HC Deb 27 November 1998 vol 321 cc439-512 9.34 am
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

In the week of the previous Queen's Speech, I set out a new mission statement for our foreign policy. In this, the second Queen's Speech of the Parliament, I should like to measure Britain's standing in the world today against three of the objectives that I set out in that mission statement: first, to ensure the security of the United Kingdom; secondly, to promote the prosperity of the United Kingdom; and, thirdly, to secure respect for our values of human rights, civil liberties and democracy.

I begin, logically, with security. There is no higher national interest for our foreign policy than the promotion of our national security. In the context of international security, no nation can be an island—not even such a distinguished island state as Britain. That is why peace for our people is best guaranteed by fostering our alliances with other nations and by promoting international stability.

I am pleased to say that our alliances are in good shape. In the lifetime of the new parliamentary Session, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will expand to include three new members. Countries that, only a decade ago, were potential adversaries within the Warsaw pact, within a few months will be our firm allies as fellow members of NATO.

NATO is a unique partnership, spanning two continents separated by the Atlantic, but joined by common interests. More than any other member, Britain is both a European and an Atlantic state.

At the recent meeting in Pörtschach, the Prime Minister took the lead in Europe in launching a debate on how we can improve European capacity for effective and timely decisions on security and, equally important, on how we can improve the European capability to deliver an effective contribution wherever the stability of our continent is under threat. That British initiative has been welcomed with great interest by other European states, and, throughout this Session of Parliament, Britain will take a leading role in the debate that we have started.

Our relations with the two American members of the Atlantic alliance have never been in better shape. There is particular appreciation in Canada of the prominent role that Britain played in securing European and international support for the Ottawa convention. All hon. Members can share the national pride that Britain was in the front rank in banning landmines.

Britain's alliance with the United States has, of course, been the anchor of our security for half a century. Today, that alliance is stronger than ever, particularly because of the close working relationship and mutual respect of President Clinton and our Prime Minister. We have seen the importance of that relationship in the progress that has been made towards peace in Northern Ireland, which was boosted by the staunch support and personal interest of President Clinton.

We have seen the relationship's importance in the former Yugoslavia, where the US and Britain are the two leading contributors to the stabilisation force in Bosnia, and were close partners in securing the NATO threat that obliged President Milosevic to back down in Kosovo.

Most recently, we have seen the value of our partnership in the way in which our combined forces obliged Saddam Hussein to agree to the return of United Nations inspectors.

A dominant theme in the foreign policy of the past year has been the necessity of backing diplomacy with the credible threat of force against those who challenge international stability. Both in Kosovo and in Iraq, that twin-track approach has been successful in securing agreement. However, a necessary feature of agreements obtained by the threat of force is that they are likely to be implemented only if we demonstrate our continuing resolve.

In relation to Iraq, the threat of force came very close to being the use of force. Both President Clinton and the Prime Minister had authorised air strikes to be made. The threat of force was certainly credible to Saddam Hussein. He had thought that we were bluffing, but he realised that he was wrong. When he grasped how serious we were, he was desperate to avert military action.

In the course of that Saturday two weeks ago, the fax machines between Baghdad and the United Nations were in overdrive. Not only did we receive the initial commitment to allow the UN special commission to resume inspections, but, when that was not sufficient, we secured two further clarifications, making it clear that the undertaking was without conditions, without reservations and without limitations.

UNSCOM is now back in Iraq. However, our forces are still in the Gulf. If UNSCOM is prevented from inspecting suspect sites, military action can be swift. As Kofi Annan has warned, next time there may be no diplomatic phase.

Saddam must understand that there can be no question of lifting sanctions while he retains the weapons of tenor that could wipe out whole cities throughout the region. If he really wants an end to sanctions, he will achieve it only by giving full co-operation to UNSCOM. His recent refusal to hand over the documents that would help UNSCOM to find his chemical weapons is contrary to his own wish to see sanctions lifted. The less he co-operates with the UNSCOM inspectors, the longer it will take them to complete their work and the longer sanctions will stay in place. I have no doubt that the Iraqi people would vote overwhelmingly for Saddam to comply with UNSCOM and co-operate in the ending of sanctions. Their tragedy is that he has no intention of listening to them.

I was troubled during the recent confrontation by the readiness of some in the media to report, on the basis of a few vox pops in the street, that the people of Iraq were solidly behind Saddam. I am not at all surprised that residents of Baghdad, if accosted by foreigners, express enthusiastic support for Saddam. Failure to do so is a guarantee of certain, but possibly slow, death.

I urge all hon. Members to read the recent report of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iraq. It sets out a harrowing account of torture, murder, arbitrary imprisonment and amputation for those who dare to lift their hand against the regime. The brutality and terror that Saddam inflicts on his own people are the most compelling reason why we cannot allow him to retain weapons with which he could inflict tenor on the people of the countries around him.

In Kosovo, there has been steady progress on implementing some elements of the Holbrooke package. There has been a marked improvement in the humanitarian situation. Within two months, the number of refugees on the open hillside has fallen from 50,000 to a few hundred. There has been a substantial reduction in the presence of the Serbian security forces, which have been cut, as agreed, to the level that existed before the conflict began.

There is a continuing build-up of the verification mission on the ground. Britain has already supplied more than 50 extra monitors in Kosovo—the largest European contingent on the ground. Next week, an additional 23 British members of the verification mission will be deployed in Kosovo.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

When does the Foreign Secretary expect the full complement of monitors to be assembled and embarked on their work? When does he believe the protection force to be stationed in Macedonia will be fully deployed?

Mr. Cook

Those whom we have deployed are already working as observers and verifiers of the agreement. For the time being, they are doing so as members of the Kosovo diplomatic observer mission. That will fold easily and automatically into the verification mission being organised by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. It is for the OSCE to ensure that it is able to deploy its full strength. I do not realistically expect that target to be achieved until around the turn of the year. There are severe logistical problems, not least the question of where the 2,000 verifiers will stay. Britain is giving a lead. We have already deployed more than any other European country. That will be even more marked by next week.

I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that it is hoped that the military force in Macedonia will be deployed during the coming month. Over the next two months, there should be a steady build-up of the international presence in Kosovo. I am conscious of the pressure of time. The history of the area shows that when spring comes, truce tends to deteriorate. We must make maximum progress while we have the window of opportunity afforded by winter.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Has my right hon. Friend read the report in The Times yesterday about mujaheddin fighters being seen with some of the Kosovo Liberation Army forces in Kosovo? What is being done to ensure that the agreement holds on both sides and that no actions are taken in the name of or on behalf of the KLA that would make it more difficult for the humanitarian work and verification to go ahead?

Mr. Cook

I read that report with concern. I am not able to confirm it to the House.

The killing continues in Kosovo. I regret to report that most of the killings since the Holbrooke agreement have been carried out by the Kosovo Liberation Army. Since the Holbrooke package was signed, 19 members of the Serbian security forces have been killed. Five Kosovar Albanians are known to have been killed—all of them in the full uniform of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

I cannot stress too strongly that a ceasefire will hold only if both sides cease firing. Last month, I met representatives of the Kosovo political leadership, who expressed their appreciation of the strong stand that I have taken over the conflict in Kosovo and the major contribution that Britain is making to building its peace.

All the Kosovar people must understand that the way forward for them is through the political process that we are holding out to them, not through military struggle. The current activities of the Kosovo Liberation Army will not liberate the Kosovar people, but will only prolong their suffering.

A high priority for our foreign policy in the year ahead will be to do everything that we can to build on the breakthrough in the middle east peace process secured at the Wye plantation. On Monday, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), who is responsible for middle eastern affairs, will be attending the donors conference in Washington, where Britain will announce a package of assistance to the Palestine National Authority and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency of more than £100 million of bilateral and European Union aid in support of the peace process.

I hosted lunch yesterday for Mr. Netanyahu, when I congratulated him on his statesmanship in achieving the Wye agreement and on his courage on the start to implementing it. I also took the opportunity to point out that I am now one meal ahead in our relationship. One of my priorities for next year will be to take up the invitation that he made yesterday to have a somewhat delayed dinner in Israel.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Did my right hon. Friend raise with Prime Minister Netanyahu the issue of Israel's nuclear weapons capability and the continued imprisonment of Mordecai Vanunu, who has suffered 11 years in solitary confinement and a further two years in prison?

Mr. Cook

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. We have frequently raised our concerns about the imprisonment of the gentleman who was abducted from Italy, particularly about his long period of solitary confinement. The nuclear weapons issue forms part of our regular dialogue with Israel. We are anxious to ensure that we are consistent in pressing for action against proliferation.

The second objective in our mission statement was prosperity. We committed ourselves to making maximum use of the contacts of the Foreign Office to promote trade abroad and to boost jobs at home.

I inherited a Foreign Office that had experienced a prolonged and sharp reduction in its budget under the Conservatives. During those Conservative years, the number of Britain's diplomatic staff fell by a quarter. In the last Parliament alone, the Foreign Office budget fell in real terms by a sixth. The cut, accepted without argument by my immediate predecessor, was so severe that when I came to office, I found that up to 100 of the posts that had survived were permanently vacant because the Foreign Office could not afford to fill them.

This year's comprehensive spending review has produced the best settlement for the Foreign Office for six years. It provides for an increase in the Foreign Office budget in line with the average for public spending, excluding health and education, in which the Government have rightly made greater investment.

We have now completed our resource allocation round within the Foreign Office and I can announce the results to the House today. This is the first time in two Parliaments that the House has been able to hear a statement that provides for an expansion, not a retrenchment, in Britain's representation around the world.

We have reversed the trend of reduction in staff numbers that has prevailed for two decades. I can now appoint 200 more members of the diplomatic service, and a total of 375 more staff. Their distribution will reflect our foreign policy priorities, particularly in commercial work.

For instance, another 33 diplomatic staff will be appointed to other member states of the European Union, reflecting its dominant importance as the market to which half of all our exports are sold. There will be a further 21 diplomatic personnel in the countries that are candidates for membership of the European Union. That reflects Britain's leading commitment to making a success of enlargement and is also a recognition of the fact that, in the next few years, those countries will sit as full members of the European Union with the same ability as existing members to influence its policies.

The countries of the Caspian basin will soon be producing a tenth of the world's oil supply. Britain's current diplomatic strength in those countries is less than a sixth of the combined German and French representation. That is the result of those countries' coming to independence at the very time when Conservative policies were obliging the Foreign Office to cut staff and preventing them from responding to an increase in demand for diplomatic staff. I am pleased to announce to the House that we will be increasing Britain's representation in the region by 50 per cent.

I am also able to expand Britain's network of overseas posts. We have approved a further eight new overseas posts and we will be strengthening our commercial representation in key industrial cities in China, Japan, India and Sweden.

The fact that we are able to conduct our budget allocation against a background of increased financial resources does not relieve us of the need to scrutinise rigorously existing spending in order to make sure that we are getting best value for money. After a review of all overseas posts, we have resolved on five closures of posts, none of them sovereign posts in capitals.

In addition, we have looked hard at whether we need all our existing estate. As a result of that review, I can inform the House that we can achieve capital receipts from the sale of overseas property of £100 million. As a result of a new agreement that we have secured with the Treasury, all those receipts will be retained by the Foreign Office to upgrade its properties. As a result, this Parliament will see the biggest investment for decades in the modernisation and extension of our embassies and posts abroad, which are an important part of the image that we show the rest of the world.

I am confident that this expansion of Britain's representation will be welcome to the whole House. Indeed, it must be welcome to the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), because when I wrote to him asking which of the increased spending by the Foreign Office he would cut, he was unable to answer. He did tell me that if he were Foreign Secretary, he would drop the working families tax credit. It pains me to have to inform the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the social security budget is separately administered, and is not available for diversion to the Foreign Office. Perhaps when he comes to address the House, he could tell us which of the increases he opposes. In precisely which markets would he leave EU business with less support? In which countries would he leave British travellers with fewer places to turn to for advice? If he cannot tell us, he should regard it as his good fortune, as well as that of the rest of the country, that he was not elected to office at the last general election, because if he had been, he would have been forced to answer those questions as a result of the declining budget planned by his own party.

The final objective of our mission statement on which I want to report to the House is the commitment that we made to promote respect for Britain through the spread of our values of human rights, civil liberty and democracy. If we demand freedom of expression for ourselves, we must be prepared to speak up for those who are silenced by repression. If we insist that those who take their seats in Parliament should do so not solely because they are born into the right families, we must support those around the world who also want democracy in their government. Those principles seem to me self-evident. I am never quite clear to what extent they are self-evident to Opposition Members. They appear to ping-pong between complaining that I am too critical of regimes for which they have a soft spot and complaining just as loudly that I am not rude enough to those regimes which they regard with distaste.

We have sought in our foreign policy to give practical expression to the values that inform our domestic policy. As a result, we now have in hand a broad range of initiatives to strengthen human rights in today's world. Britain played a leading role in the success of the Rome conference which obtained massive international commitment to an international criminal court. We will now carry out the detailed work to enable Britain to be one of the first 60 countries to ratify that and bring it into force.

Britain has also worked with allies to apply a more robust policy to war criminals in Bosnia, and I am pleased to report that a majority of those currently indicted are now awaiting trial. There can be no reconciliation for peace in Bosnia while there is no justice for those who committed the atrocities of war.

Britain's pioneering work in the Philippines has now led to a wider agreement between Europe and Asia to tackle child abuse, particularly of vulnerable street children. If we are concerned about the human rights of all citizens, we must begin by protecting the human rights of children before their lives are blighted.

Within the Foreign Office, we have shifted our priorities to focus more on support for human rights. In particular, I have moved resources from the training budget for the overseas military that I inherited from our predecessors to work in support of good government and human rights—a good example of beating swords into ploughshares. As a result, this year Britain will be supporting human rights projects in more than 60 countries.

This autumn, a number of hon. Members attended events to mark the 50th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. Indeed, I have seen some of those present today at those events. The events were dignified and gave many people in Britain an opportunity to participate and to express their support, but the best way in which we can celebrate that 50th anniversary is by working to secure its observance in countries where it is ignored. The standards that it expresses are universal ones which apply with equal force in all cultures, races and countries. If we value our national security, we must work for international stability; if we value our prosperity, we must promote international trade; and if we value our freedoms, we must demonstrate that by supporting the same freedoms for others.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Cook

I shall give way to my hon. Friend, but this must be the last intervention.

Mr. Anderson

We are about to have the opportunity to present our values and those of our European colleagues in terms of human rights in the moulding of the new common foreign and security policy structures within the European Union. In which ways is the United Kingdom seeking to give a human rights dimension to the common foreign and security policy?

Mr. Cook

I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be a strong human rights element in the position that we adopt under the common foreign and security policy. Indeed, over the past few months, Britain has been in the lead within the European Union in pressing for action in a number of cases of severe concern, particularly in Burma, where we have been working for a vigorous European response to the current situation. Britain has also been at the head of demanding troika visits in other areas of concern. I can, therefore, fully give my hon. Friend the assurance that human rights will be reflected not only in our national policy, but in our contribution to European policy.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Cook

No. I have given way for the last time. I have been generous in taking interventions.

We live in an internationalist age. There is no future in that modern world for the politics of little England. Neither is there a future for the politics of a wee Scotland. Britain has no way forward in the wider world if we start out with the perspective of so many Conservative Members of being as rude as possible to our immediate European neighbours.

If we are to secure our national interest, we shall do so best by contributing to a strong and peaceful international community, and by promoting international standards for justice, open markets, environmental protection and human rights. The Government are comfortable with that, as we are the natural party of internationalism. We have shown that over the past Session and we will continue to demonstrate it throughout the Parliament.

10 am

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

Today's debate, as the Foreign Secretary said, provides the House with its first real opportunity to discuss the Government's record on foreign affairs. It allows us to measure the extent to which their promises have been kept and their objectives have been met. It enables us to review the record of the Foreign Secretary, which is not as he would have us believe.

I am sure that the period since May 1997 has been a sobering experience for the right hon. Gentleman. From time to time, all Administrations face the challenge of dealing with events that they had not foreseen. No amount of preparation in opposition can fully prepare a new Government for such events as, for example, a humanitarian crisis in Kosovo or the threat posed by a dictator in Iraq.

The present Government stand out, however, for rarely can a new Administration have entered the Foreign Office with more overblown pretensions, and rarely can such pretensions have been punctured so promptly. If there is one characteristic that epitomises the foreign policy of this Government, it is the huge gulf that has emerged between the rhetoric and the reality. If there is one phrase that epitomises the foreign policy of this Foreign Secretary, it is that he talks tall but acts small.

The Foreign Secretary has his own way with the English language. His concept of truth is highly elastic, as emerged in his infamous interview in the programme "How to be Foreign Secretary". When asked about the Queen's visit to the Indian sub-continent last year, he proclaimed: The fact is I never said anything about Kashmir. Michael Cockerell asked incredulously: You never said anything about Kashmir? "No, no," replied the right hon. Gentleman. Michael Cockerell asked whether the reports were wrong, to which the right hon. Gentleman answered: I never said anything about Kashmir. I made no public statement on Kashmir. Cockerell said: "No public statement?" The Foreign Secretary replied: I gave no background briefing to the press either. I gave no press conference. There was never any comment by me on Kashmir in the whole time I was either in Pakistan or in India. Michael Cockerell then said: But the Pakistani Foreign Affairs Minister confirms that you had said this privately. The right hon. Gentleman responded: Oh, I had private meetings with politicians in both Pakistan and in India and, of course, I discussed a variety of issues including, undoubtedly—with both of them—Kashmir.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

So what?

Mr. Howard

So what? We are talking about the truth and the gulf between what the right hon. Gentleman said and what actually happened.

The same attempt to rewrite history can be seen in the right hon. Gentleman's recent attempt to explain away his infamous boast that he does not think it necessary to finish his paperwork. In the New Statesman a couple of weeks ago, he was once again in denial. He said: It was Bevin I was talking about, not me. However, he told Mr. Cockerell: I have recognised that you can be a successful Foreign Secretary if you focus on the big questions not necessarily if you finish the paperwork. Across the world—from Sierra Leone to Sind, from Jerusalem to Jeddah—other countries have been living with the consequences of the Foreign Secretary's approach to his paperwork.

Within two weeks of the right hon. Gentleman's appointment, he had already announced a brave new world. The forum chosen for the launch of his historic mission statement was not the House of Commons but a specially arranged media event. In a fanfare of publicity, he proclaimed that Britain was entering an era in which foreign policy must have "an ethical dimension". He said: The Labour Government will put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy". He also said that the mission statement supplies an ethical content to foreign policy. The statement was typically arrogant. The right hon. Gentleman ignored the achievements of generations of his predecessors—achievements that included the championing of the cause of liberty behind the iron curtain at a time when he was a leading member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He ignored the fact that British foreign policy has always had an ethical dimension.

Eighteen months later, the right hon. Gentleman decided once again to issue an important statement through the media. This time, the event was somewhat quieter in tone, marked neither by a press conference nor by a publicity stunt. Nevertheless, his interview with the New Statesman earlier this month was a significant landmark, as he finally announced the demise of ethics man. He announced: I never said there would be an ethical foreign policy". So now we know. No one should be surprised that the right hon. Gentleman was the first British Foreign Secretary for a decade not to support a motion at the United Nations drawing attention to China's record on human rights. After all, he never said that there would be an ethical foreign policy. No one should be surprised that China's best known dissident, Wei Jingsheng, called him two faced. After all, he never said that there would be an ethical foreign policy. No one should be surprised that the Legg investigation into Sierra Leone concluded that Ministers had deliberately misled others about the effects of the UN embargo and their own Order in Council. He never said that there would be an ethical foreign policy.

Those few examples—there are many others—are not the behaviour of a Government committed to an ethical foreign policy or to a foreign policy with an ethical dimension. They are the behaviour of a Foreign Secretary who has lost his ethical compass.

Recent events in Africa provide the right hon. Gentleman with an opportunity to introduce the ethical dimension that he originally promised. The Government of Zimbabwe have once again embarked on a process of compulsory acquisition of 841 farms, breaking assurances that they gave to farmers and to western Governments on the fairness and transparency of their proposed reforms. It is even reported that President Mugabe is returning to his previous position, which was based on the incredible proposition that Britain should accept responsibility for paying compensation to farmers who have had their land seized.

Zimbabwe is now spending more than £250,000 a day on financing the war in Congo. Meanwhile, the British Government provide it with £21 million in direct bilateral assistance each year, with even more through multilateral projects. Is that support now being reviewed? Should it be diverted to other Commonwealth countries with a significantly lower gross domestic product? What of the problems elsewhere in Africa? Sierra Leone continues to be afflicted by civil war and the Democratic Republic of Congo is on the brink of a devastating human disaster. Closer to home, there is acute anxiety about Russia.

The whole House will welcome the Wye River accord, but what are the Government doing to improve the prospects of a lasting peace in the middle east? I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement of the money that is to be made available to the Palestinian authority—that is excellent news—but will he now press the European Union to reinvigorate the multi-track discussions for which it is primarily responsible?

Unfortunately, the high expectations engendered in some quarters by the Government's statements on ethics are not the only ones to be dashed by Labour's record in office. At the launch of the mission statement, the right hon. Gentleman said: The next twelve months provide the greatest opportunity in a generation for Britain to take a leading part on the world stage". Since then, the regularity with which he has proclaimed Britain's leadership role has been matched only by the extent to which he has failed to lead.

The Government spoke about their leadership in respect of the crisis in Kosovo. The Foreign Secretary assured the House as long ago as March that the Government had been working hard to ensure that Europe as a whole was in the lead in determining the response of the international community. Months later, Europe's reaction to that issue was summarised by the Prime Minister's official spokesman, who conceded in a press briefing at Pörtschach that, far from being in the lead, Europe had been "dithering and disunited". These views were ascribed to the Prime Minister himself.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall how long it took the previous Government to do anything in Bosnia? Was it five years?

Mr. Howard

Most people will agree that circumstances in Bosnia were different in a number of crucial respects. In relation to Kosovo, we have had a series of final warnings from the Government, none of which were followed through. That was partly responsible for the devastating events which occurred there earlier this year. To listen to the Foreign Secretary this morning, one would have thought that the intervention in Kosovo had been a great success. In fact, the record in Kosovo is one of great failure, with hundreds killed, hundreds raped and thousands driven from their homes.

Seven months elapsed between the start of the appalling violence in that region and the outline agreement reached with President Milosevic—an agreement brokered, one might add, not by Europe at all, but by the special envoy of the President of the United States. Europe was unable and unwilling to show leadership—Europe had indeed been "dithering and disunited". Let us be clear—that failure was not a result of a lack of any institutional machinery. It was not a consequence of a lack of political integration. It was because the nations of Europe simply could not agree what to do.

Nowhere was the failure more marked than here in Britain. There was no greater example of dithering than the approach of the Foreign Secretary to the ban on Serbian airlines. In July, he told the House that he had introduced a ban on Serbian airlines. In September, we discovered that that was quite untrue—the Foreign Secretary had not imposed any ban, and was not intending to impose any ban for another year. There were, we were told, clear legal reasons why a year's notice had to be given.

I said that that was outrageous, as did others. Even Jacques Santer accused Britain of undermining Europe's efforts to impose sanctions on the Milosevic regime. Within days, those clear legal reasons had mysteriously vanished. What was impossible on 11 September was put into effect on 16 September. Who on earth could the Prime Minister's official spokesman have had in mind when he talked of dithering, if not the Foreign Secretary?

More recently, the agreement between Mr. Holbrooke and President Milosevic has run into difficulty. At the start of this month, the Yugoslav authorities refused to grant a visa to the prosecutor and president of the international criminal tribunal. This followed the Foreign Secretary's assurance to the House on 19 October that "full compliance" with Security Council resolution 1199 was an integral part of the settlement which had prevented air strikes from taking place, and that this resolution called on Belgrade to co-operate fully with the war crimes tribunal.

Therefore, President Milosevic is now in breach both of the agreement which averted air strikes, and of previous UN resolutions. As the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) explained in a recent letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend), a new resolution on the issue—resolution 1207—was adopted on 17 November. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will tell the House when he comes to wind up the debate what response has been received from the Yugoslav authorities since then, and whether full compliance with Security Council resolution 1199 remains an integral part of the settlement which is preventing air strikes from taking place.

On Wednesday, we discussed in detail in this Chamber the response of the United States and the United Kingdom Governments to the latest crisis in Iraq. I shall not repeat today what I said then. The whole House will want to resolve the crisis in Iraq, including the latest episode, without the need to take military action. However, the situation must be resolved. As I said on Wednesday, if it can be resolved only through the use of force, the Opposition will support any action that is clearly related to achievable objectives.

I raised a number of questions in Wednesday's debate, and I make no complaint that the Minister of State was unable to answer them there and then. However, I hope that he will write to me with the answers to all those questions.

The first 18 months of the Government's term of office have included the United Kingdom's presidency of the European Union. At the start of the presidency, the Prime Minister announced that it would be an important test for Britain under the Labour Government. He said that it would be a test for Britain to show that we can and do offer strong leadership in Europe. By the end of the presidency, the Members of the European Parliament had delivered their verdict on that leadership. In an unprecedented move, they defeated a motion which sought to congratulate the United Kingdom's presidency on its achievements. The vote came the day after the Foreign Secretary addressed the Parliament—so no one should have been surprised.

Britain's presidency failed completely to deliver on the key objectives that it set for itself. In place of the promised economic reform, it delivered burdens on British business through the social chapter. In place of a successful launch of economic and monetary union, it delivered fudged criteria for the single currency and a botched summit, which led the Austrians to remark that they had now learnt how not to organise a summit. In place of progress on enlargement negotiations, the Government put off all difficult decisions on key areas of reform such as the common agricultural policy.

Yet still the Government have not learnt their lesson. The Gracious Speech includes the phrase: My Government will play a leading role in preparing the European Union for the historic challenge of enlargement. This promise, along with the promise to promote economic reform and job creation in Europe could have been made a year ago—indeed, such promises were made a year ago. The failure of the intervening months has not deterred the Government one jot from merely repeating them, as if the British presidency had never taken place.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Should not the Foreign Secretary have told the House whether he saw a copy of the "New European Way", drawn up by the Party of European Socialists, before it was published and whether he endorsed all its contents?

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Foreign Secretary's speech was noteworthy for the absence of any reference to that document—in which, we understand, leading members of the Government took a prominent role.

It is in the area of European policy, from Amsterdam to Cardiff to Pörtschach, that the Government's failure to fulfil their promise to make Britain a leading player has been greatest. Earlier this month, the Foreign Secretary told the CBI that the Government were taking a lead in the debate on the future of Europe. Fine words indeed. However, the reality of the Government's behaviour in practice was neatly summed up by a British source, following the latest capitulation last week. The Prime Minister, he said, had decided to "go with the flow".

"Going with the flow" would be a suitable title for Labour's European manifesto. It perfectly encapsulates the Government's approach and, at a time when Europe is lurching to the left, "going with the flow" is an extremely dangerous approach to adopt. We saw the result of "going with the flow" after the Government signed the social chapter. Now, they find that they oppose measures such as the extension of works councils but cannot do anything about them because they have signed away their ability to do so.

We saw the result of "going with the flow" in Amsterdam, where the Government gave up our veto in 15 areas, gaining nothing in return and directly contradicting the Foreign Secretary's claim that Maastricht was the high-water mark of integration. The Government then went with the flow at Pörtschach. As a result, an informal summit billed as a forum for discussing ways of returning Europe to the people and of entrenching the concept of subsidiarity instead discussed ways of taking Europe further from the people through further European integration and the removal of decision making from the national level.

As the chairman of that summit noted, the meeting had made clear the directions and set out the paths for Europe's future development … The single market and currency do not mark the end of European integration. That is the signal to be sent out from Poertschach. It is little wonder that the Government had neither the courage nor the courtesy to tell the House what had been agreed.

True to form, the Prime Minister was reported to have signed up in principle to an unprecedented package of European integration, including a huge spending programme, measures to harmonise taxes and the first steps towards a European army, not because he thought that it was right for Britain but because he did not want to be isolated. He went with the flow.

The latest example of the Government's desire to go with the flow came last weekend, when they signed up to the manifesto to which my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) referred, drawn up by the Party of European Socialists, including a loosening of spending limits, greater tax harmonisation and a new culture of regulation. We witnessed the spectacle of a Downing Street spokesman greeting the package enthusiastically as "a new Labour agenda". Well, if we did not know it before, we know it now: higher taxes, more burdens on business and fewer jobs in Britain and Europe are the new Labour agenda.

A Government who promised leadership in Europe are content to be carried by the tide.

Mr. Robin Cook

The whole House will be encouraged by the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman appears to be approaching his last page. I hope that, before he concludes, he will answer the questions that I put to him: where would he reverse the increased spending in the Foreign Office budget and where would he cut back on our representation? If he cannot answer those questions, will he admit that the budget that we inherited from the Conservatives was wholly irresponsible?

Mr. Howard

I know that the right hon. Gentleman has found it even more difficult than most of his colleagues to remember that he is in government and not in opposition, but he should know that those are decisions for Government: they are his responsibility.

Time and again, the Government's desire to curry favour with left-wing Governments on the continent has overridden the national interest. Britain's only goal as we approach the millennium is not to be left out. What signal does that send out about our leadership abilities? How will that pusillanimous attitude earn the respect either of our partners in Europe or of the rest of the world?

The reason for the Government's failure in foreign affairs is clear. It goes right to the heart of new Labour's approach. To secure election, Labour was forced to jettison every principle in which it had believed. The Government are hardly going to defend across the negotiating tables of Europe principles in which they never really believed.

The result of new Labour's penchant for fudge over principle is a trail of broken promises. The Government promised in their mission statement to base Britain's security on NATO. Today, they are putting the very future of NATO at risk with their proposals for the first steps towards a European army. They have tabled the proposals not because they believe they will improve Britain's security but as a sop to compensate for Britain's absence from the first wave of monetary union. The Government are so devoid of principle that they are prepared to treat Britain's future security as a bargaining chip to prove their Euro-credentials.

Mr. Donald Anderson

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that we put the future of NATO at risk by the first steps towards a European army. Would he care to comment on the response of the US Administration, which shares a certain interest in NATO, to the Prime Minister's proposals?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend the shadow Defence Secretary will deal with those matters in greater detail later. When we consider how the Prime Minister and other Ministers have taken the matter further and further beyond their original statements, there are very few causes for comfort. We in the House have a responsibility to make up our own minds about what has been said.

In January, the Government promised a 12-month sustained drive to cut European red tape and produce simpler, better regulation". Eleven months have elapsed, and British business is to be lumbered with working time regulations, works councils and the parental leave directive.

Now we are on the road to tax harmonisation. Last weekend, the Finance Minister of the next country to have the presidency said: It is necessary to harmonise tax policy. The unified currency area needs a fair and equal tax framework. When the crunch comes, there can be little doubt about the outcome: the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will go with the flow.

The latest self-inflicted crisis to hit this increasingly crisis-prone Government is the case of General Pinochet. There are some aspects of the case on which we can all agree: abuses of human rights should be condemned whenever and wherever they occur; but often the emergence of a country from a period when such abuses were widespread involves a very delicate internal balance that can easily be disrupted and put at risk by action from outside.

Those considerations were entirely lost on the Government in their search for a quick headline. From the start, the focus of ministerial effort was directed at coverage in the British media. After the arrest, as a result of the usual off-the-record briefings, the press was full of references to ethical foreign policy. The appearance of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on television, during which he criticised claims of diplomatic immunity for the "brutal dictator" as "pretty gut-wrenching" was par for the course.

Mr. Corbyn

On the subject of ethical foreign policy, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman care to reflect on the close relationship that the previous Government had with the regime headed by General Pinochet, and their willingness, nay enthusiasm, to sell arms to it, knowing full well of the torture chambers, repression, murders and disappearances that were going on?

Mr. Howard

For much of the period, there was a Labour Government in charge in this country, and all the hon. Gentleman's observations could equally have been levelled at them. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order.The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) keeps speaking all the time, and he should not do it. That is not what Parliamentary Private Secretaries are for.

Mr. Howard

In the light of the events to which I referred, it is hardly surprising that the Foreign Office saw the need to warn potential British travellers of a "volatile" situation in Chile and that feeling against Britain and British nationals is running high. The democratic process in Chile has involved a delicate balance between supporters and opponents of Pinochet. Its development is best left to the people of Chile themselves, free from the interference of a blundering overseas Government in pursuit of a much-needed boost to their ethical foreign policy.

While democracy in Chile was put at risk, the Foreign Secretary was said by one of his allies to be smiling like the cat that got the cream. Nothing could illustrate more starkly the grotesque parody of ethics that constitutes the Government's supposedly ethical foreign policy. They care far more about the effect of their policies on their own party than the effect on the overseas country concerned.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Chilean Foreign Minister, who is currently in the United Kingdom, was himself exiled from Chile by General Pinochet but is now suing the Government for Senator Pinochet's release?

Mr. Howard

I was indeed aware of that. It is a most pertinent point.

Mr. Gapes

Given the right hon. and learned Gentleman's great knowledge of the courts and the dealings that he had with them as Home Secretary, does he not think that it would be wise to cease his interference in a judicial matter? His remarks are consistent with his actions as Home Secretary in messing up legal matters.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman's intervention merely confirms his ignorance of the processes that are under way. It is not a judicial process. The Home Secretary, it may astonish the hon. Gentleman to learn, is not a judge. It is for the Home Secretary to decide how to exercise his discretion. It is a wide discretion and he can take many matters into account.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that General Pinochet should be dealt with by the people of Chile. Does he agree that an international criminal court should be set up? Does he also agree that people who are guilty of grossly abusing human rights should be tried by the international community, not their own country?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. No one has so far infringed the sub judice rules, but we are getting close. My clear ruling is that we may talk about relations between this country and Chile, as has been done, and we may talk about the possible effect on those relations of the decision whether Pinochet should be extradited. However, we cannot talk about any criminal charges, because they are sub judice and should not be discussed on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Howard

I believe that I can reply to the hon. Lady without trespassing beyond the lines that you have rightly laid down, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I agree that an international criminal court should be set up, but it does not yet exist and cannot therefore have any application to the case of General Pinochet. In the circumstances, my view is as I have expressed it.

As we look back on the past 18 months, we can all agree that the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues have succeeded in attracting an unprecedented array of eye-catching headlines, including "Dissident attacks two-faced Cook", "Absentee Cook broke own rules on EU meetings", "Cook stirs up trouble for Queen in India" and "Cook admits latest EU blunder".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Even though the right hon. and learned Gentleman is reading quotations, he should not consistently refer to a right hon. Gentleman by his surname. He must find a way to use the name of the right hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Howard

I have only one more quote and, as it happens, it includes the right hon. Gentleman's first name rather than his surname. It reads, "You can stop digging now Robin—the hole is big enough". For the right hon. Gentleman I fear that the hole is never big enough. His stewardship of his office has been disastrous and the entire country is the loser.

10.32 am
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The picture of the conduct of foreign policy in the past 18 months that has just been painted by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) may be reflected in the fevered scribblings of some of the ultra-right-wing press, but it will not be recognised by any serious commentator, by our European allies, by the non-governmental organisations or by those who saw the work of the Government in the establishment of the international criminal court and on landmines or any other serious matter. Neither will it be recognised by those who observed the leadership of the Government during our presidency of the European Union.

The debate gives us an opportunity to look onwards and upwards. Alas, the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe looked backwards and downwards. He put together a pot-pourri of headlines from selective sources, so I suggest that he talks more widely to diplomats and Governments to get a fairer picture of what the Government have done during the past 18 months. It has been a busy time indeed.

Mr. Howard


Hon. Members


Mr. Howard

I am intervening because the hon. Gentleman attacked my speech. He suggests that we should consider what diplomats and Governments have said, but it was the Prime Minister of Austria who said that the summit organised by the Government was an example of how not to organise a summit.

Mr. Anderson

Whatever individual comments have been made, I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he considers the broad picture and that, when he makes such speeches, he looks ahead to the challenges of NATO and the future of Europe that face the Government, Europe and the west, instead of getting a researcher to put together various headlines from the right-wing press. It was an unworthy, backward-looking speech.

During the past 18 months, the Government have issued a mission statement which included a bold declaration of an ethical dimension to foreign policy—it was never said that there would be an ethical foreign policy, because we must balance priorities. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned Senator Pinochet. When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary makes his decision it will indeed be a quasi-judicial decision. When he exercises his discretion under the extradition legislation, he may consider the nature of the jurisdiction to which the person in question might be transferred. We have every confidence in the legal system in Spain, which is a friendly country. My right hon. Friend may also consider compassionate factors and whether the health of an individual is such that it would be improper to extradite him. Perhaps Senator Pinochet should be recommended to consult the same doctor who advised Mr. Ernest Saunders. In any case, it is difficult to suggest that the usual legal processes should not be followed.

I was distressed this morning when I heard, on the "Today" programme, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) talking of "alleged" abuses of human rights. The abuses are well documented as is evident to anyone who cares to read the reports and talk to the victims who were tortured. If anyone suggests that we should have compassion for an elderly gentleman, it should be mightily outweighed by compassion for the victims of the terror that he—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying into the substance of the case against Senator Pinochet and I have already ruled that that matter should not be discussed. Relations with Chile are in order for discussion, as are the difficulties that the arrest has caused, but we must not go into the details of any crime.

Mr. Anderson

I trust that it is not infringing on the rules of sub judice to suggest that the usual legal processes should be followed.

The Government have had a crowded agenda since May 1997 and their mission statement. We saw the successful transition of Hong Kong, for which almost all the credit must go to the previous Government. Then we had the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh. I concede that the key themes for that meeting—including the welcome initiatives on non-governmental organisations and on trade—were set by the previous Government, but they were successfully continued by this Government. We then had the preparation for the presidency of the European Union which we held for the first six months of this year, and we remain part of the troika thereafter.

The presidency of the European Union established Britain's role in advancing the development of the EU in key sectors. For example, the launch of European monetary union was organised during our presidency. At the Council in May, the process was set under way and, on 1 January 1999, the euro will replace 11 national currencies. Enlargement negotiations, which are vital for the future of Europe, began during our presidency and there was no serious criticism of that process. The accession process encompassing all 11 applicant states was launched in Brussels on 30 March and accession negotiations were formally opened with the five plus one members in the first wave. That was all achieved successfully, and we also advanced various items on Agenda 2000, the Commission document of July 1997. The UK presidency showed a firm commitment to helping to build a people's Europe that is relevant. In passing, I wish to point out that the only references to Europe made by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe were negative. He showed why, if we were to have a Conservative Government, Britain would be as isolated now as it was before May last year.

As we look forward to the 21st century, it is clear that Britain can no longer rely on a mainly bilateral policy. Virtually all our foreign policy must be conducted through our alliances. As we move into the 21st century, it is easy to envisage globalisation resulting in vast changes in the way in which we conduct our international relations. Managing the challenges of the next century will mean finding our way forward with our allies in key sectors to maximise our national interest through the great series of alliances that the United Kingdom enjoys because of its proud history. Those include the Commonwealth, the European Union, the transatlantic alliance—and NATO—and the series of other alliances that were a feature during our presidency.

Mr. Bradshaw

Does my hon. Friend agree that perhaps the greatest example of the effect of the transformation of our relations with our European partners was the lifting of the beef export ban? Does he also agree with the president of the National Farmers Union, who said that that was a result of the Government's re-engagement with Europe, in contrast with the previous Government's xenophobic tub-thumping approach?

Mr. Anderson

Although the solution resulted partly from scientific changes, it is clear that it was carried through because of the much greater good will in Europe towards the Government and their European position.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it was extraordinary to hear Conservative Members welcome the lifting of the beef ban while they simultaneously decried the qualified majority voting system that allowed that to happen? Were it not for QMV, there would have been a German veto.

Mr. Anderson

Of course; that is clearly inconsistency on stilts, but we hear that inconsistency consistently. In passing, may I say that I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is held in great personal esteem within the European Union and beyond? An Albanian socialist told me that one of his party's candidates had a name that recalled the old regime, so he had to change it if he were to stand a chance of election. He changed it to Tony, and won overwhelmingly.

Challenges face Europe in the 21st century. There is instability at the fringes of Europe, on the Mediterranean and in Bosnia. Parts of the middle east are a continuing source of tension, as are weapons technology and weapons of mass destruction. Terrorism, the Balkans and arrangements with Russia all require us to work in close consultation with our allies. The Foreign Secretary has already shown, over both Kosovo and Iraq, that beyond the diplomatic negotiations there must be a credible threat of force. In both those critical areas, the fact that we were prepared to use force was essential to ensuring reasonably successful outcomes.

To maximise our leadership, a positive approach to Europe has been, as my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) has said, to the benefit of the United Kingdom in relation to BSE and many other areas. I hope that our new relationship with the incoming German Government, and with Mr. Jospin and the French Government, will ensure the greater centrality of the UK within Europe. It is unwise to talk of a special trilateral relationship with Germany and France. Sensitivities are such that we must be wary of irritating the smaller countries. However, in power terms, such a relationship can carry us forward and help the UK to show its European credentials.

On defence, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken of a new defence identity and the rebalancing of the weight of the United States and Europe within NATO—and that, contrary to what the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe said, has been welcomed by the United States. My right hon. Friend said at Edinburgh on 13 November: Diplomacy works best when backed by the credible threat of force. The maxim applies to Europe too. Europe needs to develop the ability to act alone in circumstances where, for whatever reason. the US is not able or does not wish to participate. That relates to the NATO doctrine of separable but not separate, as applied to the rebalancing of links between the two parts of the transatlantic alliance. My right hon. Friend continued by outlining what was needed: First, rapid and comprehensive implementation of the European identity in NATO agreed in Berlin at the beginning of 1996. We need a European decision-making capacity and command structure which can operate rapidly and effectively if necessary. Second, proper decision-making structures in the EU, headed by European Council readiness to take strategic decisions on Europe-only operations … we also need to check the institutions are right. To decide how the EU, WEU, and NATO can best mesh together. We have no preconceptions. Rather we want a new debate. That new debate has been welcomed by the United States administration and by the key forces in the Congress. It appears, however, to be disavowed by the Opposition because of their narrow obsession with total hostility to anything with the word "European" in its title. That can hardly be good for Britain. It is a new form of isolation.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

Given the valid points that my hon. Friend is making, may I draw his attention to the fact that the idea of the European defence policy was in the Maastricht treaty, which the previous Administration signed? In addition, one of the key architects of a European security and defence identity inside NATO was my predecessor, Michael Portillo.

Mr. Anderson

Even before that, the NATO summit in Brussels in 1991 floated the idea of a European defence identity.

Political structures are also evolving in the new Europe. Key decisions need to be taken following the Amsterdam summit, and now at Vienna, on the common foreign and security policy. We are discussing not only a Mr. CFSP—or, dare I say it, a Miss or Ms CFSP—but the planning structures that will follow. I offer my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the hope that the planning structure will not consist only of people seconded from the planning departments of the Chancelleries of Europe, and that we are more imaginative in choosing the individuals concerned. Europe has an opportunity to transmit its values on human rights to a wider world, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be as imaginative as he was in his recent speech on non-governmental organisations and the greater interchange between the Foreign Office and key NGOs such as Amnesty International and Oxfam.

We should insist on—or ensure as best we can—a strong human rights dimension in the planning structures of the common foreign and security policy. Europe can do that, and we should transmit it to every part of European policy, through the Lomé arrangements and through every form of external contact with the wider world. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give a commitment to work towards a strong mission statement on human rights within the CFSP.

On NATO, I thoroughly commend to hon. Members the excellent think piece, "NATO in the 21st century", by Senator Bill Roth. It is highly relevant as NATO approaches its 50th birthday.The organisation is 50, but still highly adaptable, and a most successful organisation. NATO is quite different from other military alliances, having effectively won a victory without firing a shot in anger. It is a unique instrument of political and military co-operation. NATO has shown that it can be used to build a political consensus and create military options to implement political goals. I am thinking of "Partnership for Peace" structures and others, which help to carry along the political process as we try to evolve the new Europe.

As we approach the Washington summit in April next year, when three former members of the Warsaw treaty organisation will join—the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were members of that organisation only 10 years ago, which shows how perspectives change even in a decade—NATO is committed to an open-door policy. However, all the smoke signals from NATO Governments suggest that there is no consensus about the admission of new members at that summit. Surely that will send a wrong signal. It could halt the momentum and lead to great disillusion and demotivation among prospective members, some of which are manifestly qualified for membership—for example, certainly Slovenia, which was the victim of broader considerations, and probably Romania.

I accept that the new countries must be providers as well as consumers of security in the frieze. However, we must look long and bold. As with the European Union, we must take risks by investing in democracy and the changes that have come about in other countries, in particular in the civilian control of the military, as NATO helps within their internal structures and with inter-operability with and military deployments for the "Partnership for Peace" and other imaginative structures. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to give the House some sign on where we stand on enlargement as we approach the Washington summit.

NATO at 50 years old is adapting and it has done an excellent job. In the 21st century, it should be an enduring political and military alliance among sovereign states. Yes, we have to build the wider circle and to reduce—and, hopefully, ultimately eliminate—the prejudice against NATO within Russia by building on the Founding Act and working with Ukraine and the wider area. Clearly, that is a major policy area and NATO is a major instrument for us.

Finally, I tried to check how many debates of this nature we have had in the 19 months since May last year. As I said, during that time we have faced major changes and challenges in our governmental structures, for example, Hong Kong, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the Group of Eight, the Asia-Europe meeting and so forth. We have had only two general debates on foreign affairs in that time, excluding debates on Bills, Adjournment debates and Wednesday morning debates initiated by Back Benchers. That is not enough. Clearly, right hon. and hon. Members can raise foreign affairs matters in Parliament in other ways, for example, at the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, on which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) serves with great distinction, and through parliamentary questions. However, if the Government are serious about debating NATO issues with Parliament, whether they are the future of Europe or the future of NATO, we have to have more opportunities for parliamentary debate.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I agree entirely. Will the hon. Gentleman add to his list the fact that, in spite of the fact an epoch-making White Paper on international development has been issued, there has been no debate in the House on that subject?

Mr. Anderson

The hon. Gentleman has a firm personal commitment on that subject and I welcome his remarks. There is always a danger, because of the enormous burden on the Foreign Office, that Ministers there, as elsewhere, will go native and perhaps will not recognise the role that Parliament can play. Just as the President of the United States of America had on his desk, "The buck stops here", I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who has probably appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee more often than many of his predecessors; and I pay tribute to his work—

Mr. Robin Cook

Twice as frequently.

Mr. Anderson

Nevertheless, I hope that my right hon. Friend will have on his desk, "Remember Parliament and its contribution to these key debates."

10.53 am
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

First, I must apologise for my early departure from this debate as I have a long-standing constituency engagement in the early evening in St. Andrews. I have written to both Front-Bench spokesmen to apologise for my absence.

I shall particularly miss the speech of the Secretary of State for Defence. I shall read with some anxiety what he has said at this end of the week on the defence policy of the Scottish National party. He began the week by making an effective attack on that policy and it is noticeable that, once again, the SNP has declined the opportunity to come to the House to say precisely how it will fashion a defence policy. Waiting for the SNP to tell the House its policies on defence is a little like waiting for Godot, but with neither the literary nor the textual significance.

This debate is on defence and foreign affairs, although so far, for obvious reasons, hon. Members have concentrated on the latter. I do not propose to devote more than a small part of my speech to defence, because that subject and the problems affecting individual services were extensively covered in recent debates before Prorogation. Indeed, increasingly, the traditional division between defence and foreign affairs is less clear-cut than it once was. One has only to remind oneself of what Kofi Annan said when he came back from Baghdad in February and pointed out that diplomacy could be effective but diplomacy supported by the credible threat of military force was likely to be more effective. One cannot have the credible threat of military force unless one has sound defence and adequate capabilities.

However, I must raise two defence matters, and the first concerns the Territorial Army. I do not propose to rehearse again all the arguments, but it is worth pointing out once again to the Secretary of State and the House that, in a defence review that was generally well received, the one issue that attracted undiminished controversy and still provokes grave disappointment was the Government's proposal for the TA.

I shall illustrate the case for reconsideration even at this stage by referring to the consequences in two instances, one north and the other south of the border. As a result of the proposals as far as they affect the Black Watch, whose proposed TA strength is to be reduced to 85, plus 34 in the battalion band, for which the regiment is no doubt properly grateful, there will be no TA Black Watch representation in Fife, which is one of the counties within which it frequently recruits, and, more significantly, a county that is the most productive area for recruiting. The Black Watch cannot understand why there should be such a reduction, which will remove its presence entirely from an area in which recruitment has been so successful.

The second instance arises in Liverpool, where 55 Signals Squadron is to be closed. It is fully recruited and operational and is said by those who know it to be extremely well motivated. What makes that decision difficult to understand is that the Signals' role in the TA is not to be reduced under the Government's proposals. In fact, it is to be enhanced, which will mean that existing TA centres elsewhere will have to be re-roled and infantry will have to be re-badged, while the Liverpool squadron is to be closed. Those in Liverpool who have the interests of that squadron close to their hearts find that difficult to understand, and there is deep disappointment.

Even at this stage, the Secretary of State would be well advised to reconsider these proposals, because he must be aware that, in spite of his best efforts, they have certainly not attracted the kind of welcome for which he would have hoped.

Some explanations for those reductions in the TA may be found in the fine balance of the financial basis on which the strategic defence review is founded. In particular, there are those who argue that the reduction in the TA has more to do with the sale of drill halls in areas of prime development opportunity than with other factors. All I can say on that matter, as I have said before in the House, is that it is a pretty fragile basis for financial stability to rest one's proposals on the property market, especially at a time such as this.

The other financial element, which has still not been explained fully to the satisfaction of those with an interest in these matters, is the 3 per cent. efficiency saving, which the strategic defence review imposed on all three armed services. It was described to the Defence Committee by the Chief of Defence Staff as "challenging", which, in the lexicon of Whitehall, almost certainly means "extremely difficult to achieve". I have met no one outside the Ministry of Defence who believes that it can be done. If the saving is not achieved, there will inevitably be an effect on defence capability.

We shall look to the Government in financial matters to display a rather more careful stewardship than their predecessors in relation to, for example, the Ministry of Defence computer system, which this week, we learn, was scrapped before it had ever been put into use. The conduct of that transaction was described by the Comptroller and Auditor-General as showing a lack of recognition in the Ministry of Defence of the complexity of the system required, and insufficient Ministry of Defence involvement with the contractor. If smart procurement is to work and have an effect on the financial circumstances of the Ministry of Defence, it must deal with precisely that kind of problem.

If the financial basis of the SDR is undermined, as some believe it may be, what will be the prospects for the two aircraft carriers, which are absolutely essential to the expeditionary strategy that is the centrepiece of the SDR? Those are questions of significance and importance in the defence debate, and I do not believe that we have yet received sufficient information on which we can make a rational and informed judgment about the likelihood of the Government's objectives being achieved.

I shall deal with a number of foreign affairs issues, and start with arms exports. There can be no greater test of a Government who rightly claim a foreign policy with an ethical dimension than the way in which they deal with the export of arms. A foreign policy with an ethical dimension requires that ethical considerations are not the sole responsibility of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A foreign policy with an ethical dimension towards the arms trade will be severely undermined unless it commands the adherence of the Ministry of Defence and of the Department of Trade and Industry—Departments whose priorities will frequently diverge from those of the FCO and which often have a preoccupation with arms exports for political or economic reasons.

I believe that we could easily create a Select Committee of the House of Commons whose task would be to monitor policy on arms exports and scrutinise individual applications for export licences, as happens in Sweden, one of the world's significant arms-exporting countries. It is barely two and a half years since the publication of the Scott report. It is beyond question that, if the export of arms-related equipment to Iraq had been the subject of scrutiny by a Select Committee, the change in policy deliberately concealed from Parliament would have been exposed.

A Government pursuing a foreign policy with an ethical dimension have nothing to fear from parliamentary scrutiny of their arms export policy. If we can have parliamentary scrutiny of Government communications headquarters, Cheltenham, and of the intelligence services, surely we can have scrutiny of defence and the export of defence and defence-related equipment, without prejudice to the national interest. Parliamentary scrutiny should embrace concerns over human rights violations, internal instability, regional or international conflicts and unnecessarily high military expenditure.

I assert that no Government who have breached the norms of civilised behaviour should be entitled to receive arms exports of any kind from the United Kingdom. No dictatorship that systematically violates human rights, and uses torture and repression as instruments of government, should ever have been, or should ever be, a customer of the United Kingdom in the matter of the export of arms.

I shall discuss Iraq, about which there was a full debate on Wednesday; I have read the Official Report. Since 1991, Saddam Hussein has entered into agreement after agreement to meet the obligations to divest himself of weapons of mass destruction. He has systematically broken all those undertakings, sometimes within a few weeks or days of entering into them. He has consistently flouted the authority of the United Nations and, in his most recent acts of defiance, he has undermined the credibility of the office of the Secretary-General.

Why is it that, nearly eight years after the end of the Gulf war, the task of verification is still not complete? It is because of the systematic, deliberate and provocative defiance by Saddam Hussein. It is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that the purpose of that prevarication is to retain the means of production and delivery of weapons of mass destruction—not only to be a hero in the streets of Arab capitals, but to have at his malign and unpredictable disposal the means of threatening his neighbours with the most terrible consequences if they resist his ambition.

It is in those circumstances that we ask, "Are we justified in using military force if Saddam Hussein declines to fulfil his obligations?" I believe that we are—and not out of some intemperate enthusiasm for the use of military force; nor should we use military force to demonstrate our boldness, out of some sense of frustration, in an emotional spasm or because of some sense of revenge. Military force itself is not a policy however. My concern is that the impression has grown up that military force, or the threat of it, is somehow a solution. It can only be a means; it can never be an end in itself. Military force, if it is used now, should be used against the background of clear objectives. I shall state those objectives, because, although there was some discussion about what they might have been in February, there has not been significant public discussion of objectives since then.

The first objective should be to reduce the current capacity to manufacture weapons of mass destruction; the second should be to suppress and inhibit any future capacity to do so; the third should be to inflict serious damage on the military infrastructure that sustains a regime that continues to defy the United Nations. Those are the legitimate objectives of the use of military force.

An important feature of the recent crisis has been not express, but tacit support in many Arab capitals, born out of exasperation. We should remember, however, that that exasperation comes with considerable sympathy for the plight of the Iraqi people. We will be able to retain that support only if we make it clear, first, that there must be full compliance with all Security Council resolutions—including those relating to the return of people illegally and illegitimately taken from Kuwait—and that full compliance will result in the removal of sanctions.

Secondly, we must make it clear that there is no determination to go beyond the United Nations resolutions and to link removal of sanctions with the removal of Saddam Hussein. The Security Council resolutions do not provide for that, but the position of the United States on that matter has, from time to time, suggested that it believes that the proper course was to go beyond the terms of the resolutions. Thirdly, we should go out of our way to facilitate humanitarian assistance and, fourthly, we should behave in an even-handed way throughout the middle east.

All of us desperately hope that the agreement struck between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat in the United States will stick, but there is one continuing part of Israeli Government policy that has the capacity to derail that agreement: Israeli Government policy on settlements. I hope that, when the Foreign Secretary had lunch with Mr. Netanyahu, he took the opportunity to remind him of that. If he did, he would have done no more than maintain the position consistently adopted from the Dispatch Box not only by this Government but by their predecessors. The settlement issue lies at the heart of the anxiety of the Palestinians. They believe that their determination to seek a homeland for themselves is systematically undermined by the policy of settlements.

I have some reservations about the adoption of a policy that we should actively seek the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. I have some concern about the legal basis for the overt support of exiled Iraqi groups trying to bring down the present regime by violent means. In this connection, the legislation that we passed in the summer needs to be examined with care. It is necessary to show some fastidiousness about those with whom we associate, as the freedom fighters of today can easily become as repressive as the regimes that they replace.

I very much regret that the Gracious Speech contains no reference to the need to promote the cause of disarmament, particularly with respect to nuclear weapons. I do not place too much stress on a detailed textual analysis of the Speech, but the absence of a reference to disarmament can legitimately be described as disappointing. In 1995, when the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was indefinitely extended, the then five declared nuclear weapons states reaffirmed their commitment to make systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating them. That is the objective.

This is an area in which the United Kingdom could take a lead, both moral and pragmatic. Limiting the Trident system to the Polaris warhead levels is a start, as was the signature of the comprehensive test ban treaty. We heartily approve.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that that is consistent with the resolution adopted in Edinburgh by the North Atlantic Assembly—all 16 members of NATO—who are working towards that form of nuclear armament solution?

Mr. Campbell

In acknowledging that, I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the standing committee of the North Atlantic Assembly and has been extremely active in these matters. He promoted a resolution through the last meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly, with which he will no doubt deal in more detail. In that resolution, he underlined the need for financial assistance in order to keep existing nuclear weapons in certain parts of the world safe as they deteriorate lack of proper maintenance and as a result of control.

What about promoting a nuclear weapons register? The Foreign Secretary endorsed the idea in opposition in April 1995. What about serious efforts to promote a strategic arms reduction treaty for all states with nuclear weapons? I remind the House that it is clear that, as a result of economic pressure, the Duma and the Pentagon are now rethinking nuclear policy, to the extent that the Pentagon is apparently contemplating recommending that the United States could go below the permitted levels in the strategic arms reduction treaty 1—START 1. Surely if the economic pressure is such that reduction is in the mind of nuclear weapons states, this is a propitious time for fresh initiatives.

There is one reference in the Gracious Speech that excites my attention, my admiration and even, I suppose, my disbelief. That is the reference to the common foreign and security policy. Regular attenders on these occasions will know that I have from time to time made speeches on the topic of the common foreign and security policy. Even I, optimist that I am, would have to acknowledge that they have not always been well received in the House.

The Prime Minister's speech to the North Atlantic Assembly in Edinburgh, and his article in The Washington Post, which was mentioned earlier, are a welcome recognition of the need to improve co-operation in European defence. One might even describe it as an example of constructive government.

What is required is a European security and defence identity that allows Europe to maintain an effective partnership with the United States, but is sufficiently developed to enable Europe to handle crises such as Kosovo. Not only has Michael Portillo spoken on the subject, but Lord Hurd said recently that we need a Europe which in relation to the United States is a valid partner, neither a rival nor a satellite", a theme that he repeated in the Churchill lecture at the Guildhall earlier this week before a distinguished audience that included the shadow Foreign Secretary, whom I did not hear dissenting publicly from Lord Hurd's proposition, although later he may have raised the issue with him privately.

Mr. Howard

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman recall that my noble Friend Lord Hurd said in his extremely interesting speech that it was not as a consequence of an absence of machinery that Europe was not providing a valid partnership—precisely the point that I made this morning?

Mr. Campbell

Interpreting not just the language, but the body language and the temperature of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, it would have been a little difficult to perceive him as being in precisely the same camp as Lord Hurd on the issue. I am happy to let the record show where the right hon. and learned Gentleman stands.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to make the point about institutions. Any debate about increased defence co-operation must not be allowed to grind into the quicksand of an interminable wrangle about a possible institutional framework. Increased co-operation will arise out of political will. It is right for the Government to say that now is the time to try to assemble that political will.

Lord Hurd made another point of substance, which was that an acknowledgement by the countries of Europe that they need to take defence seriously in order to further a common foreign and security policy requires them to accept that they cannot have the political influence without paying for the military capability. That means resources. If we are serious about greater co-operation in European defence, we must look around Europe and see the levels of gross domestic product at which defence is currently funded by some of those who are apparently the most enthusiastic advocates of greater co-operation. They cannot have the political influence unless they are willing to pay the military and the financial price.

Mr. Jenkin

Does that not underline the futility of the hon. and learned Gentleman's policy? How could Europe mount a serious operation—for example, in the former Yugoslavia—without the communications, command and control, and heavy lift capacity provided by the United States? Is it realistic to contemplate our investing in such infrastructure in Europe, when all the countries around Europe are reducing their defence budgets, as we are?

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman has allowed two facts to escape his notice. First, the strategic defence review proposes the acquisition of four C17s or their equivalent, by way of heavy lift capacity, and the acquisition of roll on/roll off ferries. One of the most welcome aspects of the strategic defence review, in so far as it seeks to promote an expeditionary strategy, is that the Government seem to be bent on acquiring the capability necessary to support that strategy.

The second point that the hon. Gentleman omitted in his customary zeal to be part of the debate was that the concept of combined joint task forces was accepted as long ago as 1995 by the United States. NATO resources—command and control, intelligence and heavy lift—would be made available to the Europeans for operations in which the Europeans had an interest in participating, but which were no part of the responsibility or the interest of the United States.

We should always be grateful that the United States helps in situations such Bosnia and Kosovo. We should be ashamed that that help is necessary. The total spent on defence in what we used to call western Europe shows that we do not have the political will to make more effective use of resources.

We shall judge the Government's foreign and defence policy over the period of this Parliament on its merits, and where the national interest is served we shall support them. If we believe that they have fallen from even their own high standards, we shall say so. We consistently supported the previous Government on the Maastricht treaty, because we believed that it was in the national interest to do so. That will drive our attitudes towards the foreign affairs issues that arise in the next 12 months.

We shall try to hold the Government to the ethical dimension of their foreign policy. I doubt whether we shall be quite as partisan as the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), but I do not believe that the country would expect that of us, any more than it expects it of him.

11.21 am
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I welcome the debate. I endorse the view of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), who wanted debates on specific areas of foreign policy such as development and international trade policies, which have just as much impact on world affairs and on the affairs of this country as the issues that will be raised in this debate.

We should consider the problems facing the world, and what contribution we are making to solving the difficulties. I believe that one of the most important issues facing the planet is environmental destruction, which continues despite various conventions and the Buenos Aires climate summit. The gap between the richest and poorest in the world is growing, and the increasing impoverishment of many of the poorest people in the poorest countries will come to haunt us as a richer country. It cannot be right that some parts of the world have falling living standards, falling life expectancy and increasing poverty. Linked to that is the systematic abuse of human rights around the world, which often leads to armed conflict when regimes abuse human rights and try to oppress their people.

I hope that those matters will be debated in the near future in the international economic arena, because the multilateral agreement on investment talks broke down owing to the differences between the north and the south, and over environmental issues. We need to develop policies for a sustainable planet and ensure that human and other forms of life survive, because they depend on each other. We cannot do that at the same time as encouraging a rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels, transport around the world and a growth in trade, which we know full well cause enormous damage to the environment. Agreements on investment and trade must be focused more on environmental concerns than on the needs of global corporations, which seem to be running the world's trade system.

In Europe, we are subjected to constant pressure from business to reduce labour costs and to increase competition and investment. Much of that demand is driven by the conditions in low-wage economies, where few rights are enjoyed and low unit labour costs apply. At the end of this century and into the next, we should strengthen the work of international institutions such as the United Nations and, particularly, the International Labour Organisation, to eliminate child labour across the planet and to ensure the basic rights of people at work to join trade unions and to have representation. Because those rights are denied in many countries, working conditions are bad, which pulls down the working conditions of people in more developed economies in other parts of the world.

I want to refer to defence spending. Before Opposition Members get too excited, I shall declare—goodness knows how many times I have done this—my membership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I joined it at the age of 15, I have never left it and I have no plans to do so, and I am a member of its national council. That is all on the record, so my views are well known.

As the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, there was no mention of disarmament policies in the Queen's Speech. We are one of the five nuclear weapons states. We have apparently decided to go ahead with the Trident submarine fleet—as we went ahead with Polaris—and have maintained an American nuclear weapons capability for a long time. Will the Secretary of State for Defence, when he winds up the debate, say something about the cost of the Trident fleet? The money that has been spent has sustained the American defence industry in preparation for its next tranche of orders. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be no orders for any other nuclear weapon system when Trident finally reaches the end of its life? As a gesture towards a peaceful future and nuclear disarmament, will he detarget Trident, take it off patrol and consider eventually decommissioning it?

If we are serious about a non-nuclear world, we must take some steps in that direction. The new agenda coalition resolution that was put to the United Nations is a good step forward. It was supported by a wide variety of countries: Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden. The resolution includes the words: Believing that the proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained and never used—accidentally or by decision—defies credibility, and that the only complete defence is the elimination of nuclear weapons and the assurance that they will never be produced again, Concerned that the nuclear-weapon States have not fulfilled speedily and totally their commitment to the elimination of their nuclear weapons". I am disappointed that that resolution was not supported by the British Government or by any of the nuclear weapons states.

Unless we seriously discuss disarmament issues through the forum of the United Nations, who are we to protest when India, Pakistan, Israel, South Africa and other countries develop the capability of producing—if not produce—nuclear weapons? I participated in the debate in the House in July, which totally and absolutely condemned the nuclear weapons testing by India and Pakistan. We were right to do so, because it was a waste of resources.

It is appalling that countries that desperately need money for education, health and development spend money on nuclear weapons. We must recognise that they are saying that if it is good enough for five nuclear weapons states to expand their nuclear capability—in Britain through the acquisition of the Trident submarine—it is good enough for them. Are not our protests difficult for people in those countries to take? We must do far more about nuclear disarmament, otherwise the non-proliferation treaty will mean nothing, because it will be broken with impunity by a large number of nations.

I intervened on the Foreign Secretary's speech to raise the issue of Israeli nuclear weapons. I have no truck with Iraq or any other country in the region that holds weapons of mass destruction. I am no supporter of or apologist for Saddam Hussein. We should be equally critical of Israel for having a nuclear weapons programme, and for the abominable treatment of Mordecai Vanunu, who had the courage and honesty to say what was happening in Israel. For his pains, he was hijacked from Rome, tried by a secret court and imprisoned. He has spent 11 years in solitary confinement and two years in a more normal prison environment. He is a prisoner of conscience. He has gained nothing from it: he merely blew the whistle.

We should examine what the United States is doing with its plutonium-powered Cassini project, which is a sling-shot nuclear device through space. It is unnecessary to use plutonium in space unless there is a military purpose—unless it is thought somewhere in the Pentagon that the total high ground might be the nuclearisation of space. That gives great cause for concern. I hope that the British Government will raise the issue in international disarmament talks.

I absolutely agree with the point that the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife raised concerning arms sales. If we, as a country, allow arms to be sold to countries that abuse human rights, that have dictatorial Governments, and that have no respect for freedom of speech, freedom of association and all the provisions of the universal declaration of human rights and the convention on the rights of asylum in the Geneva convention, we are hardly in a position to complain about those abuses of human rights. It is a bit thin if we complain about human rights abuses in Indonesia when we have provided planes and weapons that have been used against the people of East Timor. Likewise, we are providing arms to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, both of which have appalling human rights records. Similarly, I suspect that the war in eastern Turkey is not helped by the provision of arms to the Turkish army by many western countries.

As we approach the end of the century, we should aim to reduce military spending, to spend nothing on nuclear armaments and to look towards a more peaceful future.

The Italian Parliament is actively investigating a proposal for an alternative peace tax, equivalent to conscientious objection. Such a tax would enable people to pay their money in for peaceful purposes—for UN-type peacekeeping operations, and for a more peaceful and peacekeeping role for our armed services instead of the more aggressive role that they currently play.

I have tabled several questions to the Ministry of Defence and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the issue of diverting money raised from taxation into purposes more peaceful than that of subsidising the development of the United Kingdom arms industry. That would be a good direction to take as we enter the 21st century, as an alternative to increasing arms production and, with it, the likelihood of wars. An awful lot of wars are going on in the world at any one time—largely driven by the demand for resources, and largely fuelled by the imbalance of wealth and power in our planet.

My second general point concerns human rights. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife suggested a Select Committee on arms expenditure and arms sales throughout the world; there is some merit in that. There is also a strong case for a parliamentary commission or parliamentary Select Committee on human rights issues worldwide, to give us more direct, hands-on experience of dealing with the issue. The Foreign Affairs Committee has to deal with foreign policy, human rights and the United Nations at the same time. I am not criticising the Committee; I am suggesting that there should be greater parliamentary scrutiny of human rights issues throughout the world. Such scrutiny takes place in many Parliaments.

Some countries regard human rights as partly a development issue—they argue that human rights are all about providing food, water, shelter, education, hospitals and housing. There is some truth in that. Indeed, the universal declaration of human rights says that human rights include all those aspects.

I do not want to detract from the status of human rights as a development issue, but in my opinion it is fundamentally wrong to suggest that human rights abuses never take place in developed countries. It is wrong that independent free trade unions do not exist—or that their leaders are arrested—in China, and that a free press does not exist in China and other countries. We must raise the issues of human rights globally. The universal declaration of human rights is now 50 years old, yet human rights continue to be abused pretty badly in an awful lot of places. That is one of the causes of refugee flows, but it is more likely to bring to power oppressive regimes that prevent people from expressing their views because those people know that, were they to do so, their views would be contrary to those regimes and the oligarchies that support them.

I welcome the Government's view that human rights are at the heart of our foreign policy, but they must be effective at the heart of it. That means taking hard decisions. I return to my point about arms sales. If we are serious about preventing human rights abuses, why are we selling any arms to Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and other nations that abuse human rights?

I am well aware of Madam Speaker's ruling on sub judice concerning the Pinochet case. However, it is right and proper for us to discuss the situation of Chile and relations between Britain and Chile. I have taken a close interest in Chile for a very long time. I regret to have to tell the House that I first visited Chile 29 years ago; I have followed the situation there closely ever since. Many of us, throughout the world, had a sense of enormous hope in 1970 when, in Chile, a Government were elected who were trying to conquer poverty in Latin America and promote land reform and free education. Many of us have a horror of the visions of 1973—of British-built war planes bombing the elected president out of office into death, and of the loss of life that occurred thereafter.

The other night, I heard Harold Pinter say on television that the situation in Chile was the equivalent of having a Fred West-type cellar in every town, as people were taken away and tortured, never to be seen again. That horror lives on in the lives of ordinary people in Chile. They are looking not for retribution, but for human rights and justice. A democracy is strengthened by an investigation of its past and by bringing to justice people who have committed vile and gross acts of torture. That is what the current debate and campaign must be about. Between 1973 and 1990, the British Government, to their shame, provided arms to the regime.

Although current international law may be inadequate in many ways, earlier this year, we set up the process for an international criminal court. That is a very important step forward. International tribunals may be the logical way forward. Surely, as a planet, we must say that, when people commit gross acts of violation of human rights, when thousands die, when thousands disappear, when books are burnt in the street and when tanks gun down protesters in the street, something must be done, and there cannot be a hiding place for those who perpetrate such crimes.

I hope that the people of Chile see some justice. If one has lost family and friends, and witnessed such violations of human rights, one expects the rest of the world to do something. If human rights are violated, it is not a matter for any one country. In 1945, the Nuremberg tribunal was set up because what had happened was a matter not just for Germany, but for the whole world. Equally, what happened in Cambodia was a matter for the whole world. There are many other unfortunate examples.

I hope that, as we near the end of the century, we shall be far more serious about human rights. Individual countries may have to pay an economic price for such seriousness. However, if we thereby make the world a better and safer place, so that dictators do not rise up with such ease and are not funded so liberally by so many vested interests worldwide, we shall have done something useful.

Mr. Bradshaw

Will my hon. Friend join me—and, I am sure, the whole House—in condemning the disgraceful, prolonged physical attacks on a BBC camera crew in Santiago the day before yesterday? Will he also join me in urging the Foreign Secretary, when he has his meeting with the Chilean Foreign Minister today, to express his displeasure in the strongest possible terms?

Mr. Corbyn

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I hope to do the same. The picture of supporters of the far right in Chile beating up someone who was merely trying to record an event tells a story about the mind-set of a very small minority of people in Chile who behave in such a way. The majority of people in Chile want an examination of past human rights abuses and want justice for the victims.

I hope that we shall have more discussion and debate about foreign policy. We will address the issues of the global environment, the growing gap between the richest and poorest, and north and south, and the elimination of poverty for the poorest people throughout the world. I welcome the objectives set by the Department for International Development in the elimination of global poverty. We must realise that, unless we play our part in disarmament, in peacemaking, in protecting and expanding human rights and in the redistribution of wealth throughout the world, we shall suffer. We have a responsibility to operate on the globe, as well as within the national arena.

11.40 am
Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

I rise to make two major points. Before I do so, with my procedural background, I say that I have always felt that these should be debates, not just set speeches, and I will follow two of the points on environmental matters that were made by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn).

The House knows that I normally try to sit through the whole of a debate. I apologise to hon. Members who will come immediately after me, but I have an appointment at Charing Cross hospital, which I have to attend. I am on the national health and I am marvellously served; I will be back for the winding-up speeches.

Mr. Corbyn

Don't be late.

Sir Peter Emery

I will not be.

One of the points that I wish to make is of supreme importance, but the first concerns the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, in which the British delegation plays a particular part. Many people do not realise that the Parliamentary Assembly of 54 nations is the largest parliamentary assembly outside the United Nations. It takes in both Warsaw pact countries and the Commonwealth of Independent States countries in Asia minor. Every member was a founding member, which is not the case with those who are invited into the Council of Europe, Western European Union and so forth. Its work involves conflict prevention, crisis management, post-conflict rehabilitation, and promoting democratic values in certain nations where those are not as strong as they might be. Its major role in election processing and monitoring is something that I hope the Government will continue to support.

I pay tribute to the president, a Danish lady, Mrs. Helle Degn, who is carrying that office with considerable dignity. Her call at the last conference for the investigation and prosecution by the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia of crimes against humanity that were committed in Bosnia, noting Belgrade's obstruction of the efforts by the tribunal to investigate those alleged atrocities, must be looked at, so that those who refuse to co-operate with international efforts to bring such people to justice face severe consequences and can themselves be held accountable for their acts. I hope that the Government will pursue that aspect of support for this international mission because that is one of the ways in which we can ensure that those who have been responsible for certain vile acts against humanity in Bosnia and in Serbia—in Kosovo—are brought to justice.

I turn to something that is of greater consequence than any single thing that has been raised in the Queen's Speech. Between 12 and 15 nuclear reactors in eastern Europe are operating entirely unsafely and are likely to be in a position to cause immense damage. This matter falls into the defence side of the debate, which I believe the Secretary of State for Defence will be answering.

An emergency resolution has been passed at the North Atlantic Assembly. I pay tribute to the fact that the Secretary of State, at great inconvenience to himself, came to the assembly, and that Madam Speaker, your boss, Mr. Deputy Speaker, also came and made an excellent speech, going back to her role with the North Atlantic Assembly, which was of particular interest.

A sub-committee of the science committee visited Vienna only three weeks ago to see the International Atomic Energy Agency. That, as I am certain hon. Members know—I only remind them—is charged with the surveillance and supervision of nuclear plants to ensure that they operate safely and cause no danger to the rest of the world.

At that meeting, we were informed that 12, perhaps 15, nuclear reactors were operating unsafely. You will not be surprised to hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the whole of the sub-committee was shocked, even amazed, by those facts. The question was asked: why is that so?

We were informed that, although there are programmes to put the reactors right, they were not proceeding as one would wish because of lack of money. We said, "Surely money must be made available," and civil servants at the agency said, "Yes. We agree. You politicians must take action to ensure that it can be made available." It is for that reason that I raise the matter today.

I immediately accept that there has been a policy for an extra budgetary programme of European dimensions, where about £700 million has been put in by many European countries; I believe Britain's contribution has been as large, if not larger, than that of any other country. That record may be good, but the trouble is that that money is not enough.

Might I, therefore, remind people of the tragedy that one saw at Chernobyl? The damage was so excessive that the land within 30 miles of the explosion will still not be available for use for another 20 years. The extent of the fatalities and the medical effect on thousands of human beings, including children, and children still unborn, is still not finally known.

The environmental damage is such that the problems have extended to this country from the Ukraine: to Wales and, with a nuclear shower, to a part of Scotland. It is only this summer that beasts in that agricultural area have been allowed to go to market; this is many years after the event, so the environmental damage is unbelievable.

If one or two of the reactors that are unsafe, and known to be unsafe, were to explode or to go critical, the damage to Europe would be disastrous. It would devastate parts of Russia and eastern Europe particularly. That would, in many instances, be fatal, but its extensive effect on the rest of western Europe would be shattering.

The cost of repairing such damage would be 1,000 times, if not more than 1,000 times, greater than the cost of having to provide the money for safety. Such safety would cost no lives, whereas a nuclear breakdown would cost thousands, perhaps many thousands, of lives.

Whatever the cost, what would be the position if there were a major catastrophe at one of those known-to-be-unsafe reactors? Would not our constituents say to us, "Did you know about this?" One would have to say, "Yes," and they would then surely have a right to say, "What have you done about it? How have you allowed that to happen?" It is for that reason that I urge the House and the Government to ensure that the nuclear safety issue is given the priority that it has not been given so far. It is so essential that we do so.

Nations that safely operate nuclear plant have to realise that the public must be made to understand that nuclear energy can be made safe. Public belief in the safety of nuclear plant is essential if we are to continue with such plant, as may well be necessary for environmental reasons, for many years to come.

At the end of 1997, 437 nuclear plant units were in operation—with a total installed capacity of 351,000 MW—and 36 units were under construction. John Ritch, America's ambassador to the IAEA, told us in Edinburgh: Another accident right now would sound the knell of nuclear energy. Nevertheless, that is not the primary point; it is a minor one compared with the catastrophe that lurks, at every moment of the day and night, unless safety measures are implemented to make safe that which is unsafe.

There was in Edinburgh, as I said, an emergency resolution that I had the honour of presenting to the North Atlantic Assembly. The resolution states quite clearly and definitely that we believe that certain plants need to be closed. However, they cannot be closed immediately, or the lights in those areas would be switched off. No Government can do that until there is a replacement. Therefore, plants that will have finally to be closed down must be made safe now, and money must not be allowed to stand in the way of ensuring Europe's safety.

Currently, there are 12 Russian-type reactors in operation: two WWERs in the Slovak Republic, four in Russia—in Kola and Novovoronezh—and two in Bulgaria; and there are two RBMKs in Leningrad and two in Kursk. The reactors are, therefore, spread right across the north and south of Europe; no part of Europe would be unaffected.

The North Atlantic Assembly standing committee has unanimously supported the resolution, which urges the Governments of states in which the plants are located and member Governments and Parliaments of the North Atlantic Assembly to consult, individually and collectively, with the IAEA to formulate courses of action to remedy safety deficiencies in those nuclear plants, and to make the necessary resources available to implement those courses of action, thereby averting potentially catastrophic nuclear accidents. That was our resolution. I urge the Government to give all support and to do everything they can to ensure that we take a lead in giving effect to it.

As the committee chairman, I shall be writing to the Prime Minister or Foreign Minister of every one of the 16 nations in the North Atlantic Assembly. I hope that, by the end of this debate, I shall be able to say that I have the Government's absolute support in trying to take positive action to address the issue.

The United Kingdom Parliament must highlight the dangers. As Members of Parliament, we must reinforce efforts urging our Government, and other Governments, to ensure that thousands of acres of our European land are not made unusable. We must ensure our safety, and the safety of our families, our children and our children's children. Surely nothing, but nothing, in the Queen's Speech could be more important.

11.55 am
Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

It is a pleasure to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), and to concur with the remarks that he just made. I remember how I felt in 1986 when the Chernobyl disaster occurred. I am sure that most hon. Members will whole-heartedly agree with his comments.

I am very pleased to be able to speak in this debate. Every year since being elected to the House in 1992, when I made my maiden speech in the debate on the Loyal Address, I have tried to speak in that debate. Last year, I could not, because there were so many new hon. Members, so I am especially delighted to be able to make a reasonably comprehensive speech today.

I should like to begin with a few remarks that are related, albeit somewhat tangentially, to foreign affairs. I am a London Member, and I am absolutely delighted at the Government's commitment on legislation to create a Greater London authority so that this great city—like most of the world's major cities—will be properly governed under citywide government. Creating the authority will right an historic wrong done by the former Government in 1986. It will also ensure that—after many years of inadequate representation in the European Union, and ineffectiveness in lobbying and in attracting inward investment—London will at last be given a voice in the world. We shall introduce modern government to London that will not directly mirror the structures that were used in the 1980s. That is an important point to remember as we prepare for the candidate selections and the elections.

I should like to deal with another, somewhat tangential point that also is relevant to this debate. I have about 4,500 refugees in my constituency—from Somalia, Zaire, Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, Angola and many other countries. One problem that has been drawn to my attention is the activity of corrupt and incompetent people purporting to give advice on immigration and asylum, not only to refugees and asylum seekers but to those who require immigration and visitor visas or who are involved in family reunion cases. Such "advisers" take money even for documents that are available free of charge from the Government, and claim that they can obtain judicial reviews of cases that are palpably a complete waste of time. To make money, they exploit the legal aid system, the legal system and my constituents.

Hon. Members on both sides attempted to raise the issue in the previous Parliament. Tough action is overdue against the so-called immigration advisers and even solicitors who know nothing about immigration law and give bad advice, exploiting many people. I welcome the commitment to modernise the law on immigration and asylum. As well as adopting dispersal policies, so that some London boroughs, including mine, do not have so much pressure on education, social services and housing, we must try to help those who need legal advice by cracking down on fraudulent and incompetent so-called immigration advisers.

The overall context of this debate is our relationship with the 185 or 190 other states in the world. I should like to concentrate on two short paragraphs in the Queen's Speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee has already dealt comprehensively with the first of those, on NATO. I shall not repeat what he said.

The other issue is the reform and funding of the United Nations. Britain's role in the United Nations is central. It has become increasingly important for international security, peace and development. Unfortunately, far too few people in this country are aware of the gamut of activities of the UN and the great work that it does. As Britain is a permanent member of the Security Council, one might think that our public would be well educated about the UN system and its activities. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Far more can be done to highlight the important declarations and work of the various UN organisations.

I was delighted that one of the first acts of the Labour Government was to take this country back into membership of UNESCO, which I had fought for in a Committee in the previous Parliament. I am also delighted that we have stopped the Conservative Government's plans to withdraw from some other UN bodies. That shows a commitment to the UN system. I know that the Government have worked hard. They pay their dues. To be fair to the previous Conservative Government, apart from their ridiculous following of President Reagan out of UNESCO, they also paid their dues to the UN regularly.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I am the most recent Member of Parliament to have been a UK national commissioner for UNESCO, appointed by the previous Government. They decided to withdraw not for obscure reasons, but because there was massive mismanagement of UNESCO. I looked forward to and now welcome our re-entry. It is not right to paint the issue as black and white.

Mr. Gapes

I was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament. Various Ministers came before us, including the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). We were told that, even though all the changes that had been requested of UNESCO had been brought about under Federico Mayor, the Conservative Government still would not take us back in. When we asked why, we were told that the Government could not afford it. It required only £10 million from the Foreign Office overseas development budget. The continued use of that argument was absurd. The changes were brought about three years after the Government withdrew, but the Conservatives refused to take us back in for several more years. That wrong has now been righted.

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend may not remember, but in 1986, when the Government withdrew from UNESCO, there was a debate on the issue here. I believe that the real reason for our withdrawal was that UNESCO was promoting a news agency that would have a sense of news values that reflected the views of much of the world's population, rather than the wishes of a minority of people in western Europe and North America. That is why Reagan and Thatcher were so opposed to UNESCO.

Mr. Gapes

That was one of the arguments, but there were also administrative faults in the structure of UNESCO, and we should recognise that. The Government said that they had withdrawn because of those faults, but they did not take us back when the changes were brought about by Federico Mayor.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights—a document that deserves far greater publicity. I am delighted that in the next two weeks there will be a number of events to celebrate that. Members of both Houses have been involved in a committee to gain publicity for those activities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the former Irish President Mary Robinson, will be in Britain on Monday. There will also be events the following week to highlight the universal declaration of human rights.

It is essential to give that prominence, and to challenge the view of some despots—whether or not they were elected—including Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia, that western human rights values differ from those in Asia and east Asia. We have heard that argument from China, Malaysia and the former regime in Indonesia. In time, the people in those countries will make it clear by their protests and their actions that there is no such distinction, and that universal values must be respected.

It is not a matter of imposing western values on other cultures. United Nations declarations are extremely sensitive to the diversity of cultures and religions. On Wednesday night I chaired a meeting of the United Nations parliamentary group on religious tolerance. There were speakers from many world religions, including some small religions that might even be described as cults. They all remarked that our meeting on 25 November was held on the 17th anniversary of the adoption by the UN General Assembly of resolution 36/55, the declaration of the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.

It is important to recognise the need to respect diversity. We live in a world of 190 countries where there are many potential disputes and internal conflicts on matters such as self-determination and separatist aspirations. If we agree that in any state a group can secede and break away because of its different religious belief, linguistic basis or ethnic origins, the logical outcome will be conflict, civil war and disaster in human terms. We have seen it in the Balkans, and the same could happen elsewhere. We know what happened in the former Soviet Union and we are aware of the conflicts in Sri Lanka and the Indian sub-continent. There are potential difficulties in many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom. As has been said, it is unfortunate that the Scottish National party is not represented in the Chamber today, but that does not surprise me, as those who take a narrow-minded, nationalist view of the world are not interested in international debates.

We have to be tolerant and sensitive. Many of my constituents were born in other continents and my constituency has many different places of worship. It is essential that we do not replicate in Ilford or elsewhere in Britain the line of control in Kashmir or the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, so we must live together harmoniously.

Today's debate is relevant to many people living in the United Kingdom who have come from a wide variety of backgrounds, whether their parents came here to work, to marry or as asylum seekers. Many of my constituents are here because their parents or grandparents fled from Austria and Nazi Germany in the 1930s. We must strengthen the laws on incitement to racial hatred and increase our efforts to build harmony and tolerance in Britain and internationally.

I now turn to some specific international issues. On the European Union—

Mr. Bercow


Mr. Gapes

I see the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) jumping up and down in anticipation, but he should wait until I say something about Europe before he intervenes.

Agenda 2000 is now an important consideration; the enlargement of the European Union will have serious financial and political implications for the European institutions and their accountability. The problem is that the political processes are not fast enough to deal with the economic changes that are already happening. That is inevitable; it has happened internationally as a result of globalisation and it is happening in the European Union as a result of the single market and the imminent introduction of the single currency.

I agree with the recent statement of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer that we should seriously consider how national Parliaments can be represented in the decision-making processes of the European Parliament. He floated the idea of a second chamber made up of national parliamentarians. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament who attended meetings at which parliamentarians from the member states were brought together, I recognise that there is no adequate mechanism for dialogue between national parliamentarians. We are all busy and have our own focus of attention, yet we do not have the information that we need adequately to scrutinise and monitor European legislation. I know that changes are proposed for the way in which the House deals with that, but we need contact with our fellow parliamentarians for a political overview. The proposal by the German Foreign Minister merits serious consideration.

Other remarks by Mr. Fischer in the past few days have given me cause for concern, although I am not clear whether he was speaking as the leader of the German Greens or as the Foreign Minister of the new coalition Government. His idea for a European army will be little more than naive rhetoric if that army is not backed by substantial resources and a commitment to real defence capabilities from other European states.

This country, with the French, provides the European wing of NATO with serious military capabilities; the other EU states together do not provide anything like that commitment. That is one of the reasons why Britain and France have played the leading European role in the coalitions that have been built up to deal with international crises. If the German Government are serious about the development of a stronger European defence capability, they will have to recognise that that capability must be based not on paper resolutions or words but on financial commitment. However, I see no prospect at the moment of such an increase in resources.

I am wary of any proposal for a stronger European defence capability that is only theoretical, as it will send the wrong signal to the isolationists and nationalists in north America who want drastically to reduce their commitment to global security and to NATO. The issue must still, unfortunately, be sensitively handled. I know that the United States Administration want Europe to play a greater role in the Atlantic alliance—so do I—but that must happen incrementally; it must not be based on grand rhetoric. I want a stronger Euro-Atlantic partnership—a form of left Atlanticism in which Europe has a stronger voice. However, that must be based not on paper resolutions but on reality.

Kosovo has been mentioned, and what happened there, and in the former Yugoslavia generally, shows how far we have to go if we are to get real co-operation quickly. I intervened earlier on my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to refer to a report in yesterday's edition of The Times about mujaheddin fighters being discovered by journalists in Kosovo. That is a worrying development. Clearly, some people have an agenda that will not lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, or to the implementation of the UN resolutions or the agreement brokered by Mr. Holbrooke.

According to the agreement, there are supposed to be elections in Kosovo within nine months to determine the representative body to represent the views of the people there. I cannot see how we can organise elections on any kind of democratic or fair basis when armed gangs are going around the countryside assassinating the police, and shooting people and driving them out of their homes, which they then burn down. They may be representatives of the Kosovo Liberation Army or people from the Serbian armed forces.

We must make sure that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers are given the protection that they need; otherwise, as has been implied, their arrival in the region will not be as speedy as is necessary to secure the proper verification of the agreement. We might then get into spring, with the thawing of the snow and the potential for renewed conflict, as we saw in Bosnia.

In Bosnia, all sides, including Serbs and Muslims, lied, cheated and carried out atrocities—particularly the Croats. We must be clear that, in Kosovo, there is the potential for real disaster if there is inadequate international support. Stopping the guns going in and stopping freelance mercenary and fanatic groups is part of that process.

The situation in Kosovo has highlighted the need for our armed forces to have adequate capabilities to do their job. There are increasing demands on them, not just in the defence of this country but in the role we play in UN peacekeeping missions and humanitarian work—an increasing function of the Army, the Royal Navy and, occasionally, the Royal Air Force.

It is essential that we have the best possible communications equipment, and here I launch a further plea for the importance of my own constituency in manufacturing the new radiocommunications system for the British Army in the Archer project. Ministers will be aware that I have raised this matter several times in recent months, and I will continue to do so. I hope that the work that we have done in the UN on such matters in the past few years will be enhanced, and I am sure that it will be.

We face a world in which conflicts are increasingly within states, where it is far more difficult to make decisions as to when or how to intervene. One difficulty is knowing—once one has intervened—how long to stay there, and in what circumstances to get out. It is far easier to make a commitment to send forces into a conflict to keep the sides apart, or in a humanitarian relief operation, than it is to say, "Things are going so badly that we must extract troops." Any commitment could last 15 or 20 years rather than six months or a year.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that underlying any commitment must be the ability to deliver on it? Given that 10 per cent. of our forces in Bosnia were Territorial Army personnel and that the Regular Army is at an all-time low, 5,000 under strength, how will any future engagements be manned?

Mr. Gapes

There is a limit to what any state can undertake. For example, the Conservative Government chose not to send people to Somalia; despite our historic association with Somaliland, they decided that, because of other commitments, we did not have the capability. I believe that the changes in the strategic defence review will mean that the Territorial Army will be more able to provide support for real military functions; it may be smaller, but it will be better trained, with more highly motivated and committed people willing to take on those functions.

Mr. Corbyn

Has my hon. Friend considered that it might be a better idea to have a number of troops permanently assigned to UN duties, so that when an emergency comes up—such as the one in Somalia or, more recently, in Rwanda, where more troops could probably have saved many lives—we would not have to have lengthy discussions about the logistics and there would be a straight decision whether the available troops should be deployed?

Mr. Gapes

That was proposed by Boutros Boutros Ghali in the "Agenda for Peace" document in 1992 or 1993, I believe. At that time, the British Government's response was not positive, but the present Government are more positive about preparatory work. We have only regular forces, but countries with conscripts in their armed forces have a problem because serving abroad is a different commitment from serving for the defence of one's country from within.

The matter needs to be examined, because we cannot be in the position of having to wait up to six months to put together the political consensus to send a multinational force to a region in which people are dying or atrocities are being committed. Political mistakes were made in the United Nations over Rwanda.

The recent agreements in the middle east are most welcome. The Wye Plantation agreement continues the Oslo peace process. I have followed the developments closely, have had discussions with leading players in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority and have visited the West Bank and Gaza as well as Israel, and I am delighted—and surprised, because I did not think that it would happen—that the right-wing Likud Government have endorsed the implementation of this phase of the process.

We must hope that there are no further difficulties over the next few months and that the final status negotiations can begin, so that there can be a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which will provide an opening for a comprehensive middle east settlement, allowing the people of the region to develop trade relationships, cultural contacts and dialogue of the kind that have developed in Europe under the European Union and in the context of the post-second world war settlement. I am aware that there will be difficulties, but the British Government have an important role. I visited the office of the British Council in Gaza three years ago, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), now the Minister of State. We formed a joint deputation from the Labour Middle East Council and Labour Friends of Israel. The people of the British Council whom we met were doing an excellent job and the council has an important role to play in promoting the English language to assist teachers in the middle east and the rest of the world.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State replies to the debate, I hope that he will refer to the overall situation of the middle east peace process. Countries such as Iran are testing long-range missiles and, although I welcome the recent political changes in Iran, I need some convincing that the Iranian Government are committed to a comprehensive peace process. I am also concerned about the continuing existence of terrorist groups in Lebanon and elsewhere which are sponsored and supported by Iran. I hope that our Government will, as promised in the Queen's Speech, continue to take strong action against international terrorism from wherever it comes.

12.26 Pm

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I will try to be brief, given how many hon. Members still wish to speak in the debate. However, as this is the only opportunity I shall have to comment on the Gracious Speech, I want to preface my remarks by saying that I found coverage of the first day's debate alarming for the prestige of the House and the future of our democracy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) made a superb speech—one of the best speeches that a Leader of the Opposition has given—but when the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend appeared on television later, the political commentators said that the debate was a draw. That was not the impression received by anybody who judged the matter objectively.

I bring that point to your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it is a continuation of the downgrading of respect for the House in favour of the unelected journalists who practise political commentary on television and radio. Indeed, the "Today" programme's presenters appear to have usurped the position of the elected Opposition by saying that it is their job to call the Government to account. That is a dangerous trend in our public affairs and we must put a stop to it. As part of that, perhaps we should introduce a rule that all speeches in the House, including those by Front Benchers, should be restricted to 10 minutes. Today, the Front-Bench spokesmen took half an hour each, and so has one Back Bencher. That means that many people who were elected to the House on a equal footing will not be able to speak.

Last week in Brussels, Mr. Jacques Santer said that British Ministers had agreed that Brussels could impose taxation on the British people, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said the previous day that he would resist any attempts to harmonise taxation systems. If the European Commission President can make laws for and impose taxes on this country, how can the House govern as the people elected us to do?

The European Elections Bill, which was reintroduced to the House today, proposes to downgrade our democracy by the adoption of closed lists. I shall not go further into that process, but it will downgrade our democracy and the ability of individual voters to influence who is elected to the House and who sits in the Government.

I want briefly to refer to some of the depressing announcements in the Queen's Speech. First, general practitioner fundholding is being abolished in favour of a system that will deliver control of the health service to bureaucrats and those who work in the health service at the expense of patients. In the recent past, patients have come first. Indeed, the health service has never been better delivered in my constituency than under the GP fundholding and national health service trust system. That announcement seriously reduces the ability of individuals to receive good services.

Secondly, I was worried that there was no mention in the Queen's Speech of action to abolish the appalling regional planning system in which committees—the south-east regional planning committee, Serplan, in the case of my region—decide how many houses should be built in each of our constituencies and counties. The Deputy Prime Minister promised a complete review of that system in order to abolish the system of assessing need, then providing the houses that the assessment suggests. There is a proposal by the British Petroleum pension fund to build a mini new town of 18,500 houses in my constituency—the north-of-Harlow new town, as I call it. That would coalesce Sawbridgeworth with Bishop's Stortford and Harlow.

I was also disappointed by education measures. Abolition of grant-maintained status will downgrade standards and the capacity of individual children to receive the appropriate education. All those are depressing aspects of the Queen's Speech.

In my 10 minutes—less if I can press my remarks into a smaller amount of time—I would like to bring to the House's attention the issues that principally concern the Select Committee on International Development, which I am proud to chair. My main theme is the change in emphasis and approach that is taking place in the international development world, summarised in "Assessing Aid", the most recent report of the World bank policy research team. The document's analysis suggests that aid can be effective—delivered so that gross domestic policy rises in the host countries and poverty is addressed—only if there is good policy in every area in the host countries. That means good governance, a good legal system that can be relied on to be objective, an absence of corruption, good health policies directed towards those who need them most in the poorest and most remote areas, and good education policies in the same direction. Unless good governance and good institutions are adopted enthusiastically by the country that will play host to international development flows, no effective development can take place.

I agree whole-heartedly with that analysis, but it has consequences in terms of interference in the sovereign affairs of those countries. Countries whose policies we believe not to be capable of bringing about development, and of whose Government, or health policies, or education policies we do not approve, will not be given our assistance towards helping their poor people out of the desperate circumstances in which they live. Although I agree that that is so, it is a dangerous policy to follow to its logical end. If that happens, apart from giving emergency humanitarian aid, we will be doing nothing to help the millions of poor people living under dictatorships in possibly the worst governmental conditions. Therein lie some serious dangers, which we must handle carefully.

On the other hand, some countries are adopting policies that are so corrupt and which so undermine the capacity of poor people to pull themselves out of their difficulties, that we must stand up to them in a co-ordinated way. By we, I mean not merely Britain, but the international financial institutions and all the bilateral programmes. We must stand together to prevent that sort of corruption from continuing.

Kenya is an obvious example. I do not know how many times the aid world has rebuilt the road from Mombasa to Nairobi, but it needs rebuilding again. Why? Because it is not properly maintained and because senior politicians in the Kenyan Government own the trucks which run on it. They do not obey the rules on the weights that the lorries can carry, so those are thoroughly overloaded and the road is collapsing. They also own many of the operations in the port of Mombasa, which is very corrupt. It is not our job to rebuild that road unless Kenya reforms. In the aid world, we are being pulled in different directions by difficult problems which need careful handling.

I should have liked to explore certain issues a little more, such as third world debt, on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development are pushing in the right direction. They follow in the footsteps of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Lawson, who also adopted advanced policies. We are in advance on the matter. We are way ahead of the thinking in the United States, Germany and Japan and we must continue to pursue the ideas that the Chancellor has put forward as regards forgiving third-world debt—not merely writing it all off, but forgiving debt if a country has the right economic policies, has no corruption, has the rule of law and democracy, and if, therefore, we have a promise of getting the right framework for the policy to help in rebuilding the country, although it is not the only means of doing so.

In the Gracious Speech, the Commonwealth Development Corporation private-public partnership was mentioned and I welcome that, but the devil is in the detail. If the corporation is to be loaned more funds from the markets at higher interest rates than those to which it has been accustomed, it must increase its return on capital employed, which may well destroy its function as a development corporation. Again, we will have to watch carefully and I hope that the Government will give the House the opportunity to adopt the new procedure of having a pre-legislative Select Committee consider the Bill. Then, we will be able to get it right, provided that the Government give us the details of the memorandum and articles of association and the way in which the corporation will be financially structured.

Finally, on the implications of poverty focusing in the international development programme, we must concentrate on gender issues, which are sensitive. To get the poverty focus right, we must tackle those questions. Well over half the people in abject poverty are women, many of whom have no rights—no land rights and no rights of succession. They have poor health and the death rate in childbirth is appalling. They live in terrible conditions in which to bring up children. Unless we can give them basic education and health and can enable them to bring up their children and give them a proper education, we will never achieve the aim that we have set ourselves of reducing abject poverty by a half by 2015—an objective that I thoroughly endorse.

12.40 pm
Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

My remarks on the Gracious Speech will address three key issues: the present situation in the Gulf, the strategic defence review and, linked to those, the European Union and enlargement.

As Member of Parliament for a constituency with such a fine naval tradition, I never cease to be impressed by the sheer professionalism, commitment and adaptability of our service men and women. Watching the pictures of Royal Marines from HMS Ocean and HMS Sheffield working minor miracles in Honduras after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, I was sure that I was not the only person in Plymouth to feel a sense of pride.

We often forget what a difficult and dangerous job our service personnel have. It is only when a crisis flares up, as it has in the past month in the Gulf, that we remember why we need them so badly, yet some people still ask why we take such a strong line in the Gulf. I do not think that many of the hon. Members in the Chamber will do so, but the reason is simple: Saddam Hussein has to be stopped from developing his deadly arsenal of chemical and biological weapons—and stopped once and for all.

No one should forget that that brutal dictator has already used those weapons, not only against neighbours but against his own people. Despite the best efforts of the United Nations to put a halt to Iraq's weapons development programme, Saddam Hussein has consistently lied, cheated and deceived its weapons inspectors. The responsibility for the recent crisis therefore rests with him, and him alone.

The international community has already gone the extra mile to avert military action, as was shown by the agreement brokered by the Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, earlier this year. Saddam Hussein violated the agreement, to which he had willingly signed up. We cannot allow him to enter into binding agreements and then break them with impunity and go on with his activities. There was not merely a technical, but a substantial, breach of the agreement. It is clear from the evidence that, if unchecked, he will try to develop weapons of mass destruction. The evidence uncovered by French and Swiss officials of the attempt to decontaminate warheads is further proof of that.

We must continue to be prepared to back up diplomacy with force. It is not the authority of Britain or of the United States that is at stake, but the authority of the United Nations. UNSCOM inspectors have an immensely difficult job to carry out.

My constituency has strong naval traditions. In my maiden speech last year, I welcomed the strategic defence review, which was at its beginning, and commended the city's long track record to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I also invited him to take full account of it, and I am pleased that he has fulfilled our expectations. The SDR has been widely welcomed nationally, and I shall cite a local response.

The commodore of the Devonport naval base, Commodore Jonathon Reeve, said: I believe the centre of amphibious excellence is good news for the Royal Navy and Devonport … This was a full Strategic Defence Review and we are pleased it has put the Navy at the centre of the defence of the United Kingdom into the next century and new Millennium. He went on to add that the amphibious support ships and the new review meant that Britain had the best Navy in the world, after America. That is strong support.

Internationally, too, there has been admiration for the way in which our strategic defence review has been foreign policy-led and based on unrivalled openness of discussion with all parties. On my visit to the United States, defence advisers expressed their admiration for the process during a meeting, and that admiration, which was not only for the general approach, was clear. They also thought that they had much to learn in respect of their quadrennial review, especially from the way in which we involved the defence industry in the review.

Plymouth is now home to the Flag Officer, Sea Training. Last month, I attended the base to observe the crew of HMS Northumberland taking part in a disaster relief exercise. Such an exercise takes place approximately once a month, and it is impressive and realistic. The crew helps the village of Bullpoint to cope with Hurricane Hetty, tackling fires, problems with water and sewerage, collapsed buildings, civilian casualties and the general confusion and fear of the civilian population. It was topical at the time of my visit, as the Honduras disaster was at its height. We should all be proud of the unrivalled skill and ability of our service women and men to respond to such situations. The FOST base at Plymouth provides deployment and disaster training for 15 or 16 navies from across the world.

It is reassuring to have some of the world's disaster experts on our doorstep. On 12 August next year there will be a full eclipse of the sun, which will be observed in various parts of the globe, including Plymouth and Cornwall. The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) predicted an emergency situation. I am not sure whether his dire predictions will come to fruition as hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of people flood into Cornwall. I feel sure that the police and our emergency planners will find ways of coping, but as I said, it is reassuring that we have on our doorstep such world experts in dealing with disaster, should the worst-case scenario that some envisage materialise.

The strategic defence review has rightly been widely welcomed and complements the much more positive role that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has promoted for our country in Europe. The origins of the European Union were strongly rooted in the belief that trade relations have a vital role to play in developing and cementing peaceful relationships between nations that were once at war.

Enlargement of the European Union will develop that principle in the next millennium. As a member of the Select Committee on European Legislation, I have had the opportunity to meet representatives from the applicant countries, in the House and in some of those countries. I am impressed with the way in which they are working to fulfil the conditions of the acquis. It will be a costly process. The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) mentioned the challenge that many countries, including some of those applicant countries, face in dealing with nuclear reactors that power their energy.

To stay within the 1.27 per cent. budget ceiling, it will be essential to ensure reform of the agriculture budget. The recent success in negotiating the end of the beef ban must give us a far better basis from which to do that. We are in the early stages of that debate, but at least it has started, as has the other key debate on the need to find future institutional arrangements to ensure that we have effective means of scrutinising what is done in our name.

The past 18 months have been a challenging period for our new Government in foreign affairs and international development, and the next 12 months are unlikely to be less challenging. The work of the strategic defence review and the re-establishment of our credibility in the EU are a good base from which to meet that challenge.

12.48 pm
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy). She comes from a city with a notable naval tradition.

My uncle, who served in the war, used to go to Plymouth every year for the reunion of HMS Norfolk. In the days immediately after the war, it was still possible for clergymen to have maids. My aunt's maid revealed that her brother, who was doing his national service, was serving in HMS Abominable. My aunt constructed an entire class of ships to go with HMS Abominable—HMS Intolerable, HMS Impossible and HMS Unspeakable. The marvellous thing about them is that they all sound like 18th-century warships.

The debate on the Queen's Speech was opened for the Government in time-honoured tradition by the Prime Minister, just as he drew down the curtain on the last Session at Prime Minister's questions on 18 November. On that occasion, he rehearsed among his defences of the closed-list system the argument the majority of other EU states used it for the European parliamentary elections.

I was brought up on the thesis that the two great contributions that this country has made to western civilisation were political wisdom and lyric poetry—strands that happily come together in that other distinctive British contribution, the game of cricket. When I think back over the past two centuries, I cannot imagine Pitt the Younger or Palmerston, Beaconsfield or Bevin, Churchill or Gladstone arguing that the British should adopt a particular stance simply because others were doing so. That is political imitation, not political initiative. Its lacklustre quality as an argument was a harbinger of the Queen's Speech.

To return to lyric poetry, the language of the Most Gracious Speech has shown no evidence of deriving from the language of Shakespeare or Wordsworth. Its three watchwords, no doubt honed by some spin bowler, are "modernise", "reform" and "pursue". Most of the modernisation occurs in the first third of the speech. After the modernisation of the country in the opening paragraph, the Government are modernising our welfare state in paragraph 2, the law of electronic commerce in paragraph 6, and the justice system and the youth courts in paragraph 10—although another Department is overhauling the justice system in paragraph 11 at the same time as it is modernising legal aid.

In paragraph 12, we have "the challenges of modernisation", and in paragraphs 13 and 14 the Government are modernising the welfare state and benefits for widows. Exhausted by this frenzy, all they can do in the remaining two thirds of the speech is to modernise local government—although not too fast, as if fatigue were striking—and the law on immigration and asylum in paragraph 28. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) for his references to those measures.

The role of reform is the mirror image of modernisation. There are only two references to it in the first half of the speech. International financial institutions receive reform in paragraph 3, and benefits for long-term illness and disabilities in paragraph 14, but where modernisation flagged in that same paragraph, reform strides forward with what is euphemistically described as a process of reform of the House of Lords in paragraph 24, party funding in paragraph 25, the appeals system on immigration and asylum in paragraph 28, the common agricultural policy and structural and cohesion funds in paragraph 32, economic reforms in paragraph 34, building up to the climactic reform of the United Nations in paragraph 36.

Pursuit follows reform in its place in the speech, but is used more sparingly, as if the Government were getting more and more tired. They pursue "sound public finances" in paragraph 5, but cannot summon up the energy for pursuit again until they pursue their initiative to make the European Union's foreign and security policy more effective in paragraph 33—although we have good reason to know, from its absence from the strategic defence review debate, how elusive that initiative was and is.

In paragraph 35, the Government will also actively pursue a resolution to the problems in Kosovo. That must at least promise to represent an advance on their policies in the previous Session. In paragraph 36, the Government will pursue reform of the United Nations. I note that, by omission, foxes, too, will not go unpursued.

The effect of all that verbal energy has been to leave the Government looking exhausted 18 months into their term. There was admittedly one moment of animation during the opening salvoes of the debate on Tuesday. On the Friday of the previous debate on the Loyal Address in May 1997, I concluded my speech by quoting the surrender of the last royalist army in the field in 1646, when Sir Jacob Astley handed over his sword to the parliamentarian commander with the words, "You have beaten us. Now go fall out among yourselves." As we know, that has happened in the past 18 months.

This week, the animation occurred when the Prime Minister said something with which his colleagues on the Treasury Bench could at least agree. A nodding of heads occurred along the Bench, in a Mexican wave suggestive of small dogs in the back windows of hitherto stationary cars in a jam on the M25 that are suddenly hit by a gust of Hurricane Mitch proportions, so that all the dogs start nodding at once. It was a vivid index of relief at an issue on which the Government could be in agreement.

I hope that I have not been out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by referring to the Queen's Speech as a whole. I am conscious of the fact that, just as Winston Churchill said that a pudding must have a theme, so today's debate has departmental themes. In that context, I comment on certain ironies in the Queen's Speech relating to the outside world. In paragraph 3, the Government believe that their economic policies will make the United Kingdom well placed not just to weather the international financial storms but to emerge stronger from them. That robust consequence reminds one of the legendary Provost Phelps of Oriel college, who was overheard on the rim of a cold bath saying, through chattering teeth, "Be a man, Phelps, be a man"; but the Government's hope that they will emerge stronger from the international financial storms presumably carries the correlation that others will emerge weaker, which does not sound wholly communautaire.

Similarly, part of the golden legacy bequeathed by the previous Government was a massive magnetism of London as a tourist destination. It is a little surprising that the present Government have so devastated that reputation that, in paragraph 22, they have to justify the range of powers for the Greater London Authority by saying that they will help make London a world class city"— a condition that Londoners have long believed we already possess. I realise that only two London Members sit in the Cabinet, supported by just two London Ministers of State, but I do wonder whether those members of the Government personally cleared that humiliating wording.

In paragraph 32, there is a reference to ensuring that … EU … institutions meet the concerns of our citizens. I do not know whether small focus groups have been consulted on that ambition, but one has only to look at dedicated opinion polls to see how large that ambition is, when confronted by the exasperation of so many of our citizens at how the existing EU institutions work.

As for EU policies, for which the Government have the same ambition, I congratulate the Government on their resolution in relation to the London art market, not least in my constituency, to which I make unpaid reference in the Register of Members' Interests, but I despair of the European Commission's actions, through the introduction of droit de suite and VAT on works of art imported into the EU, in driving the art market off shore from the EU and, incidentally, driving the EU's supporters in this country to despair.

The Queen's Speech does not often dwell in detail on defence matters, and this year's is no exception. Like the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), I want to allude to the recent debates about the Territorial Army and, in a narrow constituency capacity, to thank the Secretary of State for Defence for his eventual dispositions towards the Territorial Army centres in my constituency. I will acknowledge that his overall decisions caught me a little by surprise, but surprise is the essence of most successful gifts and, perhaps more relevantly, it is a military virtue.

I am more sceptical about the virtues of surprise in the field of diplomacy. Whatever the downside of perfidious Albion as a soubriquet down the years, there is no shortage of contemporary suitors for our hand in temporary and longer-term alliances, not least perhaps because of our military prowess in its widest sense. It does seem important in this context that the world should know clearly where we stand on a wide range of issues, as I acknowledge that it does on the issue of Iraq.

Lip service is paid to clarity elsewhere in the Queen's Speech. In paragraph 13, the Government could not make it verbally clearer where they stand: My Government has made clear its determination to modernise the welfare state upon clear principles". One might say that that was as clear as could be, until one realises that the fog has not yet lifted for the clarity to be visible. I have previously quoted to the House Balfour's verdict on Asquith that his well-known lucidity of style was a positive disadvantage when he had nothing particular to say. Because the dilemma that the Secretary of State for Social Security has in making himself clear has a read-across into clarity in foreign affairs, I remind the House that, in J. M. Banie's "Peter Pan", Mr. Darling starts out as a benevolent father—Barrie's stage direction at Mr. Darling's first appearance, in Act I of the play, is germane to the DSS, for it describes Mr. Darling holding Mrs. Darling's hand while he calculated whether they could afford to have Wendy, and coming down on the right side—but, by Act V, Mr. Darling has been relegated to the dog kennel. We must hope that the Secretary of State does not reach the doghouse too before the Session is out.

I cannot improve on my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary's dissection of the Foreign Secretary's personal conduct of affairs abroad, but whenever he goes abroad I am reminded that his namesake Thomas Cook's first commercial initiative was to build a funicular railway to the summit of Mount Vesuvius. Our Foreign Secretary, and thus our foreign policy, live similarly dangerously. Incidentally, I do not begrudge him the obvious satisfaction that he derives from the extra resources at his command, and I am delighted by our greater representation in the Caspian basin, but I notice that he switched from fractions to percentages to disguise the fact that we shall still have only a quarter of the combined representation of the French and Germans in that quarter.

Words uttered in battle are rarely recorded for posterity, but, by chance, we have both Sir Colin Campbell's orders at Balaclava in 1854: 93rd! 93rd! Damn all that eagerness and his orders at the relief of the Lucknow residency a few years later: Lie down, 93rd! Lie down! Every man of you is worth his weight in gold to England today. It is that sort of consistency that should inform our face to the outside world and communicate to that world the issues on which we can be relied upon, not least because, again, our military resources, so well husbanded by Sir Colin Campbell, are so well respected in the world.

I add a footnote about General Pinochet, who was recently my constituent at the London Clinic. Like the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), although perhaps for more pastoral reasons, I visited the demonstrations against the general outside the clinic. I had reservations about demonstrations outside a hospital where some other patients were dying, especially when some placards that were visible from the windows of the clinic said, "We will drown the dictators in their own bloodbath," but I had a mild sense of deja vu: other placards stating "Smash imperialism" seemed to have been recycled from earlier campaigns.

The heart of my concern in the debate is that the world should not be left in doubt where this country stands and that we should ourselves not be surprised. Not for us the dying words of General Braddock when ambushed by the Iroquois in 1763: We shall know better how to deal with them next time". The Prime Minister, whose European Union policy was described by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the shadow Foreign Secretary, as going with the flow, is said to admire Baroness Thatcher. No one was ever in any doubt where she stood. Just as she did not surprise others, nor was she ever caught by surprise. This country earned the world's respect as a consequence.

1.2 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

As a member of the Parliament and Armed Forces Fellowship, I spent some time a while ago on the West Indies guard ship, one of those little ships of which hon. Members often say, "What the hell is it there for?"—until there is a hurricane, in which case, people suddenly start saying, "Why haven't we got 10 more like it?" I pay tribute to the work by the West Indies guard ship in the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean.

My mentioning that was prompted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke). The name of the little ship that I visited was HMS Alacrity. I do not wish to follow him too far down his sea fantasies, but I hope to God that Her Majesty never launches a ship called InterCity because, if it is anything like the InterCity train that I travelled on a couple of weeks ago, it will never arrive.

The Gracious Speech refers to tackling global poverty, the promotion of international peace in Bosnia and the commitment to the effective promotion of human rights worldwide. I want to pray in aid each of those items and touch as briefly as I can on five issues: three relating to foreign affairs, one relating to the concerns of the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, and one defence-related. I should also like to pay tribute to an organisation in my constituency.

Turning first to matters of global poverty, during the summer recess, I spent some time travelling. The media tend to regard that as political tourism. There is no point in hon. Members or, indeed, members of the other place travelling abroad on fact-finding missions if we do not use the knowledge that we acquire when doing so.

In 1991, as one of a delegation of five election scrutineers, I visited outer Mongolia to study that country's first democratic election since Genghis Khan, who, curiously, was democratically elected, although by only 11 other people. Returning this summer, I found a sad country.

When the first democratic Government were elected, there was great hope that prosperity would arrive. What has arrived is television. As a result, many nomads living hard, but healthy lives on the steppes have been attracted by the glamour of the city and moved to Ulan Bator.

Ulan Bator is now surrounded by a shanty town of squalid dwellings. It was heart-rending for us to visit in the middle of those a house—a hut—of three rooms housing 25 children, aged from 18 to four years. Hon. Members should remember that, at this time of year, the night temperature in Ulan Bator drops to minus 30, with the windchill factor taking it down perhaps to minus 60. Consider the four-year-old, wanting and waiting to go to the lavatory in the middle of the night, having to climb over 24 other people, and then going down to the end of the garden to an earth closet. That hostel for street children is run by the Save the Children Fund. I pay tribute to its work.

I should hope that Foreign Office Ministers, when considering foreign aid, will remember that countries such as Mongolia—which is on the way to nowhere from nowhere—do need help. I hope very much that the Foreign Office, while regilding buildings around the world—I am quite certain that some of them need attention—will consider the assistance that we can give to people such as our excellent ambassador in Ulan Bator, John Durham, who is working so hard to support non-governmental organisations which themselves are doing such vital work.

As a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation, I was privileged also to visit Cuba. All of us were devastated by the effect of foreign policy—that of the United States and of us—on that country. The average monthly wage of a professional working man or woman—I mean a professional—in Havana is $14. Rationing is rife. People of course blame rationing on the communist regime. I have absolutely no doubt that the totalitarianism of that country has a very great deal to answer for. However, it is clear also that the policies of embargo and implementation of the Helms-Burton Act are entirely counter-productive.

Sex tourism is rife in Cuba. Very young girls are now on the street, selling themselves for $20 a trick. One does not have to be a genius to work out that $20 in five minutes is quite good money when professionals earn $14 a month. Moreover, the policies are barring development of the market economy which could be the salvation of a country that otherwise has enormous natural resources and a very great deal to offer.

I noted—I think that all those of us visiting Cuba did—that Canada, France and Spain are investing heavily in Cuba. Notwithstanding the provisions of the Helms-Burton Act and our relationship with the United States, I should hope that Foreign Office Ministers will reconsider the manner in which we facilitate United Kingdom investment in Cuba.

I should like to touch on the human rights issue, and to consider Cyprus. I declare an interest as one of those hon. Members—so brilliantly exposed recently in the fearless Daily Mail—who visited Cyprus as guests of the Morphou municipality and the Friends of Cyprus. I just wish that the Daily Mail "political correspondent"— I think that that is what the writer of the article called himself, while taking the chance to swipe at my friend, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), and at Madam Speaker—had visited the island and discovered for itself why those of us who go there bother to do so.

I should like some of those correspondents to come with me up on to the green line, to press up to the barbed wire in the heat of the day and to join the old ladies holding photographs of their sons and husbands, whom they have not seen for 18 years, and about whose whereabouts they know nothing. Perhaps then those correspondents would understand why we bother to go.

I should like to draw the Foreign Office Minister's attention to the case of Titina Loizidou. The Government are to be commended, as were the previous Government, on promoting the entry of Cyprus into the European Union. The Government have made it very plain, as did the previous Government, that no right of veto will be permitted to Turkey, and that it is the intention that Cyprus, with or without a settlement, will join. I applaud that. However, in terms of sheer human rights—I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was unwilling to allow me to intervene, perhaps because of embarrassment, as I should have raised the matter with him—Madam Loizidou, who is a resident of Kyrenia, has been denied access to her home town and her property since 1974.

In 1989, Madam Loizidou took her case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg—the Gracious Speech reminds us that we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the convention on human rights. A nine-year process ensued. The case went to the court in 1993. The first judgment was reached in March 1995 and the second came on 18 December 1996. It said clearly that Turkey and the illegal regime in the northern part of the island had no right to deny her access to her home town and her property. In December 1996, she was awarded $600,000 damages for the loss of use of her property.

The time scale for the payment of those damages expired on 28 October this year. The United Kingdom is a member of the Council of Europe and a guarantor power in Cyprus. It is time that the Government made clear what action they intend to take to enforce the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Titina Loizidou, so that she, and others like her, can return to their properties and enjoy their use.

I should like to raise two other issues briefly, one of which is of great concern to the families of those in the diplomatic service and the families of our serving men and women abroad: quarantine for pets. In the great scheme of things, it may not seem terribly important, but to those men and women serving abroad, in the diplomatic corps or the armed services, it is a matter of considerable concern, and occasionally a cause of great distress. The Government have said that they intend to change the laws of quarantine. I urge that special provision be made immediately for those serving in our armed forces, particularly in rabies-free countries such as Cyprus, and most specifically for those members of the diplomatic corps who may find themselves caught by the new regulations because they are in countries that are not rabies-free and to which the new provisions—if they go through, as we hope they will—will not apply. It would be wrong if those serving this country, who are clearly responsible and dedicated people, were not able to benefit from the changes that the Government intend to enact.

I should like to quote briefly from a letter written two days ago by a constituent, Mr. Fisher of Herne Bay, about the Territorial Army. I do not wish to rehearse the whole debate that we have had recently in the House. Mr. Fisher says: I am writing to you today to ask you to voice your strongest opposition to the stupid intention of cutting down on the Territorial Army. The defence secretary ought to have more bloody sense than to even contemplate such an idea. I served six years in the Territorial Army, plus several years in the regular army, also quite a time on active service, and I have no hesitation in saying that the TA is absolutely vital to the interests of this country. The cuts in the Territorial Army are incomprehensible to most of us. As a supporter of the work of the cadet force, I do not share the sanguine view of the Chief of the General Staff, who seems to believe that the Army cadets will not suffer. The air cadets have already suffered through loss of flying time. The naval cadets have fewer ships on which to go to sea. The direct contact between the Territorial Army and the cadets will be weakened and it will be only a matter of time before the Army cadets suffer, too.

I said that I wished to pay a tribute. I hope that the House will understand why. The RAF is shortly due to leave Manston in my constituency, where it has been for more than 50 years. In recent years, it has helped, with the civilian service, to fly aid to parts of the world in desperate need—most recently to Honduras a fortnight ago. The humanitarian aid work that the RAF and the civilian service have carried out at RAF Manston has been invaluable. I hope and pray that the airfield will carry on that vital work under civilian ownership.

1.14 pm
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

Looking at the agenda for the other place yesterday, I felt a twinge of envy. The debate there was on foreign affairs, defence and international development, and I feel strongly that the three subjects are interconnected and that we should be discussing them all today.

I was disappointed that the shadow Foreign Secretary wasted the opportunity to discuss many important issues affecting the United Kingdom and instead used almost his entire speech to attack the Foreign Secretary. Boys must be boys I suppose, but I found listening to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech marginally worse than going to the dentist, and certainly much less useful.

There was much to applaud in the Queen's Speech, which stated that the Government are committed to tackling global poverty and promoting sustainable development. That is excellent stuff, straight from the White Paper. I was going to speak at some length about the introduction of a Bill to convert the Commonwealth Development Corporation into a public-private partnership, but, instead, I shall totally endorse the view expressed by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells).

The Queen's Speech also declared that the Government remain committed to effective promotion of human rights world-wide. Indeed, that has been demonstrated already by the Government's declaration that, on 30 November, they will sign up to the international criminal court. I was chairing a press conference on the matter when the Minister made that announcement. However, the Queen's Speech made no mention of ratifying it.

Human rights violations are one of the root causes of violent conflict, which itself leads to human rights violations. An estimated 4 million people have died in violent conflict since 1990. Civilians suffer 90 per cent. of the casualties and of those 40 per cent. are children. Such violence—ethnic cleansing, mass rape and genocide—undermines the values on which human relationships and respect for human rights depend. Typically, wars today are ethnically or religiously oriented and are fought mostly in very poor countries. As the Government' s international development White Paper notes: Half the world's low income countries are suffering, or have just emerged from serious conflicts. It is a harsh paradox: violent conflict is damaging to development and to prospects for poverty eradication and human rights and all the fine things in the Queen's Speech, but underdevelopment and poverty increase the risk of war and violent conflict. Therefore, we must tackle that cause.

In Sudan, for example, the two demon kings of poverty and conflict have been stalking the country for more than 25 years, alternating with one another in their horror. In 1996, the Sudanese Government spent 90 per cent. of their budget on war and 1.7 per cent. on health. In the Great Lakes region, there is a possibility of a war spreading across sub-Saharan Africa. A report published by the UN commission on arms to Rwanda stated: The Great Lakes Region is rapidly heading towards a catastrophe of incalculable consequences requiring urgent international action. Elsewhere, the report states: In the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone, there are 400 ethnic groups that don't like each other. You can imagine the implications of the breadth of the killing and hatred. All those ethnic groups are getting arms from somewhere.

The dominant threat to those embroiled in such conflicts is not the nuclear arsenals but small arms controlled by warlords. Therefore, we need measures to tighten strategic export controls. There was no mention of that in the Queen's Speech despite six or seven initiatives that western nations have discussed over the past two years. If we are to condemn human rights abuses around the world, it is vital that we are not party to them by supplying arms to those who use them for repression.

While I welcome the EU code of conduct on arms sales, I feel that it does not go far enough. Apart from the publication of a Department of Trade and Industry White Paper on strategic export controls, nothing in the Queen's Speech will tighten up arms control. An ethical foreign policy must be backed by a code of conduct on arms sales that does not have loopholes—but there are loopholes. Ethical foreign policy affects the DTI, too.

It is essential that all EU residents and registered companies comply with EU policy on arms exports, as arms—broking agents are increasingly responsible for the flow of arms, especially small arms, into regions where human rights abuses and armed conflict are rife. The Sandline affair would not have occurred if brokers had needed licensing. Similarly, the debacle and genocide in Rwanda in 1994 might not have occurred if the international community had intervened or if we had not supplied arms, however inadvertently. As we are short of time, I shall not rehearse the details, which I am sure hon. Members know.

Under the EU code of conduct, brokers' activities are not subject to licence. The Government must surely agree that that undermines the export control system. People involved in such broking are often business men who are motivated by profit, not by political and strategic considerations. In my view, they are brokers in death.

The UN commission to which I referred has been looking into the Miltech scandal in Rwanda. It said: The European Union should make the price of joining the EU a commitment to monitor arms transfers to conflict zones. That is a further push in the right direction, but we need strong controls before the Union is widened—I welcome such widening—as the problem is becoming worse and more difficult to monitor. All arms sales, including those by brokers, must be monitored. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said, we must have a parliamentary scrutiny Committee. Sir Richard Scott said that such a Committee should be a permanent feature—it would be a way in which to close the loopholes.

The DTI is responsible for both promoting and restricting exports—it acts as its own watchdog. The Scott report questioned whether it should continue as the licensing authority, as the material reasons for refusing export licences are usually the preserve of other Departments. Why have the Government not listened? Under their new guidelines, the Department for International Development has been given a role in arms exports, but that role is a mere formality—the Department has no power. A parliamentary Committee would ease communications between the DTI, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development.

In Sweden, a parliamentary Committee scrutinises in advance proposed exports to countries that are of concern. That should also happen here. Annual reports saying what has happened are no good; parliamentarians want to scrutinise matters in advance to know where arms will be going. Even the United States, the largest arms exporter, has a system of prior notification, so why do not we?

As the Foreign Secretary said, this year is the 50th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. That opportunity for a global effort to work towards the new world order has evaded us because all that we have had is talk. Talk is not enough; we need action. Everyone—the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office, the DTI and the Home Office—must act, not merely talk.

The millennium approaches and, as I speak, my first grandchild is forging its way into the world. I am sorry if I am a little emotional, but it is a world that I and all of us would like to make a better place for the next generation. I am encouraged by the steps that the Government have taken towards a new, more ethical foreign policy, but we must work much harder to practise what we preach and promote humanitarian programmes and codes of conduct—especially in arms sales—in the new century.

1.25 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge). I congratulate her on becoming a grandmother, and on not making the slip of saying, "We are a grandmother". She represents Richmond, and I once represented Richmond on the Greater London council—until I was removed by an ungrateful electorate. I hope the same does not happen to the hon. Lady.

I will not talk about the GLC, the House will be grateful to hear. I wish to talk about the promotion of an ethical foreign policy which, although derided in some quarters, gives us the chance to have an interesting debate, which we have had today. I want to deal with three particular areas of concern—the arrest of General Pinochet; the fate of Saddam Hussein; and the future of our involvement in the euro and of our national independence.

All those are political issues, but they are wrapped up in legal and economic mumbo-jumbo to let politicians off the hook from having to make up their minds. That allows politicians to play at being statesmen without having to address the fundamental political choices facing the states that they represent.

These matters are of fundamental importance but, sadly, they do not seem to influence public opinion and the results of general elections as much as they should. Sometimes I think that the importance of a subject is in inverse proportion to the effect that it has on general elections, which, apparently, are primarily about perceptions rather than policies. The present Government have learnt that lesson all too well.

In more than 30 meetings with parish councils and members of the general public in the past three months in my constituency, foreign policy has been mentioned only once, unprompted by me, by a constituent. So be it. No doubt foreign policy would have been at the bottom of the agenda at a meeting between a Member of Parliament and his parish council in July 1914—assuming that any were held in those patrician days, which I doubt. That does not mean that foreign policy was not of fatal consequence to 1 million Britons over the next four years. Foreign policy is important, and it is important that we have debates such as this. It is a pity that they are not better attended.

I want to talk about the clear choices facing the Government, one of which is whether or not General Pinochet should be returned to Chile. I believe that it is very unfair to put judges in a position of having to make political decisions. Cloaking the issue in the alibi of legal immunity of a head of state is bogus. One has only to think of what would have happened had Hitler not taken his own life in 1945. Would a Lord Chief Justice in 1946 have stood up in courtroom No. 1 in the Strand and justified Hitler's retirement to southern Germany on the grounds of the immunity of head of a state? Of course not. His crimes were such that his end was inevitable. Churchill realised that when he said that such trials were bogus, and he favoured the summary execution of top Nazis.

The Pinochet case is not a legal issue—it is a political one. One's view on the return of General Pinochet depends on one's political opinions and prejudices. One either thinks that General Pinochet's crimes were so dreadful that he must be tried, or—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The hon. Gentleman may not have heard Madam Speaker's rulings on the case of General Pinochet, but he is starting to infringe them. He must not mention anything which could have any bearing on the court proceedings relating to General Pinochet. That is sub judice and may not be discussed on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Leigh

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I wish to deal with the situation in Chile, which I had the opportunity to visit recently. Some people believe that Allende, with the help of Cuban troops, was about to impose a Marxist dictatorship, and that Pinochet saved his country from a fate worse than death that would have ruled out democracy not for 17 but for 70 years, and I happen to share that view. When my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and I visited Chile two years ago, it was clear to us that society there was united on the surface but deeply and bitterly divided underneath. Chile has deliberately decided to close the door and move on.

I am reminded of a John Steinbeck book, "The Pastures of Heaven", in which the hero is unable to cope with the death of his parents. He seals off the room in the farmhouse where they used to sit and does not visit it for 15 years. An outside event causes him to open the door, and although he tidies it up and tries to reorder it, the trauma of going back into the room and into the past destroys him.

Chile is making a successful return to democracy. It is for the Chileans, not us, to deal with their past and present. European politicians who, in a colonial spirit of superior wisdom, are seeking to open the door into the dreadful past, are playing a game that might prove fatal to the very Chilean democracy to which they pay lip service. The Home Secretary should act as the grown-up politician that he is, take a political decision and return the general to Chile.

In the same way as the Government are trying to hide behind the law over the general, they are trying to shelter behind United Nations law over Saddam Hussein. The fact that he is a deranged and murderous tyrant is irrelevant. Many such still enjoy power or peaceful retirement. The truth is that he is a dangerous man who has the ability to destroy his neighbours and harm us, so we should have the courage to proclaim that his removal is our aim.

Whether that is attainable in practice or worth the blood that would be involved is another question. In any event, we should not pretend that bombing with cruise missiles—a modern form of war without pain to oneself—will solve anything. I suspect that the chemical stocks are so widely dispersed and hidden that no amount of bombing would destroy them.

Politicians often seem to envelop themselves in stealth and radar cloaking devices to avoid having to make a clear decision and to allow them to pass the buck. Whether this country abandons its own currency and taxation is not a narrow economic issue. Oskar Lafontaine would agree that once a currency is abolished one is inevitably moving down the path to a single European state.

Only this week, there have been some interesting quotations. Mr. Lafontaine said: A unified currency area needs a fair and equal tax framework. Mr. Fischer, the German Foreign Secretary, said: We ought to work on a common constitution to turn the European Union into an entity under international law. Jean-Jacques Viseur, the Belgian Finance Minister, said: Direct tax co-ordination has to be on the agenda in order to avoid harmful tax competition. Yves-Thibault de Silguy, the EU Finance Commissioner, uttered what will perhaps become the most famous "why not?" quotation. An interviewer said: There is a logic that says that although you may start with corporate taxes and taxes on savings, there ought to be closer harmonisation of sales output taxes, VAT for instance, and indeed eventually perhaps personal taxation too. Without hesitation, Mr. de Silguy said, "Why not?" I am sure that those words will come to haunt all those who argue that the decision is not a fundamental constitutional and political issue on which politicians must provide a clear lead.

The Government maintain that the decision is primarily an economic one, although they cloak their attitude in the spurious guise of having made up their mind that we should join at some time in an undefined future. However, politics is about clear choices, and the public should be given a clear choice at the next general election.

I agree that we should respect the decisions made by continental nations. As it happens, I am reading a history of Luxembourg, which is surprisingly interesting. The book is also surprisingly hefty, although it contains a lot of pictures. If I were a Luxembourgeois, and my country did not have a separate language, was dependent economically on its neighbours—Luxembourg's currency was subsumed into that of Belgium in 1919—and had been invaded twice in its 150-year history, I would be in favour of the European Union and monetary union. However, our history is very different and we are entitled to take a different attitude while at the same time respecting the decisions of others.

Politics should be about choices. The Conservative party should present the people at the next general election with a clear choice based on principle. I am happy with the present policy of presenting the decision in terms of what we should or should not do in the next Parliament, but we should be clear that we oppose sacrificing our currency on the principled grounds that the sacrifice of currency and taxation rights is incompatible with any meaningful degree of sovereignty. That should be our clear and decisive policy at the next general election.

The promise of an ethical foreign policy raises expectations of a clear direction being given to the people. I do not believe that we have that from the Government at present. The Conservative party can offer a clear and principled policy of national self-attainment to the British people and win the next election on that basis.

1.37 pm
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

I agree strongly with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), especially his recollections of our visit to Chile. We were accompanied by several Labour Members and I would be surprised if they would disagree with my hon. Friend's comments.

The Foreign Secretary made only the most glancing reference to the enlargement of the European Union as he gloated over the extra jobs that he has created in his Department. We succeeded in achieving the enlargement of NATO, and the Foreign Secretary's attempts to create a spat with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) about spending in the Foreign Office are no substitute for a policy that will achieve the objective of enlargement of the European Union.

Many former communist-bloc nations in eastern Europe long to be fully reunited with western civilisation. They saw how western Europe's democracy and stability were cemented by the European Community and NATO in the post-war period. It is a priority to incorporate those nations into those organisations, so that the east can be accepted and the west can extend political and economic security to unstable areas now threatened by economic collapse in nearby Russia. The Balkans are a lesson in the fragility of post-communist societies. They cry out for access and inclusion as a means of obtaining internal as well as external security. They know no other way to gain stability. The history of eastern and central Europe has always been about the desire to forge alliances to create stability.

The slow response of the European Union to the enlargement agenda is a matter of shame for its members. The pace could hardly be slower. The iron curtain fell in 1989 and, nine years later, only four of the 20 or 30 states that aspire to EU membership are fully in the accession process. The agreements signed with some applicant states are a poor substitute for genuine free trade. The process has been arrested principally by those who regard economic and monetary union and the continuing integration of the existing membership as the overriding priority. That is demonstrated by the chronology of recent events. The Maastricht treaty in 1991 was the Franco-German response to the collapse of communism. Its focus was on preserving western Europe, and on consolidating it through economic and monetary union. Only in 1995 did the Madrid summit request that the Commission should make preparations for enlargement. Agenda 2000, the Commission's response, was delayed until after the Amsterdam summit in 1997. It was envisaged that Amsterdam would resolve all the institutional questions related to enlargement, but it failed to do so.

The Commission is now using enlargement as a lever with which to achieve the integration for which there was no consensus at Amsterdam. Introducing Agenda 2000, Commission President Jacques Santer wrote that the Union must set about adapting, developing and reforming itself. Agenda 2000 proposes reform of the weighting of votes in the Council and a reduction in the number of members of the Commission. It requires a fresh intergovernmental conference as soon as possible after 2000, which could introduce far-reaching reforms including the generalised introduction of qualified majority voting and a fully operational foreign policy.

Amsterdam was a stalemate because there is less and less consensus about the direction that institutional reform should take. An attempt to force reforms last year would have jeopardised the stability of EMU. A further constraint on enlargement is the Commission's insistence that applicant states must commit to the acquis communautaire in its entirety, including the aims of political and monetary union", without opt-outs. Applicants dare not speak out in those circumstances. The EU is treating applicant states more harshly than existing members such as Denmark and the United Kingdom. It is consistent with the Commission dogma that opt-outs are merely a transitional part of the inexorable process of economic and political union.

The larger the EU becomes, the less realistic all that is likely to be. Enlargement, rather than ever-closer uniformity, is the real test of the EU's credibility. To achieve it, existing member states must be prepared to make compromises, or else large-scale enlargement simply will not occur. That is why not a single date has been set for the accession of a single former communist-bloc state. Applicant states must, of course, reform their agriculture, stabilise their public finances and prepare for the rigours of the free market. They are all seeking to do so, but in many cases those are impossible preconditions, except in the extreme long term.

A real question arises: is the EU to be a rich, exclusive club, or a generous haven for fellow Europeans who are emerging from poverty and misrule? Enlargement means change for the EU. Everyone pays lip service to the original dream of peace and prosperity from the Atlantic to the Urals, but few people will face the consequences of enlargement. The rigid accession terms set out in Agenda 2000 are by no means the only, or even the quickest, way to achieve that.

The 10 aspirant states identified in Agenda 2000 will increase the EU's surface area by a third, encompassing a population of 475 million people, and a rise in population of just under a third. However, at the same time, their accession will add only 5 per cent. to EU gross domestic product. The EU must be in a position to assist the economic and political development of the aspirant states, to extend free trade and to promote political stability.

It is widely accepted that the existing policies and decision-making structures are already too cumbersome. The club designed for six members with limited powers now accommodates 15 members with ever-wider powers. The democratic deficit was an issue before the current round of enlargement. Representing the interests of the new democracies and their peoples alongside those of the existing member states in the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Court of Justice, will exacerbate that democratic deficit.

Enlargement makes reform of EU institutions unavoidable. Increasing the number of participants will slow down meetings and render policy even more unintelligible and consensus more impossible. Streamlining the decision-making process, however, would make the EU less accountable and would reduce the voice of individual member states. The Commission's emphasis on increased majority voting in place of genuine consensus to push along ever-closer union will worsen the democratic deficit. There is no constitutional separation of powers. In the Council of Ministers, the Executives of the member states legislate and the national, elected Parliaments become innocent bystanders.

The European Parliament will have 700 members by 2015, if enlargement goes ahead, and each of them will represent 678,500 constituents on average. The multi-site nature of the Parliament is a fact that reflects how member states' national interests will always override communautaire decisions in practice. The European Parliament is not a plausible answer to the democratic deficit.

If enlargement does not stimulate fresh thinking about the future of the European Union, it will become characterised by its political inertia, which will promote corruption, disillusion and, ultimately, dissolution. Whatever were the intentions of the original Six, the world has changed dramatically. The cold war divided our continent and defined the struggle between capitalism and socialism in our domestic politics. High tariff barriers protected domestic markets. Western Europe huddled together for mutual protection and security, without the need for much in the way of integration.

Today, Europe comprises nations whose interests have diverged dramatically. To give three examples: the United Kingdom is ever-happier with freer world trade and strong United States involvement, as the recent British presidency showed; France lives with three fears, which are world free trade, the unchallengeable ascendancy of the US in world affairs and the consequences of German reunification; and Germany wants to use her new size and influence for the benefit of her neighbours, but is now most preoccupied with the economic opportunities and threats of instability to the east. Every nation has its own sensitivities and motivations. Attempts to bind them all into one straitjacket—the acquis communautaire—will cause strains that are set to become intolerable.

Some nations may be prepared to forfeit their sovereign independence to join a new international state of some sort, but the problem will always be the democratic deficit. The most accountable institutions are national, rather than international, or regional—except where particularly strong regional identities exist. Therefore, the building block for a united and democratic Europe, which is meaningful to people throughout Europe, should be the nation state. Clearly, the answer for practical accountability does not lie at supranational level.

Flexibility with the acquis would greatly facilitate enlargement. The objective should be for the EU to do less, but more effectively. It cannot achieve that unless it rolls back the acquis communautaire at the same time. That does not preclude some member states from proceeding with further economic and political union, but not all member states should be obliged to do so. That not only recognises the reality of opt-outs that have already been granted, but reflects the intergovernmental character of the second and third pillars of the EU, dealing with a common foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs—or, at least, the thinking that they should be intergovernmental. It also creates opportunities for more rational decision making. Why, for example, should states that do not have fishing interests be involved in fisheries policy? Applicant states would then be able to negotiate accession terms that better suited their circumstances and those of existing member states. It may take decades to achieve real reform of the common agricultural policy.

Equally, the agricultural systems of many applicant states are decades behind those of the EU. EU membership could be offered, excluding CAP membership. The same could apply to social policy or to economic and monetary union.

The vast economic differences between the present EU and the potential members makes some sort of variable geometry inevitable. It is clear that the drivers of the EU see flexibility as a means of strengthening the acquis and the institutions. They see variable geometry as no more than a transitional stage to the ever closer union. However, variable geometry in the context of enlargement should not be confused with Union a la carte. It is a means of democratising the EU, as well as speeding up access to EU membership. Member states should not be forced to adopt policies that they do not want.

The recently published report of the Treasury Committee quoted the European Commissioner, Yves-Thibault de Silguy, applying the words of Mikhail Gorbachev to the situation of the United Kingdom vis-a-vis monetary union. He said: He who arrives late must be punished. Why enlarge if there are no benefits for the late arrivals?

A successful European Union will include members far beyond the current five accession candidates, and will be a union of diversity, mutual co-operation and consent. There must be an end to the language of coercion and intolerance, which is based on supposedly irreversible undertakings that, once made, are irrevocable. The language of inevitability and of irreversible progress carries echoes of past European tyrannies that Europe can do without.

The Queen's Speech committed the Government to a leading role in preparing the European Union for the historic challenge of enlargement. Sadly, however, there is precious little evidence that the Government of the United Kingdom have the least idea of the real nature of that historic challenge.

1.50 pm
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)

The debate has been wide-ranging, covering issues from dog licences to arms brokerage. In the middle of it, we had a thoroughly authentic restatement of the Labour party's position from the mid-1980s. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not comment on every speech; some were excellent, but I should comment on the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), which was most charming and eloquent. He has a way of insulting his opponents while making them feel amused at the same time. I wish that we all shared that talent.

The end of the cold war has brought about a radically different security environment. The 20th century—especially from 1939 to 1989—has been continentalist; it has been dominated by continental powers such as Germany, Russia and China. That situation has dictated British defence planning and deployment. We were previously often the great practitioners of a maritime strategy based on naval predominance and expeditionary operations. That changed after the first world war, and continental issues dominated. Since the end of the second world war, our naval deployment has been almost entirely configured for anti-submarine warfare in the north Atlantic, and that of our Army and Air Force has, for the same reason, been entirely configured to meet a Warsaw pact threat in Europe.

The end of the cold war has, at least for the time being, brought an end to that continentalism. We do not have to configure and deploy our forces solely to meet the Warsaw pact. The new strategic environment demands the ability to respond flexibly, quickly and outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation area. We will have to be able to respond to threats and challenges in north Africa, the Gulf and the middle east, which will involve joint force operations in conjunction with allies. Although such a concept is far from new, it was largely irrelevant in the cold war.

Such concepts have increasingly influenced defence policy over the past eight years or so. The previous Government began the post-cold war reconfiguration of our forces; the Government are continuing it, and we support those aspects of the SDR that carry it forward. At the same time, I am concerned that the SDR is a little too optimistic in its view of the threat to western Europe. The Defence Committee shares that concern. There are still serious potential threats, and it is in the nature of these events that the eventual threat has neither been foreseen nor planned for. We shall return to the question of asymmetric threats, chemical and biological warfare, ballistic missile defence and information warfare, none of which were adequately addressed in the SDR.

The Government should also be a little more cautious in their zeal to resolve the world's problems. Our foreign policy and our military action must be driven not by good intentions, but by Britain's interests alone.

I must express the enormous admiration in which our armed forces are held by all of us. They are constantly involved in operations in the south Atlantic, the Gulf and elsewhere, and they consistently acquit themselves with success and distinction. We are lucky to have them, and our duty as politicians is to make sure that they have the men, the equipment and the training to do what we ask of them.

Of all the major issues facing the armed forces, probably the biggest faced by all three services is recruitment. All three plan to recruit up to full strength over the next few years. The problem is inextricably linked to retention and welfare issues. If those who are recruited were to stay a little longer, the need for new recruits would partly, if not largely, be solved. The retention rate is crucially related to overstretch, housing and welfare—personnel issues that do not often feature in major defence debates. I know that all three services will address the issue, and I hope that they will be successful. It will be difficult within the current tight budgets, but we shall support them in their efforts and watch closely to see whether they achieve the Government's objectives.

There have been several defence debates recently—this is the seventh day of defence debate in five weeks. I hope that the rate diminishes over the next few weeks, and I am sure that that hope is shared by Ministers. During those debates my hon. Friends and I have explored various procurement issues, which I shall not go over again. However, I shall mention two topics.

The first is the carriers, which are a vital element of our armed forces' expeditionary capability. They must be built and delivered as planned, in 2112 to 2114. We shall watch events closely, as we suspect that the Navy's commitment to those carriers is greater than the Government's.

Secondly, smart procurement is an interesting and ambitious idea, but I sound a word of caution about some aspects of it. The concept is built on current business fashion, just as the Levene reforms were built on the competitive fashion of the 1980s. Both have their merits and both have relevance to the procurement process, but there is a danger of the Government adopting uncritically the current management fashion, whatever that happens to be.

Procurement of major weapons systems is necessarily a lengthy, technologically difficult and expensive process. All those elements involve risk, and I doubt whether much of the risk can be transferred to the supplier, as is done in the business model that smart procurement attempts to follow.

Partnership attitudes are vital. The Ministry of Defence must have a long-term partnership arrangement with companies such as British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and GEC, but it also needs the stimulant of competition and risk. I am slightly concerned that the proposed pilots are to last only a year or 15 months before the system comes fully into operation.

I understand that smart procurement will apply to everything from April 2000. Some pilots have begun, including some covering very large projects such as the replacement for the Tornado and the aircraft carriers. I am concerned at how fast we are going. I should have thought that a more evolutionary approach would be better. Smart procurement should be tried with a few new projects so that we can see how it works. It looks good on paper, but I believe that I can say with confidence that it will not work as well in practice.

Several hon. Members mentioned the Territorial Army. Last week, the Secretary of State confirmed our worst fears about his plans for the TA. It is to be cut by a third and many of its bases are to close. At the time, I said that I believed that the Secretary of State had made a mistake. We believe that the TA plays a vital social role in giving the Army a presence in our communities, and in recruitment to the Regular Army.

In future, the TA is to be confined to our large towns and cities, leaving large swathes of the countryside and rural areas without any TA or Army presence at all. Our main criticism is that with a small Army, we need a bigger general reserve as an insurance policy to meet the unforeseen threats that I mentioned.

Will the Secretary of State deal with some questions about Kosovo when he winds up? Will he clarify the plans for the evacuation of the OSCE observers, if that becomes necessary? I understand that such planning is being taken forward by the French, and I should be grateful if he would confirm that that is being done. Can he say whether the plans are being developed at NATO and whether such an operation, if it unfortunately became necessary, would be a NATO operation? Does he believe that a United Nations resolution would be needed to implement any such plan?

On the subject of the Balkans, can the Secretary of State confirm that the costs of the Bosnia operation will fall on the reserve and not on the defence budget in the current year?

I shall devote the last part of my speech to European defence policy and the nation's alliances. I can think of no more important issue and no greater responsibility of the Government, but there is confusion, to say the least, about the Government's intentions. We have found the Prime Minister playing politics with the matter. In his never-ending quest for a good headline or the temporary friendship of others, there is apparently no national asset too precious or too valuable to be put into play.

For the sake of a better atmosphere at the Austria summit for one weekend, the Prime Minister was apparently prepared to undermine our fundamental security alliances and throw doubt on our commitment to NATO. He was also prepared to reverse his own policy, which he had boasted about after Amsterdam.

In The Times on 20 October, Philip Webster, the political editor, quoted the Prime Minister, whose comments have not be controverted or denied by Downing street. The article says: Tony Blair made plain that he was to drop Britain's long-standing objections to the European Union having a defence capability. We are talking not about the development of a common foreign and security policy, but about a European defence capability. The view expressed in that article directly contradicts what the Prime Minister said after Amsterdam. He said that Europe's defence should remain a matter for NATO and not the EU, which had proved itself unable to run a successful foreign policy. He went on: What matters is what works; and what works for Britain and for Europe is Nato. He added that the Franco-German plan was like an ill-judged transplant operation. [Interruption.] I am glad that the Secretary of State for Defence is roaring his approval, because that is a long way from what the Prime Minister has been saying recently.

In his press conference after the Austrian summit at Pörtschach, the Prime Minister said: We are at the very beginning of that debate, we need to get the international mechanism right, we need to make sure that that institutional mechanism in no way undermines NATO but rather is complementary to it". That is not what he had said previously, when he referred to an EU defence capability.

That is a fundamental shift in defence policy, not just from our position when we were in government, but from the Prime Minister's position until about three weeks ago. Apparently, the Secretary of State for Defence and his Ministers knew nothing about that. [Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary nods, but the date of the Prime Minister's interview happened to be the second day of the debate in the House on the strategic defence review. During that debate, the Secretary of State for Defence reiterated the post-Amsterdam position very clearly. He said: The Government's view on the common foreign and security policy and how it relates to European defence was determined definitively at the Amsterdam summit … The challenge for the European Union is relevantly to apply the common foreign and security policy to events."—[Official Report, 19 October 1998; Vol. 317, c. 974.] That was the post-Amsterdam position, but it was not what the Prime Minister was saying the next evening. That position was confirmed by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence when he wound up the debate. Several hon. Members and I raised this issue, and he said: We are also playing a central role in developing an effective European security and defence identity in NATO."—[Official Report, 20 October 1998; Vol. 317, c. 1176.] We have no problem with that, but it is not what the Prime Minister was saying, nor what the Under-Secretary said a couple of weeks later.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) was so concerned about this subject that on 11 November, he secured an Adjournment debate to discuss the matter further. The Under-Secretary replied to that debate, and tried to pretend that nothing had changed. However, he gave the game away, because he said that our aim is to enable the European Union to have a more united and influential voice … That voice must be backed up, when the need arises, with effective and prompt military action. The European Union is to have the ability to mount military action. He went on: If Europe is to have a stronger voice in the world, European armed forces will need to be capable of supporting our position. We need to put muscle behind Europe's foreign policy".—[Official Report, 11 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 301–04.] In that context, Europe's foreign policy can mean only the European Union's foreign policy.

We are no longer talking merely about the common foreign and security policy. [Interruption.] This is a serious issue. I should be delighted if the Secretary of State could clarify this matter in his response. It is not a matter to be trifled with and treated lightly, or for a junior Minister in his Department to laugh about and mock at. These are serious inconsistencies in the Government's case, and they should clarify them.

Having ventured the thought in October, by mid-November the Prime Minister was out in the open. In an article in the New York Times on 12 November, he is utterly unambiguous. This is not a matter of a European defence identity within NATO. [Interruption.] It is easy to laugh, but this is the most serious matter that the Departments represented by these two Secretaries of State have to deal with, and they should take it seriously. If I, and many other people outside the House, misunderstand their intentions, it is because they are not speaking with one voice. They now have an opportunity to clarify matters.

In the New York Times, the Prime Minister said: To speak with authority, the European Union also needs to be able to act militarily on its own when the United States is not engaged. Britain backs that". Nothing could be clearer than that. I understand exactly what that means. If I was in any doubt, that doubt was removed next day, when the Prime Minister said it again at the North Atlantic Assembly. He said that we must ensure that the European Union can speak with a single, authoritative voice … and can intervene effectively where necessary … Diplomacy works best when backed by the credible use of force. He also said: Europe needs genuine military operational capability"— again in the context of the EU.

In some of those statements—especially by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence—there is confusion between Europe and the European Union, but the policy shift now seems to be absolutely clear from what the Prime Minister said in his New York Times article and his speech in Edinburgh to the North Atlantic Assembly.

At the weekend, an obviously heavily briefed article in The Mail on Sunday spoke of "Blair's … EU strike force". It said that the Prime Minister hopes the plan will keep Britain at the heart of EU decision-making. There we have it. That is what it is about. The Government support the proposal, not because they believe that it would be better for the country's defence or that it is a better way of looking after our interests, but so that, when the Prime Minister attends European summits, he gets a better reception from Mr. Chirac, Mr. Schröder and the rest of them. He will have trouble getting a good reception from Mr. Fischer, who seems to have gone even further out on that limb than the Prime Minister has, but it is now clear that it is all part of the Prime Minister's public relations effort.

I want to get the matter clarified—the sooner the better. The Secretary of State for Defence can do it today. He can tell us whether we are talking about a European Union military capability or a European defence identity within NATO.

I should like to make our position clear. We support the development of a European defence identity, and even capability, within NATO, perhaps using the Western European Union as a vehicle for action without the United States. We began that process when we were in government, and agreements are in place for any such Western European Union operation to use NATO planning and command structures and to use American intelligence and heavy lift capability.

The problem is not with the institutions. If Europe cannot sing with one voice on defence or foreign policy, it is not because the institutions are at fault—it is because the major powers in Europe have different agendas and different interests, and find it very difficult to co-ordinate their views on things.

We do not support the idea of that NATO-WEU role being taken over by the European Union. However, the confusion continues, because yesterday Lord Gilbert, the Minister for Defence Procurement, said, in absolute contradiction of what the Prime Minister said: He has spoken of the need particularly to improve Europe's defence capabilities within NATO. I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of those last two words 'within NATO'."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 November 1998; Vol. 595, c. 138.] The same day, the German Foreign Minister is quoted as describing political union, including the creation of a European defence force, as his "personal goal"—so if the Prime Minister wants to get a warm reception from him, he will have to continue even further down the path on which he has started.

Let me say why, in our view, that is the right role for NATO and the WEU, but not for the European Union. It is based on a proper evaluation of what is best for Britain and what works.

What the Government appear to propose would be a damaging change, which I believe would wreck the WEU, undermine NATO and endanger US commitment if the European Union developed—as I believe that it would—into a caucus within the NATO alliance. It would exclude several important NATO countries—such as Norway and Turkey, which are in the WEU, but not in the European Union—and it would include several neutral states that are in the European Union, but not in NATO.

We have an incredibly successful alliance and joint military planning machine in NATO. It has a European arm, which can do things without the United States. It has an agreement with NATO and the United States to do so and to use their resources. All the European Union countries are in the Western European Union; it provides a comprehensive European forum. Not only is there no need to replicate any of that within the European Union, but any such move would inevitably damage NATO.

If there is to be a change of policy, as seems to be being signalled, it should be fully worked out by the Government and discussed by the House. It would be a very major change of British foreign and defence policy, and it is not something just to play with at the weekend as part of a public relations programme. Our fundamental alliances are the crucial foundations of our security.

I must tell the Secretary of State for Defence that the Government are endangering the bipartisan view of this issue, which was confirmed by the new Government after Amsterdam, when they supported the position that we had previously taken. They are changing that position by stealth, and they are making no attempt to explain the change or to carry anyone else with them. We shall oppose that change.

We support the general thrust of the strategic defence review. We believe that developing more expeditionary force capability is the right way to go, and that that will involve a different force structure from that needed for the cold war. The new carriers are a vital component of that. [Interruption.] There are many distractions in this place, but that is a killer; that is the most powerful intervention that I have heard.

I reiterate how important we think recruitment and retention are and how closely we will watch that. I say again how horrified we are at the casual toying with the importance of NATO in return for short-term favours. It has been the cornerstone of our defence for 50 years. It can and should continue to perform that role. The European Union is not an alternative, but any attempt by the Government to develop such a role for the EU will inevitably undermine NATO. Far from being welcomed by the Americans, such a move would diminish their commitment to Europe and break the bipartisan view that has prevailed in the House.

2.11 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

I am grateful for the opportunity to close this important debate. Rightly, foreign affairs and defence remain at the forefront of the business of the House and of the country. It is gratifying that so many hon. Members have been here on a Friday afternoon to take part in such a debate. Many points have been raised, and I shall shortly deal with some of the more detailed ones; first, I should outline the Government's position on some of the major defence issues that we face.

Since the House debated the strategic defence review, events in Iraq and the Balkans have underlined again the robustness and validity of our conclusions. The most recent crisis in the Gulf is yet further evidence of the importance of Britain being able and willing to deal with risks to international peace and stability. We have shown again that we are not willing to stand idly by, and that we increasingly have the military capabilities to enable us to make a real contribution to dealing with security crises.

As one would expect, many hon. Members have mentioned the Iraq crisis. Saddam Hussein's efforts to flout the United Nations and the international community have been defeated. He has been faced down. No concessions of any sort were offered to him in exchange. There was no negotiation of any sort; nor will there be in the future.

Saddam's capitulation and agreement to resume unconditional and full co-operation with UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency came just in time. British and American forces had already been given the order to launch air strikes against Iraq. Our willingness to use force was again the key. Without both the resolution and ability to hit him—and hit him hard—UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors would not be back in Iraq carrying out their duties with a promise that they will be afforded full Iraqi co-operation. However, the Iraqi regime's failure last weekend to provide the documents that UNSCOM had requested is not a good start. We are watching the situation very closely daily.

Such behaviour will only delay the start of a comprehensive review of Saddam's compliance with UN resolutions. The aim of the review will be to provide a clear statement of the remaining steps that are needed for Iraq to meet its obligations and, if followed, will provide a timetable towards the lifting of sanctions, but the review cannot start until the Security Council is satisfied that Saddam is co-operating fully and unconditionally.

The military option is still in place and, as the Prime Minister has said, next time there will be no build-up and no warning. Saddam knows that we mean business. He will not be allowed to renege on the latest profession of co-operation, as he has on so many previous occasions.

Saddam should not doubt our resolve. Our forces in the Gulf remain on high alert. Like the Opposition spokesman, I take this opportunity again to put on record the country's appreciation of our forces' efforts. If we are forced to take military action, let there be absolutely no doubt about where the blame for it will lie—firmly at the door of the dictator in Baghdad.

In the Balkans, too, we have witnessed once again the need for action to avoid a catastrophe. The humanitarian disaster that could have occurred in Kosovo has been averted by the intervention of NATO and the international community. The powerful combination of diplomatic pressure and NATO's credible threat to use force has changed the situation in Kosovo for the better. However, it is only the beginning. The effects of ethnic hatred will not disappear overnight, and we must do all that we can to support the search for a political solution.

Recent events have underlined the need to get international verifiers in place, and we have responded quickly. About 60 British personnel are now in the region, and, next week, more will follow. We are also making two Canberra reconnaissance aircraft available to the NATO air verification mission. There should also be no misconceptions about who is responsible for verifiers' safety: President Milosevic is responsible. However, for added insurance, NATO is finalising plans for a small reaction force to be based in Macedonia. Britain will play its part in that force.

Events in Iraq and Kosovo are graphic demonstrations that the United Kingdom has the ability and the commitment to make a difference in this very uncertain world. I am pleased to say that our labours are bearing fruit elsewhere in the Balkans: we have seen peace return in Bosnia. We remain the second largest contributor to the NATO stabilisation force in Bosnia. Last month, I saw for myself the vital role that our service men and women are playing in helping the Bosnian people to rebuild their lives. However, we must always remember the damaging effect of overstretch on the troops who are out there serving both their country and the international community.

A key feature of our responses in the Gulf and in the Balkans is that we are acting in concert with our allies. The United Kingdom cannot and should not try to be a world policeman. Multinationality is therefore the key to our future military operations, whether under UN, NATO or European auspices, or in ad hoc coalitions. As the strategic defence review made clear, it is central to UK policy that NATO should remain the foundation of our security. We—like so many others—therefore have a fundamental interest in NATO's effectiveness and modernisation. Next year's Washington summit to celebrate NATO's 50th anniversary is an opportunity that we must grasp to signpost the way ahead for the alliance well into the new millennium.

We need a NATO that is committed both to collective defence and to its new tasks of crisis prevention and peace support. We need a NATO that remains the principal forum for consultation on security and the military organisation of choice for both Europe and north America. We need a NATO that is militarily credible across the full range of alliance missions. Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said, we want a NATO that does not slam the door to new members but ensures that the alliance's military effectiveness remains its key priority. Perhaps most of all, we need a NATO that is regarded as a force for good in the world.

The most important vehicle for achieving those aims will be the alliance's new strategic concept—which must define clearly NATO's current and future purpose. The aims are achievable in Washington. NATO's inherent flexibility has enabled it, and will enable it, to adapt to a radically different world and mission for the alliance. However, part of the process of adaptation must come from the European side of the transatlantic partnership.

I should deal now with the slightly hysterical and overblown remarks of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples). As he said, hon. Members are aware that the Government have launched in the European Union a wide-ranging debate on the future of Europe, including the need to consider again the future direction of European security and defence.

This is a call for fresh thinking, not a major revision of our defence policy. Our aim is to enable the European Union to have a more united and influential voice, articulated with greater speed and coherence through the common foreign and security policy, backed up when the need arises by effective and prompt military action.

We come to the debate without pre-conceived ideas, but we have recognised certain principles which we must guard. There is no question of relinquishing national control of our armed forces, and certainly no intention to create a standing European army.

Similarly, we do not believe that it would be right for the European Commission or European Parliament to have a direct role in defence matters. Perhaps most important—I emphasise this to those on the Opposition Front Bench—we are clear that we must not undermine NATO or attempt to duplicate it. Building Europe's ability to contribute and being able to take more responsibility for our security will strengthen NATO, not undermine it. We have identified three clear, pragmatic strands that need to be addressed: political will from the Europeans; effective military capability; and the link between the two.

Europe needs a proactive foreign policy that is responsive to fast-moving situations. We cannot spirit a shared political will out of the ether, but exploiting the institutions that were created at Amsterdam is an important step in the right direction.

We also need to put muscle behind European foreign policy. The lessons from recent crises are clear. We need armed forces that are deployable, sustainable, flexible, mobile, and survivable—the qualities that were fundamental to our strategic defence review.

We shall continue to encourage our European partners to develop their military capabilities to be more responsive and more relevant to the situations that will confront us. Institutional arrangements are not at the heart of the debate that we have launched, but we need to be confident that we have an efficient and effective link between political direction and military action. That may have institutional implications, but it is premature to open the question, because it may cloud our thinking. We need to agree first what we are trying to achieve.

Mr. Maples

The Secretary of State is using the word "Europe" in an ambiguous sense. I do not disagree with a lot of what he has said if he means it in the context of NATO. In an article in the New York Times, the Prime Minister said: the European Union … needs to be able to act militarily on its own. How does that not mean building a distinct military capability in the European Union, even if it is joined in some way to NATO?

Mr. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman is new to the subject of defence—as was I, in many ways; I do not mean that pejoratively. The Conservative Government made a commitment in the Maastricht treaty to moving towards a common defence for Europe. At the 1995 NATO summit in Berlin, my predecessor, Michael Portillo, was at the forefront of those who set up what is now called the European security and defence identity inside NATO. The link between the European Union commitment in the Maastricht treaty and the ESDI in NATO was to be the Western European Union. The EU was to be able, under the Amsterdam treaty, to make a view known to the WEU about using the military assets of the ESDI in NATO.

The framework exists, but we lack a streamlined method of getting from the decisions taken in the European Union, based on the Maastricht treaty, to the militarily effective capability of European countries to take action that might not require the efforts or involvement of the United States of America. At present, quite realistically and practically, we are asking how that connection can be achieved and how Europe can build the military capabilities that will be required to enable European nations—whether through the EU common foreign and security policy or by a wider aggregation of European nations—to deliver the military capability that we discuss so often. Let me direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to the article in today's Wall Street Journal by one Michael Portillo, which appears to be raising exactly the same argument.

Mr. Howard

If the right hon. Gentleman wants Mr. Portillo's views on the matter, he need look no further than his speech today to the Royal United Services Institute in which he makes clear his disagreement with the Government's proposals. The question is as follows: in the past, whenever such matters were considered, the Western European Union was regarded as the link, not for some abstract dogmatic reason, but because it provided the means of associating members of NATO that were not members of the EU with any proposed action. Is the Secretary of State saying that the Government are now prepared to abandon the use of the WEU for those purposes?

Mr. Robertson

I am saying nothing of the sort. We are putting into a general debate, which has been widely welcomed in Europe and America, how we can make effective the European security and defence identity that has already been established in NATO and that we intend to strengthen and how European countries in aggregate can deliver on our common foreign and security policy. We have not prescribed an institutional framework; a number of variations are on the table. We need to ensure that Europe can deliver when it makes a policy decision. That is the key element of the debate which has been welcomed everywhere except by the Conservative party.

Let me quote from Mr. Portillo's speech to RUSI today as carried in the Wall Street Journal. He says: If European statesmen were serious about Europe doing more for itself militarily, they would spend more on defense, and so actually increase European capability. The man who supervised a defence budget that went down by 30 per cent. in real terms in seven years is lecturing others and making precisely our point about how our policy efforts should be adapted to achieve the required military capability.

In the minute and a half that remains let me touch briefly on some of the key issues that have been raised today. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) mentioned the 3 per cent. efficiency target in the strategic defence review. Let me reassure him that, although it is a very tight target, as I would expect for the MOD, last year we achieved 3.6 per cent. improvements in efficiency and this year we expect the figure to be 3.2 per cent. I see no reason why my Department should not achieve its target in future years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) asked what we were doing about nuclear disarmament. Yet again, I would direct their attention to the strategic defence review, which shows substantial reductions in the number of warheads per submarine and in our nuclear stockpile.

I have been unable to respond to all the points that have been raised because of the preoccupation of the Opposition with a key issue in a key debate that is taking place at the moment, so I shall write to hon. Members. Since the Labour party was elected, we have given a new direction to defence and a new vision to the armed forces. Implementation of the strategic defence review will make them truly modern forces for a modern world. They will be able to play an effective part in diplomacy.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Betts.]

Debate to be resumed on Monday next.