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7.50 p.m.

The Earl of Limerick: My Lords, coming in as the last Back Bench speaker--the 31st wicket down--when the survivors in this debate await the winding up speeches, what is there left for me to say? There have been so many well-informed, wide-ranging contributions since the noble Lord, Lord Wright--in other connections, my friend and colleague--opened the debate with a masterly speech nearly five hours ago.

I shall put aside the temptation to follow some of the interesting lines that have been opened by earlier speakers and offer a few reflections of my own. The first concerns the practicability and achievability of any objectives that we may wish to set. It is not a matter of mere strength. If we think of what the super powers have failed to achieve in pursuit of their policies, the Americans in Vietnam, the Soviets in Afghanistan and the fact that seven years after the world combined in the cause of the liberation of Kuwait Saddam Hussein is still in power in Baghdad, we have sufficient evidence of that. I believe that it is a matter of leadership and working towards a consensus behind the goals identified by that leadership.

Britain has considerable influence in Europe, albeit it could and should be greater. I believe that part of it rests on our position at the centre of the Commonwealth. Consider its breadth. It has 50 members who represent more than 25 per cent. of the 189 nations of the world. It transcends continents, cultures, race and religion. It is not based on dominance, military or financial, or preference, imperial or material; it is based on shared objectives, although as with every extended family there are occasions when there is reason to rebuke other members of the family for what they have done, or perhaps what they have not done. It is also based on a recognition of mutual advantage.

It is striking that the membership of the Commonwealth is growing. Not only the re-joiners--Pakistan and South Africa--but also the new joiners--Mozambique and Cameroon--see advantage in being fully paid-up members of the club. Will this influence continue? I believe that it will with just one caveat: the cement as regards the Commonwealth has the monarchy at its core as well as its head. Any threat to the monarchy is probably also a threat to the Commonwealth.

My other substantial concern goes very wide. I refer to the collective ability of nations of the world to manage the process of long-term change. Changes are inevitable and arise from the causes that have always underlain them: competition for habitable and fertile land, water resources, access to raw materials and trade outlets. Sadly, they arise also from conflicts between ideologies and religions. Individually or in combination, these forces will give rise to what I believe will be the greatest threat to stability in the 21st century. I speak of the mass migration of peoples: those who flee from floods, famine, genocide or persecution.

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That takes us to the practical problems. At national level there is the problem of absorbing refugees, both political and economic, and displaced people. At international level one has the old dilemmas that faced the United Nations and, before that, the League of Nations. First, how does one stop powerful nations from bullying less powerful nations? Secondly, how does one devise institutions of sufficient flexibility to adapt to these changes? One obvious role for a supra-body is to deter any country from transgressing onto the territory of a neighbour. Some countries are fortunate in their boundaries and none more so than the United Kingdom. One concedes that there may be minor bickering along Hadrian's Wall or Offa's Dike but no one can argue with the ocean. Major mountain ranges and rivers may also serve as natural demarcations, although riparian dwellers may have more in common with those on the opposite bank than with their own remote hinterlands.

What happens when history unfolds so that historical boundaries are no longer appropriate? Some boundaries, notably in Africa, are no more than lines in the sand decreed by far-away powers with minimal local familiarity. Other boundaries are overwhelmed by events as in Rwanda, Burundi and Yugoslavia. Behind all of those situations lies human suffering sometimes on a massive scale up to and including large numbers of deaths. The way to mitigate suffering may not always be to enforce the status quo. Analysis and logic may decree that some flexibility in modifying the boundaries will better serve the purpose. To screw down the lid of the powder barrel is to court a bigger explosion.

It is the absence of flexible mechanisms and any appropriate will to develop them which troubles me. I have heard nothing today to encourage me in that regard. I am a realist. I expect no solution to this question tonight, or even this century, but I believe that it is worthy of serious thought.

7.57 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, it is often said of this House that it is uniquely valuable in assembling an extraordinary amount of knowledge and experience and bringing that to bear on some of the problems that confront this country and our world. I believe that we owe a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for having introduced a debate that is truly in that tradition. It is a debate in which a number of distinguished former Foreign Secretaries as well as former distinguished Permanent Under-Secretaries at the Foreign Office and other departments have taken part. It is a debate from which those of us who have sat through almost all of it feel they have greatly benefited.

At The Hague on 20th January the Prime Minister said:

    "On external policy, the EU must be both effective and seen to be effective internationally. Political will, not hot air".
The Prime Minister and his Government have four great tools to use in establishing a significant and distinguished UK presidency of the European Union. All of those tools have been spoken about today. The

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first is the Foreign Office itself. It often attracts criticism and sometimes deserves it, but the sheer quality of our Diplomatic Service is still remarkable for a medium size country. The second very valuable tool is the World Service of the BBC which, even today, is responding to new challenges, for example by developing a whole set of programmes on the issue of enlargement and the accession of new candidates to the European Union. Any one of us who for a long period of time has stepped outside the shores of these islands knows the extraordinary reputation of the BBC and in particular the World Service. We would be infinitely foolish to throw that away.

The third of the tools that we have is the British Council. That too we could use much more widely than we do.

The fourth, to which my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire referred, is the armed services. Over recent years they have been able to make a distinguished contribution to international peace. As my noble friend said, the problem is that the European dimension in the new study of defence forces in this country seems to have been, to a great extent, neglected.

We have obviously benefited greatly in this debate from the authority and wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell. We expected nothing less and look forward to his contributions in many debates to come.

I knew less what to expect from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. He unquestionably contributed a significant dimension to our deliberations. What he had to say about communities of faith has planted a seed of collaboration and reconciliation which has a strong potentiality.

I now refer to the four crises facing the European Union, each one of them serious, to which noble Lords have referred. The first is the crisis that concerns the Middle East at the present time. A recent development of a troubling kind is the proposal by the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu, to phase withdrawal from the territories that fall within the Oslo accords. The Oslo accords are the one bridge to peace in the Middle East between Israel, Palestine and her neighbours. It will be dangerous and frightening to resile from those accords. I pay tribute to the courage and the thought that many in Israel have brought to bear on these issues, in particular the previous government in agreeing to the Oslo accords and now attempting to sustain them as an opposition party.

The second crisis is in Iraq. I was troubled by a tendency to underestimate the significance of Iraq's decision once again not to collaborate with UNSCOM. Iraq has a potential for both biological and chemical weapons which is of great concern to those of us who wish to see global peace and order.

I share the concern of many noble Lords and Members of Parliament in another place who have discussed the effects of the sanctions against Iraq. It is important that Iraq is a signatory to UN resolutions under which it has agreed to open its weapons production to inspection and to destroy bacteriological and chemical weapons. Iraq presents us all with a troubling dilemma at the present time.

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The first point I make to the noble Baroness the Minister--who has the herculean task to responding to this debate--is whether, in the light of what the Minister of State said in another place earlier this week about the need to pursue every diplomatic path towards peace, it might be worth considering an urgent meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers to consider whether any other approach to Iraq might conceivably be successful before the end of Ramadan brings with it the possibility of military action.

Thirdly is the continuing crisis in Bosnia. We do not know whether the United States will continue to keep its forces in Bosnia after June, although recent indications are considerably more encouraging than they were last year. As noble Lords have said, it is important that the partnership between the European Union and the United States should become more equal. The United States is increasingly distracted with its own concerns. The recent and pathetic concentration of the United States' media on the President's private life is just one more example of the way the United States can be distracted from its role as a world power.

I am a great admirer of the United States and believe it is an essential element in maintaining world order but, disturbingly, Congress is out of touch with many world events and tends to be driven by pressures from congressional districts and specific interest groups. As a result it sometimes does not make the wisest judgments about the necessity for peace and order in our world.

As to Bosnia, I say two things. The first is to congratulate the Government most warmly for the steps they have taken to ensure that European Union aid now goes directly to Republika Sryska following the appointment of the new Prime Minister, Mr. Dodik, who has already greatly encouraged those of us who hoped for a peaceful outcome in Bosnia by the strong stand he has taken on the return of refugees and religious tolerance. This remarkable man has set up a shadow Cabinet which might be described as bringing together the spiritual communities of Islam and Christianity in Bosnia. The shadow Cabinet has within it three Moslems, three Croatian Christians and three Serbians. It is a remarkable and brave thing to have done and it is very pleasing to see that our Government, as the president, has encouraged the EU to allow its aid to flow to Republika Sryska.

As I remarked to the noble Baroness the Minister during Questions today, the other step that needs to be taken to assist the possibility of a breakthrough in Bosnia is, unquestionably, the arrest and detention of the war criminals in that country. If they are not arrested and detained that will tell the whole world that one can do exactly as one pleases and con the world powers and democratic countries into accepting that by the simple act of defiance.

As to Algeria, I agree with the many noble Lords who have referred to the extreme danger of characterising Islam as fundamentalist, intolerant and likely to present a threat to the peace of the world in the course of the next century. Algeria is a terrible story of massive deaths and killings, amounting to 40,000 in the past couple of years. We cannot simply stand back and wash our hands of it.

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Because the Maghreb poses serious threats to the peace of Europe as well as Africa there are two things we need to do. The first thing is to make it clear that, in addition to the fundamentalist forces and the military government, there are groups in Algeria, like RND and others, who are desperately trying to be heard in their support for democratic institutions. It is incumbent on the European Union and the British presidency to do whatever we can to encourage and assist those courageous Algerians in trying to recover democracy in their country.

Finally, I want to refer to some of the global issues to which the noble Lords, Lord Gillmore, Lord Desai, Lord Howell, and others referred. Globalisation threatens us with the sweeping away of the fragile structures of order that have been set up, or it offers us a huge opportunity to begin to forge global rules. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was right when he said that the Asian crisis is much more serious than we have so far allowed for. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, was right when he said that we need to look at the issue of world debt.

One part of the issue of world debt is the huge debts run up by countries that purchase arms and have never paid for them. They will now expect the taxpayers of the UK, the EU and the US to pay for arms they should never have received. In that context, I invite the Minister to say a little more than has been so far said about the exciting initiatives by the Foreign Secretary which he summed up in a letter to me on the 29th December, when he said that he would be seeking a non-legally binding EU code of conduct on arms exports. I can think of nothing more urgent. I wish the Minister and her colleague good speed in trying to bring that about.

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