UK Foreign Policy in a Shifting World Order (International Relations Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:03 pm on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 9:03 pm, 21st May 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres. How delighted I am that he translated to the Cross Benches when he ceased to be Bishop of London.

We are greatly in my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford’s debt. He is a wise man of balanced judgment and real foresight, and his committee’s report reflects that. It is a sad paradox that, when we have in your Lordships’ House such an admirable committee so brilliantly led, we have a foreign policy that is rather adrift, with political leaders who have not been able to match the professionalism of what is still probably the finest Diplomatic Service in the world. So bravo for the House of Lords having such a splendid international affairs committee, and would that the Government listened a little more carefully—I share some, although not all, of the strictures that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, referred to when talking about the government response.

I want to focus on just two or three things. First, I take up the point so admirably made by my noble friend Lord Jopling at the beginning of the debate when he talked of the forthcoming state visit. It is essential that, when the Head of State of our greatest ally, invited by our greatly respected Head of State, comes to this country, he is politely received—especially bearing in mind that he will be attending the D-day commemorations to mark the hundreds of thousands of young Americans who gave their lives in the Second World War. But there is one thing that I would like to ask of my noble friend the Minister, for whom we all have a very real respect, and it is this. Can we please even at this late stage—the programme is still being worked out—invite the President of the United States to meet a group of parliamentarians at least, even if it is just the committee of my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford and the equivalent committee in the other place, although I would rather it was a larger group than that? For the leader of the greatest democracy in the world to come to the country that perhaps has the proudest democratic reputation in the world and not meet parliamentarians seems a grave omission. We do not have to pay attention to what certain people might have said in the other place in order to bring that about in this place.

Another point I wish to take up, which has been made by a number of noble Lords, including perhaps most forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, is the failure of our policy on Russia. To have no continuing dialogue with a great European country which itself suffered abysmally in two world wars but which has no infrastructure of democracy; to walk away from those heady days of 1992, which were referred to by my noble friend Lord Lamont of Lerwick, when,

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive”,

the Berlin Wall was down and Russia was led by people who seemed to be anxious to become part of the democratic structure of Europe; to walk away as we have done—although perhaps sorely provoked on occasions—is a failure in diplomacy. I very much hope that we can have a more continuing, constructive dialogue, because the world is not a safer place than it was when the Berlin Wall came down. If anything, it is a far more dangerous one.

My noble friend Lord Dobbs referred to our adventures abroad and the terrorism that followed. As we move towards the second half of the 21st century, when the dominant power—among the powers, perhaps one should say, in Asia—will be China, which is still a totalitarian state which treats its citizens with scant respect when it comes to such matters as religious freedom, not to try to have a greater cohesion among the nations of Europe is not only missing an opportunity but perhaps paving the way for a calamity. Like many of your Lordships, I deeply regret the result of the referendum, but I accept it. I have urged acceptance of the Prime Minister’s deal. But it is all the more incumbent on us, especially when right-wing movements of a rather unpleasant nature are manifesting themselves in many nations of the world, to keep the closest possible bilateral relationships. This is something that was pointed out in the report of the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. There are opportunities which, if we do not seize them now, may never occur again.

This has been an interesting debate, with some fascinating contributions. I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate that the Government are prepared to go a little beyond some of the rather bland comments they made in their response. Above all, I hope that he will convey the message that to miss the opportunity of a meeting with the President of the United States—if it can possibly be arranged—would be a great mistake.