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Lord_howeLord Howe of Aberavon, better known as Geoffrey Howe, spoke in the House of Lords yesterday about foreign affairs. Here are some highlights from his speech:

"I start with a word about defence. We have long been accustomed, in government or out of it, to being able to fulfil our central objective, which is the availability of first-rate, world-class strategically mobile conventional forces. We have seen that displayed from the Iranian embassy in London to the Falkland Islands and the Gulf War. Today, however, despite the sustained, wholehearted commitment of our forces to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, one gets the increasing impression of repeated delays and inadequacies of equipment in almost every direction. Sadly, that is accompanied, as my noble friend pointed out, by a decline in morale and even, indeed, reputation, which is largely undeserved. The whole of this was summed up by an Economist headline the other day: “Overstretched, overwhelmed and over there”.

In today’s complex world there can be no doubt about the huge importance of having a high-quality Diplomatic Service, for which we are traditionally renowned. French Foreign Secretaries have constantly said that our Diplomatic Service is “second only to our own”. I have heard similar tributes paid to our Diplomatic Service by Chinese Foreign Ministers with whom I have negotiated. This House is filled with noble Lords who are lively exhibits in support of my proposition. However, there is no doubt now about the erosion, as a result of pressure from the Treasury, of that quality. In short, there can be no doubt that there is an imbalance between the underresourced Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the much larger DfID budget. That imbalance is quite literally crippling our diplomatic efforts. I say that without being insensitive to the importance of the DfID budget, which was well spelt out by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. However, the slogan “Making Poverty History” attaches a magic to that half of the equation, leading to an imbalance that inhibits our capacity in other respects."

I wonder if the front bench will welcome Lord Howe’s call for greater spending. Regardless, he has more than earned the right to have his say.

Tom Greeves

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