My Lords, I also express gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for securing this debate. Effective diplomacy is paramount in dealing with the emerging and existing challenges facing our nation, including tackling the effects of climate change, promoting free trade and protecting human rights. It is important not just to focus on our historic relationships but to seek avenues for building new friendships and influence with emerging players.
First, our diplomacy should recognise the importance of greater dialogue between the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. These departments are paramount in achieving progress through active and efficient diplomacy. The challenges facing our nation and the world at large require a multifaceted approach to how we conduct future relations. I was surprised to learn that officials from different government departments operating abroad do not work together routinely and are often located in different buildings. That is unsatisfactory and can only add to the expense while also undermining our effectiveness in projecting foreign policy abroad. I am pleased that the Government appear to have this in hand and hope that the Minister will be able to offer clear assurances on this point.
While strengthening existing relationships, we must forge greater ties with emerging economies such as the BRIC countries and the Gulf states where economic growth is likely to be considerable. During the year I visited Russia, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, Brussels and the United Arab Emirates, where I spoke at international conferences on boosting trade and achieving sustainable development. I recently visited Sri Lanka as a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation. I was impressed with the quality of our high commissioner and his staff but feel that there are business opportunities which we can pursue. We can also consider providing resources to aid in rebuilding the country.
I am pleased to note that the Secretary of State has undertaken to overhaul our network of foreign embassies, turning them into engines for trade that support our ambitions for an export-led recovery from the current economic situation. I see no reason why leading business people should not be appointed to diplomatic posts, and I commend the Secretary of State on his vision in making this announcement and undertaking to deliver on it. This accords directly with my experience of travelling across the world and speaking with key figures. The recruitment of senior business people should provide a new impetus for us to maximise trade opportunities, to deliver economic and political benefits to all parties.
I have established and maintained good relationships with the ambassadors and high commissioners of a number of countries and their diaspora. There is good will towards the United Kingdom but we need to build on these relationships further.
I support the Government’s effort to strengthen our economic strategy and commercial relationships with China and India. I was very pleased that our trade delegation to both countries was headed by the Prime Minister. We need to rectify the difficulties caused by our present economic situation. We can achieve this through spending cuts and raising taxes but we need also to look at ways of strengthening our business activities overseas. By increasing our trade with overseas countries, we not only generate wealth but also strengthen our political, social and cultural ties with them. Diplomacy has a key role to play in achieving these objectives.
I have spoken on several occasions and led a debate in your Lordships’ House on the importance of the Commonwealth. The linguistic and administrative legacy of British rule suggests that it costs less to trade within the Commonwealth than outside it. We need to work towards building closer business and social links with Commonwealth countries. However, we should not embark upon this at the expense of building wider alliances. We cannot use the opportunity to look at the issue of diplomatic activities without also considering the impact of the European External Action Service. A consequence of the Lisbon treaty, this approach could have a profound impact on our diplomatic footprint. We should not allow our footprint to diminish at the expense of European infrastructure that may be less efficient or effective.
I believe that the European External Action Service, now that it exists, should be harnessed to exert maximum influence. We should be proactive in helping to shape its agenda so that it can contribute positively on the international stage.
I would welcome further proposals to expand the United Nations Security Council. The emerging global order suggests that such an expansion is inevitable. I acknowledge that this will indeed result in challenges to our diplomacy as it will require efforts to extend and increase our influence among a larger group of countries. Effective diplomacy is necessary in order to secure our international prosperity. Our diplomacy requires a flexible and steadfast approach to how we further our interests in the emerging world order. This will undoubtedly contribute towards the reinforcement of British influence and prestige in global affairs.
Finally, I have been on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia several times and agree with all the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Blackburn. I might add that I chair the Conservative Muslim Forum but there was no consultation on this with me or my members.