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5.14 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, in wishing to speak briefly in this debate I am greatly embarrassed that I must ask the House to forgive my absence in the latter stages of the debate and the winding-up speeches. The Worshipful Company of Engineers, whose invitation as reply speaker I accepted many months' ago, is my only reason for not remaining here tonight.

Despite that difficulty, it seemed about time--according to many of my colleagues--that I made my second maiden speech. This is my first ever from the Back Benches of your Lordships' House and I must admit that, like the right reverend Prelate who made such a notable maiden speech and my very good noble friend Lord Hurd, I, too, am nervous tonight. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for initiating the debate.

Many of your Lordships will speak about the United Kingdom and its leadership of Europe at the moment, particularly in relation to the difficult but essential questions of our membership of the European Union and monetary union. I remain convinced that we were right to join the Common Market in 1973 and I was proud to be Britain's Europe Minister for three-and-a-half years in the late 1980s. I also know well from the last two presidencies what exertions have to be undertaken to get the European ideal to work in the best interests of our people. I hope, therefore, that the Minister, in

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responding tonight, will outline how the Government intend to take every opportunity to pursue a co-ordinated and thoughtful policy in their six-month leadership of the European Union.

We all know that the European Union is far from perfect as an organisation. But the same can be said of almost every international body. However, it is the duty of every member government, and particularly of the presidency, to monitor every action from Brussels and to ensure that we get the best value for money from our joint actions. I for one--keen and passionate European though I may be--know the shortcomings and know that there is a long way to go to achieve that best value for money. We must give more attention to acting together to make sound policy decisions within the Council of Ministers than perhaps we have done in the past. I hold myself to blame for that. But we must also be sure that we look into the future, as many noble Lords have said tonight. We only have a chance to make Europe our Europe by being fully engaged and I have no doubt that that must be done for the sake of the British economy, for trade, for employment and the environment and particularly for the sake of future generations.

I am not an economist. I shall not go into the sort of detail that the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, mentioned in relation to economic and monetary union. But I have no doubt, not only for Britain's industry but also for Britain's people, that there will be a certain disadvantage if we remain permanently outside monetary union and some disadvantage in remaining outside until the second wave of entrants, which we now know to be the case. The Government are cautious in their approach. I hope that they will not be too cautious. We need to remain engaged in this debate and to have a hand in the rules by which economic and monetary union is decided, even though that looks difficult being outside the X Committee.

My purpose in speaking tonight is to turn the attention of the House to the Commonwealth and Africa; to the opportunities and particularly the dilemmas faced by Africa, my adopted continent. Far too little is being done by the European Union to open up the real trading opportunities for African nations. Most Africans wish to see the basis of their development as trade. They want to make sure that the agreements following Lome actually work to give them entry into the European markets. They want to see a successful conclusion to the free trade agreement with South Africa in the light of the WTO. This is a first class chance for the British presidency to play a much greater role than we are seeing at the present time in opening up trade for African nations with the European Community.

I must declare my interest as an independent consultant to the World Bank. It is in that context that I have spent a number of weeks in southern Africa since May, discussing how African countries can realise their potential through all types of training for both the public and private sectors. Most Africans are, by instinct, entrepreneurial. But few of the overall population have had the opportunity of even the educational training that we take for granted. The women particularly gain tremendous dividends from investment in their industry in Africa. Our European Union is not doing sufficient.

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I hope that during their presidency the British Government will stimulate even greater European assistance to Women in Development in the Commonwealth and particularly in Africa. All my expertise tells me that that will bring greater dividends and faster development.

I am well aware that this is not a development debate. But it is an essential part of foreign policy. I realise that the Government have split the two departments. I say to the Minister and to the Prime Minister, with whom I discussed this almost a year ago, that I hope the two departments will work much more closely together than seems to have been evident in the past few months.

What is essential, if international bodies are not to spend an increasing amount of their time and our budgets in conflict prevention and resolution, is that those developing countries must be helped to have a greater capacity to run their own countries peacefully, democratically, more efficiently and profitably for their nation. That is only going to be achieved by closer working relations between the developed nations and their European friends.

Last night we debated the situation in Zimbabwe. Perhaps I may say a word in that context. For many years after independence, President Mugabe did a good job in reconciling the diverse interests of the country. If the British presidency of the European Union does anything in the next few months, I hope that it will be to work for a speedy, courageous decision, which will take account of the problems and concerns of all the people of Zimbabwe. This situation can be resolved, but it needs a good deal of effort by friends of Zimbabwe to do so.

I wish to just touch on two other troubled areas tonight. Information in this House has been one of the greatest values I have placed on our debates here. Efforts are now being made in Rwanda by President Bizimungu and Vice-President Kagame to resolve the problems. There is far too much alarmist and foolish talk about that country. After four hours of talks last Saturday, I do not believe that there is another genocide in the making. The problems are great, but they are not insoluble. Again, the European Community under our presidency can do much to help the leaders of that country.

In Sierra Leone the people are suffering not only the trauma of past conflict but the human rights abuses of the current junta which ousted the democratically- elected president. I welcome the Government's appointment of a former British Ambassador to help bring about the resolution of this tragic situation. In that most difficult task I hope that we shall have the fullest support of all our European partners.

In conclusion, the task of foreign affairs is always complex: it is one that I have much enjoyed. But it is in our best interests that the European Community and Britain pay greater attention to the Commonwealth and to Africa. I hope to be able to continue to do so in a private capacity. I wish the Minister well in her efforts in doing that.

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5.23 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey. I particularly appreciated her earlier points about Britain's role in Europe. I understood her to say that she regretted some of the unfortunate acts that happened during the period of office of the last government whereby our European partners saw us as a penny farthing to a Rolls-Royce. I thank very much the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for his masterly introduction. I hope that I do not misquote him. He said that our diplomacy can be enhanced through the European Union.

I believe that, as a nation and as an offshore island of a great continent of 14 members of the Union, not only will Europe be enhanced, but we shall also be enhanced by the process of transforming the European Union through enlargement. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, sounded a warning bell. I now declare an interest. I have lived for two-and-a-half years in Estonia. Our embassy there consisted for two-and-a-half to three years of one ambassador, one consul and one-third of a defence attache who served all three Baltic states. About a year after he had been appointed, the ambassador came to me one day and said, "I have wonderful news. No longer do I have one-third of a defence attache in my embassy, I have one-half of a defence attache." What happened was that Helsinki and Tallinn shared: and Riga and Vilnius shared.

If we starve the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of funds it will not be able to do the job as well as Ministers and the nation want. I believe that we have reached a bedrock in cuts to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Council and the ODA. Although the British Council is an independent body, I believe that it is still a projection of how this country is seen by the rest of the world as well as Europe. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give us an assurance at the end of the debate that there will be no further cuts to the Foreign and Commonwealth budget. Perhaps she will also tell us in what ways Ministers in the Foreign Office require to see greater funds put into our embassy work abroad.

I commend the maiden speakers. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. In April 1995 I was standing in Tallinn town hall--Tallinn is the capital of Estonia--surrounded by the president and members of his cabinet. There were also present six ambassadors to Estonia. I was hosting a small reception which I gave as regards the British contribution to the United Nations' peacekeeping battalion, the Estonian company. Over the fax machine had come the text of one of the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. I shall probably misquote, but the gist of it was this: who could ever consider Britain or the United States chucking a nuclear bomb on Russia to save, let us say, Estonia? I believe that that demonstrates that all Ministers must be very careful how they handle the eastern and central European nations at this very sensitive moment when they seek to come into our Community.

I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his admirable maiden speech. I suspect that time did not permit him to mention the Porvoo declaration. In the

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summer of 1996 the most reverend Primate, who is not in his place today, led a group of bishops from all the Anglican communities to Tallinn to take part in a service where the noble Lord, Lord Eames, preached the sermon.

The Porvoo declaration laid the foundations for the Lutheran and Anglican communities to share worship. It led the way over the European Union, NATO and other organisations. Long may the Anglican Church continue to lead from the front. We look forward to hearing from the right reverend Prelate very often on many different subjects.

I declare an interest. I am secretary of the British-Estonian Parliamentary Group. I speak after one of its members and before another; namely, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, whose speech I am very much looking forward to hearing as he is highly regarded in eastern and central Europe. In order to put this group of all-party politicians from both Houses together, in conjunction with the committee, I had to put forward a statement of purpose. I suggested--this was accepted--that our aims should be to enhance Anglo-Estonian relations, to assist in the process of bringing Estonia into western European institutions, and to facilitate the exchange of information between both groups.

Could not that simple project be extended to the Government in their dealings with the European Union during their presidency? We are 28 days into our presidency. I am a rotten mathematician, but I think that that means that we have 152 days to go. But where is the statement of purpose? I hope that at the end of the debate we will hear a statement of purpose from the Minister. Perhaps it is in that burgeoning folder I see. We all greatly respect the noble Baroness for her work representing the Foreign Office in this House for the past eight months.

If we do not hear a statement of purpose from the Minster, perhaps I may assist her by presenting one now. First, I wish to see us enhance our relations with our European Union partners which were, I am very sad to say, seriously dislocated during the past 18 years. Secondly, I wish to see us do all in our power over the next five months--and, indeed, beyond--to bring the hundreds of millions of people who are our European cousins, brothers and sisters into the European Union. I should like that to happen as quickly as possible. Some are talking about decades; some are talking about years. I hope that it will be only a few years before the first five-plus-one are admitted as full members. Thirdly, I wish to see us attempt to build bridges with the Russian Federation. I believe that all of those processes must take place concurrently. It must be in the interests of the Russian Federation to have a strong eastern and central Europe. If we can achieve that and enhance also the security of those 10 nations, we shall, I hope, have established something for future generations.

Of course, our presidency of the European Union can enable us to help to eliminate poverty, hunger, international crime and the persecution of minorities, but until our European house is in order--I go back to

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the beginning--we cannot, in the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, count for much in the world.

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