Skip to main content

UK-US Bilateral Relations

Volume 568: debated on Tuesday 8 October 2013

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Swayne.)

It is a pleasure, Mr Dobbin, to be here under your chairmanship. My previous debate was on High Speed 2 and ancient woodlands, and was a little controversial; I hope that this one will be more of a love-in. Its title is “UK-US Bilateral Relations”, but the context is: “Whither goest the special relationship between the UK and the US?” Having said that, I share the view held by a friend in the US Department of State, Daniel McNicholas, that the special relationship is a given, and that it is pointless to worry about its ebbs and flows over days and weeks. I do not feel guilty about mentioning Daniel McNicholas, because back in the days when I was in opposition and he served in the US embassy in London, he and I used to meet up. A few months after I had spoken to him about various issues concerning the Conservative party in opposition, I got an urgent phone call from him to say that everything I had told him had appeared in WikiLeaks. Daniel McNicholas, you have been named.

I want to name someone else: may I say what a pleasure it is that the US ambassador is in the Chamber for this debate? I believe that it is the first time that the ambassador has visited the United Kingdom Parliament.

In recent weeks, the special relationship has been put under scrutiny following the House of Commons vote on action in Syria. The Sun ran the dramatic headline, “Death Notice: The Special Relationship”. At the time, commentators on both sides of the Atlantic saw the vote as a turning point with regard to the United Kingdom’s place in the world. Some even saw Secretary Kerry’s remarks about France being the United States’ oldest ally—technically, it is—as a public kick in the teeth from the Obama Administration, but it is not. Let us be clear: the special relationship is special because of the one fact that there is no other international relationship like it in the world.

Some people in the UK may panic at anything that can be even remotely taken as a slight from the Americans. A few weeks ago, it was Secretary of State Kerry’s remarks about France. Before that, it was President Obama’s populist remarks about BP and the spill in the gulf of Mexico. Some years ago, it was Gordon Brown’s bungled meeting with President Obama in a New York kitchen—let me say to my friend, the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar), that that is the only party political point I will make today. Before that, it was Tony Blair’s so-called poodle-like behaviour—I did not think it was poodle-like—towards the Bush Administration.

Some people in our media revel, whenever a press conference is called, in analysing the language used, dissecting every comma, and looking for even the remotest possibility that we are no longer America’s golden ally. It is all nonsense, of course. American officials know the facts, and the British should be a bit braver in accepting them. As someone once said, “It’s the economy, stupid”, so let us follow the money: British businesses employ around 1 million people in the United States, and American companies employ around 1 million people in the UK, making our two countries by far each other’s largest foreign job supporters. The United Kingdom and the United States have almost $1 trillion invested in each other’s economies. British-American trade was worth $214 billion in 2012. That is the biggest bilateral trade relationship between any two countries on the planet.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing the issue of the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States to the House for consideration. The Minister will be aware that in Northern Ireland, that relationship is worth £1.06 billion in investment commitments, with 7,700 new jobs having been secured by Invest Northern Ireland from US companies. That represents one third of all inward investment secured by Invest Northern Ireland. The US is the largest export market for Northern Ireland manufacturing companies after the Republic of Ireland, with more than $750 million of export business secured by Northern Ireland companies in the market in 2011-12. Its importance to the United Kingdom is great, but I suggest that its importance for Northern Ireland is even greater.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which reinforces my point. Having worked with the BBC in Northern Ireland many years ago, I well understand his points. At state level, New York trades more with the United Kingdom than with any other US state. New York and the UK are inextricably bound together. If we believe that that is important for our economy, the Americans know how important it is for theirs, too. Let us not forget that the United States is the world’s largest economy, even after the economic crisis, and that British business is its biggest investor. UK investment in the US is 116 times greater than China’s investment in the US, 90 times greater than India’s, and 88 times greater than Brazil’s. We are almost back to 2008 levels, having suffered a global economic crisis, and we have overtaken Germany to become the US’s fifth largest trading partner.

If a special relationship were based on trade alone, the relationship between the UK and the US would be more than special, given those figures, but we know that the relationship enjoyed by our two countries is about more than just trade. Something pushes that trade. The figures I quoted should be shouted from the rooftops. We are not some minor mid-Atlantic island, as President Putin’s spokesman said, that the US flatters occasionally; we are its biggest investor and it is our biggest investor. That has happened not by accident, but because we are friends, because business and entrepreneurial endeavour thrive in our shared culture, and because we use a shared language, have a shared history, and use a shared common law. Those are not bygone assets of a long-forgotten empire or age, but real assets that we share, and which our people use to their advantage every second of every day.

Throughout the US, local radio stations and national public radio rebroadcast live BBC news for US listeners. The BBC’s news is considered to be as reliable, if not more reliable, than that of some domestic news broadcasters. Where else in the world would a nation routinely rebroadcast live news, which cannot be edited, from a so-called foreign power? Only the US does that with the BBC news.

Even the US national anthem owes much to Britain—perhaps more to Britain than to the US. That is not just because the words were written by an American, Francis Scott Key, as he witnessed, from the deck of a Royal Navy ship, the British bombardment of Baltimore—we all know that—but because the very tune of the “Star-Spangled Banner” was, in fact, a bawdy and popular London drinking song written by a Brit, John Stafford Smith, from Gloucester, and I mean Gloucester, England, not Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Here in the UK Parliament, we have tiles made by Minton in Stoke-on-Trent, and the US Congress has identical tiles. I was told that 20 or 30 years ago, when the tiles in the US Congress needed to be replaced, it contacted Minton. The people there said, “The order is not big enough for us to set up a manufacturing plant for the special manufacturing needed for the tiles,” so the Serjeants at Arms of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the US Congress contacted the Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons and Black Rod, as we archaically call him, in the House of Lords, and said, “Can we place a joint order for the tiles?” That was duly done. Of course, we must not forget that the US Congress and the new Palace of Westminster, as it is officially known, were built roughly at the same time, although in rather different styles.

As I say, the relationship is not only about history; there is the travel between the two countries. The routes between London Heathrow and John F. Kennedy international airport and Newark, serving New York, are the busiest air links between any two cities in the world, with close to 3 million people a year travelling between the two.

The alliance, however, goes way beyond being just financial and cultural: it extends to the protection of British and American citizens. The United Kingdom and the United States are the closest of allies militarily. Where else in the world would a country allow another to test its nuclear weapons on its territory? I am not talking about the UK allowing the United States to do so, but about the United States allowing Britain to test its Trident missiles in the Nevada desert.

British and American troops have fought side by side in almost every theatre for the past century, for the same cause and in the same spirit. British territory welcomes American servicemen as though they are our own—not as foreign soldiers, but as kindred spirits. When foot and mouth disease prevented the Royal Marine Corps performing exercises in the United Kingdom, the US Marine Corps invited its counterparts to train in Virginia. Those regular visits continue, and I am told that the Post Exchange is a darn sight cheaper than the NAAFI. Our network of intelligence sharing, military co-operation and joint diplomacy in the United Nations and elsewhere never ceases.

Perhaps the vote on Syria was surprising for those who question whether the special relationship is right, but the vote demonstrated, actually, just how close we are, and that we do not often take different decisions, because we have similar goals and a similar global view and aspirations. In the end, what did President Obama do? He followed in the footsteps of David Cameron and referred the matter to the US Congress. Despite the US having the constitution that Britain did in the 18th century, in which the President is Head of State, with what we would call the royal prerogative—the right to wage war—he, too, went to Congress seeking a vote, and he delayed it when he saw that Congress might well echo the will of Parliament across the ocean.

In conclusion, at every level of co-operation, the relationship that the United Kingdom shares with the United States is unprecedented between two countries. President Obama remarked, on a visit to Britain, that the relationship is the “essential” one, and do you know something? He is right. A million jobs on both sides of the Atlantic depend on it. The special relationship is economically, socially and historically beyond single events.

What I have aimed to do today is demonstrate that our two countries are as interlinked and as co-dependent as any the world has ever seen. Both countries benefit from that, and we should aim to build on that. The Prime Minister has shown his dedication to pushing for an EU-US free trade deal as soon as possible. That would increase trade by at least a further $100 billion, and even the US Congress has speculated on the many benefits to the United States if the UK were to enter the North American Free Trade Agreement—even if it meant that the UK would have to leave the EU. Sometimes, when people talk about these things, they think it is just madness on the British side. Actually, I do not think it is madness at all; I think it is a view of the future.

As a prop, Mr Dobbin, I raise this weighty document, which was published by the US Treasury in 2000, outlining the benefits to NAFTA if the United Kingdom were to join, and the effect on the UK if it meant that the UK would have to leave the EU.

Has the United States not clearly indicated that its primary interest in trade negotiations—rightly so, given that it represents some 40% to 45% of world gross domestic product in aggregate—is the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, or TTIP? The US has indicated that it wants that to be a partnership with the EU as a whole, rather than having 28 separate negotiations. Does that not show the real direction that trade talks will take?

Indeed, as long as the UK is part of the EU. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman says, it is much easier to negotiate with one body than with many different bodies. Nevertheless, it is a fact that this document was produced by the US Treasury. I might even add to his argument by saying that the US is very keen for us to remain in the European Union. However, that is partly because, as some US diplomats have said privately, they think that the United Kingdom is the only sane voice in the EU on some issues. I rather suspect that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), may have a view on that.

I profoundly believe that Britain’s place in the world is as an outward-looking global trading nation, doing what it does best: being open to the world and building alliances with those who believe in freedom and the advancement of its people. Our alliance with the United States has done that for centuries, and it will continue to do so, for the benefit of the United States, the United Kingdom, and, I believe, the peace and prosperity of the world.

Order. Before I call Julian Lewis, may I ask you, Michael, to repeat the title of the document for the record?

I am very happy to do so. It is “The Impact on the US Economy of Including the United Kingdom in a Free Trade Arrangement with the United States, Canada, and Mexico”. It is Publication 3339 of August 2000, from the United States International Trade Commission, an arm of the US Treasury.

It is a great pleasure to contribute to the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin, and it is an even greater pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). He has been in the House longer than I have, so over my entire parliamentary career, I have heard him make many contributions—albeit that when he served as a Whip, he was silent for a while. He has now come back into the fold and has more than made up for that silence today. I can truly say that he has just made probably the best speech I have heard him make, although it is highly probable that he will exceed even that in the future.

However, I wish to concentrate my remarks—this will come as no surprise to those hon. Members who know me—on a certain aspect of the relationship with the United States that my hon. Friend touched on: the military and intelligence relationship. As he rightly said, that is of supreme mutual interest, and it has paid enormous dividends to both sides over at least the past century.

Only last night, I watched the rather splendid American film, “Argo”, which picked up a number of academy awards. It is about the amazing rescue, courtesy of the CIA, on the one hand, and the Canadians, on the other, of half a dozen American diplomats who had escaped being taken hostage in 1980 at the time of the Iranian revolution.

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that “Argo” was shown in the refectory of the US embassy recently, and people had the opportunity, in London, in a teleconference, to interview people involved with the real event—I wish I had been invited!

That neatly anticipates the point that I wanted to make, because it shows up one of the slight weaknesses that tend to crop up from time to time in the Hollywood view of the Anglo-American relationship. Quite unnecessarily, quite gratuitously, in the course of the film’s dialogue, there is a throwaway line, “Well, this country turned them away, that country turned them away, and the Brits turned them away.” At the time of the academy awards, I remember that they interviewed the British diplomats who had, at huge risk to themselves, taken the six escapees in and transported them hazardously to the Canadian ambassador’s residence. That enabled the whole story, which was eventually unpacked in this hugely adventurous tale, to transpire.

I do not know why Hollywood sometimes does that sort of thing. It is not the first time that it has done it. Something similar happened a few years ago when there was a rather splendid film called “U-571” about the American seizure of an Enigma machine from a U-boat in the course of the battle of the Atlantic. It was perfectly true that that had happened in 1944 with an American operation, but it had happened twice previously through the good offices of the Royal Navy. I had particular reason to know that, because my esteemed constituent Lieutenant-Commander David Balme was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for descending into the depths of U-110 on the first occasion on which such a seizure was made. When a bit of a fuss was made in the media, the film company backed down. It took him on as an adviser and put in a tribute at the end of the film, pointing out that there had been two earlier seizures.

One must not extrapolate too much from that, because of course the Hollywood view of the Anglo-American relationship should not be relied on any more than, shall we say, the more partisan, chattering-class, luvvie views of politics in certain sections of British society should be relied on. The truth is that the United States and the United Kingdom are at their best when the chips are down. Like people in all sorts of good, valuable and, indeed, invaluable relationships, they bicker and disagree, but when it really matters, they are always there for each other.

I mentioned that I would say a word or two about the intelligence relationship, and I will after giving way to the right hon. Gentleman.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman also wanted to quote Winston Churchill’s apposite phrase that the United States would always do the right thing, having exhausted all the other possibilities.

Yes indeed, and that puts me in mind, of course, of another thing that the two countries have in common, which was also encapsulated by Winston Churchill when he said that

“democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others”.

I see something common there because the United States is a great democracy and the United Kingdom is a great democracy and, as I said, when we get to what really matters, we can always count on each other.

The intelligence relationship no doubt goes back a good deal further than the first world war, but the period that I know something about is the 20th century, and of course in the first world war we had a classic example of the work of the intelligence services in this country with the discovery of something called the Zimmermann telegram. This was a revelation of a conspiracy in which the Germans had offered, if I remember correctly, the Mexicans some great tranche of US territory if they would co-operate with them in hostilities against the United States. It was the discovery by the British intelligence services of that correspondence that finally showed the Americans where their interests lay and helped to precipitate their entry into the first world war, from which time the outcome of the conflict could no longer be in doubt, because arguably—I would say that it is probably beyond argument—it was the entry of the United States that forced the Germans to embark on their last-ditch attempt in March 1918 to break the stalemate on the western front, and that led to the sequence of events, including the battle of Amiens later in the year, that ultimately led to the allied victory.

Similarly, with regard to the military relationship in the second world war, it is well known that the Americans helped us with lend-lease. The “Destroyers for Bases” deal is also well known. These were all methods of helping the British war effort while the United States itself was still not a belligerent. Less well known is the “Shoot at Sight” policy whereby the Americans undertook, if there were any interference on the high seas by Hitler’s U-boats, to engage them militarily if they sought to attack convoys going from the United States to the United Kingdom.

In other words, the Americans did, given the limitations of their constitutional system, everything that they possibly could do to help Britain in its hour of need until such time as the political situation in the United States—because it was no easy decision for them—facilitated the entry of the United States into the war; and of course to that, the contribution of the Japanese in their treacherous attack at Pearl Harbor was decisive. Again, once America had entered the conflict, the outcome could not be in doubt, even though many months—indeed, several years—of desperate conflict had to ensue before victory was obtained.

Scrolling forward rapidly into the post-war years, we see the occasions on which Britain backed the American initiative—unusually, for once, with the support of the United Nations, because the Russians at that time were not participating in the Security Council—in the Korean war; but there have been hiccups as well, and this is germane to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield made about not reading too much into the vote on Syria and the divergence of policy between the two countries. If people forget everything else in my contribution, I hope that they will seek to remember this one point. Even among the closest of allies, there may be genuine disagreements from time to time. The Americans genuinely disagreed with British action and French action in Suez in 1956. Harold Wilson genuinely disagreed with the Americans, and most people think that history has vindicated him in not joining with the Americans to participate in the conduct of the Vietnam war.

As my hon. Friend eloquently pointed out, there was a genuine disagreement in this country with the proposal to take military action against the Assad regime a few weeks ago. So far, although it is far too early to tell, if the objective of our Government and the American Government was, as stated, to stop chemical weapons attacks, as things are unfolding, we are in a better position at the moment to stop chemical weapons attacks than anyone might have dreamed possible. So at the moment, it looks as though the system has worked.

As my hon. Friend rightly stated, it was fascinating and entirely praiseworthy that having seen what the British Government had done in putting the matter to Parliament, and knowing that there was just as much disquiet in American public opinion as there was in British public opinion, President Obama decided to do the same thing by putting the matter to Congress. That is where it would have lain, but for the—what shall we say?—fortunate slip of the tongue by Secretary of State Kerry when he said, “Well, of course, if Assad doesn’t wish to be attacked, he could always offer to give up his chemical arsenal.” Never have words made off the cuff and in such an offhand fashion borne such fruit. Perhaps our diplomats and Foreign Ministers should throw away the prepared script a little more often in the future.

I just wonder whether Hansard will put the words “off the cuff” and “offhand” in quotes or inverted commas to convey the sense of what the hon. Gentleman was saying—what he was trying to get across.

I am sure that Hansard will be equal to the occasion. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman meant that Hansard would convey the good sense of my somewhat convoluted prose. Sometimes it is better to be right than simply to be tidy.

During the Falklands conflict, we saw the constructive tension in the relationship between the UK and the US at its most interesting. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick was wholly hostile to the British position over the Falkland Islands, while Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger was very sympathetic. In the end, the Weinberger view prevailed with President Reagan. It is now widely acknowledged that the covert assistance that the Americans supplied to the British, particularly in the field of intelligence, was of great value to the country and to our campaign, notwithstanding the competing attractions and incentives that the United States experienced at that difficult time, which might have encouraged them not to assist us.

Although my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield has done the House a service by securing the debate, the House has not done him a service in that, unusually for a Tuesday, it will sit only at 2.30 pm, so many people who would otherwise have contributed to the debate are sadly not here. In other circumstances, I am sure that there would have been many more participants. The best laid plans always suffer the occasional hiccup, however.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Several people have told me that they would have liked to take part in the debate, but they are still travelling from their constituencies, and I am pleased that that has been put on the record.

We will have to do the best we can in the extra time available. I am sure that the Front Benchers will rise to the occasion and give us so many good reasons for the support, pursuit, development and continuation of the Anglo-American relationship that the time will simply fly by.

I turn, finally, to the Trident missile system. As my hon. and right hon. colleagues know, the Trident missile bodies in the UK nuclear deterrent force are supplied by the Americans. We and the Americans have a common pool of such missile bodies, although the British, under the terms of international treaties, manufacture the warheads ourselves. The design of the successor submarines that will carry the next generation of the British strategic nuclear deterrent is at an advanced stage, and it is interesting to learn that co-operation in the matter is so close that there will be an identical common missile compartment in American ballistic missile submarines and future British ballistic missile submarines.

It is occasionally suggested that certain officials in the American Administration are not enthusiastic supporters of Britain’s continuing to have a strategic minimum nuclear deterrent. Such individuals, who are seldom named—I have seen one or two names occasionally bandied about—are very much in the minority, however. Overwhelmingly, our American allies see the benefit of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, assigned as it is to duties in NATO but ultimately under the entire control of the British Government. It is beyond dispute that the Americans welcome the existence of that force and do everything they can to facilitate it and to ensure that it is replaced as each generation reaches the end of its life.

I began by saying that the relationship between the UK and the US occasionally has scratchy, ungrateful or divergent moments. As I have said, however, when things really matter, we know that we can always count on each other. I believe that we have done the US a favour over Syria. Time will tell whether I am right, but I suspect that it will not be too long before the American Administration agree that things have worked out for the better. For many years, the Americans have done us a favour by making it possible for us to maintain an ultimate minimum strategic deterrent as a final insurance policy to ensure that our country can never be blackmailed by people armed with nuclear weapons. The benefits for both sides are beyond question. Long may the relationship flourish, long may it continue and long may it survive attempts to undermine it by people who wish neither country much good.

I had not intended to speak, but I was greatly encouraged by the comments of the hon. Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), and I felt that I should at least make a contribution. I want to refer to my constituency and to the special relationship that we have with the United States of America by being part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which makes us part of the debate.

When President Obama came to Northern Ireland for the G8 conference, I took note of some of his comments. The G8 conference was a showpiece for Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom. President Obama was proud to pinpoint his roots in the Republic of Ireland via his eighth cousin, and I believe that Northern Ireland has an important role to play as well. At the Waterfront hall in Belfast, President Obama spoke the following inspirational words, which emphasised the feeling of relationship between Northern Ireland and the United States of America:

“So our histories are bound by blood and belief, by culture and by commerce. And our futures are equally, inextricably linked.”

The Minister must have read my notes. That is absolutely true: 17 of the 44 presidents of the United States of America can trace their ancestry to Northern Ireland, and four presidents who have Ulster Scots ancestry are still living. I am proud to be able to reiterate that fact.

As an Ulster Scot, I am proud of my ancestry and history. The hon. Member for Lichfield referred to culture, and I would like to touch on that point. I have visited the United States several times on holiday, but this year I visited in a different capacity, namely to speak at the Milwaukee Irish Fest. What is an Ulster Scot doing at Irish Fest? The event brings together different cultures and traditions, and Ulster Scots is very much part of that. I had the opportunity to advance the Unionist viewpoint and the Ulster Scots viewpoint.

When we look through the whole history of the United States, we in that wee province of ours within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can make that proud ancestral claim to 17 of the 44 presidents. Through the history of our relationship with the United States, we can claim many things, such as that some US musical interests largely came from Northern Ireland. The ancestors of Elvis Presley were Ulster Scots, so we as Ulster Scots can claim part of the musical cultural history in the United States. The NASCAR—National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing—car championships that we can sometimes watch on television was started by another Ulster Scot, although it probably began at a certain whisky-running time, which might be why the cars were so fast. Ulster Scots therefore have that ancestry and historical contact with the United States.

Some of the greatest US writers can also claim to be Ulster Scots and therefore part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as can be shown by their ancestry and history. The Ulster Scots—or the Scots-Irish, as they are often known in America—had generals in the armies of both sides in the American civil war. Ulster Scots, who are very much a fighting breed, contributed greatly to the United States through their pioneering traits, such as exploring and setting up cities and towns across the US. The relationship is therefore very strong.

The hon. Member for New Forest East commented that there was a difference in strategy on Syria, but that there was no difference on the need to do something. It is on record that I voted against going to war, because I felt that people were not ready for it and no longer had any appetite for it, but also that the best approach was what we are now doing. As the hon. Member for Lichfield said, it is interesting that what the Prime Minister decided to do is what the United States Government and the United Nations are doing. It is important that, in a way, we have arrived at the right place, although perhaps by taking a wee bit longer to get there.

As I said earlier, trade links with Northern Ireland and the United States have produced some 7,700 jobs for Northern Ireland in the past 10 years and are worth $750 million to our economy, so Northern Ireland’s industrial dependence and economic relationship with the United States is very important.

Other Members have mentioned the special relationship from having fought wars together. I never fail to put on the record my thanks to the United States of America, and its Government and people, for its contribution as, dare I say, the world’s policeman, taking its stand on many issues. On many occasions—indeed, on almost every occasion—the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has stood alongside it in those battles, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the past couple of years, I have had opportunities to meet some American soldiers, and I always thank them, as well as our British soldiers, for what they do and have done all over the world, with their sacrifices in terms of life and energy, including by those physically and mentally injured and those traumatised by what they have seen. We thank the United States of America and its Government for taking such a stand and fighting on those issues.

John Kerry, the Secretary of State, has been referred to, but I think it is important to conclude with one of his comments:

“At its heart, the UK/US special relationship is an alliance of values of freedom and maintaining international peace and security, of making sure that we live in a rules-based world.”

He has therefore clearly put the special relationship on the record. He has also said that the

“US has no better partner than UK”.

We, too, should say that and put it on the record. It has been a pleasure to speak in the debate and to put on the record our thanks for the special relationship. We in Northern Ireland are very pleased to be part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and to have that special relationship with the United States.

Not to be left out of the debate, I want to say that I, too, have some American cousins who live in Los Angeles.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin. I am not sure whether we are supposed to declare our relatives living in Los Angeles, let alone those living in Toronto, Sydney and so on, which tells a story in itself.

May I welcome the Minister if not to the Department, then to this portfolio? I cast no reflection on him when I say how much we will miss the previous Minister with responsibility for dealing with the United States, the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt). He impressed colleagues throughout the House and in the wider world with his diligent attention to his portfolio, and with how he engaged with Members of Parliament to ensure that we were kept updated on current developments and to facilitate contact with Foreign Office officials to enable us to have well-informed debates in this House and the wider public domain. I do not intrude on the affairs of the reshuffle, but I think that his contribution will be greatly missed in this House.

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting that comment on the record. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) did an excellent job in the Foreign Office in relation to many parts of the world. For the record, I will reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on behalf of the Government, but the United States has not been added to my rather wide portfolio. It will be handled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), but, given that he was appointed only last night, it was thought better that an almost vintage Foreign Office Minister—of just over a year’s standing—should handle this debate in his stead.

I thank the Minister. From my knowledge of the right hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), I think that he will be in the mould of Ministers who see that there is a British national interest running across party lines and, indeed, across Parliaments.

I know that we are not supposed to mention people in the Gallery, Mr Dobbin, but if the American ambassador is listening to the debate, I am sure that he will very much welcome the bipartisan support for the long-term depth, and the understanding of the importance, of the relationship to both our countries.

I declare an interest as the joint-treasurer of the British-American Parliamentary Group, which is one of the few groups to be established, in effect, as a statutory body in Parliament. It does an enormous amount of work to foster Anglo-American understanding. Indeed, only last month, we had an extremely good conference, in Winchester, which is pretty close to the constituency of the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). We had good exchanges with Senators led by the estimable and formidable Senator Leahy, and that debate showed that there is a huge degree of common understanding and interest; if there is not necessarily common agreement on all the issues, there is much shared ground.

When the debate was chosen, I was a little uncertain what direction it would take. I am sure that colleagues would agree that, with its being introduced by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), that was perfectly understandable. May I, however, congratulate him not only on securing the debate, but on the main thrust of his argument?

I was interested in how the hon. Gentleman introduced the Syria vote. Some ill-informed and ill-intentioned media comment has sought to take partisan advantage, which has sometimes been a feature of our debates, and to try to undermine the relationship with the US. That has come from various strands, as we all know: although there is broad agreement on and widespread appreciation of the relationship’s values, there are hostile strands in both parties. There is what I describe as the post-imperial League of Empire Loyalists tendency—it is now less strong in the Conservative party, but it still exists—who really resent the change in the balance of forces, although that change is inevitable, given the size and strength of the United States. In some cases, there is also an elitist snobbishness towards the United States, which, by the way, appears on the left of the political spectrum as well. There are also those who still hanker after the times when they supported the losing side in the cold war.

May I put it on the record that even at the time of the most anti-American phase of the Labour party, the right hon. Gentleman, the shadow Minister, never signed up to that point of view?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment. However, people often talk about a party taking one position or another, but, in reality, there is always a balance of opinion within a party. The difference is that the balance shifts. The Labour party did not overwhelmingly go from being unilateralist to multilateralist. The balance shifted from being 55:45 one way to 55:45 the other way, so there were always many colleagues on both sides of the argument still holding those views. Indeed, as we saw recently in the debate on Trident, there was a strong level of agreement between the two serious parties in this Parliament on the importance of maintaining a nuclear deterrent at the minimum level necessary. Furthermore, as he rightly stressed, there was an understanding of the importance of our transatlantic relationship in ensuring the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of that deterrent.

I welcome the suggestion by the shadow defence team, which I hope will remain its position under its new head, that given that even the Liberal Democrats now claim to want to have two replacement Trident submarines, we should get on with making that decision irreversible as soon as possible so that Trident does not become a political football in coalition negotiations after the next election, as, regrettably, it was after the last one.

That is a matter for the hon. Gentleman to discuss with his own party. He is right to allude to the fact that the Liberal Democrats want a deterrent as long as it is not one that actually works.

All those views that I have just described are the flotsam and jetsam of this debate, because the deep tides in British public and political opinion run strongly in the direction of the relationship between our countries. The hon. Member for Lichfield rightly stressed the real strength and depth of that relationship.

It is important that, in such difficult times, we focus on not just current issues and interests, but values, culture and language that have bound us over generations. Of course such a discussion will focus to some extent on our joint military actions, especially in two world wars, and the vital role played by our shared intelligence capabilities, which are crucial to the security of this country, especially in a world where all of us face threats from international and internal terrorism. We should also focus on the way in which we have drawn on each other on constitutional issues, our legal framework, common law and political issues. Sometimes such issues start in one state in the United States or in the UK and then become part of a common dialogue, driven even more now by the advent of the internet, which allows people readily to access such arguments. Furthermore, both of our countries have, separately and in international forums, campaigned round the world for freedom of the seas, free trade, free speech and free communications.

The hon. Gentleman stressed the enormous depth of our financial relationship and of the joint investments in each of our countries, which, interestingly, are followed only in the UK’s case by the joint relationship with Australia and the substantial investment there. Australia is a deep ally of both countries, and, as the hon. Member for the New Forest East said, it has always been there for us, and we, I hope, have always been there for them.

Yes. Even in today’s newspaper, we read about Britain’s cultural export of television programmes. Some £450 million is coming into this country, which is probably balanced, and rightly so, by quite a lot going in the other direction, from TV shows being taken by the United States. There is no need to recite and revisit all the statistics that were quoted by the hon. Member for Lichfield, as we can all see them in everyday business. Again, such trade is not a recent phenomenon. Look at the firms that are seen to be long-standing British companies. Vauxhall, for example, which is actually expanding its production in Ellesmere Port and bringing in new models, has been under the ownership of General Motors for nearly a century now. It is a significant long-term interest, not just a recent phenomenon.

Of course that does not mean that there is always complete concurrence of views or interests between the UK and the US. Geography determines history and influences politics. Sometimes, though, individuals and groups on both sides of the Atlantic seek to exaggerate such differences, but those differences have been there all the way through the relationship. Read the masterly work of Alan Bullock on the life of Ernest Bevin and his period as Foreign Secretary. Huge amounts have been done between our countries, such as the Marshall plan and the foundation of NATO. The Marshall plan, which might have been a casual remark by a US Secretary of State and then picked up very effectively by the British Foreign Secretary, transformed the economic outlook for Europe and highlighted graphically the whole difference of approach between the United States and the Soviet Union in their views on how Europe could develop at the end of the cold war. It was an argument that the Anglo-American alliance clearly won. In those discussions, there were some significant differences and real arguments. The fact that one is a long-term ally and friend does not mean that one does not fight one’s corner. Indeed it is a derogation of duty not to fight for one’s own interest, but it should be done within the right framework and context. Such a stance can be seen in a number of international forums, such as in the permanent five of the United Nations, where we work enormously effectively together, the G8, the G20 and NATO. We are seeing it in the discussions that are taking place over the transatlantic trade and investment partnership and also in the discussions on the trade in services agreement.

There will be areas in which domestic interest lobbies will want to push a particular point of view. In some cases, they will need to be fought for strongly and in other cases there will need to be trade-offs. None the less, they indicate strongly the main thrust, which is to try to bring about the reduction of trade barriers across the world, the increase in world trade and the growth that arises from the ability of companies and individuals to exploit their talents, innovations and improvements to sell in a wider market. That is an enormously important role. There is the question of whether those trade negotiations will, to some extent, undermine the World Trade Organisation. There is a wider agreement that, if agreement cannot be brought to a conclusion, as was the case after the Doha rounds, it would be extremely welcome if there could be this development in freeing up world trade, taking into account the interests and views of other countries—a development in which the roles of the United Kingdom and the United States are not only consistent but working well together.

There are some—the hon. Member for Lichfield veered towards this, or tiptoed towards it—who will try to pose this issue as a dichotomy; they will say that Britain must either be allied with the United States or be part of the EU. In Winston Churchill’s words, we must either look to “Europe” or to “the open sea”. Of course, it was quite interesting that in that quote Churchill said:

“If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea”.

Notice, as always with Churchill, the careful use of words: “If Britain must choose”. However, this is not a choice that we have to make, because it has never been the view of the US that it should just have a bilateral relationship with Britain to the exclusion of its relationships with Europe. Right the way through—indeed, it goes back to the Bevin discussions—there has always been an encouragement from the US for Britain to be involved in and to have a beneficial effect on debates in Europe. Also, at the time of the Marshall plan, when the future of Europe was in the balance, it was absolutely vital that Britain was part of that European economic revival and not standing outside Europe while the future of Europe fell to the Soviet Union to decide.

The right hon. Gentleman refers to that period in the immediate post-war years, and I do not think that the harshest Eurosceptic would dispute the fact that Britain needed to be involved then. However, surely that period also shows that it is possible to be heavily involved in shaping the future of Europe without being a member of a European Union.

Actually, at the time that those discussions were taking place, there was not a European Union; there was not even a European Coal and Steel Community. When President Obama launched the transatlantic trade and investment partnership talks—unfortunately, the latest discussion this week had to be postponed because of events in Washington—he made it clear that the likely time scale for securing a trade agreement would not be possible with a multiplicity of individual countries. Therefore, in bringing together the two major trading areas of the world, it is not in the interests of the United States for one of them to be broken up and divided.

Interestingly enough, that is the view not only of the United States but of Japan, another major trading partner of ours and a massive investor in this country. The Japanese also see our engagement in Europe as part of their investment in the UK; they use the UK as their base within Europe. Also, earlier I mentioned Australian business, and the Japanese view is exactly the view of the Australian business community too. Therefore, the attempt to create a sharp dichotomy between the two and to make it a binary choice between them—either involvement with the United States or with Europe—is not only a false choice but a choice that is not welcomed by our partners.

Just for clarity, I want to make it clear that I have never said, nor do I think that others think, that there is mutual exclusivity. I was referring to the document produced by the United States International Trade Commission, which investigated whether it would be beneficial for the North American Free Trade Agreement if the UK was a member. It took the view that the UK could be a member only if we were to leave the EU. We may or may not have a referendum on this issue in 2017; I hope that we will. But the UK is a global trading nation, and that includes trading with Europe as well as with the United States and Australia. The US and the EU are not mutually exclusive. And while we are bandying around Churchill quotes, I will just throw this one in. He said that the UK is in Europe “not of it”.

As I was saying, I am not sure whether that quote undermines my argument or even contradicts it. However, I am sure that if the Government Whip—the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury, the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne)—was still here, he would be very pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman is committed to 2017 rather than to 2014. I am sure that a note has been taken for him.

Finally, I want to look a little more widely, because, as I have alluded to before, some consider it fashionable to blame America for much of the world’s ills. I counsel them to beware of what they wish for. It was very well summed up by President Obama in his address to the UN, in which he said:

“The danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or to take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world, may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.”

I believe that our relationship with the US helps to secure, facilitate and support that US engagement with the rest of the world, which is in the interests of Britain, Europe and the wider world.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on securing this debate on our bilateral relationship with the United States. It is an excellent topic, and one that is particularly relevant to me, as I have just returned from New York, where the world gathered the week before last for the UN General Assembly.

Mr Dobbin, I know that it is not customary to draw attention to those who may be in the Chamber’s Public Gallery, but I hope that you will indulge me and allow me to welcome His Excellency Matthew Barzun, if he is present, to the House of Commons; I understand that it is the first time he has been here. As my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield and for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), have pointed out, this is a morning debate, held on the day on which the House is returning from a lengthy recess for the party conferences, and the main Chamber does not sit until this afternoon, hence the poor attendance at this debate. I just say to the American ambassador, if he is attending this debate or listening to it in any way, that that is no reflection of parliamentarians’ interest in the US; nor is it an indication of complacency about the relationship. It is purely a question of timing and logistics. My hon. Friends were absolutely right to say that if the debate had taken place this afternoon, the chairs in Westminster Hall would have been filled, with Members making points that ranged far more widely than those that we have covered this morning.

Attendance or non-attendance by colleagues notwithstanding, it is true to say that the US remains our single most important bilateral ally. As we have heard this morning, we work as essential and valued partners in taking forward our shared objectives on a vast range of issues around the world. The relationship is crucial to our national security, our prosperity and our defence capability. It is a relationship from which the UK continues to benefit. We have heard historical allusions to the pre-war, first-world-war and post-war periods—my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East can always be relied on to educate and illuminate—and to Bevin. This alliance has been built up over a time stretching way beyond those periods, over generations.

There are few areas of activity in our national lives where we are not beneficially influenced by each other. Our histories are intertwined, and time and again, we have worked together in facing some of the world’s greatest challenges. We have stood side by side over the years, in good times and bad. Our diplomats and intelligence agencies are working together; our soldiers are serving together; our scientists are collaborating; and our businesses are trading together. The values of democracy, the rule of law and free markets have shaped our approach, and we continue to defend those values and advance our shared interests.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has previously characterised the relationship between the US and the UK as “solid but not slavish”. At its heart, the US-UK relationship is based on extensive historical, cultural and people-to-people links through our common language, our shared spirit of innovation and creativity and our popular culture and sport. Indeed, we have even heard about the increased exchange of television programmes. We have sent them “Downton Abbey” and, personally, I think we benefit from “Homeland”, but that is just my view. For followers of parliamentary proceedings I recommend the American version of “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey, which I saw on a plane the other day; it is absolutely fantastic. The UK and US share much popular culture and sport, and our nations have always had a special affinity, which continues to grow.

An estimated 829,000 British citizens live in the United States, with some 180,000 US citizens living in the UK. More than 3.7 million Britons visited the US last year, and an estimated 2.8 million Americans visited the UK. Those incredible figures underline how ingrained the bond between our two countries is.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on his visit to Washington in May this year, the US-UK relationship is a “partnership without parallel.” During the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Washington in June, the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, characterised the bond between our countries as

“without question, an essential, if not the essential relationship”.

I am somewhat surprised that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) did not allude to the no doubt Irish antecedence of Secretary Kerry.

Our objectives have always been closely aligned, but as we have heard this morning, there will inevitably be occasions when the UK and the US do not agree. That does not mean that we defer to the US in a slavish, poodle-type way, though that is sometimes the charge. Indeed, the key to our relationship is our ability to maintain frank and open dialogue even when we disagree. That is rare among international partners, and I believe it is valued by both sides.

We work closely with the United States on the full spectrum of our foreign, defence and prosperity priorities. It would be impossible to list all the areas where we are working together, but I will highlight a few of them. On foreign policy, the United States and the United Kingdom have been at the forefront of international efforts to address the crisis in Syria. We are focused on getting the international community to unite to bring all sides together to achieve the political solution that is needed to end the conflict. We worked closely with the United States and others to ensure the passage of the recent groundbreaking Security Council resolution. Both the United Kingdom and the United States are also at the forefront of international efforts to alleviate the human suffering in Syria and the wider region in response to the more than 6 million people who have been displaced.

On the middle east peace process, negotiating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an urgent foreign policy priority for both the United Kingdom and the United States. We welcome the United States-led efforts to revive the peace process, and particularly the focus that Secretary Kerry has brought to bear on the issues in recent months. We very much welcome his knowledge of and commitment to the area. We have given our full backing to those efforts, including through support for the economic package that will form part of any solution.

More broadly, we continue to work with the United States to play a leading role in international institutions. We co-ordinate positions at every level, including in the United Nations Security Council as members of the P5 group of permanent members, and within the G8, the G20 and NATO. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has recently announced that the United Kingdom will host the NATO summit in 2014—incidentally, a year when the people of Scotland will have a chance to vote on whether they wish to stay part of the United Kingdom, a decision that will have huge implications for the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent and the location thereof. The Scottish people need to be apprised of the implications of that vote, and they need to think very carefully about them when they vote in the referendum.

Earlier this year, we worked closely on the outcomes of our presidency of the G8, which I am glad to say was down on the beautiful shores in Fermanagh. We focused on the “three Ts” agenda—trade, tax and transparency. The United States was particularly supportive of the transparency element, and vocally backed the UK’s proposal in G8 discussions at official and political level. Within the G20, there is also excellent contact between the UK and US sherpa offices.

As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East concentrated the majority of his speech on intelligence and defence matters—subjects on which he has an almost unequalled reputation in this House. As he said, the defence relationship has for decades been one of the foundations of the UK-US partnership. We have fought together in six major campaigns over the past 20 years. Much has been made of Winston Churchill, and I suppose it does not need to be said that if there was ever an embodiment of the special relationship it is he, not least because half of him was most decidedly American. He brought to British politics an American angle and perspective that other politicians at the time certainly lacked, and we were the beneficiaries.

The strategies, policies and plans of the United Kingdom and the United States are well aligned. UK and US forces are now more interoperable than ever, and we have worked effectively together to find solutions to the challenges that we face in our operational environments. We are focused on sustaining that close bilateral defence relationship as we plan the draw-down in Afghanistan.

The threats we face today require a much broader security relationship. Through our unique and indispensible relationship in the fields of intelligence, cyber and counter-terrorism, we work together to protect the people of our countries and their prosperity. The counter-terrorism relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States is vital to the protection of UK interests at home and overseas from the threats posed by al-Qaeda and allied terrorist groups. The United States remains our most important partner in that field.

On prosperity, I am grateful for the fact that the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) has established an all-party group on European Union-United States trade and investment. He led a Back-Bench debate on the importance of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership back in July. Simply, the US is our primary partner on prosperity; we have heard various figures bandied around this morning. Our close collaboration in the wake of the financial crisis has been important in supporting the progress we have made since 2010 to address the deficit and debt and to support economic recovery, jobs and growth. As we have heard, the United States remains the largest investor in the UK, and the UK is the US’s No. 1 investment destination in Europe.

The relationship will be further strengthened as the EU and the US embark on the largest and most significant free-trade deal in history—the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. A comprehensive deal could be worth up to £10 billion to the UK economy and will reinvigorate the global free-trade agenda. A deal that boosts the economies of both the EU and the US, as our biggest trading network, is strongly in our interests. As announced by the Deputy Prime Minister when he was in Washington on 24 September, a recent study shows that every US state, including New York, would benefit from EU-US free-trade agreements, and that is not to be dismissed lightly.

The hon. Member for Shannon—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Strangford talked about US investment in Northern Ireland.

I am happy to be the Member for Strangford, and I have no wish to be the Member for Shannon in the Republic of Ireland.

Indeed. We were having a cross-border discussion earlier, so I got confused between Strangford, Shannon and the hon. Gentleman’s name. He knows me well and I know him well, as I served as the Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office for two and a half years.

I am glad to say that I understand that His Excellency the American ambassador has already visited Northern Ireland. We very much welcome the interest shown in the Northern Ireland peace process by successive American Presidents alongside British Prime Ministers. Equally, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister not long ago had a successful trip to the United States to attract inward investment. That relationship is incredibly important, too.

Achieving all those objectives in and with the United States is important. We have a high-performing network of posts across the United States. As well as the embassy in Washington, we have nine consulates-general, one consulate and a UK Government office in Seattle.

I want to reinforce what the Minister said about the excellent work performed by our representatives in not only Washington but other parts of the US, which, although less visited, are enormously important to our economic and political relationship.

The shadow Minister is entirely correct. Too often when we think of countries, we think of the capital and a few other cities, but the United States is absolutely huge. British businesses do business right across the United States, and I was attempting to illustrate that our footprint is well extended to reflect those interests.

Recently, I saw for myself the work of our incredibly dynamic consul general in New York, Danny Lopez. That included the promotion of British menswear at Bloomingdale’s the week before last, which was themed around the GREAT campaign. I also met the brilliant finalists from the GREAT tech awards. My brief says they were brilliant, and they were: they spoke a language completely unknown to me, although my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield, who is tremendously technical, would have understood everything they were talking about. However, I understood absolutely nothing, and I felt extremely old talking to them. The finalists were all from incredibly dynamic start-up companies. Five innovative US companies have won prizes, including a visit to the UK and custom support to help them establish themselves in Tech City, in London. One UK tech company was recognised for the impact it has had since establishing a US presence.

There was some discussion when the GREAT brand was introduced, because Northern Ireland was left off the posters, but I am glad to say that the majority now refer to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. GREAT continues to be an incredibly good marketing brand, showcasing the best of what is on offer from the UK, and it continues to have a strong identity across the world, particularly in the United States. Our embassies and high commissions around the world are still doing a lot of work to support the campaign.

I was not sure that we would fill the time allotted for this debate, and we might have had to look to our American cousins for a refresher on how to extend debates. I would not use the word “filibuster” to describe what happened in Washington the other day, because I was told it was not a filibuster, although it was certainly what I understood to be one. Unfortunately, the days of filibustering are over in this place, as we have all been drilled into speaking for limited amounts of time, and our terrible fixed hours do not allow us to recount our life stories, or talk about our favourite foods and bands and our travel itineraries, to extend debates.

I would not, however, call this a debate, because that suggests that there is some disagreement, confrontation or contrary view. I hope everyone would agree that we have been as one this morning in recognising the enduring importance of our American friends and allies, and in recognising that the relationship has to be balanced, rather than being one of slavish obedience, because we need to respect each other’s differences, as I believe we do. At the end of the day, ours is the most enduring relationship, although it may not be the United States’ oldest relationship, which may well be with France. France is a great country, but it is not, I believe, as important to the United States as the United Kingdom is.

In conclusion, I want to take right hon. and hon. Members back to May 2011. Next door in Westminster Hall, during his state visit to London—not Paris—President Obama addressed Members of Parliament and Peers. He described the US-UK relationship as

“one of the oldest, one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known.”

I believe unequivocally that that is still the case, and this Government will continue to ensure—with the support of the Opposition, I am sure—that the relationship remains strong, close and frank, so that both our countries and their peoples continue to benefit from our shared partnership.

Sitting suspended.