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The Duke of Norfolk: My Lords, I thank the Government for having agreed in toto to the two amendments in my name; namely, Amendments Nos. 148 and 152. I wish to mention that the willingness to offer interpretation to asylum seekers in their own language is a very great offer. I thank the Government in particular for that.
It seems to me that we have come a long way in our free country when one compares the situation now with that pertaining until the 18th century when one could not even have one's own religion without ending up on Tower Hill, as did many of my family.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I shall interrupt the noble Duke, if I may. I did not accept Amendments Nos. 148 and 152. I took a little while to explain the reason behind our policy and our thinking to indicate that those amendments would not be necessary.
The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, I wanted to speak to Amendment No. 152. However, I should say first that I was greatly impressed by the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, of the relationship between the voluntary sector and government and I wish to pay tribute to that. I look forward to the noble and learned Lord's answer.
With regard to Amendment No. 152, having worked for many years in east London, I understand the imperative to spread and disperse the situation that we are facing. With the large numbers involved, it is not hard to see the Government's difficulties. Of course, they are nothing as compared to the difficulties experienced by the people caught up in this process. They find themselves in a country with a different language and a totally unfamiliar social setting, with almost no resources to put together any sort of life, and waiting in a limbo.
The exchange a moment ago was helpful. I wish to speak to this amendment because I believe that what is stated in Amendment No. 152 does not seem to be stated obviously on the face of the Bill. It needs to be supported. There seems to be a surprising lack of reference to any criteria for a designated cluster, other than the availability of suitable housing.
At the moment in rural Somerset, in the Quantocks no less, there is a substantial argument about the use of an empty school. The village in which it is found is remote from any substantial nearby towns and is extremely remote from any settlement whatever of any foreign nationals. In fact, I believe that in some of our villages in Somerset a foreign national" means someone who comes from the next village.
On the one hand, it is right to provide hospitality in such places and to resist racism and the sentiment of not in my back yard". On the other hand, there is a feeling among those who would be moved there that they would be substantially isolated. The importance of Amendment No. 152 is that it sets out the essentials. Those ought to be stated. They make a very remote Somerset village seem inappropriate, not only because of the lack of specialised legal and medical resources but probably very little in terms of interpreting and translation services. Certainly they present considerable difficulties for long-term settlement. Those criteria seem to me to be very helpful for people who might look at the Bill to try to understand what is involved in the decisions which the Government are making.
In east London we always found that the most important element in not feeling alien was to be near to a community that did not react in that kind of way, and where possible to be near a community of familiar people. I understand the difficulties, but I still believe that Amendment No. 152 is important and that those details should go on the face of the Bill.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I understand that we can adjourn for dinner in the middle of a group of amendments. As this is the Report stage, those who have already spoken cannot speak again. For the convenience of the House and of those waiting for the Unstarred Question, I believe that we should adjourn this debate now and return to it after the dinner break.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I believe that is helpful. I am one who is waiting to speak in the debate on this group of amendments. However, if I were to speak without having had my supper my speech might
Lord Carter: My Lords, despite the suggestion of the noble Lord that speeches might be shorter, I am happy to move that the debate on Amendment No. 123 and further consideration on Report be now adjourned.
It is some time since I tabled the Motion, following my first visit to Cuba in January this year. At that stage, I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, fresh from a first visit, was eager to wind up the debate. I am happy to see her sitting on the Front Bench this evening. However, diaries did not permit a date to be settled until now. As a result of recent government changes I am delighted that we shall hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, especially in view of her particular responsibilities for the Caribbean region.
Since January a number of events and developments have spotlighted Cuba and had a positive effect on our relationship with that country. Therefore, now is a good time to hear from the Government their reaction to those events, as well as any new policy developments.
The delayed timing of the debate also enabled me to make a second visit to Cuba. My first visit was a private holiday and my second visit--some two weeks ago--was memorable not only because it gave me the opportunity of a meeting with El Comandante", Fidel Castro himself, but also because it signified the completion of negotiations and the implementation of an agreement between SmithKline Beecham Biologicals, a Belgian subsidiary of SmithKline Beecham, and the Finlay Institute for the further development and licensing of the meningitis B vaccine developed by the Finlay Institute. As a non-executive director of SmithKline Beecham, I am extremely pleased by that important breakthrough which will have such an impact on the health of children throughout the world.
In April this year, at the invitation of the Cuban Government, and with the support of British Trade International, CARITAG (the Caribbean Trade Advisory Group) organised and led a small biotechnology mission to Cuba. The idea was to introduce United Kingdom pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, large and small, to the sector in Cuba by visiting some of the 38 biotechnology facilities grouped together near Havana and to identify projects for future partnership and co-operation. The mission was successful and recently was followed up by the visit here of a team from Cuba led by Dr Agustin Lage, the director of the Centre of Molecular Immunology in Havana. He spoke to a well-attended seminar and had a busy programme of bilateral meetings with experts in England and Scotland.
I believe that that is a most exciting development in which the United Kingdom is playing a leading role. I hope that other concrete projects will result. I want to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, for an assurance that the Government will continue to give support and encouragement to bilateral missions of that type in order to encourage further partnerships.
In passing, I mention that both the Cuban ambassador here in London and our ambassador in Cuba have worked hard on such missions. They deserve congratulations on, and thanks for, the roles that they have played in supporting the development of relations in that important sector.
In regard to health in general, Cuba has had great success as a result of its health programmes, including its preventive health programme. Cuba enjoys the lowest infant mortality rate in the region. As I understand it, Cuba is interested in developing a special health role in the region. As a result of the consequences of the Hurricane Mitch disaster, Cuba sent 400 doctors to Honduras. Doctors have also been sent to El Salvador and a number of Cuban doctors are working on loan in Haiti.
On my last visit I was able to see La Escuela Latina Americana de Ciencias, the Latin American scientific school which has recently been opened. It has 2,000 students from low-income families and from country areas all over Latin America. They spend two years at the institute and complete their medical training in hospitals or clinics in other parts of Cuba. That is an interesting and an important initiative. It may be that United Kingdom interests in the region could coincide with that initiative. We could encourage our doctors and medical professions to give help and support.
Other events this year include the visit of members of the Cuban National Assembly, led by Dr Ricardo Alarcon. I know that my noble friend Lady Young was much involved with that. She organised a parliamentary seminar which gave many of us the opportunity to offer our views on such issues as the
Among the good news this year is the fact that the Export Credits Guarantee Department has reinstated Cuba as an insurable risk for British exporters. Many of us had been pressing for that for some time, and we are delighted by that development.
Another piece of good news is the fact that in a couple of weeks' time, in November, the Ibero-Hispanic Summit is due to take place for the first time in Cuba. The heads of state of virtually all the Latin American countries will be represented, as well as Spain and Portugal. There will also be the first visit ever by a King of Spain to Cuba.
Among the bad news, however, is the havoc caused by Hurricane Irene last week in claiming two lives, destroying 13 buildings and causing damage to the banana and tobacco crops. I hope that we shall hear from the noble Baroness what the Government are doing to help and support in that emergency.
Cuba is a small country, struggling to maintain its identity in a difficult world economic scene and with an impossible relationship with its closest neighbours to the north. We may not all agree with some of the politics, but we should help. Certainly in my capacity as president of Canning House (the Hispanic and Luso Brazilian Council) I know we shall continue to encourage not only trade and commercial activity, but also more contact and exchanges on the educational and cultural front.
The United Kingdom has important historic associations with, and considerable influence in, the Caribbean. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, has ministerial responsibility in that area. I hope therefore that she can give us a positive and optimistic view and plan for the future.
Baroness Young: My Lords, in speaking in the debate this evening I begin by declaring an interest as president of the UK side of the Cuba Initiative. Before I say anything about Cuba, I want to say that this will be the last time that my noble friend Lord Montgomery will be speaking in your Lordships' House. I am sure everybody will recognise that, as the acknowledged expert on Latin American subjects and on the Caribbean and Central America, he has made a major contribution in this House. It is therefore a matter of deep regret that he has to leave it under the circumstances in which he does.
On previous occasions I have had the opportunity to raise Questions about the nature of Britain's relationship with Cuba and the importance of resolving differences through dialogue and close contact. In doing so I have been conscious of the need for us at least to maintain our relations at the level of that of our European partners and not allow the concerns of the United States in its relationship with Cuba to determine the pace at which we engage in dialogue.
In the time available I can raise only a few topics, but I too would first like to commend the Government's recent decision to take forward with the Cuban Government a dialogue for resolving questions on official debt, referred to by my noble friend Lady Hooper. I understand that in September the ECGD reached an understanding with the Central Bank of Cuba. That means that British exporters will soon be able to take advantage of new export credits for Cuba. The agreement, which stems from a memorandum of understanding enabling repayment of a proportion of Cuban short-term debt, owes much to the personal involvement and interest of the then Minister for Trade, Brian Wilson, and I am pleased to acknowledge that.
In parallel with those discussions on the official debt, informal proposals have been developed to try to resolve the question of Cuba's remaining commercial debt to British companies. The Government have been supportive of that initiative which is now being developed with the Cuban central bank. I hope that, as those discussions proceed, Ministers will continue to note to the Cuban Government the importance of removing this remaining impediment to UK-Cuban trade.
In the past 18 months Cuba has indicated in a very practical way its willingness to co-operate with Britain and others on the interdiction of narcotics passing through the Caribbean region. That is indicative of the ways in which Britain can develop a much closer relationship with Cuba at a functional level and is to be welcomed.
Perhaps I may raise a specific issue of concern. The Government are committed to a ban on tobacco advertising by December of this year. There is a difference between cigarettes and cigars. Cigars are a different market from cigarettes. There were 55,000 people in Cuba employed in the tobacco industry in 1999 and in 1998 tobacco accounted for 13.5 per cent of Cuba's GDP. Moreover, cigars account for 40 per cent of all the exports from Cuba to the UK each year. Cigars are sold largely through mail order, specialist shops, restaurants and hotels. Those concerned with this business are worried about the lack of clarity in the regulations affecting that issue. I hope that the Government will be able to say something on that. I shall understand if the Minister cannot respond this evening but, if not, perhaps she will write to me. It will have a serious knock-on effect in Cuba, something I do not believe was ever intended.
Of course, we have differences with Cuba on issues of human rights and issues relating to governance. But I echo what my noble friend said when I say that I am glad that we had a successful visit in which the Cuba Initiative was able to host jointly with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy a visit to the UK by members of the Cuban National Assembly. The delegation, led by the president of the assembly, Ricardo Alacon, was able to debate with Members of both Houses, our political parties and others the relative merits of our two systems of government. It is fair to say that both sides benefited from the contacts.
I hope that there will be further visits of that kind. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will visit Cuba at the earliest opportunity. And I hope that in this country we shall see senior members of the Cuban Government, including Dr Carlos Lage, the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers.
Britain also has a role to play in the closer integration of Cuba into the Caribbean region, and most particularly in relation to its possible accession to the Lome Convention. Cuba is already participating in the present negotiations as an observer. Should it decide to proceed to full ACP status, it will be necessary for EU member states to accept that this will change the nature of its relationship with Europe. Recent remarks by Caribbean leaders indicated their desire to have Cuba inside the grouping in order that a more substantive dialogue on matters of mutual concern can take place. I believe that such an approach is equally as valid for Europe, as Cuba within the ACP will encourage a more intimate and practical dialogue within the broad-based development relationship Europe has with countries of the ACP.
Britain has an important role in enabling the Cuban people to chart their own course with the Americas. Further steps are now required by the Government to build on the much improved relationship that is now in place.
Lord Rea: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for asking the Question and speaking with such clarity, and also for the work she is doing to promote technical co-operation and trade between Cuba and this country. I am also delighted that my noble friend Lady Scotland has inherited responsibility for Latin America and the Caribbean. I am sure she will do well. I hope she will follow her earlier predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in taking a special interest in Cuba and the Caribbean.
I have always been interested in Cuba's social experiment and have twice visited the island in the past three years, the last time as a member of the IPU delegation. Cuba has many lessons to teach other developing countries and some developed countries too, especially in the field of public and primary healthcare. That is despite the fact that it is a one-party state with a centrally-controlled economy--hardly the model currently favoured by the IMF or the OECD.
The achievements of universal access to healthcare and the virtual elimination of illiteracy are remarkable for a poor country, as are the advances in higher education and research of international calibre as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper--the most famous being the meningitis B vaccine, a world first. A number of other potential developments in the biotechnical field are of great interest, some involving genetic modification--I am not sure Greenpeace would approve.
However, I return to the substance of the Question. It is clear that, partly due to the pioneer work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, there have been significant increases in trade and cultural exchange between Britain and Cuba in recent years, as described by both noble Baronesses. I am sure that my noble friend will tell us about the visit of her immediate predecessor, who is sitting in front of me--her noble friend Lady Symons--and her honourable friend Brian Wilson, the Minister for Trade, last year. Particularly encouraging has been the reopening, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, of ECGD funds to Cuba, although the sums so far underwritten are quite small. But it will allow us to catch up somewhat with other European countries, such as France, Spain and Italy, which long ago found ways of providing credit for their exports to Cuba.
But looming over all efforts to increase trade with Cuba is the American embargo, which extends to food, medicines and medical equipment, though recently there has been a little bit of a relaxation on the medical side. There is also the effect of the extra-territorial Act. Can my noble friend, for example, give us an update on any action that Britain may have taken, or intends to take, in the World Trade Organisation or in Europe which might persuade the US Congress to end these restrictive unilateral measures against trade with Cuba?
There is no doubt that US trade policy has been damaging to the Cuban economy. For example, it has been much more expensive for Cuba to obtain goods from Europe than from the USA, its traditional supplier. Some items are completely unobtainable because of US links to the multinational companies that supply them--this has applied to medicines and chemicals for Cuba's own pharmaceutical industry. The American Association for World Health, in its well-known 1997 report on The Impact of the US Embargo on Health and Nutrition in Cuba, states:
The contrast with the situation in Iraq, which has also suffered food and equipment shortages as a result of sanctions, is striking. There the infant and child mortality rate, which was quite good before the Gulf War, has more than doubled, probably due to inadequate food distribution and primary care and lack of health education--something which is given on a personal basis to every Cuban by his or her GP or community nurse.
I should like to finish with one paragraph. This system so impressed Professor Patrick Pietroni, who is the Postgraduate Dean of General Practice at London University, that he is organising a British-Cuban conference for GPs which will take place in Cuba next March and which will provide an opportunity for the mutual exchange of ideas. More than 100 British doctors will be attending, among whom I hope to be. I very much hope that the Government will be able to give this imaginative conference their blessing. It would be enormously appreciated if my noble friend could arrange to visit Cuba at that time and look in at the conference, as well as bringing, perhaps, a Minister from the Department of Health. Although the traditions are different, our National Health Service, especially at the primary healthcare level, might find the Cuban approach well worth studying.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, it is most fortunate that this debate is taking place so shortly after the visit of my noble friend Lady Hooper to Cuba. If I may say so, it was a very successful mission. The Cubans are extraordinarily talented people and the fact that this technological development has been put to world use is quite marvellous. I hope that there will be more of them; indeed, this should be supported most strongly.
Most of what I had intended to say has been said, so I shall endorse some of the comments made. First, I turn to the devastating effect of Hurricane Irene. On this occasion it was mostly rain that caused the damage; but the damage was to the tobacco crop, which is one of Cuba's principal exports. I was shocked to hear what my noble friend Lady Young said--namely, that there will be difficulties about the export of this crop because they will need help. I am not sure that they need the total help of aid. Cuba is full of extraordinarily talented people. They are very energetic and hard working.
What the Cubans need is trade and investment because that will create employment and bring the country into the international community as a fully-fledged member. I know that there are problems with the political system, but we should work with them and work towards that aim. That is why the memorandum of understanding which will lead to the restoration of full ECGD cover is so welcome. Of course, as the noble
As several speakers have mentioned, the biggest obstacle is the question of the restrictions on Cuba by this drastic and absolutely catastrophic legislation in the United States, which we all know is called Helms-Burton. This is a totally scandalous piece of legislation; it is completely against all international law. The WTO has been extremely weak as regards doing anything about it--very wishy-washy. I regret to say that I think the European Union took a rather half-hearted approach to getting something done about it. It is very much incumbent upon Her Majesty's Government to press the EU to take a much more robust line with the WTO to ensure that the US is brought to book on this issue. If we are to have a world in which we can trade together internationally, such infringements cannot be allowed. The fact that the United States is enormously powerful and tries to bully a small island nearby is totally unacceptable to the international community. I hope that we can be much more strong minded about that in the future. Indeed, that would be very welcome.
My noble friend Lady Young has done miracles with the Cuban initiative, which has been a very important event. Last year we had the inward mission from the Cuban National Assembly led by Ricardo Alarcon, to which my noble friend referred. I endorse her suggestion wholeheartedly that we should have a visit from Carlos Lage, who is a very important member of the Cuban Government. He is a talented young man. In fact, I made that suggestion in an earlier debate on this very subject.
Regrettably, I must thank my noble friend Lady Young for her kind remarks about my efforts in this field. It is correct that this will be my last intervention because, alas, I am leaving at the end of next week to go on a South American tour in order to honour some long-standing commitments which were made long before this House of Lords Bill started its passage. Therefore, I shall not be here at the end of the Session. However, it has been an enormous privilege to serve in this House. I have been here for 23 years and have pursued certain causes, many of which were related to Latin America, but I have also pursued other causes. It is encouraging to see that so many enthusiastic potential Latin Americans have participated in this debate. I may not agree with what is being proposed for the future of the House but I accept the will of Parliament. I shall retire, I hope in good order, and I hope to keep in touch with many friends in the hereafter.
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