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Lord Jopling: My Lords, will my noble friend give way? He has until tomorrow to submit his name for election. I think that it is absolutely outrageous that he has not already done so. I for one, as a great admirer
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those comments. I have written some letters on this subject and my view is that if we believe in democracy we should practise it and have a fully elected senate.
Viscount Eccles: My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Hooper for introducing this debate. It is quite difficult to make another comment on my noble friend Lord Montgomery. My noble friend may have made his final speech here but one never knows. As someone said, a week is a long time in politics.
My theme is Cuba's economy and its economic prospects. I am mindful that the Commonwealth Development Corporation is operating in Cuba and this welcome initiative, supported by the then government, came shortly after my time with CDC. Given Cuba's geographical position and its considerable economic potential, we might expect prosperity. Cuba has the population needed to continue its development and it has a fair share of natural resources. It could aspire to a leadership role in the Caribbean. But the Cubans are not prosperous. Cuba's economy is narrowly based and too dependent upon tourism, its exports too dependent upon sugar, and those exports too dependent upon Russia. Fuel consumes a large proportion of its foreign exchange earnings, 20 per cent. of which come from US dollar remittances.
Not much foreign investment--SmithKline Beecham excepted--is being made in Cuba, hard though the Canadians have tried. Yet Cuba's slow economic progress is not in our interests. Small states have problems and temptations enough. The Caribbean needs to progress and to remain stable. Cuba is patently not playing the part that it could. Indeed we do not hear the same story from the Dominican Republic, still less--if your Lordships will forgive me--from Puerto Rico.
Central to progress is the availability of foreign capital and freer access to markets. Regrettably Cuba idiosyncratically chose the wrong partner, the Soviet Union, a partner which could never have delivered a fraction of the economic opportunity available from good relations with the United States. Nevertheless, for how long must Cuba now be stood in the corner? And for how long will Fidel Castro be able to rail at his neighbours to rally his faithful? What will the United Kingdom do to speed up the rate of change in this stalemate relationship? Minor US relaxations of earlier this year have been welcome but are nowhere near enough. What additional dimension can the European Community bring? France, and to a lesser degree Holland, have Caribbean interests. A large proportion of the Caribbean peoples are Hispanic, which brings in United States domestic politics,
Nevertheless when two states, one the world's most powerful and the other small but potentially a full member of the international community, are at loggerheads we are presented with an excellent test for our diplomatic skills. For we cannot want Cuba to remain an outsider, nor be content to see the United States of America being so unforgiving. I wonder whether the Minister will tell us how she believes we will fare with our diplomatic representations and what other people we can bring to bear with us to be more successful than we have been so far in drawing Cuba into the international community and achieving a reconciliation with the United States.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, my claim to take part in this debate is three years' residence in Havana as a diplomatic wife in the early eighties--I was the Candidate from Cuba in my first parliamentary campaign--and a continuing interest in the country and its people since then.
Most people seem to like Cuba and the Cubans. There is, even now, a residual admiration for Fidel Castro--the young lawyer defending his student friends against the Battista regime and the romantic hero of Moncada--and the entry into Havana still exercises a spell, albeit a fading one. Not many people ask why so many of his close colleagues from the revolutionary era committed suicide.
The Cubans have a high standard of literacy, their health provision is good. They are naturally enterprising in the Caribbean way. Despite its poverty, the country still turns out good doctors, and, as we have been reminded today, good scientists and technologists, architects, dancers, artists and musicians. Indeed the success of the Buenavista Club and the recent Cuban Festival in London has brought a new generation of admirers. On his historic visit in 1998 the Pope called for openness and dialogue among Cubans. It seemed that Fidel might be reintegrated into the family of leaders, and to some extent that process has begun. And yet, in March four people who criticised the party in print and called for free elections were imprisoned for periods ranging from three and a half to five years.
This July the Cuban Human Rights and Reconciliation Commission estimated that there were 300 to 400 political prisoners in Cuba. To put that in context, that would equate to 1,500 to 2,000 in the United Kingdom. In October Elizardo Sanchez, who leads the commission, was refused an exit visa to attend a conference organised by Vaclav Havel. Cuba is not a free society; Fidel still wears his tailor-made battle dress and hurls defiance at the evils of the world financial system or of the USA, and sometimes who can blame him?
So what should the UK Government do? One obvious thing--many people have mentioned this--is to continue to oppose the Helms-Burton legislation, which at best merely provides Fidel with the excuses he needs to defy change in his country and, at worst, can cause real hardship to his people. Developments such as the institution of direct flights from the UK to Havana are to be welcomed, especially for those of us who, like myself, remember rather hairy journeys in ancient aircraft via Miami.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Hooper and Lady Young, and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, all individually contribute in their different ways to the creation an Anglo-Cuban network of activities and personal contacts. These are greatly to be valued. I join with those who regret the imminent departure--as I believe it will be--of the noble Viscount. When I first arrived in this House he was one of those who greeted me warmly and welcomed me to this House. I personally--and I am sure all of us--will miss his presence greatly.
The recent establishment of the British Council in Havana is a further excellent development. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to expand this small initiative, which would doubtless be much welcomed in Cuba? The news given to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, of the development of further successful co-operation between our two countries on medical matters is also most welcome.
Can the Minister tell us what is happening in terms of the valuable technical assistance being given to Cuba in the area of banking and public finance, for example? Can she confirm the Government's intention to continue to act vis a vis Cuba in a balanced way? Does she agree that the obvious benefit of integrating Cuba into the wider world of international trade and other relations must not obscure the desirability of encouraging development towards greater democratic freedom in Cuba? While growing trading agreements and tourism can improve the Cubans' standard of living and can help to bind Cuba into the family of nations, we should not forget that democratic progress should ideally start before Castro dies in order that he can use his prestige and charisma to assist its implementation. Our pressure towards democratic
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I shall begin by echoing the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Young about my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein. The knowledge and expertise he displayed yet again this evening will be greatly missed. We on this Front Bench deeply regret his impending departure from the House.
We are indebted to my noble friend Lady Hooper for introducing this debate. Many noble Lords are already aware of her deep and enduring interest in Latin American affairs--an interest which I am keen to make clear that I share. I believe it was almost three years ago that your Lordships' House last had an opportunity to consider in detail our relationship with Cuba--thanks to the initiative of my noble friend Lady Young, whose knowledge and understanding of Cuba and the Caribbean as a whole is without parallel. I am delighted to pay tribute to her.
It has been the policy of successive governments in this country, together with our European Union partners, to support a peaceful transition to a pluralist democracy in Cuba, where there should be respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Underpinning this vision of Cuba's future is our ongoing effort to promote a sustainable economic recovery and improvements in the living standards of ordinary Cubans. This is a goal which we share with the United States, but we have differed--and continue to differ--on the tools we should use to achieve this goal.
In particular, we have our disagreements on the American application of the punitive economic embargo first imposed 39 years ago yesterday. The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, or LIBERTAD Act, the unwelcome legacy of the Helms-Burton legislation, is the most recent embodiment of this unjust US policy, an issue to which I shall return later. However, we would like to make it clear from these Benches that we view this legislation as an international trade issue, rather than an argument with the United States over the quintessential aims of our policy towards Cuba.
We do not believe that the United States embargo against Cuba is the way forward. For that reason, under the previous government, the United Kingdom voted with our European Union partners in support of the Cuban resolution condemning it at the United Nations General Assembly. It is important that the Government continue to demand an end to the US embargo. It is important that the Government continue to recognise that economic isolation will serve only to drive those who are already poor to further extremes of destitution and desperation and thus to invite the twin spectres of social and political chaos to take up residence in Cuba.
I am very pleased that the Government have continued the initiatives pioneered under the previous administration. I believe we have seen much progress as a result in the past two years. In particular, I should like to single out the British Airways inaugural flight, which took place in April this year. I believe it to be an important milestone in achieving our ultimate goal of a Cuba fully integrated into the global community.
Private investment is crucial to sustained development and economic growth in Cuba. Under the foreign investment law passed in 1995, which allows 100 per cent foreign ownership in certain circumstances, Cuba is actively seeking foreign participation in commercial activities. Although I understand that investors can still face practical difficulties, there are some excellent opportunities for establishing joint ventures or other forms of commercial association. Will the Minister pledge to encourage British investors to make the most of those opportunities, provided that British investors and businessmen who choose to invest in Cuba endorse best business practices and recognise the basic rights of Cuban workers?
Historically, when one step forward is taken, two steps backwards have often followed. However, on a more optimistic note, there has been some new flexibility towards Cuba in US policy. Last year, following the Pope's visit to Cuba, the US administration implemented measures including the restoration of direct passenger flights, the resumption of family remittances, increases in the sale of medicines and the expansion of people-to-people contacts through cultural, scientific and sporting exchanges. These measures have provided some relaxation of the trade restrictions in Cuba. They were expanded in January of this year to include such things as the restoration of a direct postal service between the US and Cuba.
We cannot ignore the fact that Cuba is the sole country in the western hemisphere with a Communist regime. However, most agree that some form of transition will eventually take place in Cuba. It is critical that this transition is a managed one.
As to human rights, I would simply ask the Minister whether, in line with the Government's ethical foreign policy, she can give an assurance that the Government are committed to a vigorous programme of meetings with dissidents and human rights groups during ministerial visits to Cuba, as well as forthright representations to Cuba's ruling elite on the need for reform.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, perhaps I may say straightaway what a happy event it is to stand at the Dispatch Box for only my second debate and to hear such unanimity from all sides of the House. It is a particular pleasure. I, too, am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for introducing this debate. The House continues to benefit from the keen interest the noble Baroness shows in Cuba and the depth of experience she brings to issues relating to Latin America and the Caribbean.
I am also pleased that the House has been given the rare opportunity to discuss Cuba in this way, particularly given the recent tragic loss of life and damage to crops and homes as a result of Hurricane Irene, to which the noble Baroness referred. We do not have yet full information about the damage caused by Hurricane Irene in Cuba, but the Cuban authorities are aware that we stand ready to look at ways of helping, should they so request.
The landmark visit to Cuba of my predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, a year ago was followed by two highly successful visits by the then Minister for Trade and his business teams. Bilateral relations between Cuba and the United Kingdom have continued to expand and grow in several important ways. Trade and tourism continue to increase, reflecting the United Kingdom's interest in Cuba, not least among its business community. Regular trade missions are now diversifying into the pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors, with positive signs.
At this stage, I should like also to take an early opportunity to express my pleasure that the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, has chosen this debate in which to make his last contribution in this House, and to acknowledge the gratitude of the House to him for all his helpful interventions and wise counsel given on issues relating to the Caribbean and Latin America. Indeed, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, rightly praised developments as regards British Airways, which now flies to Cuba. We feel that that is an extremely helpful venture. In April, we were pleased to welcome Ricardo Alarcon, the President of the Cuban National Assembly, with a delegation on a parliamentary visit. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, who I would also like to compliment on her great contributions in this area, is to be congratulated on the sterling work that she has done in relation to the Cuban initiative, and on her efforts to make that visit such a success. The Government support such parliamentary exchanges. These are helpful building blocks in furthering the bilateral relationship. I am also happy to give the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, the assurance she sought as regards the continuation of those bilateral relations.
This year has also seen issues relating to official short-term debt being addressed by the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) and the Government of Cuba, with the possible provision this allows for the negotiation of new medium-term credit. This is good news for capital goods exporters to Cuba.
Co-operation between the United Kingdom and the Cuban authorities on countering drugs and crime problems continues to develop. British Customs officers have provided training for their Cuban counterparts. Mr John Abbott, the Director-General of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, visited Cuba in August of this year.
I should like to echo what has been said by several noble Lords as regards cultural links. These, too, are being explored following the visit by the Cuban Minister of Culture earlier this year. Now that the British Council has re-established its presence in Cuba, which we and the Government of Cuba welcomed, there is a growing market for Cuban culture and the arts in the United Kingdom. I hope that the noble Baroness will be pleased that this development has taken place.
In scientific co-operation, too, we are moving forward, with successful exchange visits on biotechnology taking place this year and the academic and commercial opportunities these raise. We have heard a little about those in today's debate. On the Cuban meningitis B vaccine, in particular, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on her recent successful visit to Cuba. The Government acknowledge the important work being done in this area and will follow events--and the potential for further collaboration--with great interest. Further, I hope that the indication made by the noble Baroness that the cross-fertilisation of medical views and the connections they have engendered will of course continue.
Her Majesty's Government welcome all these developments in our relations. In time, Cuba is surely set to become one of the giants of the Caribbean. Its success or failure in finding a future path that avoids economic or social collapse will have a major effect on the region, for good or ill. The Government are conscious, too, of their obligations to our Caribbean Overseas Territories.
I understand the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about Cuban cigars. Early indications from the Department of Health suggest that her anxieties about the negative effects do not at the moment appear to be justified. However, I invite the noble Baroness to contact the Department of Health in relation to pursuing the matter further.
When my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met the Cuban Foreign Minister, Perez Roque, at the EU/Latin America and Caribbean Summit in Rio in June, he took the opportunity to convey to the Cubans a strong message about that country's poor record on civil and political rights. But he was able to acknowledge the important role that Cuba could play economically in the region, suggesting that Cuba could be the motor for the future
In saying that, the Foreign Secretary also echoed the words of His Holiness the Pope when he began his historic visit to Cuba in January last year. He called on Cuba to open up to the world and on the world to open up to Cuba. That is why we give our wholehearted support to Cuba's participation in events in the international arena, such as the Rio Summit. Cuba and the other 47 participating countries signed up to an action plan" document at the summit. It covered many of the areas in which we are working in partnership with Cuba and our EU partners; for example, in both the economic and the human rights fields. Another important area covered in the summit action plan" was science and technology. That issue is one that several noble Lords have highlighted in this debate. Cuba's enthusiastic co-operation with the UK in the field of biotechnology, as we have seen, is the sort of practical co-operation that the spirit of Rio was trying to engender.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, rightly emphasised some of the challenges that are still left as regards our relationship with Cuba. In terms of our bilateral relations, the UK, as I have outlined, is warming in its relations with Cuba. However, this Government make no bones about those aspects of the relationship with which we are much less than happy. I firmly believe that none of the other aspects of the bilateral relationship will function properly if we do not also work hard at the complex of issues in our political relations.
With our EU partners, the United Kingdom believes that dialogue and co-operation--not embargo and isolation--is the most effective way of encouraging the political and economic evolution we wish for Cuba. The EU common position codifies this clear statement of the EU's commitment to intensify its dialogue with the Cuban authorities and all sectors of Cuban society. The common position's flexibility allows EU partners to pursue their own bilateral relations within its overall framework. We want to be Cuba's partner--with full co-operation dependent on improvements in human rights and fundamental freedoms--by discussing all issues of mutual interest and concern in a spirit of friendship and co-operation, with give and take on both sides.
My noble friend Lord Rea, the noble Viscounts, Lord Montgomery and Lord Eccles, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and others all raised the issue of the United States relationship and Helms-Burton. The US Administration has been left in no doubt that we do not support extra-territorial legislation; nor do we agree with its policy towards Cuba. At ministerial level, our most recent exchanges--indeed, my own exchange in Washington, together with those of my noble friend Lady Symons--have raised these issues with some vigour with our American friends. Her Majesty's Government have taken every opportunity to raise the matter, which is one upon which obviously we do not agree.
On economic, social and cultural rights, Cuba can claim to have made significant achievements. However, we and our EU partners attach great importance to civil and political rights and respect for fundamental freedoms, on which Cuba's record, sadly, remains poor. We are therefore keen to work in partnership with Cuba on its international human rights obligations and to encourage an end to arbitrary detention and the unconditional release of prisoners; freedom of expression; free media; and co-operation with the UN human rights mechanisms. In this regard, I welcome the recent talks at senior level on a range of UN issues, including human rights, in the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
In closing this debate, I repeat my thanks to the noble Baroness for giving the House the opportunity of discussing Cuba. I reaffirm that the hallmarks of this Government's policy towards Cuba are frank and respectful critical dialogue coupled with practical co-operation in areas of mutual interest. I know that both our countries seek to develop the relationship in a sustained way, even when our views do not always coincide, entitled as we are to express our own views. In this spirit, we respect Cuba's right to the view it has of its current situation. Through our increasing contact, this Government will go on to learn more about the Cuban reality. However, we are hopeful that our Cuban counterparts will signal their desire to continue to work with us in an open and constructive way on all these issues so that a greater understanding might evolve of our own concerns as we work towards building an effective dialogue and co-operation.
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