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7.10 p.m.

Lord Bethell: My Lords, it is a rare opportunity to own the presidency of the European Union and it is becoming ever more rare. At the outset, it happened to Britain every four-and-a-half years. Soon it will be once every 10 years and then once in a blue moon. So I hope that we will take the matter seriously. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what she proposes to highlight as the themes of our British six months. While we heard various ideas put forward by Mr. Cook in the early part of his appointment in May, I am not sure yet exactly what he plans to do between now and 30th June.

I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who said that we in Britain punch a little bit above what might be presumed to be our weight. For six months we are a little heavier than we are naturally. Therefore, I hope we can get some really good punches in during the next few months. I wish to congratulate the noble Lord on his excellent maiden speech earlier this afternoon.

There was a certain amount of fanfare about the ethical nature of the Government's foreign policy a few months ago. I looked for some sign of how that ethical human rights dimension would be resolved. I hope that something can be done about it during the first half of this year, because we are stronger now than we have been or will be for some years as a representative of the European Union.

Is there any prospect of arms sales being covered by some kind of code adopted by the 15 member states, in order that we can in some way control the human rights violators who are our natural customers in the buying and selling of armaments? It would be excellent if I could be assured that some progress was being made in that direction and it would be discussed in the conference in March, to which we are all looking forward. That conference is a feature of our presidency and I look forward to hearing exactly what will be discussed at it and who will come. What is the latest news about Turkey? Will its representatives be here or not?

I have seldom had a good word to say about Russia in this House. That country is still in serious violation of human rights, particularly as regards those who serve in the army and those who come before the judicial system, either as convicted people or pre-trial. But I must congratulate the Russian Government on having taken seriously the undertaking that they gave regarding the death penalty when they joined the Council of Europe. Many people have been sentenced to death in Russia in the past year or two, but President Yeltsin has not allowed a single execution to take place since that undertaking was given. That is in great contrast, may I say, to his Ukrainian colleague who last year allowed 15 executions to be carried out in the Ukraine. I think it would be appropriate for the presidency, within its political machinery, to make it clear to the Ukraine that it cannot remain a member of the Council of Europe while that spate of executions continues. I realise that the Council of Europe is a separate institution, but we can have considerable influence on it.

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Furthermore, I would like the presidency, if it can find the time, to form a common view on the notorious Nikitin case in Russia and make it clear that the case must be solved before President Yeltsin comes to this country for the G7 meeting in March, I believe.

Many of those matters can be dealt with not by banging the table as we used to do when we were angry with the Soviet Union, but by offering help--by offering training to the Russian police, advice over the prison system and advice as to how to avoid violations of human rights. Unlike the past, such advice is often welcomed by the government of Russia, the way things are now. They would like to do more and they would welcome our assistance in the matter. That, I believe, was what Mr. Blair found when he went to Russia in October. I only wish that on that visit he had raised other individual cases, apart from that of Miss Henderson, who was, after all, convicted of a drugs offence.

I look forward to seeing what the Secretary of State will do to fulfil his promised emphasis on the human rights dimension. I trust that he will report about it, among other things, to the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament and to plenary in June this year.

Several noble Lords mentioned the problems that we have with Iran. I believe that this could be an important moment between the EU and Iran. It would be a mistake, as we sometimes suspect the Americans of doing, simply to place the two countries, Iran and Iraq, on one great level of supreme evil. There is a new president of Iran and it may be possible to do business with him, as Mrs. Thatcher said about a Soviet president some years ago.

We suffer from two diplomatic problems. One is the Mykonos bomb in Berlin which caused the whole of the EU to downgrade its diplomatic representation with Iran. The other is the Rushdie case which caused us, the British, unilaterally to downgrade our diplomatic representation. At the moment we, the British, have as representatives here not an Iranian charge d'affaires but, if there is such a thing, an Iranian sub-charge d'affaires, two below an ambassador. It would be good if we could find some way of restoring full diplomatic relations between the 15 and Iran at ambassadorial level. Then we might be able to test whether the new president adds reality to the kinder, more gentle words that he recently uttered.

What are we going to do about Turkey? Several noble Lords mentioned the problems we have with that most important ally of ours--but such problems! We have Cyprus, the treatment of the Kurdish minority, the recent ban on the welfare party, the removal of people from the Turkish parliament, including a recent prime minister, Mr. Erbakan, the measures taken against journalists and trade unionists. This afternoon I learnt of the stoning of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I congratulate him also on a truly excellent maiden speech. The army and the police seem to be out of control and there is widespread corruption in the political system. The Turkish Government have very little respect, I am sorry to say, for the European Union, seemingly it is one of the few countries with which we

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get on badly. I hope that we shall be able to discuss Turkey with the United States and make progress with the problem.

In conclusion, I wish the Government well. They go as leaders pro tempore of the 15 into debate with themselves and with third countries. Thanks largely to the wise husbandry of the previous administration, they lead a rich country with strength, and to an extent more strength than was previously the case. I wish them every good chance in the next months and hope that we shall be able to achieve some of the points that I have outlined.

7.20 p.m.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, it is a pleasure to have listened to so many wonderful speeches and I begin with that of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. He shared some of his profound expertise and lifetime's knowledge with us today and I thank him for that. I have the pleasure of hearing him from time to time at work, now in Chatham House at the Royal Institute. He exposed only a fraction of what he knows and how willing he is to share it with us.

It has also been a great honour to listen to two maiden speeches, those of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London both of whom, in their different ways, enlarged our understanding and will no doubt do so on many more occasions in the future.

We speak today in the welcome context of a declared ethical foreign policy by this Government. I say immediately that I do not intend to make the mistake of feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, did not practice an utterly ethical foreign policy every single moment that he was Foreign Secretary. Nonetheless, to have the elected body politic making that statement sets the tone for this Government's foreign policy and particularly for our EU presidency, which I welcome most warmly.

A characteristically gloomy note was struck by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. But we must have cynics among us, without them it is all too easy. How otherwise are we to have a bit of challenge? I did not share one scrap of his uncharacteristically, possibly waspish, comment about the excellent speech of my noble friend Lady Ludford. I do not know what came over him; perhaps he wanted his tea. For the rest, his wonderful gloom about the European Union's capacity to become the equal partner in the benign exercise of power globally, for which President Kennedy called in 1963, and his touching faith in bilateral intervention and in stand-alone sovereignty warmed my heart and woke me up to challenge him.

I remind the noble Lord of President Kennedy's statement. He declared in Frankfurt in 1963:

    "We look forward to a Europe united and strong, speaking with a common voice, acting with a common will, a world power capable of meeting world problems as a full and equal partner".
Surely, that is the objective of our own and successive European Union presidencies. That is our task; that is what we are here for; that is why we are in politics.

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I disagreed profoundly with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in relation to his desire for an anti-partnership philosophy. Partnership and co-operation, not confrontation, are well proven ways of advancing la culture de la paix, with its inherent tolerance for difference and consequential practice of the full complement of human rights.

We heard a saddening intervention for nine minutes from my noble friend Lord McNair on an intra-European Union problem regarding the lack of freedom to worship in a member state. Let us remind ourselves that we are not immune from intolerance. There is no wondrous magic in unity; there is no vaccine by which every single resident of the British Isles is immune from intolerance. We are part of the global economy, of the global culture, and we catch those bugs just as easily as anyone else.

I give the noble Lord, Lord Beloff--who has become my admirable target today--an example of where co-operation works. The Minister was on her feet late last night responding to a well-informed debate in your Lordships' House on Zimbabwe. The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, whose work many of us admire, mentioned Zimbabwe again today. With globalisation it is an international problem. Many predications of disaster were laid before us last night. But today the professional partnership of the International Monetary Fund worked its green-backed magic and a 176 million dollar loan found a temporary and welcome solution to the problems of land reform in Zimbabwe. Indeed, all elements have been satisfactorily agreed, even the land reform programme of the government which gave us such problems last night. That will be implemented within the rule of law, safeguarding agricultural productivity, in consultation with the farmers, looking after the welfare of the 180,000 agricultural workers, concentrating on marginal land--that wonderful thing--and within the constraints of the government's budget limits. That is a good start, at least for this year. With our Foreign Secretary as president of the Council of Ministers, we are in a perfect position to lead and to bring an incorporation of the donor conference on land reform which we promised at Lancaster House in 1979, as we touched on last night, with the United States of America which will, too, continue the poverty reduction programme we put in bilaterally from the United Kingdom.

Further south another form of partnership has been in practice recently. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found a new way, thanks to the newly elected parliament of South Africa, to tackle the aftermath of bloody civil war. Perhaps we can look south and see in our presidency whether there might be a lesson of replication there too for the European Union. I think of Bosnia; I think later, once the discussions have been successful (for which we all hope and pray) of Northern Ireland; maybe even of post-Saddam's Iraq. Or is that too much to hope for?

The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, in his magnificent speech, touched on three key themes on which I also work in a small way. He mentioned the Arabo-Persian Gulf conflict, the Maghreb, and Islam in Europe. Those are critical points. The Foreign Secretary,

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Robin Cook, in his speech on US foreign policy towards Iran, pointed out that as a nation we are opposed to the Iran-Libya Sanction Act and, as a member of the European Union, we do not believe that isolating Iran is the right response.

Iran, in the USA's sometimes naive cowboy and Indian philosophy of foreign policy, has become the enemy. Dual containment is not simply a touched-on possibility, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, seemed to imply; it is an actuality. It is something that is inconvenient, expensive and incompetent. It is simplistic. If possible, we should use a portion of our energies in our presidency to renew our relationship--trading, personal and political--with Iran, which has been strong and powerful for several hundred years.

We should redouble our efforts to encourage the US to abandon all pretence of continuing its dual containment policy towards Iran. We should do all possible to resolve the bilateral problems that have been put on our plate by blasphemy. We should remember how important blasphemy is to real worshippers of whatever faith. We should try to overcome an issue that has gone well past its sell-by date--the Rushdie problem--and I beg the Government, if they can, to have some thought about a restitution of the Iraqi marshland problem.

Why? In the context of Iran I ask the Government to remember that Iraq was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war as well as in the Gulf War with the invasion of Kuwait; that the prisoners of war in Iraq--10,000 of them--are Iranian as well as many hundreds of Kuwaitis. In fact one-third of the marshlands to which I refer are actually inside Iran and by the Ramsa Convention, all nations, since the mid-1970s--the convention was signed in 1974--have been forbidden to hold back water in such a way that it is drained from the lands of other nations.

I have put forward a big package of requests. Duel containment is not working. It puts us in a position which is hostile to Islam, which is one of the great religions of the world. Islam is something that is within the European Union and is now part of our people's heritage. Islam is not an enemy.

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