. Among many other things, as noble Lords will know, China supplies the largest amount of investment in the European Union to the United Kingdom.
All this raises the question of how one copes with this rapid development of China. Our dialogue with China is very encouraging. The sort of things that can be talked about, and the way in which it can be done, would have been impossible 10 or 20 years ago. I think that it is common ground that we should try to encourage China to participate in all the international organisations.
However, one of the issues is the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. It is that those organisations were set up a long time ago, before China re-emerged on to the world scene. Therefore, if we want China to play a real part, we must accept that those organisations will have to change. You cannot expect a large country such as China, coming from a different background, simply to be absorbed without any effect on the organisations. Perhaps the IMF is a good example. There has been an increase in China's contribution to it and therefore in its voting power, but it has been only very slight.
Another aspect is our understanding of China. It was encouraging that the Foreign Secretary spoke today about the need to re-emphasise geographical expertise within the foreign service, which has perhaps been downgraded over the past few years. As my noble friend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard said, that expertise, which can be produced in the Foreign Office, is vital to what we are doing.
More broadly, we should have enough people in this country-not just in the foreign service-who have an understanding and experience of China. The same applies in the other direction: there should be enough people from China who have an understanding of us. There are something like 85,000 Chinese students in this country, 60,000 of them at tertiary level. There is a tiny number, it seems, of British students in China-3,000. However, the percentages-that is, the number of Chinese students as a percentage of the Chinese population and the number of our students in China as a percentage of ours-are almost identical. But 3,000 is not enough. We need at a much lower level an understanding and experience of China. I believe that around 500 schools in the UK offer Mandarin. Some make a great effort to do so, because they will just offer it and there will be two or three students. Perhaps I may take an example from Scotland and declare a sort of interest as the honorary president of an organisation called SCEN, the Scotland-China Education Network. I visited the other day Perth High School, a school of about 1,400 pupils. Something like half of those pupils were studying Chinese. They will not get to a high level; they will not go straight into the Foreign Office; they will not immediately become ambassadors-maybe later on they will; but they will have a feel for China and an interest in it, and some will go on to be specialists. I suggest to the Minister that he might encourage his ministerial colleagues to see how much this sort of experience could be transferred elsewhere in the UK, so we have more people studying China and Chinese. In the long term, that will be very much in our interests in terms of the whole way in which we react to China developing as it has been.
Perhaps I may make one last comment-on Hong Kong. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, in the negotiations in which he played such an enormous and significant role about the future of Hong Kong, used to refer to the Ming vase that we were passing on to China. The Ming vase has not been dropped; it is still there. Hong Kong is a success story. Hong Kong in China, but as a very special part of China, is not just a success story, and therefore a cause for great encouragement, but a place of enormous opportunity, of which I hope that people in the UK will continue to take advantage.
My Lords, this is a most timely and important debate. The world is transforming before our eyes and Britain must be capable of setting its foreign policy in the context of these changes. Over the past 12 months, I have visited East Africa, Russia, Syria, Turkey, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, India and Egypt. I went to these countries to speak at international conferences, for humanitarian reasons or to attend important events-and also for commercial purposes. These visits have enabled me to acquire a better understanding of the situation in the various countries, and I have built up some excellent connections with politicians and people of the countries. I have also fostered good relationships with high commissioners and ambassadors of various countries, as well as their diaspora in the UK. We all need to be involved in networking at all stages; we must foster country-to-country as well as people-to- people contacts.
In view of the time constraints, I shall comment only briefly on some salient issues. Last weekend, while the Prime Minister was showing a strong lead in Canada, the Foreign Secretary was spelling out a new approach to foreign policy in an interview for the Sunday Telegraph. He has expanded on that vision today and I commend his analysis. His vision, based not on the historic blocs but on taking a fresh look at the new global dynamics, is most welcome.
I am sure we all feel that we should not only maintain but strengthen our relationship with the United States. I am encouraged by the conciliatory attitudes of the Obama Administration, particularly towards the Muslim world. I commend the importance that the Government attach to India and look forward to an enhanced partnership with India. The importance ascribed to this was demonstrated by the reference in the gracious Speech. We need also to accommodate the development of greater links with other countries with emerging economies. We have seen the rise in economic power of the Gulf states and we welcome the involvement in various companies and organisations in our country, which will strengthen not only economic but political ties with the Arab states. I have previously spoken in your Lordships' House on the important role that the Commonwealth can play in building strong relationships in various ways, particularly in strengthening political ties and resolving conflicts. I was pleased that the coalition programme included a statement on strengthening the Commonwealth.
I have already stated that I have visited countries including Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I fully support the entry of Turkey into the European Union. We need also to resolve problems in Cyprus. I also feel that we should engage with Turkey and its involvement in resolution of conflicts in surrounding areas, including Iran and Palestine. We cannot afford to ignore the challenges presented to us by the ongoing conflict in Palestine. Recent events can serve only to stiffen our resolve that the only long-term and sustainable solution involves two states, with the achievement of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. That will be the most acceptable solution.
Last week, I visited Russia to make a keynote speech at an international conference on Islamic finance. Our relations with Russia have deteriorated in recent months and some serious issues remain outstanding. Engaging with Russia is complex. The Government have announced that they will seek to establish a new relationship. I feel that we should give that serious consideration.
About three weeks ago, I attended and spoke at a conference in Uganda relating to peace, democracy, the rule of law and the maintenance of human rights. We should continue to ensure good governance and seek to bring to book persons who have committed crimes against humanity.
I have watched with alarm the way that relations with Iran have deteriorated, particularly following last year's presidential elections. We must not forget the important opportunity that the UN presents and Iran needs to engage with the international community. We should wish to have a constructive relationship with Iran, which is a key power in the region. I hope that the Iranian Government will not switch off to the possibilities being held out to them.
I strongly support the coalition pledge to ring-fence the development budget. Not only is it the right decision from a humanitarian perspective, but it shows the world that we are serious as a nation about supporting developing and emerging economies. This will undoubtedly contribute towards reinforcing British influence and prestige in global affairs.
China has witnessed an impressive growth over the past 30 years. Before long, we can probably expect it to be the largest economy in the world. It is a self-confident country with expanding influence, not least in Africa. I welcome the positive engagement that we appear to enjoy with the Chinese Government. Furthermore, we need to harness Chinese influence in confronting and overcoming the challenges of Iran and North Korea.
The new world presents us with a great opportunity and I am delighted that this Government are taking a bold and impressive approach in regard to their foreign policies.
My Lords, I must join in congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, on his debate today, particularly, as has been mentioned, for its significant timing. I am sure that he was mightily relieved by the tone of the Foreign Secretary's speech, which was somewhat different from the tone that we heard just a few weeks ago. I hope that that new realism will be maintained, but we will need to see other signs of it-including, perhaps, a movement away from some of the so-called allies that the Conservative Party has found in the EU.
On the EU, there was one thing about that speech this morning; I thought that there was an implicit criticism of some of the UK representatives there. Having worked with them quite closely for the past year or two, I did not take that well. We should be talking about how we increase engagement, not suggesting that we need new big hitters in Brussels in order to extend our influence. I have one other word about Europe, which is to welcome what has just been said about Turkish membership of the EU. I noticed that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, also mentioned Turkey, which has a pivotal role and is a secular state. It is not a perfect society but then, what is? We would be foolish to turn our backs on Turkey and I seek reassurances in that respect.
I appreciate that many people in this House have a lifetime of experience in foreign affairs. I think that most of us come to these debates with a certain degree of hesitancy. For the past few years, I have worked closely in the Ministry of Defence with the Foreign Office and, previous to that, when I was chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I got some overview of foreign affairs.
I start by reminding the House of the Green Paper that was published by the Ministry of Defence earlier this year-Adaptability and Partnership. That sets out the global trends that are being talked about and which my noble friend Lord Desai began with earlier, such as the rise of Asia Pacific, the challenges of globalisation, climate change and the inequalities in the world. It goes on to discuss threats to our national interests as well as to this country. That document is as good a backdrop for debates about foreign affairs as it is for debates on defence. There are a few points that I would like to raise in response to the challenges that we face.
First, I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about international institutions. Many of us grew up-perhaps slightly naively, thinking back to the 1960s-with great hopes for institutions such as the United Nations, which we thought would make a significant difference. Those international institutions have, as has been said, been very slow to respond to a rapidly changing world. We need to continue to press for reform in that area, as the previous Labour Government did.
Secondly, we need to re-evaluate and impress on people the scope and importance of what has been called soft power. My noble friend Lord Desai said that we need hard power as well, but the two go together. If you get soft power right, you will need to exercise less hard power. Foreign Office and defence diplomacy have not been appreciated enough in recent years-perhaps over a long time. When such issues as the Five Power Defence Arrangements-which involve the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore-come up, many people think that such agreements no longer matter because they hark back to the past. In fact, they give us an entrée to an area which will be pivotal in the future, as we have heard today.
Much of the MoD's work through training and advisory groups makes sure that people who do not normally talk to each other work in the same area. In the military training on peacekeeping that we do in the Czech Republic, we have had people from Azerbaijan sitting next to Armenians. We are breaking new ground there. In the long term, this can put us in a very strong position, not least because all that teaching and work is conducted in English.
Something has been said today about resources and about DfID. I would like to bring the two together. It seems that we all now support the aim of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid. That is good and something that we should support. It is an achievement of the Labour Government, the spending of the past few years and DfID itself that I am very proud of. However, it is right to question-as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, did-some of the ways and projects on which that money has been spent. Some has been spent on consultants and the like. This may seem like heresy to some but I wonder if the concentration on DfID has taken too much away from the Foreign Office and other areas. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, suggested that there should be a merging of some of these budgets. One small step has been taken with the Stabilisation Unit, but we need to do more to make sure that spending on influence now does not neglect long-term investment at this critical time. The noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, mentioned some of the very interesting figures. I said in this House a few weeks ago that when I was in the MoD, I thought that if there were sufficient noughts at the end of a project it was much safer than if it had a tiny budget, which could somehow slip through and disappear.
I welcome the debate. We need more talk about how we exercise influence. The noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, asked if we should have global diplomacy. My answer to that would be yes, but we have to invest enough in soft power. That is the key to avoiding the need for the use of hard power in the future.
My Lords, one of the great strengths of your Lordships' House is its capacity to look strategically at issues as well as point up particular matters. Today's debate provides an opportunity to do that. As noble Lords have said, it is particularly timely in view of the development-perhaps even change of strategy-announced by the Foreign Secretary earlier today. I welcome a degree of change of strategy because there have been some very serious mistakes in our approach to foreign policy over the past 10 and more years.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, gave a very thoughtful description of what foreign policy should really be about. I suggest, more mischievously, that foreign affairs are about special relationships abroad. The special relationship with the United States has been mentioned. There is no reason why it should be the-I emphasise "the"-special relationship, but that does not mean it cannot be a special relationship. We have many important and special relationships that we need to work at and continue to cultivate. Our special relationship does not mean that we will always agree with the United States's approach to foreign policy; some of our other special relationships can be helpful in that regard. My view was always that if we needed to engage in Afghanistan militarily we should go straight in, do something substantial, then get out and not try to create a democracy in a country which was never a democracy in the first place and will not be after we leave it. What we did not do was use the special relationship with India to inform the engagement with Afghanistan. There was no serious consultation with India on the part of ourselves or the United States before the invasion of Afghanistan. That was a very foolish mistake. We should now be using our special relationship with India to enable Britain and the United States to move towards getting ourselves out of a problem because it is not a question of victory in Afghanistan but of finding a way of withdrawing without it appearing to be a humiliating defeat. That is the reality of the position that we are in.
Our special relationship with the United States does not depend solely on our relationships within the European Union. Our history and experience in those areas and our other special relationships are important as well as our relationships within the European Union. However, we must also recognise that we may differ from our European colleagues. I give an example. It seems to me that the position we have taken vis-à-vis our relationship with Turkey is right and that Turkey should be able to move to be part of the European Union and should be a much more valued member of the international community. However, not all our colleagues in the European Union see it that way. I think that they are making a very serious strategic mistake from the point of view of Europe and, indeed, of the West.
I also emphasise the point that my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby made about the Turkish and Brazilian initiative on enrichment of nuclear material by Iran. It seems to me that this was a constructive approach and that it was extremely foolish of us to dismiss and disregard it, not just in terms of what that means for dealing with Iran but for our relationship with Turkey. We do not have to agree all the time with those with whom we have a special relationship, nor do we need to regard all our relationships within the European Union as being the same. Our special relationship with France goes back long before our special relationship with the United States, and so it should. We should continue to develop it, perhaps sometimes following the example of the French. They saw no reason to withdraw their interest in the Francophonie simply because they were involved in the European Union. I believe that it was a serious strategic mistake for the previous Government to downgrade their interest in the Commonwealth simply because they wanted to emphasise the importance of the relationship with the European Union. I hope that we will review the way we engage with India, Canada, Australia and, indeed, some African countries and Caribbean states-I take some encouragement in that regard from the Foreign Secretary's statement-because those relationships are extremely important.
The relationship with France has been mentioned. We have important bilateral relationships on military and other matters that simply will not be possible with some other states in the European Union. As we approach this whole range of special relations I am conscious not just of the strength of your Lordships' House in its consideration of these matters-the breadth of its purview, the length of its memory, the depth of its understanding-but of some of its weaknesses. One weakness is that many of your Lordships are looking back at their experience of how things were in a world that has to some extent changed. It has changed in terms of the reasons for the European Union and the history of our relationship with the United States. It is important that the term "agility" used by the Foreign Secretary is understood to mean fleet-footedness as the situation changes.
It has been said from time to time that much of our foreign policy in recent years has been about the management of decline. That is fine if you are of a generation that remembers when things were up for the United Kingdom; but for my generation that was ancient history by the time I came into this world. I want the possibility of this generation and the next being proud of a country which can actually achieve important and serious things. I should like to take as the slogan for our foreign policy not the management of decline, understandable as that would be for a previous generation, but the slogan that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, has given for the next generation, which is to be in the vanguard rather than the slipstream in our approach to foreign policy.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Howe on introducing this most timely debate, given that we have a new Government. We live in a rapidly changing world, parts of which are very dangerous indeed, and in a time of limited resources. I welcome the speech of William Hague, which I have had a chance to read. I hope that the distinguished representatives from the Foreign Office recognise the advantage of having a powerful and senior member of the new Government as the new Foreign Secretary. His speech carries all the more impact for that.
However, foreign affairs are far too important to be left to the Foreign Office. I hope that that will be understood. Of course Foreign Office officials are a class act and I have had the privilege of working with them in many ways. However, I hope that the Prime Minister will give the message of the Foreign Secretary's speech to every Minister in this Government, and more widely. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, we are not an enormous country in terms of the scope that we used to have, but we have a lot of assets and a lot of people involved in all sorts of ways. All of them now have to get involved in ensuring Britain's future place in the world.
Perhaps I may give three brief illustrations of my involvement. By accident, in 1982 in the Commons dining room, I was talking to the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, who was our Minister of Trade. He was rushing all around the world trying to sell our goods. I was Minister for Local Government. I said, "I have responsibility for the water authorities. Can I help?". As a result, I went to Riyadh, Oman, Abu Dhabi and Baghdad. No one has seen the picture showing me shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, because I have kept it strictly hidden. The reality was that, although I was a Minister who might not have been thought to have had direct involvement in the trade field, there were many opportunities within government where people could play their part.
In 1997-I am sure that this will cheer up the noble Lord, Lord Kerr-I went to Seoul to firm up an investment in Northern Ireland for Daewoo. Last week, we had the pleasure-I declare an interest-of receiving a most distinguished delegation from Abu Dhabi and the UAE for the opening of a major new investment by Abu Dhabi in the new international convention centre in the Royal Docks. I welcome the priority that the Foreign Secretary gave in his speech to the special relationship with the UAE.
We need teamwork and support, with leadership from the Foreign Office, backed up of course by defence, a field in which I was particularly involved. I recognise, and tribute has been paid to, the amazing work of our Armed Forces in very difficult circumstances. They are a great asset but they are under great pressure. They do not have limitless capacity.
As I said, we are in a rapidly changing world and I wish to make a point about the changes that may be proposed, such as the closure of posts. I do not think that I am disclosing any secrets as a previous chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee by saying that, when the new threats involving al-Qaeda emerged, we had to turn to a number of posts in countries that we had not previously thought to be significant in our intelligence relationships. They became extremely useful at that time. If we had closed those posts, our problems would have been very much greater. It is because we face major challenges that we must work as a team.
One quotation that I found today gives me great concern. Many of us know Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was the head of Saudi intelligence and then the ambassador here and in Washington. He was quoted recently as saying that the United States had forfeited the high moral ground in the Middle East through "negligence, ignorance and arrogance". That statement and the fact that we are in many ways associated with the United States in many actions that have led to that conclusion are very serious matters indeed.
There is an interesting comment in the Foreign Secretary's speech. He points out that there are 100 million Pakistanis who have mobile telephones and who get news and information about the situations in Palestine, Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan. They are not necessarily people who incline to our point of view or are sympathetic to it. This country faces major challenges and the only way in which we will face them is collectively, as a team, with everybody involved in the effort.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble and learned that Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, for introducing the debate today and for speaking with his customary thoughtfulness about a wide range of countries and topics. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Maples, on a clever and amusing speech that was at times quite trenchant. We look forward to hearing from him again, when he will not have to compromise at all in what he says.
I have read the Foreign Secretary's speech in full and I heard him on the radio this morning. I will address some of what he said, because it speaks to this debate. He talked about changing hazards and opportunities, and about the objectives of the coalition in dealing with them. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I agreed with much of what he said today, and I am bound to say that it is not surprising. It bore a strong resemblance to the speech made by my late former boss, Robin Cook, when he became Foreign Secretary in 1997. Robin Cook said then that the first goal of British foreign policy should be the security of this country and the prosperity of its people. He stressed the importance of trade, and said that he wanted to work more with British business abroad to further the trade links that Mr Hague stressed this morning.
What the Foreign Secretary said today on the radio-namely, that a successful foreign policy and a successful economic policy were inextricably linked-is common ground. I nearly cheered-that is, until I remembered that this Government have yet to appoint a Minister dedicated to the trade effort, as most of the recent Trade Ministers on the Labour side were, and as they must be if they are to deliver on Mr Hague's commitments on trade, and on Mr Cameron's G20 Statement that was repeated in the House earlier this week.
Mr Hague made a strong point about the joint responsibilities that he has with the Secretary of State at DBIS, Mr Cable, to use our global diplomatic network to support UK business around the world in an interventionist and active manner. At this point I declare an interest as chairman-elect of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce. The Foreign Secretary cited a joint task force launched today, which was mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams and Lady Morris. It is a joint task force with the UAE. This, too, bore a strong resemblance to the past-in this case, the more recent past-because an initiative was launched only last autumn involving UKTI, the Foreign Office and Somerset House. There was a week of meetings with our friends from the UAE under the leadership of my noble friend Lord Mandelson. We set up workstreams on education, health, IT and financial services, which led to the launch only last month of the City GCC, a terrific initiative to make financial services between the City of London and the GCC more accessible. I applaud the Government's position, but not their attempts to rewrite recent history. The noble Lord may also like to know that a similar initiative is going on at the moment, with similar workstreams, in conjunction with Saudi Arabia, where I also have an interest as chair of the business council.
I was very glad to hear and read what the Foreign Secretary said about our relationship with the US, France and Germany, and I was very, very glad to hear what he said, in a tone very different from his former speeches, about the EU. He has, like all Foreign Secretaries before him since 1997, rightly prioritised these relationships. I was also pleased to hear what he said about developing relationships with Russia, China, India, Brazil and Turkey. He also stressed the crucial importance of finding a lasting peace settlement in the Middle East, and that was echoed by the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Wright of Richmond. These policies are sensible and, if we are honest, not so very different from those of the Labour Government.
My noble friends Lord Desai and Lady Taylor spoke about the relationship of the MoD to foreign policy. The Prime Minister has said that our troops will be out of Afghanistan by May 2015, but this morning on the radio the Foreign Secretary seemed oddly reluctant to confirm that date. Therefore, can the Minister say whether May 2015 is a deadline? Personally, I hope that it is not. May 2015 will simply become a target date for the Taliban and al-Qaeda to outsit the withdrawal-to regroup, rearm and re-emerge after that date. Surely in our goal to deal with terrorism at home, we should make sure that this incubator of terrorism is properly dealt with once and for all. The answer to the question "How long?" has to be "When we know that the job is done".
I turn now to what Mr Hague did not mention quite so fulsomely this morning-the document that he published on Tuesday this week about FCO cuts. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, spoke knowledgeably and passionately about education in the Middle East. Although Mr Hague has said that he wants to enhance educational links with the developing world-the networks across the world, as he called them this morning-he has in fact decided to cut this year's programme of scholarships in the FCO by £10 million and has declared that there will be a smaller programme in the future. Can the noble Lord tell us what will happen to the Chevening scholarships and what will happen to those who have already given up jobs to take up those scholarships this year?
The Secretary of State told the Foreign Office audience that he wanted ties with the Commonwealth to be stronger, and I know that that is a very strong point for the Minister himself. However, how can it be right to say that in public and then publish elsewhere a projected 10 per cent cut for the countries for which we have real responsibility-our overseas territories? The Secretary of State accused the former Government of neglecting responsibilities to the Commonwealth. Many will be watching how he now discharges his responsibilities to the small and very vulnerable territories for which we are wholly responsible.
The Foreign Secretary spoke about ingraining foreign policy in domestic departments. That was a very strong point and one that I think we should take very seriously. However, presumably that includes the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, so why has Mr Hague decided to cut the FCO's interdiction efforts on drugs by £1 million this year? How will that affect our joint action in the Caribbean with the countries of the Caribbean and our co-operation with the United States, or indeed with Afghanistan, where the trade flourishes and adversely affects young people in this country?
The coalition says in its document that climate change is one of the greatest threats that we face and that it wants to increase EU emission reductions by 30 per cent by 2020. However, we now hear that the Foreign Office wants to cut its climate change budget by £3 million this year. We are told that diplomats will stay fully engaged but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, that department and our diplomats are already at full stretch-they cannot do more, or even the same, with fewer resources. Therefore, can the noble Lord say what part will be cut?
This morning, the Foreign Secretary was very persuasive about networking. We heard all about his twittering and about modern communications. What he did not say was that two days ago he cut the public diplomacy programme in the Foreign Office by £1.6 billion for this year. Can the noble Lord tell us precisely which programmes will be cut?
Again, on human rights and democracy, the Secretary of State said this morning that the coalition was "raising its sights". He said that it was looking to the longer term, looking at the promotion of British interests, and living up to its responsibilities. Can the Minister explain why those fine words have been met with a 10 per cent cut in the FCO's programme on human rights of some £560,000 this year and-this is a really sad cut-a cut of almost £400,000 this year to the budget of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which is a terrific organisation. I thought that human rights and democracy were keystones for all of us in regard to foreign policy and I was very disappointed to hear those cuts announced.
The Minister may say that all departments must take a little pain. That really is not so, as we all know. The cuts in the FCO at the moment amount to some £18 million. For example, there is no cut to the DfID budget of more than £178 million for China. I share that concern with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. We were told explicitly that it was not possible to cut the budget for this year and yet budgets have been cut in the FCO for this year and potentially in a very damaging way. It is uncomfortable to hear one set of priorities announced so enthusiastically on camera and to hear another set of cuts quietly announced elsewhere.
We are promised more speeches and more cuts. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, as it was an excellent speech which I warmly support. He may want to spend a little more time in advance of making his cuts and his speeches on getting some real consistency between the two.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, one of our wisest Foreign Secretaries and someone whom I greatly respect, for initiating this debate and on seizing the moment. I shall turn to some of the things that he said in a moment.
I greatly enjoyed the maiden speech of my old colleague, my noble friend Lord Maples, who speaks with great expertise. He rightly focused on the need to identify and promote our national interests in this complicated world, a matter that is sometimes forgotten. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who has just summed up from her side. I think that her broad strategic stance was supportive, although she asked many detailed questions, which I shall try to answer, although in less than 20 minutes I cannot possibly do justice to all the points that have been made in the debate.
At least one central message emerges vividly and insistently from the debate: the global landscape has changed and is changing significantly. That point was made with eloquence by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, by my noble friend Lady Williams, by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and by many others. International events and trends that may seem far removed from our day-to-day domestic concerns are proving decisive in shaping everyone's lives in this country. We are entering a less western age and in some ways a more dangerous and unpredictable age. Against that background, there is an ever more urgent need for clear direction, objectives and purposes in our nation's foreign policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, rightly insisted. That is what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary have been regularly spelling out over the past few weeks. As many noble Lords have observed, only this morning my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary set out these matters again in a major scene-setting and strategic survey.
Of course we want to maintain a close and frank relationship with the United States and a positive and fully constructive role with our fellow European Union states. As the Foreign Secretary has said, we shall be highly active within the European Union and we shall urge our fellow members to overcome the severe current challenges that they face and to adapt to the needs and demands of the new global landscape. Mr Hague has also said that we shall reach out to work with Europe's smallest states, as we did in the more distant past, a view that I greatly welcome.
Aside from those almost obvious positioning statements, we will also have our own agenda, which, as the Foreign Secretary has also explained, will require new forms of engagement. The key underlying themes in this new approach will be: first, bringing strategic decisions about our foreign policy, our security policy and our development programmes together in a National Security Council-that is already done; secondly, building up vigorous British bilateral engagements beyond Europe and North America, including new partnerships in the Gulf and with the rising Asian, Latin American and other powers; thirdly, working to reform international institutions to maximise their effectiveness and to develop new platforms; and, fourthly, upholding the highest values of our society while we pursue our legitimate interests and contribute to an increasingly interwoven world.
We need to use every ounce of our united brainpower, national talents, intelligence and experience to handle and influence this new world and to reconstruct and preserve our own national strength and prosperity. Obviously the threat of financial turmoil these past two years has been extremely difficult and great, but that does not mean that this is the time for the UK to retreat from the international stage. On the contrary, it is the coalition's view that we should move forward with renewed purpose and carve out a distinct foreign policy that truly promotes our interests in the wider sense.
It may be said-and I want to reflect what has already been said in this debate-that our obviously constrained national resources cannot possibly support such a newly ambitious approach to foreign policy or to the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Indeed, the resource issue has been raised by many of your Lordships, including my noble and learned friend, Lord Howe, the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Hannay, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and many, many others. We may be criticised, but we have inherited an appalling situation and savings have to be found.
In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, we want to sustain the scholarship programme. I will write to her about the details as they arise from the recently announced list of cuts made by my right honourable friend, but we are fully aware of the significance of the scholarship element in our relationships. However, we strongly believe generally that more can be done with less-indeed, it must be-and with a more skilful balance of resources on the overseas side, and that economic recovery will strengthen our diplomacy and our international capacities as they must be strengthened. If that sounds like wishful thinking, I urge your Lordships, as did my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, to glance at the most recent Chatham House pamphlet, Rethinking the UK's Role in a Changing World, which shows how a realistic path forward for our country can be shaped. Indeed, it echoes much of the thinking that informs our new policy.
Our new approach requires that much stronger bilateral bonds must be forged with such key centres of influence as Japan, South Korea-incidentally, the G20 summit, which the Prime Minister will attend, will be held there next November-India, Malaysia, South Africa, Brazil, Turkey, the central Asian republics and the Gulf states. In particular, as the Foreign Secretary made clear this morning and many times before, it means elevating significantly our links with India and China, to which Hong Kong continues to provide a brilliant gateway, as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, who knows more about this than most people, reminded us a moment ago. These are the new nations of universities, technology, advanced skills and capital investment right across the globe-Chinese investment is everywhere-and of massive new consumer markets with which we have both to relate and to compete and which we must address with respect, understanding and language skills, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, rightly reminded us.
Our approach means that, rather than just resting on our already extensive membership of international institutions, we have to connect to new global platforms such as the so-called BASIC platform-Brazil, South Africa, India and China-and to a reinvigorated Commonwealth network, to which my noble friend Lord Sheikh rightly referred. We want a Commonwealth which develops a flourishing soft power network of similar values and offers a direct source of benefit to our international purposes and interests-a role which I believe it can fulfil, and which I am personally determined to ensure that it does.
Our more intense contacts will not be confined to government channels. We will encourage a structure of linkages-many already in existence-through trade, educational exchange and services, culture, sport, science and active informal networks. Parliament, its committees, and the universities, with their growing outreach, about which my noble friend-the wonderful lady behind me-my noble friend Lady Morris, referred, will play a key and expanding role in the widened interface between our nation and others. All those points will reinforce our strategy.
One of this Government's first actions was to create a National Security Council. The council will provide a coherent government response to face the challenges and potential threats to our national security, including the situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, the Middle East, and the threat of nuclear proliferation, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, spoke so eloquently and with such expertise.
I realise that time is against us in these debates and does not allow me to explore with your Lordships all those subjects in greater detail. I hope that your Lordships will forgive a brief, broad-brush approach. In the remaining few minutes, I should like to outline the Government's foreign policy intentions toward the areas that I listed.
The top national security and foreign policy priority at the moment is, of course, Afghanistan, about which your Lordships have spoken. Our objective is to help the Afghans reach the point at which they can look after their own security without presenting a danger to the rest of the world. The sooner that the Afghan state and the Afghan security forces can withstand the range of security threats that are currently in the country, the sooner our troops, who have made such sacrifices, will be able to come home. Of course, our aspiration is that they should come home in due course, by a certain time-but that is an aspiration.
Recognising that our time here today is limited, let me say something about Pakistan, which my right honourable friend has just visited-a country whose fortunes, like ours, are entwined with those of neighbouring Afghanistan. The Government want to help to ensure the democratic, stable and prosperous future that the Pakistani people deserve. A myriad of ties bind the UK and Pakistan together, and Britain will continue to support Pakistan in the difficult challenges that it now faces.
To come even closer to home, my honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for the Middle East, Mr Jeremy Browne, set out the Government's policy towards the Middle East region two weeks ago. He made the point that we are extremely well placed to work in partnership with the countries of the Middle East in a way that benefits their peoples and ours. The countries of the Middle East and the Gulf will continue to be essential suppliers of the world's energy needs, and there are similar mutual benefits of flows of trade and investment between Britain and the region. This week, I had the pleasure of welcoming trade delegations from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the honour of meeting their respective Ministers for trade and industry. As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, reminded us, we have launched a joint task force with the United Arab Emirates as part of that process. I reaffirm to her, as I think that she already knows, that the Government have appointed Mark Prisk, Minister of State at the BIS department, to cover trade-admittedly, on a temporary basis. We have further intentions on that front, but Mr Prisk is the Minister in place, with reinforcement from many other Ministers.
We will also work to try to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, the poison of the Middle East, support the proximity talks which are currently under way, and pursue the concerns so graphically described by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, my noble friend Lady Morris-whose name has now come back into my overloaded mind-and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.
We remain resolved in addressing the international concerns about Iran's nuclear programme and the role that that programme could play in creating havoc and instability in the Middle East. We accept the obvious point that Iran's neighbours have a key role. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, suggested, Turkey may have an increasing importance in this respect as it readjusts its foreign policy position-not immediately favourably to the West but, in the long run, possibly in a very favourable way indeed. There are some very interesting developments going on there.
We will continue to work with the European Union as well as with NATO and other powers to counter yet another threat, not much mentioned in this debate, which comes from Somali piracy. The international response to the very dangerous situation in the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean has seen unprecedented levels of co-operation and co-ordination between the EU, NATO and independently deployed navies. That comprehensive approach is very interesting as it is relevant not only in that kind of environment but in dealing with other security challenges and threats which require an innovative mix of military and non-military responses-hard power and soft power interwoven. In fact a broader recognition that the channels of influence now lie in less traditional places, such as the G20, will be the key to future stability.
We have got to look beyond our traditional horizons for our energy security and energy needs. The emerging economies all need reliable and affordable energy to develop further, but that has a direct impact not only on climate change but on worldwide energy security. There is huge growth of demand for energy in oil-producing Middle East countries which are becoming major consumers as well as producers. We are working with countries such as China and India to help develop, make economic and deploy cleaner technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, and to improve energy efficiency in a vast range of new ways being developed by technology. There is the fascinating development of shale gas, which has changed the energy landscape in the US. If it is replicated elsewhere, it could be fundamental in altering the energy vista in every continent, with great rewards for countries as far afield as China and Poland, although there are some uncertainties about how the whole development can be managed. Other countries, such as Brazil, with its enormous oil finds and sugar cane biofuel, also have a great deal to offer the United Kingdom and the European Union, but we need to make sure that they see British companies and a transparent, open and global market as being in their best interests.
There is a point that I should make to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and other noble Lords about the strategic defence review. It will be guided by foreign policy requirements. It would be absurd if it were narrowed into the silos of departmental Whitehall, of which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, reminded us. That is not our approach at all. We have to embrace our thinking in all these areas within the overall framework of our positioning in the world, our foreign policy and our purposes, which in turn reflect back into the greater social cohesion in our own country with its many minorities and multi-ethnic patterns.
We will support closely the opening out of all links, supply chains and investment flows that take us deep into the great emerging markets of today and tomorrow. We badly want to see the Doha round of trade liberalisation help this process. In doing so, we will all along strive at the same time-and it will not be easy-to uphold our commitments to human rights, political freedoms, open and free trade, capital flows and poverty reduction. We will do this by working more closely with our economic partners than ever before. These are big tasks, which this coalition Government are not afraid to tackle. There are big challenges, which the coalition is not afraid to surmount in a united fashion. This is plainly what the country now wants and what it is now our duty to deliver.
My Lords, I rise with some strength of feeling that I might be allowed to say a little more than one normally might at the end of a debate of this kind. The note of determination and optimism that has dominated the discussion deserves the tribute of a sentence or two. I do so also rather conceitedly because, to some extent, the entire debate has been like a slice of the television programme "This is Your Life". It is as though I have been back on a television screen with these surprise creatures being presented to me.
I have known my noble friend Lord Howell probably for longer than anyone else, and I will come back to him. But the contributions made by the mandarin corps-four from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the noble Lord, Lord Butler, as an additional recruit-remind me of the potential of that great institution, of what it has achieved in the past and of the importance of our making sure that it is recharged and sustained with the urgency that it deserves at this time, as well as the diversity of context between some of the politicians who have joined in this discussion. The huge tome that I have here is the bound volume of the issues of Crossbow from 1960 to 1962. It was a period of great importance because it was when I handed over the editorship of that journal to my noble friend Lord Howell. I was prescribed a special supplement from Dennis Thompson on the subject of the Rome treaty and the law, which was inserted in the subsequent issue edited by my noble friend Lord Howell. It therefore shadows, curiously, many of the hazards that we have encountered and many of the opportunities.
Others who have taken part in the debate have reminded me of episodes of some significance. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and I have shared some curious experiences. I remember vividly when we were helping to put together the economic advisory council to the Supreme Rada of Ukraine. We went to Independence Square shortly after it had achieved independence to see the statue of Lenin, which was surrounded by scaffolding. A poster was pasted on it, which said, "We apologise for this temporary inconvenience". The next time we returned to the square, there was much better news than that. Instead there was a picture of the Madonna-the Blessed Virgin Mary. It moved the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, even more than it did me as a Methodist and she as a Catholic. I turned to her saying, "Do you remember what Stalin said? 'How many divisions has the Pope?'". We both agreed that he did appear to have had sufficient divisions.
I have another personal reminiscence. I was guided through the state of Qatar, which I had not much known before, by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. She persuaded to go to one of the annual fiestas supporting the case for democracy, freedom and freedom of trade, which is also an important component.
There has been throughout the debate a sense of common purpose despite the contributions having been made from different positions. In a political context, I mention the noble Lord, Lord Maples, for whom I have a kind of illegitimate proprietary title because for many years and until recently he was our Member of Parliament. We live in his constituency, and it is fine to find him reborn in this even more distinguished capacity.
Finally, I turn to the contribution made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. For me he is yet another symbol: this infant prodigy who burst upon the Tory Party Conference in 1968 or whenever it was, and who was my special adviser/personal assistant in the 1983 election. He is a man of formidable ability, quite apart from his precocious rhetorical skills. His speech today has been welcomed by everyone who has spoken about it.
So it is good to know that all these spirits are coming together in what I believe is a powerful sense of unity. I get the feeling that we do recognise the nature of the changes we have been through and that we have to face the challenge of those changes. The divisions that sometimes divide us so crudely-on whether the European Union is a good thing or not or whether what we have with the United States is a good friendship or not-all come together because the fact is that they are the relations with which we have to work and they are the relations with which this House is well qualified to work in the light of the contributions made to the debate today. I thank all those who have said kind things about me and I apologise for making a second speech. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion that stands in my name.