Monthly newsletter Edition 23 Sir Robert reports:- Page 1
There was a major debate on Iraq in Strasbourg last week, opened by Foreign Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten and concluded by the Danish (Presidency) Foreign Minister. Views expressed were many and various, across the political spectrum, but the theme running through the whole discussion was one of reservation about an unsupported US invasion of Iraq and the long-term implications for peace in the Middle East. There was unanimity about the iniquities of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime, a realisation that the European Union should play a more effective part in searching for a peaceful resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict and a consensus that the UN Security Council should ensure that its Resolutions about Iraq were enforced rather than ignored - precisely what President Bush said in his UN speech. Undoubtedly, Parliament had been influenced by a most impressive speech made by King Abdullah of Jordan at the Parliamentary Session just before the Summer Recess. A worthy successor to his much-respected father, King Hussein and, with his British and American education he is very Western-oriented, but he was forceful and critical of the failure to address the Middle East situation before dealing with Iraq. We lose the support of friends like him at our peril. Of course, it should go without saying, that if British troops are committed to any military incursions by the Government, then it is incumbent upon all of us to support them in every way possible - whatever reservations there may be about aspects of the policy.
The Farnborough Air Show in July was a mandatory engagement during the Recess and I was privileged to be a guest of the President of the Society of British Aerospace Companies, who run the event. Our aviation connections in the NW are substantial and important and I was able to visit many locally-based firms and hear about their problems and successes. The Show is the shop-window for the world to see just how good is the British aerospace sector and, despite the obvious downturn resulting from last September 11th, it was a relief to see the industry in pretty good heart.
Then off to the Commonwealth Games. What a truly splendid affair and as professionally organised as you would expect in Britain. My family went on four separate occasions and, like everyone else, was hugely impressed by our athletes' achievements and the spirit in which the Games were conducted throughout - a friendly atmosphere on and off the "pitch" which transmitted itself to everyone present. A real plus for the North West in general and Manchester in particular.
Earlier in the month I had been present at the Opening of the Ribble Link which connects the Lancaster Canal to the rest of the UK canal system. This should have happened two hundred years ago but the engineering difficulties of crossing the River Ribble were just too great. As I once had Ministerial responsibility for the Waterways, I was asked to become President of the Link Campaign and played a small part in helping to raise the wherewithal to complete the project. Millennium money, Lottery money, Grant aid etc. all contributed and, at long last, the efforts of so many dedicated people have paid off. It was a wonderful celebration as the flotilla of boats crossed the River into Preston Docks and were greeted by the media, other boat owners and hundreds of onlookers. The first new canal built for over one hundred years! Now the continuation into Cumbria has to be re-opened and developed to restore this beautiful canal to its former glory.