My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, has said, this report is the culmination of the first three years of existence of the International Relations Committee. Noble Lords must remember that we had to fight for years to remedy the absurd situation where the House of Lords, with all the wealth of experience within its Membership, had no foreign affairs committee. I can only hope that the committee’s work over the last three years will ensure that its future amounts to long life and permanency.
The success of these first three years of work is largely due to the leadership of my noble friend Lord Howell. Now that both of us are to be rotated off the committee, as he said, I want to say a few words that, no doubt, will embarrass him. We have benefited from his unique experience, his ardent enthusiasm for the Commonwealth, his endless patience and his clear vision of world affairs. He has led us to produce a series of reports, all of which, when debated on the Floor here, have been warmly welcomed by your Lordships.
This is not, of course, the first time that I have had the pleasure of sitting under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Howell. I was a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons for 10 years, all of which fell under his chairmanship. As far as I am concerned, it has been a wonderful experience and I want to thank him for his contribution to all this work.
This report is based on what we have called a “shifting world order”. I want to refer to only one aspect of that: our relationship with the United States. No doubt many colleagues will recall my long-term enthusiasm for that relationship, because for 14 years I ran, as secretary, the British-American Parliamentary Group, which was founded during the Second World War by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. As the report says, our shifting relationship with the United States began years before the arrival of Donald Trump.
I hesitate to refer back to my own speeches, but I will. I remember that, after visiting Washington with the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee, I came back just before the Iraq war. I bemoaned the American approach which I described then as them saying, “We are going to do this. If you want to come with us, very well. We welcome that. If you don’t, get out of our way”. Of course, the election of Donald Trump has continued that regrettable shift away from multilateralism.
But much as we may deplore the new approach to issues such as climate change, the Iran nuclear deal or the threat of serious trade wars, not everything from the new Administration has been to our disadvantage. In particular, I have very much welcomed the President’s remarks to try to buck up the complacency of many of our European fellow members of the NATO alliance. I see a good deal of that complacency as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
We should never forget that the United States remains a close and continuing ally. We still have considerable influence with them, which we must preserve and develop. I strongly support the response of the Government to the committee’s report, where they say:
“We will work with the US whenever possible but will continue to seek outcomes that reflect UK values and interests even where there are points of difference, as with the Iranian nuclear agreement”.
I believe that sums up very accurately what our approach should be. Surely this must be the right approach, in spite of our reservations about the Trump Administration’s unpredictability.
I particularly deplore the approach of those who see fit to hurl insults at the President when he comes to London in the next few weeks. It is mindless idiocy to threaten to disrupt the visit of the Queen’s guest when he comes here next month. I do not know if we shall have the opportunity to listen to him speak here, but I find it astonishing that people are attempting to prevent him coming to this building, this ancient bastion of free speech and generosity to visitors. Surely our vital, ongoing need is to continue a warm but objective relationship with our US friends. That must not be soured by boorish and mindless exhibitionism.