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Lord Beloff: My Lords, my noble friend has once again given her view that Britain will win this argument. My point is that the evidence from across the Channel is that Britain is not winning the argument. Indeed, the fact that we are told that there must be deepening as well as widening--a favourite phrase in Brussels--proves my point. But I do not wish to prolong the debate or this speech. I wish only to say in conclusion that it may all be academic. I do not think that the European Union will survive.

I know that a few years ago people who said that the Soviet Union would not survive would have been laughed at. There is plenty of evidence in other countries, in France, for instance, that the disadvantages of belonging to a tightly knit federation, ultimately with a single currency and therefore control from a single financial centre, are being looked at again--I believe that they are being looked at again in Italy, for instance, by its new foreign minister--and therefore, although I shall not be here to see my prophecy come true (I do not believe that this will happen before the end of the century, and at my age I do not expect to see it), those noble Lords who are younger than myself will see that, on this occasion at any rate, I was right and the majority of your Lordships were wrong. They may well repeat the well-known words of Lord Melbourne with which I conclude:

Baroness Seear: I would not call the noble Lord a damned fool--not normally anyway.

9.40 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne: My Lords, it is getting late and if I am not to weary your Lordships I must get into top gear as quickly as possible.

I was delighted to read that the Government,

    "attach the highest importance to national security".

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I find it difficult to reconcile that bland statement with the significant rundown of our Armed Forces during the past 12 to 14 years. It is a bland statement, which I welcome, and it is good to see it in black and white.

I am saddened that the gracious Speech contains nothing about plans to replace the present Royal yacht, which is to be decommissioned in 1997. There are not many things that we, the British, do better than anyone else, but one thing that we do do better is ceremonial events and related affairs. Your Lordships will be able to form your own judgment because only yesterday we had the opportunity to witness the State Opening of Parliament. Frankly, we are very good at such things.

In my opinion, the Royal yacht represents an extension of that ceremonial expertise. She sails to a foreign port, often with the Monarch or members of the Royal Family on board. Members of the Royal Marine Band are landed and they put on their pith helmets. They march up and down and play "Rule Britannia" and other martial music. The flag is lowered and the bugler plays. Visitors could be excused for believing that the British Empire had not disappeared.

Those are golden moments and people take out their handkerchiefs to wipe away the tears as they witness such events. It is a terrible shame to propose the decommissioning of the Royal yacht without making an attempt to replace her. I read in the press a suggestion that a commercial buyer who is getting on in years is to make a bid for the yacht and that the Government may lease her back. That is not a real answer to a real problem.

The yacht has no defence capability so why is she funded out of the defence budget? It is true that she has a Royal Navy crew and is currently commanded by a rear-admiral. However, only yesterday I heard that the present rear-admiral will be relieved by a commodore. That is the most remarkable example of spoiling the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar. All that can possibly be saved is the difference between the salary of a rear-admiral and that of a commodore. I am no expert in naval salaries, but I believe that that could be no more than £20,000 at the outside. It is pin money and we are talking about tarnishing a national asset for £20,000. Your Lordships will judge whether that is a sensible and balanced decision.

I have only two constructive suggestions for the Government to consider. First, they should instruct the Ministry of Defence to carry out a feasibility study to discover whether it would be better to refit the present yacht, with her beautiful lines but rusty bottom, or to build a new ship. That would be a simple operation to carry out. Depending on the result, the Government should have designed and built a new ship to carry out the dual function of royal duties and export promotion. Your Lordships will be aware that within the past 18 months the Royal yacht has undertaken a remarkable tour to Malaysia and has built up British exports. If that were the case, the Royal yacht could be funded by the DTI and that would overcome one of the financial problems.

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Alternatively, the Government might like to consider having a ship built for royal duties and disaster relief, in which case it could be funded by the Foreign Office. I see that the Minister is taking that on the chin very calmly. I thought there might have been a slight reaction to that.

In all seriousness, I ask the Government to put on their most imaginative hats and to consider ways in which to replace that great national asset. We must not let it slip through our fingers because we cannot find a few million pounds out of a particular pot. Indeed, it is not even the right pot from which we are trying to get that money. Therefore, the situation seems to me to be ripe for change.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Seear: it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the two maiden speakers. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, reminded us--perhaps instructed us, because we are not all aware of it--about how profound, magnificent and old are the cultural traditions of the countries of Europe. That was the case long before there was a European Union and that provides an extremely good foundation on which to build the present Union and the Union of the future.

We are grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for his extremely well-informed and professional discussion on the problems of Hong Kong. It is always one of the great advantages of your Lordships' House that we have people of such knowledge who are able to keep us up to date and to inform us about those problems, which are of the very greatest importance.

The noble Lord gives me the opportunity to ask the Government whether, when they are considering Hong Kong, they will think again about the issue of the Hong Kong Indians, whose case was fought so valiantly by my late colleague Lord Bonham-Carter. Surely it is possible for such a small number of people, who would add so much to this country, to be considered for residence in the United Kingdom. As we have said so often, we are not talking about people who would be a great drain on the social security budget. I suspect that by the time a great many of those Hong Kong Indians had been here for five years, they would be buying up a great many of those Members of your Lordships' House who were up for sale. I beg the noble Baroness not to turn down that request.

In the gracious Speech and in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, there were a number of matters with which we on these Benches can very easily agree. For example, we agree that the extension or the expansion of the European Union is of the greatest importance and that it should take place as soon as possible. Some noble Lords have suggested today that the European Union has a number of serious disadvantages. And yet such hardy people as the Finns, the Swedes and the Austrians are extremely anxious to join that "dubious" organisation.

We know too that others in greater need are also very anxious to join. People may be cynical as to the reasons why they wish to join, but surely the noble Baroness is right to say that the extension and expansion of the Union and admission into it, or at least agreements as a

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half-way stage for those countries, are of the greatest importance. Of course, it means that we must play fair with them according to the rules of the Union. It means that we must look very carefully at the conditions for trade and what will be the effect on the Union of the admission of those countries, which have low labour costs. That is a price which we must learn to pay. So far, so good; we can go along with that.

We very much support the attitude taken by the noble Baroness and the Government with regard to Bosnia in regretting the attitude now being adopted by the United States. Probably, somewhat reluctantly, President Clinton is being pushed by the Republicans whom, in other matters, I suspect that the noble Baroness would be inclined to support. I see that she shakes her head and that is very reassuring.

I had the good fortune--though, perhaps, I should say, the valuable experience--of visiting Bosnia earlier this year. I visited an NGO working in that country. It was crystal clear to me that, if we were seen to be taking sides and if we were seen to be supporting any of the warring groups militarily, it would be the end of our humanitarian contribution. The ease with which the NGO that I was associated with was able to pass the roadblocks and was let through by the troops stationed there was evidence that they understood that humanitarian aid was non-party and that it did not support any of the warring factions. The minute that that ceased to be true, that would be the end of humanitarian aid. While so many people the world over are critical of what has and what has not been done in Europe in relation to Bosnia, we must keep repeating that there are thousands of people in that country today who are alive but who would be dead if it had not been for that humanitarian aid.

So far so good; we can go along with the noble Baroness. We can also go along very much with the work that she has done and continues to do on overseas development. Many of us on this side of the House would like to think that there could be more. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness also wishes that there could be more. Similarly, I have no doubt that some of the scenes that the noble Baroness has to witness must be heartbreaking. For that, indeed, we thank her. We are grateful that she is able to continue with her work in that way.

Because of the interest that I have in such matters, I am particularly grateful for the Minister's recognition of how important family planning issues are in developing countries. I am also grateful for her recognition and her repeated support for women's issues in those countries. There can be little doubt that the real development of developing countries depends more than anything else on how the women in those countries are able to get education and thereby gain economic independence, thus enabling them to make a full contribution to the development of both the economic and the social life of such countries as they move from undeveloped, to developing, to developed. I know that the Minister gives a great deal of support, which she is able and free to do, to such work.

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So far so good. However, this Government are often criticised for being short term. I feel that the gracious Speech is yet another example of short-termism. Here I very much reflect the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. We talk about the 20th century as having been a bloody, dangerous and, in many ways, a vicious century. But I greatly fear for the 21st century. I shall not be here--at least, not for much of it--and neither will many noble Lords, though there are some who might be. The perils ahead in the 21st century require thinking about and planning for now. What are those perils? They are to be found within the continent of Europe and in the eastern countries that lie beyond Europe.

I believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, spoke about the Ukraine. The perils in that area are just one example of the dangers that exist throughout the Middle East and Western Asia, let alone Eastern Asia. I had the opportunity to make a brief visit to Nagorno-Karabakh where, I must say, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is regarded as second only to the Virgin Mary. My visit was very short and very insignificant. However, it was blindingly obvious to me that the whole area is a tinderbox. All over those countries there are sources of potential conflict. There are a great many loose cannon in those countries where government is reduced to a minimum, where anarchy is just beneath the surface and where individuals no longer belong anywhere. One prisoner of war, a 19 year-old Russian prisoner that we visited in a prisoner of war camp, had been fighting for the Azerbaijani Army. He said of course that he had not really meant to fight against the Karabakh but that he had been drunk and he had then been recruited and when he came to he found he was a member of the Azerbaijan forces. I understand that that is a pretty standard story. He had the good sense to have fought for only one day and then was taken prisoner and was not doing too badly in the prisoner of war camp. But that is just one case of the rootlessness of people who do not belong anywhere. There are these rootless individuals and an alarming amount of ammunition which is still floating about in those countries in the hands of people who would be only too glad in many cases to sell it for a small amount of money because of the difficulties in which they find themselves.

It is a tinder-box, but what are we doing to ensure that that tinder-box does not burst into flames? When I returned I asked the noble Baroness in a Question in your Lordships' House why it was that in Armenia, at the centre of this tinder-box, with Turkey on one side and Iran and the Ukraine nearby, we do not even have a part-time honorary consul. The noble Baroness told me that Moscow looked after the matter. That is hardly sufficient if one wants to keep one's ear to the ground and to find out what is going on in these countries and to be forewarned and forearmed before it is too late. What are we to do?

So much for Europe and Western Asia; we also have the global problems. A noble Lord talked of some aspects of the problems with regard to development and of the opportunities that exist, because there are opportunities as well as problems in the development of

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the global economy. However, the world population will probably double by the year 2030 and 95 per cent. of that will occur in developing countries. The gap between the rich and the poor will become so great that there cannot possibly be acceptance of the status quo. That is again a potential volcano with which we have to be prepared to deal but are we really thinking about how we are to cope with this?

Other noble Lords today have talked about the importance of changes in the UN. The UN has tasks piled upon it which it has by no means the strength or the resources to carry but if we are really to face these problems we must have some sort of organisation like the UN which can begin to deal with these problems and anticipate them. There have been a number of proposals put forward in your Lordships' House today. I do not know how many of them are practical or how far we can go but one thing is absolutely certain: the UN at present has neither the organisation nor the resources to begin to deal with the problems that we can see, not looming ahead but all too close to us and which will be certain to make themselves apparent in the 21st century.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of the UN. What kind of reorganisation does it need? What kind of additional powers does it need? How valid is the concept of a peacekeeping force that can be put into being when it is needed? At the moment it is quite plain that the UN is overloaded and does not have the resources to begin to deal with the present problems let alone the problems of the future. I shall not go on as I have talked for too long. However, the matters to which I have referred are the important problems, not the relatively small matters, important though they are, in the gracious Speech. Let us take a good hard look at the frightening problems of the 20th century and get a strategy for dealing with them.

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