My Lords, this is a most timely and important debate. The world is transforming before our eyes and Britain must be capable of setting its foreign policy in the context of these changes. Over the past 12 months, I have visited East Africa, Russia, Syria, Turkey, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, India and Egypt. I went to these countries to speak at international conferences, for humanitarian reasons or to attend important events-and also for commercial purposes. These visits have enabled me to acquire a better understanding of the situation in the various countries, and I have built up some excellent connections with politicians and people of the countries. I have also fostered good relationships with high commissioners and ambassadors of various countries, as well as their diaspora in the UK. We all need to be involved in networking at all stages; we must foster country-to-country as well as people-to- people contacts.
In view of the time constraints, I shall comment only briefly on some salient issues. Last weekend, while the Prime Minister was showing a strong lead in Canada, the Foreign Secretary was spelling out a new approach to foreign policy in an interview for the Sunday Telegraph. He has expanded on that vision today and I commend his analysis. His vision, based not on the historic blocs but on taking a fresh look at the new global dynamics, is most welcome.
I am sure we all feel that we should not only maintain but strengthen our relationship with the United States. I am encouraged by the conciliatory attitudes of the Obama Administration, particularly towards the Muslim world. I commend the importance that the Government attach to India and look forward to an enhanced partnership with India. The importance ascribed to this was demonstrated by the reference in the gracious Speech. We need also to accommodate the development of greater links with other countries with emerging economies. We have seen the rise in economic power of the Gulf states and we welcome the involvement in various companies and organisations in our country, which will strengthen not only economic but political ties with the Arab states. I have previously spoken in your Lordships’ House on the important role that the Commonwealth can play in building strong relationships in various ways, particularly in strengthening political ties and resolving conflicts. I was pleased that the coalition programme included a statement on strengthening the Commonwealth.
I have already stated that I have visited countries including Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I fully support the entry of Turkey into the European Union. We need also to resolve problems in Cyprus. I also feel that we should engage with Turkey and its involvement in resolution of conflicts in surrounding areas, including Iran and Palestine. We cannot afford to ignore the challenges presented to us by the ongoing conflict in Palestine. Recent events can serve only to stiffen our resolve that the only long-term and sustainable solution involves two states, with the achievement of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. That will be the most acceptable solution.
Last week, I visited Russia to make a keynote speech at an international conference on Islamic finance. Our relations with Russia have deteriorated in recent months and some serious issues remain outstanding. Engaging with Russia is complex. The Government have announced that they will seek to establish a new relationship. I feel that we should give that serious consideration.
About three weeks ago, I attended and spoke at a conference in Uganda relating to peace, democracy, the rule of law and the maintenance of human rights. We should continue to ensure good governance and seek to bring to book persons who have committed crimes against humanity.
I have watched with alarm the way that relations with Iran have deteriorated, particularly following last year’s presidential elections. We must not forget the important opportunity that the UN presents and Iran needs to engage with the international community. We should wish to have a constructive relationship with Iran, which is a key power in the region. I hope that the Iranian Government will not switch off to the possibilities being held out to them.
I strongly support the coalition pledge to ring-fence the development budget. Not only is it the right decision from a humanitarian perspective, but it shows the world that we are serious as a nation about supporting developing and emerging economies. This will undoubtedly contribute towards reinforcing British influence and prestige in global affairs.
China has witnessed an impressive growth over the past 30 years. Before long, we can probably expect it to be the largest economy in the world. It is a self-confident country with expanding influence, not least in Africa. I welcome the positive engagement that we appear to enjoy with the Chinese Government. Furthermore, we need to harness Chinese influence in confronting and overcoming the challenges of Iran and North Korea.