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Baroness Young: My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to be the first to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on behalf of the whole House on his maiden speech. We have long looked forward to hearing from him. His theme of faith communities, reconciliation and peace and institution building between the Churches was one which we all found most interesting. We shall look forward to hearing him on many occasions in the future.
He indicated, unlike my noble friend Lord Hurd, who I would also like to congratulate, that he was not perhaps an expert on foreign affairs but I believe that he is an expert on art and literature, at any rate of the Mediterranean world, having been a Swan Hellenic lecturer for many years past. He has been a regular visitor to Russia and is also very knowledgeable about French and Russian culture and language. One thing about him, if I may say so, is that he does not suffer from inertia.
I too would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for introducing this debate today, and to say how much I valued his wise advice when I was a Foreign Office Minister. He has touched on many of the great issues which confront us in the world, particularly in the context of the United Kingdom presidency of the European Union. I was most interested in his comments on the Middle East and in particular about the Moslem faith.
This afternoon, in my capacity as President of the West India Committee, I would like to raise the whole issue of the European Union and the Caribbean. This is, I recognise, a relatively small part of the world in the context of the big issues that have been raised and there is, of course, a danger that it can be marginalised. Yet the countries of Spain, France, and the Netherlands all have a direct interest in the Caribbean. We ourselves have longstanding links through the Commonwealth.
I was pleased to hear Lord Wright's recognition of the importance of Commonwealth links. Of course, we have direct responsibility for the dependent territories in that part of the world. As I say, there is a danger that the Caribbean can be marginalised. I have noticed that small islands can easily be forgotten but can cause a quite disproportionate amount of difficulty if something goes wrong. One needs only to look at the Falklands; this last summer the tragic situation in Montserrat, a tragedy which continues; the situation in Grenada, and I hardly think we need say anything to the Americans about their relations with Cuba.
Two weeks ago the European Commission put forward proposals for changing the single European market for bananas in the light of the 1997 WTO appellate ruling that the existing regime discriminated in favour of the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. As your Lordships would expect, the ideas that the Commission have developed to resolve this issue are complex. You will be relieved to hear that I have no intention of going into them this afternoon. But what I would like to say is that there is a very great danger that the EU's approach is a compromise that will neither please those who want further trade liberalisation or those who argue for the need to protect small, vulnerable economies in developing regions such as the Caribbean. The real danger for us all is that if this one staple crop in a number of islands disappears, farmers will take to growing crops such as drugs, for which, of course, there is a ready market.
Unfortunately, bananas have become an issue around which important aspects of the new global trade order are being resolved. The EU solution has been to try to please all parties by proposing a system that may work, but only as a transitory mechanism to a new liberalised global market early in the next millennium which will be based on quotas and a programme of technical support.
The problem is that this compromise takes little account of the realities on the ground. Farmers in the Caribbean operate on a cash basis. They need to know where their income is coming from if they are to invest. We need to find the longest possible life for some kind of transitional new regime and encourage a much more sympathetic approach to enlarging the funding available. In other words, we need a period of certainty during which there is a gradual and stable transition with bananas to more diversified economies.
May I now just touch on Cuba. Europe here has a common position in its approach to Cuba. But despite that, I sometimes feel that our partners understand better than we the importance of a flexible dialogue with the Cuban Government. I believe that Britain now has a unique opportunity to take forward proposals which would place the United Kingdom at the forefront of the European debate about Cuba, about its place in the Caribbean region and its relations with Europe.
May I suggest to the Minister that we could respond favourably to the new proposals that are being put forward by the Cuban Government that would link new credits from ECGD with the gradual settling of commercial debt. Britain could lift its declining trade with Cuba and at the same time couple this with ministerial visits from the Foreign Office, the DTI, and the DFID. We could talk in detail about the matters of
I conclude by saying very briefly a few words about the dependent territories. As I understand it, the Foreign Secretary is to make a statement on a policy review in the very near future. In the European context, it is far from clear whether Britain has undertaken the consultations necessary with elected leaders in our overseas territories about what they require from the post-Lome arrangement. We sometimes forget that it is the British overseas territories which make Britain a Caribbean nation. Together with the Dutch and French overseas territories and DOM, it is those micro-states which continue to link Europe with the Caribbean. I believe that for far too long we have treated matters of concern in those areas as matters to be managed rather than as an issue of partnership in which elected governments have as much at stake as we do.
It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate what plans the Government have to consult with the governments of our overseas territories on their post-Lome requirements and an indication of the way in which, during the British presidency, those views will be incorporated into both an EU negotiating mandate and the development of an ACP position.
Time does not permit me to go into any more detail on those issues. However, I hope that I have indicated clearly that Britain, bilaterally and in the context of the European Union, has a continuing and important role to play in the Caribbean in at least three ways during its presidency. I hope that it will show the leadership in the Union which is expected of it quite particularly by the leaders in the Caribbean itself.
Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, I too congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on his wide-ranging maiden speech. I congratulate also my noble friend Lord Hurd on his eloquent maiden speech. It seems to me curiously appropriate that I should be in a position of being able to congratulate my noble friend Lord Hurd on his speech since, 45 years' ago, I made my own maiden speech in another place--I refer to the Cambridge Union and not to the House of Commons--in his presence.
In this ninth winter after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the United States as the one super power, a variety of issues will occur to your Lordships as the most important. Some noble Lords will discuss whether it is possible, and if so how, to restore the great alliance which defeated Iraq in 1991. Others will wonder whether perhaps, following the speech of my noble friend Lady Young, we should adopt a different policy towards Cuba; or whether we should perhaps give further support to the European Commission represented by
I myself like to see the British presidency of the European Union being marked by a solution to the Gibraltar problem along the lines of the proposals made by the Spanish Foreign Minister that we should make a move towards joint sovereignty of the peninsula in the manner of Andorra.
However, those are detailed although important matters. There is one critical question which we should consider, especially if the Prime Minister is really aspiring to lead Europe in the long term. That is a matter which haunts most of the other questions that are likely to be raised and, indeed, have been raised in this debate.
That ghost is a ghost of the future. Some noble Lords may feel that it is inappropriate to speak of a ghost if it is not related to the past. But 150 years' ago Karl Marx described how the spectre of communism was haunting Europe. A spectre is undoubtedly haunting British attitudes towards the European Union in 1998; that is, in my submission, the growing realisation that, if we really wish to be taken seriously in Europe, and certainly if we wish to lead Europe, we must, sooner or later, reconsider both publicly and privately, intellectually and militarily, our relations with the United States. We should neither expect nor desire the special relationship, which has certainly served us well up until 1989 or 1991, to survive in its present form in the future.
I listened very carefully to the eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, and I was not comforted. I did not feel that the special relationship and our relations with Europe are so perfectly balanced as they should be. For a long time, I have thought that in this country we have sought to get the best of both worlds in relation to our friendship with the United States and our association with the European Union. The consequence has been that we have failed to find an appropriate identity in our post-imperial age.
I have no doubt that I shall be assured by ex-Ministers with great experience, and perhaps by present Ministers, that nothing should ever occur which would alter our important military and security arrangements with the United States. All the same, I cannot believe that, in the long term, we should be forever resigned never to take any interest in or collaborate in the defence arrangements within the European Continent, which have so interested France, which country has initiated a great deal, as was remarked by my noble friend Lord Wallace, and which are bound to have a long-term future. My noble friend Lord Hurd suggested that some kind of European dimension would be the best hope of reviving the alliance against Saddam Hussein.
In another context, I cannot help feeling that we might wish at some stage--the idea may seem extravagant but it is possible--to invite a contemporary continental European statesman to take the chair of an Irish peace-seeking committee in place of an ex-American senator.
That is not to argue that we should oppose America, nor that we should be anti-American, or reject America. But I suggest a new priority. In relation to the Europe of the future, we are witnesses to, and participants in, momentous intellectual and moral processes. We cannot fully see the combined effects of them at this time, but we should not judge their benefits by recalling what worked in the past during the Cold War, during the Second World War, the memory of which is still so remarkably warm in our culture, or during the days when Britain had an empire on which the sun never set.
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