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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I cannot make the issue clearer. Our view is that which I have expressed. It was a commercial decision for BR and the question of revenue, as raised by the noble Lord, was not a reason for the decision.

UK World Interests: Study

2.48 p.m.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, at Chequers on 13th January, Ministers took a comprehensive look at the United Kingdom's interests in the world and how to make the best use of our assets to pursue them. We will continue to study how best to identify and expand the use of these assets.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, since we appear to have 19 minutes left for Question Time, would the Minister care to expand on that Answer? As a result of the announcement of the Chequers meeting, one gained the strong impression that the study was to be a continuing one, not merely that the Government would keep an eye

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on our future in the world. The impression was given that they would continue the study and perhaps one day finish it and make a statement.

Is it the Government's intention that the study should be carried out in-house by the usual combination of Ministers and senior civil servants, or will they consider going further afield and bringing in people from universities and other institutions who are skilled in considering such matters? Will they even—dare I suggest—include Members of both Houses of Parliament, possibly not confined to members of their party?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, sketches a very broad canvas. It is appropriate to begin by explaining that the meeting on 13th January was convened as a meeting of a relatively small number of senior people to conduct a kind of brain-storming session. From time to time it is appropriate for senior Ministers and officials to get together to try to see the way forward. In this instance, the focus was on the rest of the world other than western Europe, which seems to generate so much debate currently.

It was an informal meeting and it is intended to follow up a number of the points raised. That work runs in parallel with the wider, ongoing process of consultation and listening which the Government do in that regard. Noble Lords will not need me to explain to them that a great deal of valuable expertise and information, bearing in mind our trade interests in the wide world, is to be found outside the realms of government. It may be of interest to noble Lords to know that the 75th anniversary celebrations at Chatham House are to be celebrated with a major conference on that theme on 29th March at which, I understand, there will be widespread representation.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, will the Minister tell us who were the Ministers with brains at that brain-storming meeting at Chequers? Did they discuss the Government's policy—I assume that it is still the Government's policy—that we should be at the heart of Europe?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that all the Ministers in the Government have brains. I am afraid that I do not have the details of all those who were in attendance at the meeting at Chequers. I understand that there were present a number of the most senior members of the Government. Noble Lords may recall that I said that the meeting did not focus on the problems of western Europe. Having said that, it is the Government's policy now, as it has been, and will be in the future, to be at the heart of Europe.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, will my noble friend elucidate what exactly is meant by the English word "brain-storming" when applied to meetings and how does it differ from meetings which are not brain-storming?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, my noble and learned friend puts me in considerable difficulty because I was not present at the meeting in question. I am merely advised that it was a brain-storming session. As I

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understand it, the aim was to have a wide-ranging, informal discussion, if necessary canvassing radical ideas, to investigate all the options in an informal atmosphere and to see how we can advance Britain's policies to everybody's advantage.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a committee of reflection has been set up to consider the inter-governmental conference to be held in 1996 associated with the Council of Ministers? I understand from the newspapers that the Foreign Secretary is to chair a Cabinet committee on the same subject. Given the importance of the IGC for the future of this country and its role in Europe, and given the divisions in both major parties in the country, is any provision likely to be made for widening the consultation? Following on from the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is there any possibility that the Opposition parties and, more widely, the general public could be invited into discussion on those issues as is happening now in the Netherlands and Germany? As another strong democracy, surely we should be able to do that here.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, there is a committee of this House which looks very carefully into matters relating to all things European. Clearly, there will be widespread debate both in this House and in another place in the run-up to the IGC. In addition, unless something extraordinary happens in relation to the temper of the media, there will be an enormous amount of debate about the subject in that department too. Bearing in mind the fact that the members of the British public never seem to be backward in coming forward in letting their elected representatives know their views on those matters, I feel confident that by the time the IGC takes place, the issues will have been widely and comprehensively canvassed throughout the land. Those taking the decisions at that time will be well aware of what is public opinion in that respect.

Lord Ennals: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that that period of discussion will be extremely important? As he said, the whole future of Europe will be affected by the inter-governmental conference. We shall be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. That should not be merely a celebration; it should also provoke a thinking session as to how we fulfil our role within the UN. Will the Minister put forward to his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary the idea that there should be a continuing discussion? That may take the form of a debate in this House or a Select Committee. However, does the Minister not agree that this is the time at which we should think extremely carefully about the role of Britain in the world?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I agree. It is very much for that reason that the Prime Minister convened the meeting on 13th January. Inevitably, there will be very wide-ranging debate. In this House, that is a matter for the usual channels. As I said, I feel confident that both here and in another place there will be plenty of

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discussion about the matter. It is a characteristic of a free country that there is free debate about all matters political.

Lord Pym: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that one of our most valuable national assets is the English language, which is gradually becoming the language of the world? Although we already invest a certain amount in it, does he not agree that further investment in the spread of our language would show a very handsome return and would be of genuine benefit to our country?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right about the value of the English language and its widespread use throughout the globe to the benefit of all those who use it. That was one of the matters considered at the meeting at Chequers on 13th January.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, do the noble Lord and the Government agree that one of our most urgent tasks is to prevent war and genocide in Europe?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is absolutely correct. That was the reasoning behind the recent speech made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence in attempting to further the Government's thinking in relation to that.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, will the Government consider discussing this vitally important matter with the Confederation of British Industry, the TUC, and UNISON, which represents a great many doctors and nurses from different specialties? Those three great organisations could contribute a great deal to the Government's policies. The Government should welcome the views of all important organisations, as well as the views of both Houses of Parliament.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I feel confident the Government will take seriously any views which they consider contribute positively and constructively to the debate.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, will my noble friend tell us on what day of the week the meeting was held?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I believe that my noble friend has noticed that the meeting was held on Friday, 13th January.


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