My Lords, I was greatly struck by the speech earlier today by my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool, who spoke with great strength and much relevant detail. I urge the Government to respond as fully as possible.
I start by suggesting that Britain should remain the friend of small countries. This is true for the six nations in south-east Europe referred to by my noble friend Lord Sandwich, which are not yet members of the EU. It is equally true in the Middle East of countries with democratic institutions such as Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan; they all deserve our support through intelligent tourism, investment and aid. The last two factors should be designed to give skills to the workforce and increase employment. They should benefit both local people and refugees or migrants. Refugees should now be seen as assets and not just as liabilities; stagnation, like that which unfortunately affects so many Palestinians, should above all be prevented. In Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Jordan, we should strive for fair and equal treatment for non-Muslims who happen to be refugees or internally displaced. At home we should improve our systems to help unaccompanied children, particularly those in Europe, to join close relatives already here, in the spirit of the amendment accepted from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.
I follow on from what my noble friend Lady Cox said about Syria. It is high time to admit that all combatants have committed atrocities. The so-called moderate armed opposition is largely, I believe, an illusion, since Islamist groups are better equipped and paid. Why should the present Government of Syria hand over power when it has such strong Russian support? Her Majesty’s Government should heed the advice of several former British ambassadors to Damascus and restore at least some level of British representation, as has been done, eventually, but successfully, in the case of Tehran. They should also end their complete boycott of the semi-autonomous cantons of north Syria.
With Qatar and Saudi Arabia, we have strong two-way links. Some people see us as a mediator in the difficult situation between those two countries. The least we should do is explore the possibilities, perhaps in conjunction with Kuwait, as was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Home. Israel, Palestine and their Arab neighbours are now out of the media spotlight, but there is at the moment no peace process or immediate prospect of one. What can be done, however, is to improve the status quo. In Gaza, that would mean a 24-hour supply of electricity, a wider fishing limit and freer movement for people and goods. Anything that can be done to improve the local economy of east Jerusalem and the West Bank will help to reduce bitterness and violence; the Bedouin should be treated as full citizens, whether they live inside Israel or in the occupied territories. Constructive improvements of the kind that I have mentioned could create a better atmosphere for negotiations between somewhat unequal partners. This is perhaps understood by Saudi Arabia and others where there are already thoughts of restoring commercial relations with a former enemy. Detente could pave the way for a permanent peace.
I cannot conclude without referring to Europe. We should see that whole continent as a work in progress, still far from complete. For ourselves, we must not turn our back on our own neighbourhood. Whatever may be the outcome of EU negotiations, it is essential that we have a constructive relationship with all the European institutions, including, of course, the EU, as we already do with NATO. This will be vital to Gibraltar, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as for ourselves. Statesmanship of the highest order will be needed to restore devolved power-sharing in Northern Ireland and to ensure smooth north-south relations.
I look forward to the Government’s reply.