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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to rise immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, and to congratulate him on his maiden speech. I first met him when he was the political secretary to Sir Edward Heath; I then learned to appreciate him, as I am sure many other noble Lords did, as a first-class novelist. I hope that he will have a little time, now that he is in the House, to return to the excellent novels which he used to write. He then became a holder of many of the great offices of state, the last being that of Foreign Secretary. We look forward to hearing much more from him in the House.
I have listened to three speeches which all emphasised the importance of greater European co-operation as a context for British foreign policy. That is what the debate is about. I agree with almost the whole of the
For my sins, I have to lecture to 20 year-olds about British foreign policy from time to time. Most of them think that the idea of an independent British global foreign policy is something which is more suited to discussion in your Lordships' House than with students of the younger generation. We have to explain to them what British foreign policy is now founded upon.
As the defence spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, I am doing my best to follow the strategic defence review and I look forward to it emerging. We have been told that it is going to be foreign policy led, but it is not entirely clear where the foreign policy is leading it. There have been conversations about extending power across the Indian Ocean, but a remarkable absence in recent statements about the strategic defence review of weapons to the European framework or the European dimension of British defence. That does seem a little worrying.
We are talking in the context of the UK's European presidency. We have been in the European Union now for 25 years during which time there have been a succession of British Foreign Secretaries. The noble Lords, Lord Callaghan, Lord Carrington and Lord Howe of Aberavon, were among the great enthusiasts for what they saw as the practical co-operation which European political co-operation provided. In almost all cases they held back from further institutional development, afraid of being tied down by treaties and greater institutionalisation and afraid of admitting to Westminster and the British press how far in reality we were engaged in multilateral co-operation with our neighbours.
Some years ago in Paris I heard from a French Minister that the Franco-British defence dialogue was going extremely well. I came back to London and asked a friend in the Foreign Office "What is happening? What is this thing about a French-British defence dialogue?" I was told, "Yes, it is going very well but, whatever you do, do not tell Sir Nicholas Bonsor", who was then the chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee.
It has been an underlying problem of British foreign and defence policy over the past 20 years that our governments have been reluctant to admit how European, how multilateral, British foreign policy has become.
Now, after the Treaty of Amsterdam, we are discussing the strengthening of the machinery of common, foreign and security policy. I understand that as regards the proposal to set up a policy planning unit, the British are suggesting that it should be small with preferably no more than half a dozen staff, and only long term, while most of our partners are asking for a
The other long-term characteristic of British foreign policy has been our commitment to a special relationship with the US. In his Guildhall speech last November the Prime Minister--if I remember correctly--remarked that if the French and the US stand together, there is little we cannot achieve. That was in the context of talking about the problem of Iraq.
I take it from the three previous speakers that there is a general consensus in the House that if Britain, the USA and the other west European states stand together we can achieve a great deal more. Furthermore, the British voice in Washington is heard a great deal more clearly if it is part of a coherent European perspective. There are limits to how far Britain should allow itself to be seen to be the USA's most loyal follower, or, perhaps, as, on the occasion of the bombing of Libya, the USA's only loyal follower.
A number of us are worried that as regards Iraq it again looks as though it is the Anglo-Saxons standing firm for their perception of world order even if no one else is behind them. I was a little worried when I saw the Written Answer to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, the other day that one of the UNSCOM teams had 16 members of whom no fewer than 14 were British or American. Given the American ambivalence towards the UN, that seems, to say the least, tactless. It feeds Arab paranoia about western values. We would do much better to place that within a broader multilateral context.
I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, said about American domestic policies, and the perceptions of the Middle East to which they give rise--the linkage which is made in the American press and in Congress between Israel, Iraq and Iran, and the perception of Turkey as a friend of Israel against the Islamic world, which again is an example of how the Americans now see the politics of that important region differently from how we see it. The loss of support for the West in the rest of the Arab world, to which that has led, is something about which we should be worried.
We need a concerted European approach to American opinion. As an adviser to the Transatlantic Policy Network, I have met a number of congressmen and senators in the past few months. I am struck by how many of them are new to Congress; how little they know about Europe or the Middle East; and how far their perceptions of fair burden-sharing and multilateral co-operation are different from ours. We need a concerted European effort to redefine the transatlantic relationship if we are to hold that vital relationship together. We need the Americans, and we should therefore be working together to manage our unavoidably different interests and to strengthen our common interests.
The Lord Bishop of London: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for initiating this debate, and, in particular, for drawing attention to the role of relations between faith communities, and within faith communities, in international affairs. If the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, is nervous when addressing this subject, your Lordships can imagine what my feelings must be when speaking to such a gathering. Without posing as an authority on international relations, perhaps I may draw attention to the importance of one of the few non-governmental networks which has a Europe-wide significance and a considerable popular base and potential.
Last year, as the leader of the Church of England delegation, I attended the second Europe-wide Christian Oecumenical Assembly, which met for the first time in Basel in 1989. In that year, with events in the East rapidly unfolding, the atmosphere was euphoric, but as an echo of the comments made by noble Lords this afternoon, the atmosphere at the conference last year, which was held in Graz in Austria, was much more sober.
Participants from all over Europe--from Sicily to the Urals, including no fewer than 1,200 young Romanians--made for an exciting week. At the same time, the tensions between different ethnic and linguistic groups, which have surfaced since the Marxist-Leninist tide receded, were obvious and frankly expressed. In the event, it was not even possible for the Russian Patriarch to meet the Pope as had been planned as a prelude to the assembly.
In a small attempt to translate that theme into concrete terms here in Britain, a partnership involving myself, Cardinal Hume, and a moderator of the United Reformed Church is currently at work converting the church of St. Ethelburga in the City of London, which was reduced to rubble by the Bishopsgate bomb, into an international centre for reconciliation and peace. It is intended that that centre should have close working relations with other similar ventures in Europe, and we
In addition to those concrete initiatives, I, like so many other noble Lords, welcome the emphases of the British presidency, identified by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in a recent speech:
The Foreign Secretary has commented also on the justifiable concern felt by many people world-wide about the environment, and that up to 14 million people in Europe alone are suffering from the effects of ambient air pollution. Here again, faith communities have a contribution to make. Last October, I was a participant in a symposium on the problems of the Black Sea region, which brought together scientists and religious leaders under the joint patronage of the Patriarch of Constantinople and Mr. Jacques Santer. After an inauspicious start, when we were stoned by Turkish Grey Wolves in Trebizond, a dialogue was opened up that included not just some of the most distinguished marine scientists in the world but Jewish, Moslem, Christian and leaders of other world faith communities. Here was an event which drew the faith communities together in common action on a common challenge. We are now in the process of trying to translate that symposium into terms which will have an impact on community attitudes in countries where there is often a well-founded tradition of distrust for the initiatives of authority.
I hope that the Church of England itself will be an active rather than a grumbling participant in that process. I remember vividly a visit I made to a rather dilapidated church and a church warden observing rather sadly to me, "You know, Bish, I think it's inertia that keeps us going".
I do not think that that is a wise policy in the face of the challenges that confront us in a Europe where tensions are resurfacing. While secular institutions are developing rapidly in Europe there is also a parallel process of institution building between the Churches. There is the Conference of European Churches with its headquarters in Geneva. That is a meeting place for the Churches, East and West, providing a forum where the Russians can put their case and, for example, listen to their critics. That conference has just been strengthened by amalgamation with a Brussels-based organisation which relates specifically to the institutions of the EU. There is a parallel Roman Catholic structure bringing together the episcopal conferences under the presidency of the Cardinal of Prague.
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