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House of Lords

Monday, 5th February 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bradford.

Foreign Policy: White Papers

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider that a White Paper on foreign policy would offer a contribution to public understanding and debate comparable to that provided by the recent White Paper on international development, Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the Government attach great importance to promoting public understanding and debate of foreign policy. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office sees great value in White Papers on specific issues and has produced its own White Papers on human rights and on the Overseas Territories, and worked extensively on the Department for International Development's White Paper on eliminating world poverty. Through the Foreign Office website, the annual departmental report and the human rights report, we give an up-to-date and comprehensive account of our foreign policy achievements and objectives.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I have read the Foreign Office annual report and much admired the photographs of the noble Baroness on pages 37, 75 and 120. It is, however, an annual report. Is she aware that when I asked the Printed Paper Office whether I might have the annual report of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it took the office several minutes to discover whether there was one and then to find a copy? It is not the best known document. Has she been briefed that in a speech in April 1974 the Labour Foreign Secretary, now the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, proposed that there should be an annual foreign policy White Paper? The noble Lord has sent me a nice note apologising for the fact that he is unable to be present today to comment on the Question. Does she not agree that a foreign policy White Paper setting out in broad terms the objectives and aims of British foreign policy would serve as a much better basis for informed public debate than what is currently available?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot, most unusually, agree with the noble Lord in this instance, although I am most grateful for his flattering comments about my photographs. However, those noble Lords who see the report will soon know that

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those comments are unjustified. The Government have tried to focus on ensuring that the greatest degree of information is made available in the public domain. Noble Lords will know that the website is a successful means of communication and that the annual report has been very useful. The White Papers have been contributed to by a number of different departments. In our view, there is comprehensive information in the public domain.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I welcome back the noble Baroness from her mission to the antarctic. Nothing much has happened here since she has been away! I agree that to put the whole of our foreign policy, which nowadays is interwoven with domestic policy, into one White Paper would be a Herculean task and might produce a very fat volume.

However, can we at least be a little clearer, whether in a White Paper or elsewhere, about our policy in relation to the United States, which I know is at the top of the Foreign Office agenda? Will we really be able to meet the growing American worries about the European Rapid Reaction Force, expressed very forcefully yesterday by Secretary of State Rumsfeld, or will we continue with the faintly anti-American line pursued on this issue by the French and to some extent the Germans? Will we support the Americans on national missile defence, which is now getting to the point where we must say clearly to them that we are on their side and that we will make facilities at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill fully available for the development of what will, in the long term, be a very valuable asset for world peace?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for noticing my safe return. Perhaps I may reassure him that our policy in relation to America is well known and understood by our partners. The Americans are our closest allies. We have worked with them through centuries, not just years. In relation to NMD and other matters, those issues are the subject of constant conversation between ourselves and the Americans, and that will continue.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in saying how pleased we are to see the Minister back with us, perhaps I may press her just a little further. It would be helpful if the objectives of this country's foreign policy on at least three matters could be made clear in a White Paper or a report. First, would it not be useful to have a more detailed statement on the Foreign Office's attitude towards peacemaking and peacekeeping forces and the role of Europe within that? Secondly, would it not be reasonable to make it very clear that there are no grounds for fearing the European strategic defence initiative because it is fully, in the view of the Government, within the framework of NATO? Finally, with regard to national missile defence, will the noble Baroness keep strongly to the line that she has so far adhered to in this Chamber; namely, that national missile defence must be seen in the wider context of the whole of arms control, disarmament and the pursuit of a secure peace in the world, which means that it would be most unwise at the moment to jump one way or the other definitively?

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Government have always been prepared to consider having a White Paper in relation to specific issues when the need arises. That was demonstrated by, for instance, the White Paper on the Overseas Territories. So we shall certainly continue to look at that point. The noble Baroness is right to say in relation to NMD that the Americans have not themselves decided which way they wish to fashion their policy. We very much appreciated the comments made by Colin Powell, who also emphasised that he intended to make sure that consideration is given to other views--from the EU, Russia and China. All those thoughts, from a new administration, are comforting and should be welcomed. We will give proper consideration to any request made by our American colleagues once they have fashioned what they themselves would like to do. At the moment, they do not know; and it would be quite improper for us to seek to comment until they do.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it might be advisable to return to the Question on the Order Paper, much as I would like to follow both the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, down the labyrinthine way of the strategic defence initiative? Does she further agree that the publication of a White Paper on defence, which was I believe the subject of the original Question, would be extremely valuable?

Noble Lords: Foreign policy.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I am sorry, I meant to say that the publication of a White Paper on foreign policy would be a wise move. The noble Lord pointed out that it is possible to find out a great deal on defence matters, with which noble Lords can then agree or disagree. However, does the Minister agree that foreign policy is another matter and that a White Paper on it would be extremely valuable?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we agree that White Papers can be valuable in relation to certain specific points. However, I should say again that the FCO is committed to openness and diversity. From day one, with the Foreign Secretary's press launch of his FCO objectives and the FCO open days, this Government have made enormous progress in this endeavour. We are trying to find as many vehicles as we can to encourage full discussion, openness and transparency. That will continue and we believe it to be the best way forward.

Defence Evaluation and Research Agency

2.44 p.m.

Lord Burnham asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the financial and other implications of the delay, until 1st July, of the break-up of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA).

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Lord Burlison: My Lords, on 24th July 2000, we announced the public/private partnership model for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. Around three-quarters of the current organisation will become a company. For strategic reasons, the remainder will be retained within the Ministry of Defence.

Operational separation is envisaged by 1st April 2001. Legal separation will follow on 1st July. This was chosen in preference to the earlier dates to ensure sufficient time for testing and risk reduction. The choice does not affect the overall PPP timetable nor does it have any significant financial or other consequences.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Answer given a couple of weeks ago by his right honourable friend in another place in response to a Written Question. However, it would seem that additional costs will be incurred. What will be the profits accruing to Her Majesty's Government as a result of this separation? What sum of money will accrue to the Ministry of Defence to relieve the defence budget?

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