To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking within the European Union to support the governments of Spain and France to secure peace following the declaration by ETA of a definitive cessation of all armed action.
My Lords, all EU member states including the United Kingdom agreed a statement at the October European Council welcoming ETA’s announcement of a definitive ceasefire as a victory for democracy and freedom and supporting Spain’s long struggle against terrorist violence. This is primarily a sovereign matter for Spain, but the UK Government would, of course, respond to any requests from Spain or France for further action.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his helpful response. I declare my interest as a member of the International Contact Group on the Basque Country, which was present at last month’s international conference that culminated in the declaration by Kofi Annan and others calling on ETA for this definitive ceasefire. British Governments have had extensive experience. I ask the Minister, in the light of that experience in the conduct of dialogue leading to peace and in particular to normalisation and more beneficial outcomes for victims, as well as to decommissioning, verification and monitoring, will the British Government respond positively to this situation?
My Lords, we have supported the Spanish and French Governments in their efforts to secure a peaceful and democratic future for the Basque Country, free of terrorism. Should we be asked for support, we would respond in any way that they would find helpful. We are aware of the work that the noble Baroness is doing as a member of the International Contact Group, and my noble friend Lord Howell is very grateful for her update last month.
My Lords, given the increasing evidence that cities and regions coming out of conflict do so successfully only if they have continuing external support after the cessation of violence, and that indeed such support often comes best from other cities and regions that have gone through the same experience, would Her Majesty's Government encourage Bilbao and the Basque Country to join the Forum for Cities in Transition, which includes cities such as Kirkuk, Beirut, Mitrovica, Mostar and indeed Belfast and Derry and which will meet again in Kirkuk next year, in order that Bilbao and its region receive the best support from people who people who, like them, have been through such terrible times?
My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. I am aware of the excellent work of the Forum for Cities in Transition and its help to other cities that have been in, or have emerged from, such conflict. This would be a matter for Bilbao, but I have no doubt that the Forum for Cities in Transition will be in touch with the Bilbao authorities.
My Lords, are we just waiting for an invitation? Should we not positively seek an invitation? We at least are independent in a way that neither the French nor Spanish Governments are, and we have very considerable experience in Northern Ireland, which we have used very positively in reconciliation in South Africa.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. The situation is very fluid at the moment, with a new Government about to take power in Spain next month. We should wait and see how things turn out and then decide what to do. But it is essentially a sovereign matter for Spain.
My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister share my view that help is always defined better by the receiver than by the giver? Does he also recall the observation of CS Lewis, that if you hear about someone going around doing good to others, you can generally tell the others by their hunted look?
My Lords, I shall certainly make a visit to the Library afterwards and have a look at that.