HC Deb 27 November 2003 vol 415 cc142-229 12.23 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

The House last debated foreign affairs in the Queen's Speech debate almost 30 months ago, in June 2001. I had just taken over as Foreign Secretary and thought that my new job might be rather quieter than my job in the Home Office. However, it was not, and the world is less certain and more dangerous today than it has been for decades. Since our last Queen's Speech debate, we have seen the appalling attacks of 11 September; Britain has had to join in military action in Afghanistan and Iraq; and there has been the ever more violent intifada in the middle east. People's awareness of global insecurity is probably greater than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s.

Last week I saw for myself in Istanbul the carnage and destruction wrought by the terrorist attacks on the British consulate-general and the HSBC bank building on 20 November. Ten consulate-general staff, British and Turkish, and 23 other innocent people lost their lives. I know that the thoughts of all of us in the House are with the families and friends of all the victims. Let me pay tribute to all those, both diplomats sent from the United Kingdom and UK local staff, who work in often dangerous circumstances at our missions abroad.

Here in the UK, we have had to live for more than 30 years with terrorism. We know all too well from that experience how everyday life could and can be tainted by the fear of terrorist attack. However, over those decades we have refused to bow to the terrorists and let that fear take over. We have to show the same resolve and determination now with the global threat—and fact—of terrorism that we all face. That means, not least, that we must show understanding and support for our allies, such as Turkey, who are facing terrorist threats. We need to balance carefully the advice that we provide for the public. Where we have intelligence of a specific threat, we will advise the public against travel to certain countries or regions abroad, but as far as possible, we will avoid blanket advice against travel. We must not do the terrorists' work for them. Life has to go on.

The attacks in Istanbul showed yet again how terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam have perverted a peaceful religion and, in doing so, claimed many innocent Muslim victims. Muslim religious leaders around the world have condemned the attacks. Even extremists have been shocked by terrorism into changing their views. Only last Sunday, a leading militant cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Nasir al Fahd, publicly retracted fatwas that he had previously issued in support of terrorists, in shock at the attacks in Muhaya earlier this month. Killing innocent people, he said, was not jihad; suicide bombers were not martyrs.

Terrorism is an international threat, and it requires a concerted international response. However, it is not the only threat to our security today. Combating weapons proliferation is also a priority of our foreign policy. Like terrorism, it requires concerted international engagement. As the House will be aware, I visited Tehran last month with my French and German colleagues, with the aim of bringing home to Iran the seriousness and urgency of international concerns about its nuclear programme. As a result of that visit, Iran said that it would co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and it undertook to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing. Those are welcome promises. The key, of course, will be Iran's willingness to keep them.

I know that the House will also welcome the adoption by consensus on 25 November of the IAEA resolution, based on a French-German-UK draft, in respect of Iran. That was the result of the intensive diplomatic consultations that followed our visit. We and our partners look forward to continued co-operation with Iran. Already our approach, based on international unity and constructive but critical engagement, has brought us further forward than many had imagined possible.

International action backed by strong institutions, such as the United Nations and the IAEA, is essential to combating proliferation. The Government are committed to strengthening the multilateral system and to making it more effective. That also means that we need to be prepared to follow through resolutions with action, as we did in the case of Iraq, which had defied UN Security Council mandatory resolutions for more than a decade.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con)

That action in Iraq took place without the support of many European Union countries. I welcomed the fact that the Government decided to proceed with the United States in defiance of those European countries. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that on the current draft of the European constitution it would be almost impossible for the UK to take similar action in future?

Mr. Straw

The Iraq issue showed that Europe was split down the middle. It is important that we do not get the idea that it was Europe versus the US with the UK tagging along. At least as many countries in Europe supported the position—among the 25—as opposed it. On the specific issue raised by the hon. Gentleman, I do not accept his interpretation of the draft text, but I make it clear that we do not accept the idea of qualified majority voting for foreign policy decisions—except in a

specific way that is in the current draft text, which was published at the end of July—and we will resist it.

Defeating terrorism and tackling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are vital to protecting our security, but we also need to pursue longer-term goals that will create a more stable world and tackle state breakdown and the conditions in which violence and extremism can thrive. The world today is too interlinked and interdependent for us to be indifferent to insecurity in any region, however remote it may appear to be.

The events of 11 September 2001 brought the violence and chaos of what was then seen as a distant country about which we knew very little—Afghanistan—to New York, to Pennsylvania and to the heart of the American Government in Washington. Part of our response to the threat from Afghanistan was military action against the Taliban regime and the terrorists whom it harboured. But building lasting security there has meant following that up with equal efforts to help Afghanistan to move towards stability and democracy. Our efforts are paying off. Four million Afghan children are back at school, including girls and young women who were denied an education under the Taliban; the economy grew by an estimated 30 per cent. in 2002–03; and more than 2.5 million refugees have returned. Next month, the Afghans will decide for themselves a new constitution, to be followed by elections next year.

I returned last night from a two-day trip to Iraq. In Baghdad, I met Ambassador Bremer and General Sanchez, Sir Jeremy Greenstock and many of the staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and President Talabani and his leading colleagues in the governing council. In Basra, I met General Lamb, the British General Officer Commanding, many of his staff and that of CPA South, Italian military personnel and Danish police advisers, and Judge Wael Abdul Latif, Governor of Basra.

I am proud of what the coalition has been able to achieve so far in Iraq, and I expressed my gratitude for the American contributions to Ambassador Bremer and General Sanchez. They will, I know, not mind my expressing my especial pride in and gratitude for the extraordinary work of British military and civilian staff across Iraq. To a man and a woman, these are people of calibre and commitment who are, as I saw, dedicated to making a better Iraq for the Iraqis. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I express my thanks to their families and loved ones, who have experienced months of separation and inevitable anxiety.

Despite the terrorist attacks, Iraq is making good progress. With the welcome acceleration of the political process announced earlier this month, an elected Iraqi Transitional Government should be in place by July 2004. By the end of 2005, Iraq should have a new constitution approved by its people, and national elections. Only last week, Iraq took another important step towards a normal relationship with the international community after decades as a pariah state under Saddam, when the UN oil-for-food programme was formally wound up and its responsibilities handed over to the Iraqi governing council and the Kurdish regional government.

It is easy to forget that only nine months ago, the stifling tentacles of Saddam's regime extended into every corner of life in Iraq, and his murderous habits are chillingly recorded in the more than 250 mass graves now discovered, containing just some of the 300,000 poor souls killed or missing under Saddam. Today, the Iraqi people can read, say, buy, and watch what they want. Public sector pay has been massively improved: the real income of police officers has tripled, the Governor of Basra told me. The Iraqis have a new currency in their pockets and goods in the markets to buy with it.

More than 14,000 reconstruction projects have been launched. Almost all 240 hospitals and more than 1,200 clinics are open, as are almost all schools. More than 200 newspapers have appeared. Satellite dishes, which were illegal under Saddam's regime, are now freely available and widely used, as I saw in my helicopter trips over Baghdad and Basra. Electricity production, which was something of a story in the immediate aftermath of the major military conflict in March and April, has surpassed pre-conflict levels. Building a free, prosperous, democratic and stable Iraq should make a powerful contribution to lasting security across the middle east, as was well recognised in my discussions with the leading members of the governing council.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab)

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend mentioned the numbers of dead discovered in Iraq. Will he comment on the current security situation? What is his estimate of the number of American, British and other soldiers who have died since March, the number of Iraqi soldiers and civilians who have died, and the number who are suffering because of depleted uranium and cluster bombs used during the conflict?

Mr. Straw

I do not have those figures to hand, but I shall be happy to supply them to my hon. Friend. Yes, sadly, there have been casualties among British, American, Italian and other coalition forces, and there have been a greater number of casualties among Iraqi people. However, I think my hon. Friend will find that since the end of the conflict, a large number of the Iraqi victims have been subject to violence, not by coalition forces, but by other Iraqis, former loyalist elements and outside terrorists. Overwhelmingly, it is Iraqis who have been killed in the major terrorist incidents. If my hon. Friend wants to go in for this kind of calculus, and if he looks at the number of people who have died even over the past six months, including during the military conflict, and compares that with the numbers routinely killed under Saddam Hussein, he will see that Iraq today, notwithstanding its difficult security situation, is a safer and better place than ever it was under the murderous Saddam.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con)

On that very point, can the Foreign Secretary advise the House through which countries he believes foreign terrorists are getting into Iraq?

Mr. Straw

I discussed that matter with General Sanchez, General Lamb, other military advisers and others during my two days in Iraq. The borders of Iraq are huge and relatively porous, and even with the best policing, which Iraq does not have at present, some people would still come through. Of all the borders, the most probable route is through Syria. I accept that there

is work to be done by the Syrian Government better to understand that their interests, as well as the interests of everybody else in the middle east, lie in clamping down on terrorism and on that element, which is adding to the disruption in Iraq.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I will, then I must make progress.

Mr. Blunt

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree with the statement of the Labour leader of Reigate and Banstead borough council, Councillor Michael Ormerod, who said that the action on Iraq was presented as part of the 'war on terrorism'. It has done nothing to prevent terrorism; terrorism has increased. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the intervention in Iraq, the case for which I support, and the replacement of Saddam Hussein's regime did not have anything to do with international terrorism, which has increased as a consequence, and did not have anything to do with weapons of mass destruction, except at the margins?

Mr. Straw

My apologies to the hon. Gentleman. I had not caught up with the remarks of the leader of Reigate borough council.

Mr. Blunt

The leader of the Labour group.

Mr. Straw

A great man, but that does not alter the truth of what I just said. My apologies to him, too. I am glad to know that his Conservative Member of Parliament takes such notice of him. That shows that Labour is leading the way, even in Reigate.

The decision that we took for military action was based on Saddam Hussein's flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions, and on what was assessed not by us and the US alone, but by the whole international community in resolution 1441 to be a threat posed by Iraq to international peace and security, by reason of its defiance of the UN, its long-range missile systems and its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I am convinced that the judgment made by the international community a year ago this month was correct then, and it is correct now.

I never claimed, nor did the Prime Minister, that there was any direct link between al-Qaeda terrorists and those of the Saddam regime. Indeed, I remember a number of questions from the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) in which he asked me about that. I said, accurately, that the Saddam regime had been sponsoring and harbouring terrorists operating in Israel and the occupied territories. There is no question about that: the regime paid a pension to the families of suicide bombers.

As for whether terrorism has increased since, and as a result of, the conflict, the figures on terrorist incidents are there to see. The claim that there is a connection—that the terrorism has been caused by the conflict and that, as a result, the coalition is somehow indirectly responsible for it—I regard as complete nonsense. I do not accuse the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) of this, but sometimes it appears that some commentators think that 11 September happened not in 2001, but in 2003, or that the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam happened not in 1998, but in 2003. For six or more years, there has been a build-up of terrorism by international terrorists—al-Qaeda and its associates. The only criticism that we might level at ourselves is that we did not take that threat seriously enough until 11 September 2001.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

May I first make some progress?

Building a free, prosperous, democratic and stable Iraq should make a powerful contribution to lasting security across the middle east, but we also need urgently to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which feeds an environment of hatred and despair in which terrorism thrives. The road map published by the Quartet of the EU, the US, Russia and the UN sets out an international consensus, endorsed by Israelis and Palestinians, for what a just solution to the middle east conflict should look like: two states living securely side by side. We continue to call for both Israelis and Palestinians to fulfil all their commitments under the road map, which has just been explicitly endorsed in Security Council resolution 1515.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

Let me make a little more progress. then I shall give way.

In the wider middle east region, we are determined to work harder to build lasting stability. Stability does not mean no change: it means changes in the right direction, towards economic development, greater democracy and greater protection of human rights. As many hon. Members pointed out last week after my statement on the Istanbul attacks, the example of Turkey shows how mistaken it is to argue that there is somehow an incompatibility between Islam and a democratic, vibrant and secular society. However, in the Arab world, human development is worryingly low, as Arab authors themselves have pointed out in two recent UN reports. With our partners, the Government will continue to promote better governance and reform across the Arab world by funding grass-roots projects aimed at building up capacity locally, by encouraging our international partners to do the same, and through dialogue with Arab leaders.

Mr. Barnes

I tried to intervene at the end of my right hon. Friend's remarks about the reconstruction of Iraq, before he turned to his important comments about the Arab-Israeli situation. Is not the Foreign Office to be complimented on the role it is playing in Iraq in working with and facilitating the development of the new free trade union movement? Why are the Americans not acting in a similar way? Are there links between the Foreign Office and the American equivalent that can be used to get the Americans to follow the line taken by the Foreign Office?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful for those remarks. My hon. Friend did part of his national service in Iraq and knows the country better than most hon. Members, and I pay tribute to him as one who has prompted our work on trade unions. We have strong, continuous links with our American colleagues, and I promise that I shall follow up that issue with them.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con)

I agree with the Foreign Secretary that the success of the Israel-Palestine road map is key to peace in the middle east. Does he agree that more robust intervention than is currently happening is needed? There are problems of dispute resolution, and a third-party authority with genuine powers is needed to drive the process forward.

Mr. Straw

We need more robust intervention. We must make it clear that third-party intervention is required, but achieving that and getting both parties to accept it will be difficult. However, I support the recent courageous decision of the United States Government to stop loans to the Israeli Government as long as they continue to build the security fence. On my way to Iraq on Tuesday, I flew over Israel and saw the security wall, which, in some places, completely surrounds Arab towns and villages, imprisoning their people. We all understand the security threat to Israel, but I think I speak for the whole House when I say that that is not the way in which it should ensure its own security.

David Winnick

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has just said, but does it not emphasise that the wretched existence that Palestinians have had to endure for years on end should stop? Unfortunately, despite all the promises about road maps and the rest, the United States in particular simply refuses to take the necessary action and take Israel to task. Unless the United States takes that line, the wretched existence and humiliation that Palestinian men, women and children suffer every day will simply continue. We should demand more than words.

Mr. Straw

I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but I am not in any doubt about the American Government's commitment to pursuing the road map. They expect, as we do, movement by the Israeli Government and by the Palestinian Authority regarding the continued operations of terrorists from their territory.

In Africa, too, we are helping to lay the foundations for lasting stability, which means promoting good governance and democracy, as African leaders themselves recognised in the NEPAD—New Partnership for Africa's Development—initiative launched in partnership with the G8, which will be followed up at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting at the end of next week. We have important assets with which we can achieve our foreign policy goals: permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council and membership of more international organisations than any other country except France; excellent armed forces; a widely respected and growing aid programme; the network available to us through the Commonwealth and the English language; and our strong relationships across the world.

The Government's foreign policy rests on two pillars—our relationship with the United States and our membership of the European Union. It is false to argue, as people sometimes do, that we have to choose one or the other. Our future security and prosperity depend on both working together to pursue our common interests. Our membership of the European Union is essential for our security and prosperity. More than 3 million British jobs in over 800,000 British companies depend on it; almost 60 per cent. of our exports are to the rest of the EU; and EU co-operation is vital if we are to tackle cross-border issues such as the environment, illegal immigration and organised crime.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)


Mr. Straw

I am always happy to give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but, if he will allow me, I shall continue for a little.

Given all that, I find it quite bizarre that the Conservative party—the party that took us into Europe in 1973, helped to create the single market in the 1980s and signed the Maastricht treaty in 1992, created the concept of EU citizenship and a common foreign and security policy and extended qualified majority voting to 30 new policy areas—should now argue that Britain should turn its back on Europe. I am the first to accept that the EU is not perfect, which is why we are at the forefront of calls for reform, but we can deliver only by active engagement with our partners. Isolation and withdrawal will result only in marginalisation.

The expansion of the EU in May will be an historic milestone of which we in Britain can feel justifiably proud. After all—I know that this point will be uppermost in the mind of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)—it was our Prime Minister who led the calls for enlargement to take place before next year's European elections, and that is now being achieved.

Mr. Forth

On that very point, will the Secretary of State confirm that if the proposed EU constitution is not proceeded with—as a result, I hope, of our Government's actions—an enlarged EU will be capable of functioning perfectly well under the Nice treaty?

Mr. Straw

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman asked that question. He will recall that I spelt out the Government's position at paragraphs 26, 36 and 107 of our White Paper, and in a major debate on the White Paper on 9 September 2003, and what I said is as true today as it was then. I said: It needs to be understood that the argument for the changes is to make enlargement work. However, if it happened that the Convention process ran into the ground and one country or another did not ratify it, then, to put it bluntly, it would not be the end of the world. We would have to get by with Nice. My objection to Nice is that it is unsatisfactory and inefficient".—[Official Report, 9 September 2003; Vol.[410, c. 181.] It would not, as I said, be the end of the world. We need to apply ourselves to how to reform the institutions in order to make the EU work better. I do not recall the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that Nice was a paradigm of perfection, any more than Labour Members suggested that.

Enlargement will create a market of 500 million consumers—by far the largest single market in the world—but, of course, it will represent something more than that. It will represent the triumph of democracy and human rights in Europe, and the affirmation of a common European destiny.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Straw

Allow me to make a little progress.

Romania and Bulgaria should soon also be ready to join the EU, and in due course I hope that Turkey will do so too, but for enlargement to operate effectively there must be a change in the way in which the EU works.

I present my apologies to the House, Mr. Speaker, because I have to leave before the close of the debate to fly to Naples for a further two-day session of the IGC. I am particularly distressed about that because I shall miss the winding-up speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), and I should like to add my congratulations to those that he has already received on his long-overdue promotion to the Front Bench. May I say, without a word of hyperbole, that faced with the choice of two days in Naples talking about the finer detail of the Convention text and listening to the hon. Gentleman's speeches, I would go for the latter any day.

Even more important than that, I am having to miss, I think for the first time in 24 years, the annual dinner of Blackburn Labour party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] It is a terrible shame, and good comrades in the party will miss my pre-Christmas speech.

Tomorrow and Saturday, we shall be considering the current proposals from the presidency in respect of part, but not all, of the text. The document has been made public and I should stress that the text itself makes it clear that this is not a final document. It says that the current document is intended to evolve in light of subsequent discussions". Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. I can assure the House that there will be ample further occasions to discuss the constitutional treaty over the next few weeks. There will, of course, be the usual pre-European Council debate on 10 December, and I shall appear before the IGC Standing Committee on 1 December and the Foreign Affairs Committee on 11 December. I make this plea for those Conservative Members who are so worked up about the draft Convention to come to the IGC Standing Committee and contribute to the discussion. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), to whom I present my condolences for his brutal removal from the Front Bench in the coup d'état that took place just a few weeks ago, is an assiduous attender, but very few other Conservative Members are.

Mr. Cash

I am not in the slightest bit concerned about what happened on that occasion, and I am very happy to be here on the Back Benches. Having said that, the Foreign Secretary may recall that around 16 September we had an altercation on the question of the supremacy, as he put it, of international treaties over national laws. Does he agree that, if the European constitution was to go through, and if, subsequently, a British Act of Parliament, clearly and unambiguously, was to make provision for the repeal of that constitution, the United Kingdom courts would be under an obligation to give effect to that subsequent domestic Act of Parliament?

Mr. Straw

I have always acknowledged that Parliament is supreme, and I have written to the hon. Gentleman, as I have written to his colleague, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), about the issue. He needs to understand that, if we sign up to international treaties, they take precedence in our domestic law, and, where necessary, we have to have domestic legislation in order to implement them, which we expect of our partners. What on earth is the point of signing up to an international treaty with another country, only to find that that other country has not incorporated the treaty's obligations into their own domestic law where that is necessary? If Parliament were to pass an Act of Parliament renouncing the Convention, and if the Convention became the new treaty of the EU, the Act would have to be observed—but let us all be clear that the consequences of that would be to renounce our membership of the EU.

Happily, one of the many benefits of the draft constitution before the IGC was written with the hon. Gentleman in mind. For the first time, we have ensured—something that the Conservative Government never provided—that there is proper provision for a member state to withdraw from the EU. The issue is not whether it can be done, but whether it is right and proper and in this country's interests. I speak for a united Labour party in saying that that would be against Britain's interests. Yet again, the hon. Gentleman's remarks and his brutal removal from the Opposition Front Bench illustrate how divided the Conservative party still is on Europe.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend is missing Blackburn and going to Naples on Friday and Saturday, and there is then the IGC on 12 and 13 December. Does he believe in miracles? Does he believe that there is any realistic prospect of the many problems being resolved by the IGC?

Mr. Straw

No, I do not believe in miracles. I think that the chances are reasonable, but such things cannot be predicted.

Chris Bryant

Talking of miracles, I wonder how my right hon. Friend hopes that we shall resolve the issue of whether God will be in the final draft.

Mr. Straw

My understanding of ecclesiastical law—it is a little known fact that I was pupilled to an ecclesiastical lawyer—is that one can sort of resign one's holy orders, but once a cleric, always a cleric. If money were being taken on this, I suspect that there would be nothing in any final treaty on the issue of Judaeo-Christian heritage, but we cannot be certain.

These parliamentary occasions follow a pattern. Since May, there have been seven debates or statements in the House on the IGC or the Convention. I have twice given evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee and once to the IGC Standing Committee. The Minister for Europe has also given evidence to the IGC Standing Committee. There have been two reports on the Convention or IGC by the European Scrutiny Committee, and 13 reports by the Lords European Union Select Committee.

I hope that the IGC will agree a constitutional treaty that modernises the way in which the EU takes decisions in preparation for a union of 25 or more. I also believe that national Parliaments should, for the first time, be given a formal role at the EU level and that the new treaty should make an explicit acknowledgment that the EU's power derives from its member states, ending the hopes of those who seek the creation of a federal United States of Europe. I have already set out the position on the draft in the White Paper and in the House on 9 September. If we can get agreement, as I hope and believe we should, the new treaty should be a good result for Britain and for the EU. As with previous EU treaties, the Government will lay a European Union Bill before the House in order to enact the treaty in UK law.

Britain is more influential today because of the active and engaged foreign policy of the Government. I was struck by a recent poll published by a German magazine, which showed that the German population rated Britain as the most influential nation in Europe, above France and Germany itself. Furthermore, the rating was seven times greater than when the last such poll was taken, when Britain's score was only 4 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] It was in the last full year of Conservative Government in 1996—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Thank you for the cue.

Next week, I shall lay before the House a strategy setting out how we see the world developing over the next 10 years—the main threats and the main opportunities that we expect to face. It will set out the Government's agreed medium-term international priorities and will stress the interlinked nature of today's world and the need for us to work more closely together, both within government and with our international partners, to deliver our goals. Whether it is limiting the flow of drugs to British streets, promoting British trade, tackling illegal immigration to our shores or creating a cleaner domestic environment, delivering national outcomes requires an international role.

More than ever before, our destiny as a confident, progressive, prosperous and secure nation requires an active and engaged foreign policy. Whether or not internationalism was ever an idealist luxury, today it is an essential part of pursuing our national interests. Withdrawing to the sidelines of international debate, as some advocate, or isolating ourselves from the international scene as a way of avoiding the effects of global change, would simply undermine the way in which we cope and adapt to that change, and undermine, too, vital British interests. Withdrawal and isolation are not the road to national liberation, but instead the road to national ruin.

Since 1997, the Government have pursued the active and engaged foreign policy that we need in today's world. Thanks to the Government, Britain is today a leading player in the European Union, a solid and staunch ally of the United States and a strong and committed supporter of the United Nations and of the system of international law. The United Kingdom is delivering a greater commitment than ever before to action on world poverty and development, and is a country prepared to put all its assets, including, where necessary, our armed forces, behind the goals of enforcing international law and promoting justice and democracy.

This is our record and it is one of which I am proud—and it is an agenda that we will continue to pursue with vigour and determination.

1.2 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)

I welcome the Foreign Secretary back from his travels; it is good of him to look in on us between flights, before he heads off again this afternoon. It was a little unfair of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who has left the Chamber, to talk about doughnutting. I thought it was rather touching to see the affection that Labour Members feel for the Foreign Secretary; on his rare visits to this place, they like to surround him with close protection. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] Having heard what he had to say, they have now, with relief, managed to get away for their lunch.

The Gracious Speech is, as ever under the Labour Government, paved with good intentions: tackling the underlying causes of conflict and extremism; working to reduce world poverty; effective debt relief for developing countries committed to reform. They are all there. They are great aspirations, and as such I commend them. However, aspirations come cheap under this Government; it is their actual delivery that is lacking.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con)

Is not my right hon. and learned Friend surprised that the Foreign Secretary made no mention of Zimbabwe in a speech on international affairs? There is a deep and growing crisis in that country, yet we heard nothing from the Foreign Secretary about how we might increase pressure on Mr. Mugabe and his regime by extending sanctions and perhaps even by encouraging South Africa to do something about the supply of energy to Zimbabwe.

Mr. Ancram

As ever, my hon. Friend has with great prescience taken some of the words that I was going to use later. He makes a good point, not only about Zimbabwe but about some of the other issues that were omitted from both the Queen's Speech and the Foreign Secretary's speech.

As I was saying, it is the delivery of the Government's aspirations that is lacking, which may explain the strange lack of direction in the speech that we have just heard. The Foreign Secretary's theme, which he tried to establish at the very end of his speech, was one of active engagement, if I understood it rightly. His general themes were those of purpose and success. However, they are hardly borne out by reality. We see Europe at odds with itself, the Commonwealth no longer able to deliver on its basic principles, and the United Nations gridlocked at crucial moments. That is the reality, but it is not the one about which the Foreign Secretary spoke today.

To be fair, there are exceptions; for example, the fight against terrorism. I will not call it a war, because a war honours its combatants and there is no honour in terrorism. There is only the blackmail of fear seeking to force concessions that cannot be democratically won; at the cost, as we saw so tragically in Turkey last week, of the lives of innocent victims—our consul-general, Roger Short, and two of his staff, Lisa Hallworth and Nanette Elizabeth Kurma, among them. We pay tribute to all those who lost their lives, and we offer our thoughts and prayers to those who are injured or left behind.

The Government have been right in their response to terrorism. Although there are certainly serious questions to be answered about the levels of intelligence and security in relation to the suicide-bombing of the British consulate, and I have tabled those questions, I acknowledge the refusal of the Government to be cowed by those evil attacks. Indeed, I welcome the Government's commitment in the Gracious Speech to effective action on tackling the threat of global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The fight against terrorism is worthy because it faces up to the most dangerous international threat today. That threat must be pre-empted before it is realised.

Pre-emption may sometimes be military, but by no means inevitably so. It can also be economic, to pre-empt impending humanitarian disasters within which future terrorism may find shelter. The developing world needs a fair deal if it is to compete with the developed world. Cancun exposed a major problem with global trade: rich countries are over-prepared and over-represented, leaving poorer countries with very little voice. The playing field must be made more even.

In May, the Opposition proposed an advocacy fund that developing countries could use to provide themselves with quality legal and economic advice on trade issues. We looked to the Government to take that up, so it is a matter of great regret that there is no reference to it in either the Gracious Speech or the Foreign Secretary's speech today. That is an opportunity missed.

The Gracious Speech mentions the millennium development goals, which the Government are way off meeting. There was no mention in either speech of the fact that, as the Chancellor was recently forced to admit, in sub-Saharan countries, on present trends, it will take 126 years to meet primary education targets, 147 years to meet extreme poverty targets and 162 years to meet child poverty targets. Those figures show that yet again an opportunity has been missed.

Pre-emption can also be political and diplomatic. Recent progress in both North Korea and Iran demonstrates the value of strategically planned and internationally co-ordinated pressure, backed up by regional political clout. Friendly but necessarily circumspect influence has helped to lead to the current and very welcome ceasefires in one of the most dangerous of all global flashpoints: India and Pakistan in Kashmir. I visited the line of control last year and experienced the tension. Encouraging genuine dialogue at different levels, matched by a clear determination not to take sides, is the best service that we, as old friends, can render in that dispute.

We supported the war in Afghanistan because it was aimed at al-Qaeda and its supporters, the Taliban; but al-Qaeda needs constant attrition if it is not to re-grow and rearm. For all the success about which the Foreign Secretary spoke, there were worrying signs when I visited Kabul this summer that a lowering in the profile and intensity of the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan has led to a reappearance of terrorist organisations. Along with a resurgence of opium poppy production, there are storm signals that renewed levels of commitment in Afghanistan are urgently required if the objective of a more democratic, stable and above all anti-terrorist Afghanistan is to be achieved.

We welcome the undertaking to promote peace in the middle east. I am a long-standing friend and admirer of the people of Israel. I also have great affection and sympathy for the Palestinians. I can understand the fear each has of the other, but I can see the potential for peaceful coexistence in two viable and secure states to the west of the Jordan. Fear breeds the violence of the intifada on the one side and disproportionate reactions, including the security fence, on the other. Against this there is the moral high ground of the road map, within which each can offer the other a genuine hand of friendship, along with the resumption of dialogue that alone will secure peace and a lasting settlement. We must more directly help to promote the principles of that road map and encourage that dialogue. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) that there is a need for a constructive third party to help that process along. But first the duress of terrorism must be removed. There can never be a sustainable settlement negotiated with guns on the table, guns under the table or guns outside the door.

We continue to support military involvement in Iraq. The Government were right to take action. If not this year, action would almost certainly have had to be taken in the not too distant future when the risk and cost would have been far greater and the danger considerably more far-reaching. What was done was right, legal and necessary. Seventeen United Nations Security Council chapter VII resolutions establishing Saddam Hussein as a threat to international peace and security confirmed that. The ending of a vicious reign of terror may not of itself have been a reason, but from what I saw when I visited Baghdad in July it was certainly a most worthy outcome. I welcome the genuine, if somewhat belated, progress now being made in Iraq and sincerely congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his visit. I join him in paying tribute to our armed forces for their work not just in Basra, but in other areas of that country.

The overall objective, which we will continue to support, must be the establishment of a representative Iraqi Administration, presiding over an acceptable and sustainable level of security. While speed of transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis is important, there must be no short cuts. To leave behind an unstable Administration incapable of preserving public order would be to betray everything that we have sought to do and would create a great danger for the future.

There is, however, in what has happened in Iraq one blot, and that is the conduct of our Government. While we await the outcome of the Hutton inquiry on one part of that conduct, I would not seek to pre-empt the detailed findings. What is already clear is that the Government did not play straight. The intelligence

information in the dossier of 24 September 2002 was, according to an insider, "over-egged". The second dossier of 3 February 2003 was described by the Prime Minister to the House as "further intelligence", when it was nothing of the sort. A number of claims were made, largely by the Prime Minister and not least after the conflict was ended, about evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. While we still cannot be sure about WMDs, we can be pretty sure that the claims of evidence of their existence do not stand up; otherwise we would have seen that evidence by now. All that undermines confidence and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The case for military action was sound. There was no need to manipulate the truth. That is why we have called for and continue to call for a comprehensive independent judicial inquiry to ascertain the facts.

The truth is that this Government, for all the words of the Foreign Secretary today, have not got a foreign policy, nor indeed ever had one. A foreign policy means identifying national interests, recognising limitations, setting out objectives, matching them with available resources and being true to one's word. Labour Members need not take such criticisms from me. The Foreign Secretary confirmed today that next week the Foreign Office is for the first time to set out in a White Paper its long-terms strategic goals. Those were the words used by a spokesman for the Foreign Office this morning. Is it not appalling that the Foreign Office has only just woken up to the fact that Britain's foreign policy must be based on long-term strategic goals? Surely that should have been happening all along.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

Before my right hon. and learned Friend moves on from Iraq, may I point out another blot in the Government's conduct? While there are literally millions of Iraqis still waiting for better services and a better infrastructure, is he aware that the Foreign Office has now appointed a gender equality adviser on about £150,000 plus a year and other expenses? Surely this is political correctness gone mad and a ridiculous insult to the Iraqi people.

Mr. Ancram

That certainly indicates two things: first, the Government's priorities in relation to what is happening in Iraq, and secondly, how bad the planning was for the post-war period in Iraq, if it was planned for at all, that they should have to make these arrangements now.

Mr. Straw

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say in which year between 1979 and 1997 the previous Conservative Government published a strategy paper of their foreign policy?

Mr. Ancram

We did not need one because we understood—[Laughter]—the principles which go to make up a foreign policy. Let me inform the House of a little more about the White Paper. An official in the Foreign Office talked about the purpose of this. He said: The exercise is intended to focus our resources on what our priorities are. That means you need a much more formalised process of defining what your priorities are. He went on: The number of things we are dealing with at once is unprecedentedly high, so that does mean that you have to think very carefully. After seven years this Government have realised that they have to start thinking very carefully. Their foreign policy over the past seven years has all been catch phrases and soundbites. In 1997 we had the "ethical foreign policy". That did not last long before it ran on to the rocks. Two years ago the Prime Minister gave us the moral duty to act", which was closely followed by healing the scars on the conscience of the world". They, too, have passed on. In the Gracious Speech there is no sign of a consistent foreign policy: just one more soundbite. It talks about helping war-torn countries … to seize the opportunities for development which peace can bring". What on earth does that mean in practice? Yet more words. No shape, no direction, no purpose—just a series of reactions, or in some cases a shameful lack of reactions, to events as they happen.

Chris Bryant

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is accusing the Government of a foreign policy of catch-phrases and of not doing anything in concrete terms. Is not the truth of the matter that the Conservative Government let Kosovo bleed and only this Government took action?

Mr. Ancram

If the hon. Gentleman had been in the House, he would have heard the detailed debates on the Balkans and our discussions on the strategy and priorities in that area. We have here a Government who make much of their active engagement, but there is no philosophical strand behind what they are doing, no purpose and no direction.

I was coming to the omissions from the Gracious Speech, because they are indicative of the way in which the Government approach foreign affairs. Where is there any mention of Zimbabwe? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) about the horrors perpetrated by the tyrant Mugabe on the suffering people of that once thriving land. If we believe in releasing oppressed people from despotism and restoring democracy, why does that belief seem to disappear into the sands of the frontiers of Zimbabwe?

Why when the people of Zimbabwe look to us for international leadership to end the deliberate starvation, murders, beatings, ethnic cleansing, abuse of human rights and suppression of free speech—all of them hallmarks of Mugabe's brutal regime—are we so feeble in our response? Why are we so half-hearted about targeted sanctions? Why do we not do what the Americans have done and take action against those who bankroll Mugabe? Why do we continue to baulk at raising Zimbabwe in the UN Security Council? Why do we always walk by on the other side? The time for appeasing Mugabe is over. Quiet diplomacy has failed. It is time to play hardball.

David Winnick

The Mugabe regime is absolutely disastrous. No one is likely to disagree with that, but can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain why we stood on the other side when the genocide took place in Rwanda, where it is estimated that some 800,000 people perished? I do not remember any call from the Conservative Government of the time for intervention.

Why did we show such indifference to what was happening in Bosnia? The reason I supported the action in Kosovo. apart from anything else, was to demonstrate that what we did not do in Bosnia we should do in Kosovo, and we did—congratulations to the Government.

Mr. Ancram

If the hon. Gentleman went to Zimbabwe, as I did, he would discover one thing, which filled me with shame. The people of Zimbabwe, black and white, said to me, "You know this country. You were involved in it. You have something to do with what is happening now. You have a responsibility to take action." They heard the Prime Minister say at his party conference that he would not tolerate the behaviour of Mugabe or his henchmen and then they saw nothing happen at all. They feel betrayed. I felt shame because they feel betrayed by a British Government.

The Gracious Speech refers to the celebrations that will mark the 100th anniversary of the entente cordiale with France, a country not over-renowned for its cordiality to us. Why then is it silent about celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of British sovereignty over Gibraltar? The Government should be seeking to rebuild the shattered bridges of trust with the people of Gibraltar, who have always been loyal to this country. It should be a natural instinct to want to celebrate 300 years of British history and to reassert British sovereignty over the Rock. I understand that the big day will be 4 August. What plans have the Government to mark that great anniversary, and who will attend on behalf of the Government? Will the Foreign Secretary be there? Will the Prime Minister be there? Can the Foreign Secretary undertake before the House that the Government will not seek to dissuade the Queen or any other member of the royal family from taking part?

Mr. Cash

Will my right hon. and learned Friend note that it appears that the Government are not intending to take part in, or for that matter to make provision for, proper commemoration of the anniversary of the Normandy landings? Does he agree that the Government should make such provision?

Mr. Ancram

Indeed. This year will be a great test of the Government's patriotism, pride in the history of this country and belief in the importance of Britain. We will see over the next 12 months just how sincere their protestations about believing in Britain are.

May I come to Europe, or more specifically, the proposed European constitution? Over the past few weeks, the Government have been all over the shop. We have been told constantly by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary that that wretched constitution is essential to make the enlarged Europe work. As of Monday this week, it is apparently merely "highly desirable". For months, we have been told that the constitution does not involve fundamental change. Now we are told that, unless it is changed, the Government will veto it. The Foreign Secretary proclaims that the constitution equips the Union with the machinery it needs to embrace the challenge of enlargement", yet a senior government source close to the negotiations", the words used in the newspapers on Tuesday, otherwise known as the Foreign Secretary, suggested totally the opposite. We have had a week when, in the mouth of one man, two totally contradictory positions have been put forward. It will be interesting to see how he negotiates when he gets to Naples and whether he has made up his mind when he gets there.

No wonder the promised roadshows to sell the constitution have never seen the light of day. The Foreign Secretary would not know what to sell or how to sell it. It would be charitable to suggest that he and his team are merely incompetent and confused. It would not be the first time he has changed his mind on Europe. In October 1979, this great pro-European opposed the accession of Greece to the EEC because it would be bad…for the idea of wider European co-operation which some of us seek as an alternative to membership of the EEC."—[Official Report, 30 October 1979; Vol. 972, c. 1057–8.] Three years later—I love the language that the Foreign Secretary used in those days—he was at it again, urging upon this House

disengagement from this extravagant, inefficient, and wasteful madness. What wonderful words. He went on. That is the only sensible basis for our relations with Continental Europe."—[Official Report, 23 July 1982; Vol. 28, c. 714.] And he calls us viscerally anti-European! That was what I suppose we can call the first Straw. Now we have to deal with the last Straw.

The Foreign Secretary talks about red lines. He knows that references to tax harmonisation, a single foreign and defence policy and social security are small parts of the treaty as it stands, if they are there at all. They are arguments that the Government should certainly win. He hopes that the British people will believe that he has fought for them and won, and that somehow, therefore, the constitution is all right; but the British people will not so easily be fooled, and even if those red lines had real merit, the Government must explain why, after months of negotiation, the red line on foreign policy and indeed on other matters appears in the latest Italian proposals to be moving in totally the opposite direction.

We do not believe in red lines. Like the Prime Minister three years ago, we do not believe that the constitution is necessary or desirable. We just want to get rid of the constitution, but we have a right to test the Foreign Secretary's position. If he were serious about red lines, he would tell us what specifically he wants to see put in the constitution and what specifically he wants taken out. Where among the so-called red lines is the Chancellor of the Exchequer's call three weeks ago for tax harmonisation to be explicitly excluded? Where is the prohibition on making the charter of fundamental rights legally binding, as promised by the Prime Minister on 15 October 2000? Where is the specific prohibition of the creation of a defence capability outside NATO? Where is the removal of the "escalator" clause, which if left intact will allow the EU to take control of defence and foreign policy without any reference back to national Parliaments?

If red lines are to be credible, they must be more than the red herrings paraded this week. If the Government really meant business, those would have been included in the off the record briefing that we heard on Monday. This matter is too serious for smoke and mirrors. That is why in the end the British people must be allowed to decide in a referendum.

A Bill to allow for such a referendum on the new treaty should have been in the Gracious Speech. There is a referendum Bill in the Gracious Speech. It is on the wrong referendum. It is on the single currency, which will not happen, rather than on the constitution, which the Government for all their smoke and mirrors are apparently determined will happen.

It is a measure of the contempt that this Government have for the intelligence and good sense of the British people that there is not to be a referendum. We believe in trusting the British people and we will continue to campaign to allow them to have their say.

I make no bones about the fact that we are opposed to this or any European constitution. That is our red line. It is not just a matter of detail, although losing control of our asylum policy and perhaps of our oil are of immense importance. This constitution is a step change away from the Europe of nations towards a single European state. The rest of Europe knows it. As the Belgian Prime Minister said only yesterday, the constitution will be the "capstone" of a "federal state". He knows it. We know it. Only the British Government deny it. It is time that the Government came clean.

We want a Europe that is a genuine partnership of sovereign nations, which recognises differences as strength and not as weakness. We want to see the completion of the single market and the implementation of the Lisbon agenda. We want real deregulation. We want to promote greater accountability. We want to restore the primacy of the national Parliaments in the European Union, with power emanating from them and not from Brussels. We want a Europe for its peoples and not for its elites.

We want a Europe that can genuinely work in partnership with the United States; the phrase is mentioned in the Queen's Speech. That means creating a Europe with the flexibility to do so. It does not mean imitating the Prime Minister by being pro-American one day and pro-European the next. It does not mean, either, the fudged language of the Anglo-French summit on Monday, where we had the incredible spectacle of the French President praising the military capability of NATO—a military alliance in which the French refuse to participate and which it remains their intention to corrode. Nor was it served by the bland way in which the Prime Minister dismissed fears about the creation of a European military capability outside NATO, both in operational and planning terms.

We on this side of the House value NATO as the cornerstone of European security. That phrase used to appear in the Gracious Speech, but—interestingly—it was not present this year. We believe that the wholehearted commitment of the United States to NATO is vital, and we deprecate the tacit anti-Americanism that motivates some European leaders to seek a separate European military capability. It is not good enough for the Prime Minister to give repeated assurances about the primacy of NATO when indications from Paris and Berlin suggest a totally different intent. Playing fast and loose with NATO is dangerous for this country, for the transatlantic partnership and for the security of Europe.

The Foreign Secretary's speech was the speech of a man who has lost his way in a Government who never had one. As usual, he was long on rant and short on reason. He faithfully replicated the almost total lack of direction in national matters that marked the Gracious Speech. That lack of direction is now damaging our country. It is overstretching our armed forces, undermining our security, squandering our reputation for reliability and trustworthiness abroad and doing Britain down. Let us hope that this empty Gracious Speech marks the beginning of the end of this failing Government. For the sake of our country, that would not be before time.

1.31 pm
Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab)

I wish first to make a few general remarks about the Gracious Speech. I had the privilege of being brought up in a household that had on the wall the old National Union of Railwaymen slogan "Unity is Strength", and in the House I have always worked on the principle, "If in doubt, vote Labour." I have no doubts about the majority of measures in the Queen's Speech and I shall vote enthusiastically for Bills to protect the vulnerable, whether from domestic violence or from the danger of losing all or part of the pensions to which they have contributed.

With some doubts, I shall even support the Government on top-up fees. Surely we all agree that we need to channel further resources into higher education if we are to open the doors to more students. Conservative party policy is to restrict or freeze access, and I hope that it will say so honestly in its manifesto. The Liberal Democrats believe that the general taxpayer should pay, and I hope that they will also say so honestly—and with costings—in their manifesto. Top-up fees may be the least unsatisfactory method of providing increased access, as long as we protect those from less prosperous homes.

I have more fundamental doubts about the proposals for civil partnerships. The state has an interest in reinforcing the status of marriage and should do nothing to undermine its status. Making partnerships the legal equivalent of marriage sends the wrong signals.

I shall now address the key parts of the Queen's Speech in relation to foreign affairs, including Iraq, the intergovernmental conference and our system of alliances. At the time of the state opening of Parliament last year, one issue dominated the international agenda—Iraq. Resolution 1441 was passed some five days before the Gracious Speech, and it was a high point for the international community. The unanimous vote and the international consensus put pressure on Saddam Hussein's regime. Since then, we have seen momentous developments in foreign affairs, which culminated in the Iraq war in March.

The question now is whether we should dwell on the conflict and the steps leading to it or look forward and move on. Both the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee produced reports on the run-up to the war, reaching broadly similar conclusions on the role of intelligence. Most people would accept that the current situation, however imperfect, is an improvement for the people of Iraq. Without the intervention in March and April. Saddam Hussein would still be in power, and almost certainly preparing the succession for one of his two sons. The focus must now be on reconstruction and the future of Iraq.

The present violence is likely to continue. Resolution 1511 has not been translated into sufficient changes on the ground. Many of the hugely sensitive issues have yet to be tackled, including the distribution of power between the centre and the regions, and the role of Islam in the future governance of Iraq. The governing council of Iraq and its successor will have to tackle those issues.

Jeremy Corbyn

Is my right hon. Friend concerned that the Iraqi governing council. which was largely appointed by the Americans, is busy handing over state assets to any international buyer that comes along, and is limiting levels of taxation on international and local corporations to 15 per cent.? The council assumes that the people of Iraq want an unbridled free-market, capitalist economy in the future.

Donald Anderson

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but no one can doubt that the situation is substantially better and that rapid steps are being taken towards a Government for Iraq chosen by the people of Iraq, not appointed by the occupying powers. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that that would be a substantial step forward, as we seek to win hearts and minds in Iraq. I also recommend that he read the recent report of the International Crisis Group. Much remains to be done, but in the longer term we can be positive about much of the future of Iraq, especially because of its national resources—its oil, its agriculture and its human resources, which have enormous potential.

In June next year, sovereignty should pass to a more representative authority, although the occupying power will remain responsible for security. Therein lies one of the problems—how the relationship between those responsible for security and those responsible for the governance of Iraq will be arranged. We will need to wait until the next Queen's Speech to see how successful the reconstruction and the succession of power have been. It is a battle we dare not lose. The battle is against terrorism and the wreckers who blow up UN buildings, destroy pipelines and wreck police stations and the civil infrastructure. They should not be allowed to win. It is in the interests of all of us to succeed and to end up with an Iraq that, while probably not a model of democracy in the region—as was initially trumpeted—is far better governed than it was under Saddam Hussein.

At the time of the Queen's Speech last year, the European Convention on the constitution had been meeting since February. It produced its report in July this year and we are now trying to see whether the cacophony of different views can be reconciled. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was good enough to accept that it would be miraculous if the two-day meeting in Naples this weekend and the intergovernmental conference in December—however much it is extended—could reconcile the opposing views. The prospects are not good, because there are clear dividing lines on the future of Europe, which were revealed this week in the collapse of the European Union's stability and growth pact and the Italian draft, which was mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and is light years away in several areas from being something that we would be disposed to accept.

Chris Bryant

My right hon. Friend mentioned the collapse of the stability and growth pact. Does he believe that what has happened this week is likely to lead to faster reform of the pact, and that such reforms might be in Britain's interests, especially if we subsequently want to join the euro?

Donald Anderson

Well, that is a possible scenario, but it does seem very clear that the doubts expressed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer have some substance in the light of what has happened this week.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)

In sharp contradiction of what the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has just said, would the right hon. Gentleman not agree with me that the stability pact's treatment by France and Germany demonstrates that the euro remains above all a political rather than an economic construct, and that these other countries will always put their national domestic economic interests ahead of the greater interests of the European Union?

Donald Anderson

Clearly, both interpretations can be well founded. The jury is out, as the dust settles, on the direction in which the pact will move. The extent to which the big players, France and Germany, will be enabled to have their way is one of the problems that will have to be resolved at the intergovernmental conference. Another factor is the way in which the European Parliament and the Commission are opposing the Council with charges of backsliding since the Convention was agreed in July, particularly with regard to the proposal by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other ECOFIN leaders on the role of the Parliament over the budget. Spain and Poland are trying to ensure that the Nice arrangements on the weighting of their votes will be maintained, but there is a key difference over structural co-operation, which is institutionalised, and enhanced co-operation, which is more ad hoc. There are other differences. Obviously there must be a procedure for amendment for minor matters, but the passerelle clause, clause 24.4, which would allow, with unanimity, a move to qualified majority voting in key areas, clearly could bypass national Parliaments and needs to be opposed.

Perhaps most important of all is the European security and defence policy. Since the chocolate summit in April, there has been some retreat by the four countries concerned—France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg—but the Prime Minister made a compromise at Berlin about six weeks ago and the Government may well be making a similar compromise at Berlin today. Surely the correct hierarchy is to have NATO first, NATO being the only institution for collective defence, then the carefully negotiated Berlin plus, whereby the European Union may use NATO assets, and then, if there is to be planning, first the national Governments who are able to do that, notably France, Germany and ourselves, and then, if there is to be a separate planning unit at all, it should be sited at Mons, at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, rather than in Kortenberg, because there is a real danger of movement from there.

Perhaps the real danger now is that the Government may be prepared to pay too high a price to kill Tervuren and the initiative that came in April. In my judgment, no European defence without UK participation will be credible, so we have a major negotiating asset in trying to ensure that any European defence will indeed be credible. There will be areas, such as Bosnia, where the United States—perhaps because of overstretch—is more ready to see a European presence, and there will be areas, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the US will not wish to be involved, but it is mightily in our interests to ensure that the United States stays fully engaged in European defence.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)

Although no one wants to see a duplication of NATO planning, does my right hon. Friend agree that the benefits of defence co-operation in Europe will clearly be of advantage not just to the UK but to other European Parliaments? For example, there will be greater capacity for heavy lift and other capabilities within Europe, which we often look to the United States to provide but in future could be provided within Europe through better co-operation.

Donald Anderson

That prompts the question whether people are prepared to pay for that heavy lift. Currently Germany, in relation to Afghanistan, is chartering Antonov aircraft from Ukraine at, I think, several hundred thousand dollars a sortie, and yet Germany is paying 1.4 per cent. of its wealth on defence. That may be part of the difference between the Europe of declaration and the Europe of delivery—I draw a parallel with defence policies in this country.

Finally, having dealt in passing with Iraq and the European Union, I turn to our own foreign policy alliances. The Iraq war threw the spotlight on all our alliances and on our role in the world. The Government took a strategic decision to ally with the United States. A year ago it seemed plausible to argue that that decision had brought influence for us—influence in terms of the US taking the United Nations route, which it largely did, certainly until March, and in terms of the middle east peace process.

Part of the tragedy on the middle east now is that the road map has been stalled because the attention of the US has been diverted elsewhere, understandably to Iraq, but perhaps also as a result of frustration at the lack of willingness on either side to make the necessary changes, as Israel continues to build up its settlements and the Minister of Housing gives new moneys for those settlements, and as the Palestinians seem incapable of bringing together their security forces in an integrated unit under Abu Ala. Only the US can decisively intervene in the middle east process, and at the moment the US seems unwilling or incapable of doing so.

However, I found the speech by President Bush last Tuesday not only a very sound speech in itself but extremely well delivered, and in my judgment it could not have been delivered a year or so ago in terms of its multilateralism, its commitment to democracy and its stress on use of force as a last resort. Obviously, over the year, major strains became apparent in our alliances as a result of the response to Iraq. A French view of the European Union as a counterweight to the United States perhaps reached its apogee at the Tervuren summit in April. The interest now clearly is in the question, if there were to be another Iraq, another challenge of that nature, how should we respond?

One of the better parts of the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) was what he said about pre-emption. This is a subject that we should not and cannot ignore. It has already been put on the table by a major speech by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I consider that Solana made a significant contribution in his security report. This is not an academic debate; it is a very serious debate as to how we respond. The classic formulation of the pre-emptive use of force was of course in the Caroline case in 1837. I will not quote what US Secretary of State Webster said at that time, but those sentiments can still apply even at a time of weapons of mass destruction and can be adapted to some of the challenges of our modern world. We do not want to be killed before we act in self-defence. Where should the line be drawn? Therefore I am pleased that the international community is seeking to grapple with this question, and that on 5 and 7 December a reform panel set up by the United Nations Secretary-General, which includes Lord Hannay, will start to address the very serious problem of anticipatory self-defence or pre-emption.

Clearly, the international community needs to move beyond the tensions of the past year and resolve its differences if we are to tackle the clamant problems that face us today: terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, HIV/AIDS, drugs and so on. The Prime Minister set out the basic tenets of the Government's foreign policy in his speech at the Lord Mayor's banquet on 10 November. The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes chided the Government for being slow in formulating their foreign policy principles, but he slightly contradicted himself by referring to the principles set out by the former Foreign Secretary in 1997, and he clearly showed the danger of setting out principles when he talked about an ethical foreign policy-a soundbite. If he trawls through all the speeches made by the former Foreign Secretary, he will find no reference to an ethical foreign policy, only to an ethical dimension to foreign policy. I guess that, even between 1979 and 1997, there was indeed an ethical dimension to foreign policy.

The Prime Minister stressed that our foreign policy rests on the twin pillars of alliance with the United States and membership of the EU. He said that, if either of those were taken away, Britain would be weaker and that it is not necessary to choose between them. I hope that the House fundamentally agrees that the concept of a transatlantic bridge in our foreign policy has much to commend it and that we should not be pushed into making such a choice. Europe should be viewed as the partner of the US, not its servant.

I end on the role of the Foreign Affairs Committee in this rapidly changing world. I believe that, over the past year, we have made a significant contribution to the debate. We have covered a wide range of issues and published more than 10 reports, including on the decision to go to war in Iraq and several reports, in June and December last year and July this year, on the war against terrorism. We have had numerous evidence sessions on those themes. We have decided as a Committee that we shall continue to open new chapters on the war. I understand why the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it should be called the conflict against terrorism. This is a war that will have no end, so long as people are prepared to perpetrate outrages such as those in Istanbul.

Clearly, we as a House and a country have an enormous task ahead, which includes Iraq and countering international terrorism, and we in the United Kingdom must make full use of all our alliances—the UN, the EU and NATO—and do so to our best advantage. Only by working together can we expect to make progress on the manifold threats that we face today. Let us pray that the period until the next Queen's Speech will be less exciting than the year that has passed since the last one but more productive in terms of greater international understanding and co-operation.

1.53 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD)

May I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) on his return to the Front Bench? He was a most distinguished Armed Forces Minister, and he is still remembered with a great deal of affection and respect in the Ministry of Defence. In appointing him, there is no doubt that the leader of the Conservative party has strengthened the Front-Bench team.

These occasions become something of a tour d'horizon, and we have already had something of such a tour from the Foreign Secretary, who goes from Basra to the bay of Naples, but without Blackburn—an omission that grieves him considerably. It is a pity that the White Paper, which is now promised for next week, was not available to us in advance of the debate, but I make no criticism. I hope that we will have an early opportunity, when the White Paper has been published, to visit some of the issues that it will contain. It is also inevitable in a tour d'horizon of the kind that I describe that one may not be able to deal with every topic that is thought to be pressing by any hon. Member.

As a country that has traditionally operated its foreign policy through international institutions, we have to accept that, if the institutions of the EU, the UN and NATO have not taken a battering, they have certainly sustained some damage in the past 12 months, and I hope that the policies of Her Majesty's Government will be designed to seek to repair those institutions so far as that is necessary.

One institution that has stood up fairly robustly is the Commonwealth. The Foreign Secretary will know that, by and large, we have been supportive of the Government's position on Zimbabwe, but there is now a case for imposing sanctions rather further down the Government line. Those who support Mr. Mugabe's regime, even those at fairly junior level, should not be permitted free passage to the United Kingdom or to send their children to United Kingdom schools. If we are serious about bringing pressure to bear, that is at least one of the sanctions that we could adopt.

The Government's attitude to the UN has been that it is somehow damaging if we seek a resolution and we fail to get it, but I suggest to the Government that that would now be a sensible policy because we would flush out those who are willing to tolerate what goes on in Zimbabwe. In particular, the Foreign Secretary could confidently expect some pretty robust support from the United States, the Congress of which has been notable in the extent to which it has been willing, first, to be critical, and secondly, to impose measures against the Mugabe regime.

Obviously, Iraq and the campaign against terrorism dominate all other issues. It is well known in the House that my hon. and right hon. Friends and I were sceptical about using military force. The reasons for that have been well rehearsed, and I do not propose to burden the House with them again. But we have to live in the world that we find ourselves in, not the world as we would wish it to be, and there is absolutely no doubt that an overwhelming priority must be the restoration of Iraq to stability and the opportunity given to the Iraqi people to adopt democratic institutions.

Iraq cannot be allowed to fail, first, because of the dire consequences for the Iraqi people if that were to happen; secondly—perhaps rather more selfishly—because of the enormous blow that that would represent to the influence of the United Kingdom and the United States in the region; and thirdly, because of the serious risk of dismemberment, with ominous implications for regional stability if Iraq were to divide into, let us say, three constituent parts.

The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) said that he would not prejudge the Hutton inquiry report, nor indeed will I, but it appears likely that, if Lord Hutton continues with a narrow interpretation of the remit entrusted to him to examine the circumstances that led to the death of the unfortunate Dr. Kelly, other questions may still remain—in particular, the central question to which I have referred in the House on a number of occasions: did we go to war on a flawed prospectus, either because of inadequate intelligence or because intelligence was mishandled once it was obtained? The longer the investigating group in Iraq takes and the more obvious its failure to find any evidence of weapons of mass destruction capable of being delivered even on a battlefield at 45 minutes' notice, the more acute becomes that central question.

The Foreign Secretary is robust in his argument that no one can automatically claim that military action in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism and that terrorist incidents have increased. He rightly points to the atrocities in east Africa and to the fact that the attack on the twin towers took place in 2001. There is a catalogue of terrorist activity, but one of the issues that I should like to be considered as part of that central question—it would best be considered by some form of judicial inquiry, along the lines of that carried out with such distinction and dispatch by Lord Hutton—is that raised by the Intelligence and Security Committee, whose Chairman is no longer with us. I call her Chairman because that is how she is described in the document, not from any lack of sensitivity for how she would prefer to be described. After the atrocity in Istanbul we are entitled, indeed obliged, to consider again what the Intelligence and Security Committee recorded in paragraph 126 of its report, which was published in September 2003. It states: The JIC assessed that al-Qaida and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq. In paragraph 127, the report records: The JIC assessed that any collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists, not necessarily al-Qaida. Are not those two propositions certainly worthy of further and, I would argue, detailed judicial consideration? To be fair, I remind the House that in paragraph 128 the Prime Minister is reported as having said to the Committee: One of the most difficult aspects of this is that there was obviously a danger that in attacking Iraq you ended up provoking the very thing you were trying to avoid. On the other hand I think you had to ask the question, 'Could you really, as a result of that fear, leave the possibility that in time this developed into a nexus between terrorism and WMD in an event?'. This is where you've just got to make your judgement about this. But this is my judgment and it remains my judgment". He added, in words that may come to be regarded as prophetic: I suppose time will tell whether it's true or it's not true. We know that there has been a step change in the nature of the arrangements for the transition in Iraq. I would also like to associate myself with expressions of congratulation and good will to all British nationals who serve there in either a military or a civilian capacity. I certainly subscribe to the principle that there should be a transfer as soon as possible to the Iraqi people. However, I would like to subject that to several different qualifications.

I do not believe that we should set artificial timetables for the transfer, though I believe that it is sensible to have target dates. If a target date is missed for good reason, however, it should not be viewed as constituting some damaging criticism of the process. I also believe that there should be greater involvement of the UN to provide both improved legitimacy and increased political support.

I must say that we cannot leave Iraq until the security situation has been resolved. Nothing could be worse than handing over to an Iraqi Government, however constitutionally founded, a security position that they were incapable of dealing with. I saw reports last weekend that British troops could be expected to be in Iraq for up to four years. If the reports are correct and are properly based on Ministry of Defence assessments—I am sure that somewhere in the recesses of that Ministry the military planners are considering precisely what the obligation may be and the level at which it will be required; and no doubt in the Treasury someone is working out just how much it will cost-four years is a measure of the commitment that we have undertaken. We really should explain that commitment to the British people not only because of the financial consequences, but, unfortunately, because of the potential consequences to the life and limb of our troops.

I realise that it is not the particular responsibility of the Foreign Secretary, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will be able to deal with the matter on another occasion, but reports of the reasons for the loss of life of Sergeant Steve Roberts are important. He lost his life on 24 March and it has been alleged that a contributing factor was the fact that his body armour did not have the ceramic plates that might have saved him. It is argued that not enough of those plates were available.

I remind the House that throughout the conflict hon. Members of all parties asked Ministers whether they were satisfied that our troops had everything that they needed for their protection. The response to that question was almost always in the affirmative. I understand that there will be an inquiry into the matter, which I do not want to prejudge, but we are entitled to say that Ministers were prevailed on to ensure that adequate materials were available to all our troops. If it proves that that was not the case in this instance, the House will, to put it mildly, be extremely disappointed.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD)

As my right hon. and learned Friend will know, Sergeant Roberts was one of my constituents, and I had the privilege on Remembrance day of placing a commemorative flag on a war memorial. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the Ministry of Defence has an obligation to the families of those who served us, not just those who lost their lives, and that the lack of clarity and lack of dispatch with which information has been made available is a sad reflection on the Ministry of Defence's responsibilities in that matter?

Mr. Campbell

If there is an inquiry, I hope that it will meet the criticisms that my hon. Friend has made. Since he raises the question of dealing with the families, we note with interest the proposals in the Gracious Speech to deal better with compensation and pensions, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) has been particularly assiduous as a result of a tragic case involving one of his constituents. If there is to be enhanced provision, we should clearly welcome it.

We are told in the Gracious Speech that there is to be a defence White Paper. The last defence White Paper was the result of extensive consultation and it was a document that could legitimately be described as having been drawn up with considerable intellectual rigour. It enjoyed considerable support on both sides of the House and indeed outside it. I express the hope that the same sort of intellectual rigour will he evident on this occasion. If we are looking at the sort of extended engagements of British troops that might be necessary in Iraq, I hope that when it comes to the retention of regiments, there will be no exercise in cost-cutting for the sake of cost-cutting.

To make a personal plea, one of the regiments thought to be under threat is the Black Watch, a distinguished Scottish regiment that happens to recruit in my constituency and nearby. From the point of view of recruitment in Scotland, if any such famous regiments were to be further amalgamated or disbanded, the Army might find it difficult to draw from Scotland the sort of quality and numbers that it has been able to call on in the past.

I shall now deal with the campaign against terrorism. One could argue, even putting Iraq in such a prominent position as I have, that that must be the No. 1 priority for British foreign policy. I have some anxieties about the more evangelical rhetoric that the Prime Minister and President Bush used last week. Far be it for Liberal Democrats to object to something approaching a Gladstonian vision, but one has to be more pragmatic about the way in which one tries to bring about, for example, the spread of democracy in the middle east. There is a risk that talking in evangelical terms makes it sound like a crusade, which tends to suggest the Christian west against the Muslim east. Using the right language in these matters is extremely important, and sensitivity to different traditions is essential.

We must try to deal robustly—if necessary by military means—with direct signs of terrorism, but we must also try to deal with the factors that allow terrorism to exist and to flourish. I am not so naive—nor is anyone in the House so naive—as to believe that a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians would induce terrorists throughout the world to lay down their weapons and declare that the reason for their existence had been removed. However, it is important to find mechanisms that undermine the popular support that terrorist organisations enjoy, particularly in the middle east, and there is no doubt whatever that making progress on the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians would go far in that direction.

I have been critical of the United States and President Bush, but we have to recognise that information is now available that certain credits have been held back. We should acknowledge and be grateful for that, because any knowledge of the American political system and the onset of a presidential election year makes one understand that such steps, which may have an effect on the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States, may be difficult for any presidential candidate to take. The move contains echoes of that taken by the President's father who similarly held back credits to Israel because of the settlements policy. His father was also responsible for driving forward the Madrid conference that ultimately led to the Oslo accords that, unhappily, did not reach the fruition for which we all hoped. However, we should acknowledge—particularly those of us who have been critical in the past—that the US Administration have taken a step that we hope will have some influence on the policies of Mr. Sharon.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman speaks with great authority and much common sense. However, will he say whether he agrees with the argument that the terrorists themselves have made it clear by their actions against the Muslim populations in Indonesia and Turkey that this issue is not about a clash of religious ideologies? Many Muslims have been the victims of terrorist outrages.

Mr. Campbell

The issue may be more complicated than the hon. Gentleman and I have put it. Among those in Iraq are those who have come through the porous borders in exercise of some kind of jihad. In the terrorist activities that have taken place, they have been wholly indiscriminate about the consequences of what they do. To that extent, I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, it is not difficult to discern, not least from the rhetoric, that the view of some of these terrorist groups is that they are concerned with what they perceive in their rather perverted way to be a robust exposition and implementation of a code of Islam. As we have already heard in the debate, such views have been roundly condemned by many leading scholars and imams. The issue is a little more complicated than the hon. Gentleman and I have acknowledged, but I am certain that we must not let the argument descend to the terms that it is about such a clash. It is essential that the response that we think is right does not assume the aspect of a crusade or something of the like.

As for the European Union, the draft constitution is not perfect. On subsidiarity and proportionality, it is too weak. There is provision for a so-called yellow card, but there should be a red card if a sufficient number of Parliaments object to proposals. It is technically true that we could have enlargement without a fresh treaty—the provisions of the Nice treaty allow for that—but it would be a pretty peculiar European Union if we were to proceed not just on the basis of Nice, but on the basis of Rome, Maastricht and Amsterdam as well. The purpose of a constitution is to try as far as possible to introduce clarity into an institution that has developed and grown—of that there can be no doubt—but whose powers and competences are often very difficult to ascertain. Such powers and competences often appear on the face of it to contradict one another.

I do not believe that the Government will make any concessions on defence, tax, social security, own resources or, despite Mr. Berlusconi's best efforts in Naples, even on foreign policy, either now or in a fortnight. In that regard, the Government obviously have the support of the whole House.

The constitution is an exercise that is well worth conducting and I hope that it will produce, after the intergovernmental conference, a document that can fulfil the objectives that I have described. I dismiss the views attributed to the Foreign Secretary last week as an effort to set up a negotiating position or something of that kind. I cannot really believe that he thinks that we could live with an enlarged EU that is based on existing treaties with all the defects in them that, I hope, I have outlined.

I shall refer briefly to the United Nations. In 60 years, the UN has increased its membership from 51 countries in a world population of 2.5 billion to 188 countries in a world population of about 6 billion. In that time, the institution of the UN has barely changed. That is why reform of the Security Council is certainly desirable. This is not the occasion to discuss the details, but we should have a Security Council that better reflects the world in 2003 and 2004 rather than one that reflects the peace settlement of 1945.

The UN must direct its attention to one issue, and I hope that it falls within the scope of the group established by the Secretary-General and of which Lord Hannay is to be a distinguished member. I refer to the speech made by the Prime Minister in Chicago on 22 April 1999 in which he quite rightly said that the most pressing foreign policy problem we face is to identify the circumstances in which we should get involved in other people's conflicts". In September of the same year, the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said in his annual address to the General Assembly that no legal principle— not even sovereignty—can shield crimes against humanity". He is further on record as saying that, although we should recognise the sovereignty of states by all means, we must recognise the sovereignty of individuals as well.

If we are to give any credence to a doctrine of intervention, it must have a clear framework and be defined and qualified by formal criteria and principles. That doctrine must also be endorsed by the UN as a whole. I will not try to give an exhaustive list of what it should contain, but it must certainly contain the proposition that all diplomatic and political methods have been tried and have failed. It should also contain the proposition that intervention is likely to result in a better state of peace and that those who intervene will be willing to commit themselves not only to peace enforcement but to peacekeeping and, if necessary, to the provision of substantial economic resources in the long term once stability has been restored.

A final issue is Guantanamo bay. Although in some respects it is a Home Office matter, it is a foreign policy matter as well. The proposed military tribunals are unsatisfactory and do not constitute fair trial or due process. They most certainly do not meet the standards of the domestic law of the states of the United States. As I have said before in the House, if we were keeping people on the Isle of Wight in similar circumstances with similar intentions, every Senator worth his salt would be over here knocking on the door of the Foreign Office and saying, "This will not do." No doubt, they would be accompanied by every Congressman as well.

We now understand that Guantanamo bay is an affront to the Law Lords and it is certainly an affront to legal academics, to many people in the United States and to public opinion. I discern that it is an affront to the British Government. We must continue to press the United States to ensure that there is a proper and fair trial that is consistent with the recognised principles of criminal law, that allows people the representation that they want and that allows them to see all the evidence that may be used to convict them. The Government have an overwhelming obligation to do that. Both sides of the House and, no doubt, Labour Back Benchers too will hold the Government to their obligation to ensure that, no matter how heinous the allegations may be against any British citizen, he or she is entitled to due process and a fair trial.

For us, foreign affairs involve the application of the principles of internationalism, liberal values and a respect for human rights. We shall judge the Government by those principles in the forthcoming year. When Government policy adheres to those principles, they can look forward to our support. However, if we are not satisfied that those principles lie at the very heart of their foreign policy, we shall take every opportunity to criticise them and to remind them of their failures.

2.19 pm
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab)

In this debate on foreign affairs, I want to concentrate on our relationship with a country that is a close friend and with which we have great ties—Cyprus. In doing so, I should draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests about my recent visits to the island. I have only recently returned from the island with a delegation of Friends of Cyprus, of which I am vice-chairman.

It was an interesting time to visit Cyprus, given the onset of EU accession in May next year and the so-called elections for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Parliament—I should put that in parentheses so that I do not imply any degree of recognition. The green line opened earlier this year, which created many new hopes, but it cannot be considered to be a solution. Kofi Annan has also made efforts to try to broker a settlement on the long-standing Cyprus problem.

During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet many leading members of both communities on the island. I shall start my detailed remarks by talking about the elections in the north that are due to be held on 14 December. I am worried about the extent to which the elections may not be fair. Ten days ago, I had the opportunity to see again the Costa Gavras film "Z" at a special showing to mark the 30th anniversary of 17 November—not the criminal gang, but the terrible events in Athens when the then Greek junta stormed Athens polytechnic and killed many students. It was also the 35th anniversary of the film itself and the 40th anniversary of the murder of the Greek politician in Thessaloniki on which the film was closely based. What I saw in northern Cyprus really brought the film home to me because the atmosphere there is redolent of the situation depicted in the film.

I had the opportunity to meet Sevgul Uludag, a journalist who has been subjected to frightening victimisation and death threats, all of which have remained uninvestigated by the Turkish Cypriot authorities. With Sevgul, I met the widow of Kutlu Adali, a journalist who was murdered in 1996. The intimidation of journalists continues, and I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is aware of many of the problems from the full, comprehensive and welcome answer that he gave to a parliamentary question that I tabled about the matter a couple of weeks ago.

The terrorist organisation Grey Wolves is active in northern Cyprus. It is organised and funded by the Turkish military, which gave it its headquarters. Murat Kanatli, the editor of a pro-solution newspaper, was attacked and beaten by 30 Grey Wolves and the so-called state of northern Cyprus is victimising journalists. For example, it has brought prosecutions in military courts over attempts by the Opposition to hold a referendum on the Annan plan earlier in the year, which was denied to the people at large in northern Cyprus by the Denktash regime. The state-supporting television company, Avrasya, staged a stunt at the offices of the BDH, which is one of the leading Opposition parties, by themselves stamping on a Turkish flag on the floor and citing that as an example of how the BDH shows disrespect toward the Turkish flag. The footage was broadcast and the matter was taken up in pro-Denktash newspapers without any indication that it was a staged stunt. When a journalist attempted to discuss the matter on air, the plug was pulled and the programme switched to martial music.

The intimidation in northern Cyprus is very worrying. Commanders of the Turkish army visit villages and intimidate settlers. While I was in Cyprus, I heard of an incident in which a Turkish army officer visited a village and used its facilities to speak at Friday prayers to tell settlers, "If you don't all vote for Denktash, you'll be on the first boat home leaving all your possessions and belongings here in northern Cyprus."

The extent of employment in the TRNC is rather peculiar because some 20 per cent. of the total population work for the state. That gives those people, to put it mildly, a vested interest in, or a real incentive to vote for, the Denktash regime. The situation is getting worse because there is a huge job creation programme effectively to employ more supporters of the Denktash regime. The state broadcaster, BRT, now employs 1,350 people, although its normal staffing level is 150. The stories of overmanning in Fleet street in the early days—I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has experience of that—are weak compared with what is going on there.

The Prime Minister's office in northern Cyprus has employed 50 new members of staff. I know that the Opposition have criticised additional staff in Downing street, but that situation pales into insignificance compared with what is happening in northern Cyprus. Those events are contrary to a protocol that was signed by Turkey and the TRNC to say that no more than 5 per cent. of people would work for the state. Surprise, surprise, the Government plan to pay bonuses to civil servants in November and December—the run-up to the elections.

The military and embassy are also involved, and perhaps I may refer to the way in which the electoral roll has been manipulated. Some 10,000 extra voters have been put on the roll, which now stands at 140,000 people. That is a huge increase as a proportion of the overall total, and many of the extra people are settlers who have arrived on the island only recently. The Turkish Government are abetting the process because such people may join the electoral roll only if they have a certificate of good conduct, which must be produced by the Turkish embassy in the TRNC. All sorts of abuses are going on and the prospects for a fair election are slim.

The speech made by the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan, on the 20th anniversary of the so-called TRNC attracted much criticism from not only the Republic of Cyprus but the Turkish Cypriot Opposition because it seemed to back Mr. Denktash. There was no reason for Mr. Erdogan to attend the event because it coincided with the appalling terrorist incidents in Istanbul, so many people would have understood why he could have thought that it was a greater priority to deal with that rather than supporting the TRNC. There was perhaps a silver lining to what he said because he did not specifically endorse Mr. Denktash and he indicated that Cyprus was subordinate to Turkey's European ambitions. Nevertheless, the speech was not a welcome development in the elections.

Mr. Gardiner

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely unacceptable that any prospective candidate country to the EU should fail to recognise the sovereignty and existence of an existing accession country, and that it is inconceivable that such a country should continue its occupation?

Mr. Dismore

My hon. Friend makes an important point and I shall refer shortly to some of the implications for Turkey of a lack of a settlement in Cyprus.

The Opposition have already challenged the fairness of the elections, and especially the register. Mr. Durduran has made a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights and the Opposition parties have made a challenge in the constitutional court of the TRNC. However, the outcome of the challenges is not expected until well after the elections. One could hope that if the elections are not seen to be fair and Mr. Denktash wins, it might give Turkey the opportunity to order them to be rerun, if it wanted to do that. However, it remains to be seen whether that would happen, so we have to hope that the Opposition parties can succeed. The elections probably represent the best chance that they have ever had, despite all the obstacles that have been unfairly put in their way.

Although there are three separate Opposition lists for the election, the parties have a common platform. They want a settlement based on the Annan plan and to join the European Union as a reunited island. They have the common platform of removing Mr. Denktash as the negotiator and replacing him from among their ranks. However, there are separate lists for the CDP. the republican Turkish party of Mr. Talat, the BDH, which is the peace and democracy movement of Mr. Akinci and Mr. Izan, and the CABP, which is the EU and populist party of Ali Erel. There is a risk that some of the votes might be dissipated because of the list and there is a chance that the CABP might not pass the 5 per cent. electoral threshold.

What is also interesting is the extent to which the Opposition parties are attracting support from the settler vote in addition to the traditional vote of Turkish Cypriots, themselves victims of the occupation. Dr. Nuri Cevikel, one of the leaders of the Turkish settler movement in the TRNC, is standing as a candidate for the Opposition party, the CDP, as No. 2 on its Famagusta list. He has paid a price for that: he has been sacked from his job as a university lecturer and faces victimisation.

The Turkish Cypriot Opposition are critical of the Republic for not doing more to implement its measures to ease the plight of the Turkish Cypriots and to build confidence measures. The problem is, however, that the Denktash regime has frustrated many of those measures and there has been a backlash as a result. I hope that the Republic establishes the proposed bureau for Turkish Cypriots as part of the administration of the Republic in the near future. That would provide a

useful boost to the Turkish Cypriots who are fighting the Denktash regime. It was probably wrong not to arrange non-governmental organisation observers for the elections. For some, that would have smacked of recognition for the Turkish Cypriot state. The role might be taken on by embassies, and Oslo university is working on monitoring the outcome and process of the elections.

If the Opposition win, some of the problems within Cyprus might be unlocked. They say that they will replace Denktash as a negotiator and are committed to a settlement. So rapid progress could be made. The key issue is whether Turkey would respect the outcome of the elections. Some people think that it would want to keep Mr. Denktash, damaged though he may be. Serdar Denktash, his son and leader of the minority party in the coalition, has said that he will be happy to form other alliances only if Mr. Rauf Denktash remains the negotiator. If the Opposition fail, there is little question of the UN re-engaging with the process, and Turkey will be left with a serious problem for its accession aspirations. It will have to find a way through the mess on its own. There are suspicions that Turkey and the Denktash regime are trying to work out a different plan—a bottom-up arrangement—in response to the Annan plan, but that plan would imply recognition and enable a velvet divorce to take place from the new state of affairs shortly after it is established.

The Republic of Cyprus remains committed to the Annan plan as a basis for negotiation. There are, however, serious reservations about settlers, property rights, freedom of movement, and finance and economics. The opening of the green line has released some of the pressure building up in the north, but that is not a solution, especially as people travelling from the Republic need to produce passports. That has caused splits in the Greek Cypriot community.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell

I was a soldier in Cyprus serving in the United Nations force about 25 years ago, in 1975. Does the hon. Gentleman share my deep depression about how little has changed on that beautiful but benighted island?

Mr. Dismore

That is a simplistic analysis. Mr. Denktash's position has not changed, but many other things have, especially over the past few months and years as a result of the EU acting as a powerful catalyst to unlock the long-standing problems on the island, as the opening of the green line has shown. People now travel north and south across the green line, albeit with the production of passports, with no incidents or confrontations, just good old-fashioned Cypriot hospitality and friendship demonstrated even by those who occupy houses owned by people on the other side of the green line. The only problems are those caused by people euphemistically referred to as the ancient Britons, who bought houses in northern Cyprus with dubious titles and who, when the Greek Cypriots return to visit them, run them off the land by hurling the ironic insult, "Have you no respect for private property?"

Jeremy Corbyn

Can my hon. Friend remind the House of the process to resolve some of the land and property ownership problems? That sore runs through the Cypriot community in Britain as well as in Cyprus. Many people believe that they have a right to return to the home that was taken from them in the 1974 invasion.

Mr. Dismore

The Annan plan deals with those issues. The question is whether the plan is acceptable. There are serious reservations about it. This year's Cyprus report recently published by the Friends of Cyprus contains a flow chart of the processes through which property issues have to be processed. It is complicated and the prospects of getting land back at the end of it are slim. One of the big concerns of many in the Greek Cypriot community is that the acquis communautaire will not apply in the north and human rights will not be respected. The issue needs to be re-examined, as does the compensation for those who want to accept it. It is doubtful whether settlers in the north would have the resources to pay compensation. The Turkish Cypriots who occupy land in the north that belongs to Greek Cypriots may have properties in the south that they could use as collateral, but settlers from mainland Turkey will have no assets other than the property they occupy.

It has been estimated that if the settlers were to return, the compensation costs would be 5 billion to 7 billion Cyprus pounds, but if they do not, the costs would be 17 billion Cyprus pounds. The Cyprus pound is worth rather more than the sterling pound, so the numbers are serious. There are also concerns about whether the Republic can afford the costs of the Annan plan. The report produced by former President Vassiliou, their former EU negotiator, says that the plan is workable, but the Cyprus Government are doubtful. The Central Bank of Cyprus is working on that.

It has been suggested that the Republic of Cyprus Government are happy to sit back and wait for EU accession without a settlement, thinking that their position will be strengthened once accession is complete. That does not recognise the serious pressures building up within the Greek Cypriot community. If Cyprus accedes as a divided island without a settlement, there is a strong risk that Turkish Cypriots, who are entitled to Republic citizenship—indeed, many have Republic passports—will become EU citizens and come south, with a view either to moving to other parts of the EU, perhaps to Britain, or to reclaiming the properties occupied by Greek Cypriots in the south. The latter is the more worrying for the Republic. It involves 200,000 properties. In practice, those people would be entitled to that property even without a settlement. That would create serious problems for the Republic, which would have to rehouse the individuals concerned.

There is a greater minefield to consider. If a sufficiently large Turkish Cypriot community moves south, it could claim its rights under the failed 1960 constitution to the vice-presidency and seats in the House of Representatives. The risk is that those people who migrate south would be replaced by settlers from mainland Turkey, making a solution even more difficult to achieve. The Republic also thinks there is a prospect of a Schengen frontier within the middle of the island, effectively restricting crossings of the green line, with Greek Cypriot border posts required by the EU.

There are also issues about the extent to which Turkish Cypriots will vote in the European Union elections in June. The Republic is keen to ensure that they can exercise their democratic rights, but whether they can do so without harassment and victimisation by the Denktash regime remains to be seen. I am pleased that Turkish Cypriots, in particular Mr. Shener Levent, have made moves to stand as candidates in the EU elections. Shener Levent is the editor of a newspaper, Afrika. He has been imprisoned and his newspaper offices have been firebombed, so it shows a great deal of courage on his part to stand. AKEL, one of the Greek Cypriot coalition parties in government, also says that it will have Turkish Cypriots on its list. The election will be by open party list, with cross-community voting possible, which gives Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots the opportunity to come together.

On Turkey, there are still doubts whether it gets the message that it will not get a date to start accession negotiations without a Cyprus settlement. It wants the world to be as it sees it rather than as it is. That is evidenced by its approach to the Loizidou case. It is still to pay compensation several years after the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. However, Turkey has paid compensation to a Turkish Cypriot, Mr. Cavit An, in respect of his human rights case over freedom of association. He insisted on payment in euros rather than Turkish lira.

We must do all that we can to get the message over to Turkey that a Cyprus settlement is essential if Turkey is to join the EU. It was an interesting time to visit Cyprus. Important issues are arising that, over the next six months to a year, will be critical. This is the best time that there has ever been for a settlement, but the prospects of a settlement with Mr. Denktash in power remain very difficult. I believe, with the Turkish Cypriot Opposition, that we must do all that we can to make sure that the elections are fair. Let us hope that they are able to succeed and to unlock a long-standing and difficult problem so that when we talk about Cyprus the next word is not "problem" in future.

2.40 pm
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD)

It is with great pleasure that I rise to make my maiden speech, especially as I follow the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who is almost a parliamentary neighbour of mine. As I speak for the first time in the Chamber, I am reminded of election night. I have the same sense of awe and honour that I had that evening.

I am proud to be the first woman to represent Brent, East or, as it used to be known, Willesden, East. I am also the first Liberal Democrat Member to represent the seat, though it has a proud Liberal history. Gladstone used to stay at Dollis Hill house, which is in a park that was renamed in his honour. It is in the centre of my constituency.

As a young woman, I am often asked about the problem of the lack of women in this place and what we should do about it. I have always been interested in the idea of all-women shortlists. That is probably because as a woman who is almost always the shortest, I would be guaranteed to win under such a system. Mercifully, I was elected without the aid of such mechanisms. As the newest and the youngest Member of this place, my overwhelming sense as I speak is one of privilege. It is a huge privilege to be here. It was a huge privilege to be elected to serve the constituents of Brent, East. It is also a huge privilege to walk in the footsteps of so many great men and women who have debated in this place before me. However, privilege is not enough. Politics is about changing things, and at the end of the day I will be judged on my ability to influence change on the issues that are important to my constituents. I owe them a debt of thanks but also a debt of work. I will work extremely hard to repay that debt over the forthcoming years.

Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that I stand here today only because of the sad and tragic death of my predecessor, Paul Daisley. I never met Paul, but he was widely liked by my colleagues on Brent council and by politicians across the political divide at all levels. Those who knew him spoke of him as a giant of a man. They said that his determination and courage were matched only by his compassion and his concern for others. He made a huge contribution to Brent. His national political career was cut short but his local legacy lives on. As leader of the council he worked tirelessly to turn round a failing authority, which at that stage was pilloried by Private Eye. He is rather flippantly said to have put back the "r" into Brent. He will be a tough act to follow. I hope that in time I may be able to prove myself to be a worthy successor to him.

I wish Lesley—Paul's wife—well. She has launched the Paul Daisley memorial trust in his memory, and I think that it will do great work in trying to improve the quality of life of people suffering from cancer and to raise awareness of that illness, which affects so many people and kills an enormous number.

As I speak about my predecessors, perhaps right hon. and hon. Members will remember that a well-known political refugee lives in my constituency. I am terribly concerned about that constituent because I understand that he has some serious money worries ahead in the new financial year. He has real problems with housing, transport and even crime. I say to him, as I would say to all constituents, that should he ever want any advice from his local Member, he is welcome to pop into one of my local advice surgeries. As a Liberal Democrat, I am always willing to see any of my constituents, regardless of the party to which they may be affiliated.

It is conventional on these occasions to speak a little about one's constituency. I am lucky because most Members of this place went canvassing in my constituency during the summer, so I know that many Members are familiar with it—almost too familiar. It is said that there was a veritable economic boom at Willesden high road and Walm lane among the restaurateurs and fast-food outlets. It worried me that one shop took on extra staff to cope with the load; I hope that it does not now fear a recession.

Those Members who visited my constituency will know a little of it. It is a constituency of great vibrancy and diversity but also one of great need. The wealthiest and the poorest live side by side in some of the most densely populated areas in the country. The crime rate is very high. The incidence of burglaries and violence is almost twice the national average. The incidence of robbery is six times the national average. Yet, despite the huge and real fear of crime, I have found in Brent a sense of community, welcome and openness that I have never come across anywhere else in London.

It is said that 130 languages are spoken in Brent schools. There is a kaleidoscope of religions—Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Jewish. There is a large Irish population. The ethnic minority community is about 50 per cent. of the local community. It is perhaps fitting, therefore, that I should speak in a debate that has the theme of international affairs. I often comment that when I visit local community groups, I am as likely to be berated on international issues—be it Kashmir, the middle east, Iraq or the Eritrean-Ethiopian situation—as I am to be asked about local issues. Today, however, I want to talk about other things.

Despite the debate to which I have referred, which is often heated and controversial, the different communities co-exist happily. The constituency is a model of tolerance and acceptance. I shall never forget my experience only last month during the Diwali procession in the borough. I watched young children from a local primary school, who were dressed in the most beautiful costumes. They were proud to wear them. There was lots of bustling and excitement. Nor was it only the Hindu children who took part in the procession: all the children from the local community took part—white, black and Asian. To me, that is a model of multiculturalism.

I hope to champion many issues during my time in Parliament, which I hope will be very long. Among them are the closure of local post offices, funding for local schools, the need for more police and general practitioners, and the need to campaign to ensure that councils are more responsive to local need.

I shall touch on another issue that is of huge importance in Brent—it was raised with me regularly on the doorstep—and that is tuition fees and top-up fees. I hope that hon. Members will not think that I am being too controversial in raising that issue in my maiden speech. The Opposition side of the Chamber may be united on it, but as there is a huge debate throughout the House, I feel that it is not strictly a party political issue. The matter is dear to my heart. As the youngest Member, I dare say that I am the only Member still paying back a student loan. However, I am aware that I am extremely lucky. When I went to university, I received a full grant. Tuition fees had not been introduced. Students who are studying for GCSEs and hoping to go on to university face extraordinary levels of debt. The Barclays bank survey shows that the debt per student will be £33,000 by 2010. That is more than my parents' mortgage; it is more than the mortgage of most students' parents. It is a huge amount.

I feel immense frustration when I hear talk about widening participation while we are debating the introduction of a policy that will deter the very students we are trying to attract. Fear of debt is just as real as debt, and that is why this is such an issue in my constituency. It is likely to deter students from lower-income backgrounds and ethnic minority communities—particularly the Muslim community, which is very large in my constituency—who often have very different attitudes to debt.

My concern is that this debate is really about whether we want a world-class education system or whether we are looking to move back to a class-based education system, in which students choose universities according to their ability to pay, and universities are judged on the level of their fees. That is not a system that I would look forward to, and I hope that Members from all parties will unite in opposing it when the time comes.

In conclusion, I hope that I have convinced the House of the uniqueness of my constituency, and of not only its wealth of diversity but its social need. There is much work to be done, and I look forward, now that I have made my maiden speech, to being able to raise the issues in Parliament. I thank the House for welcoming its newest Member

2.50 pm
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling):

It gives me the greatest pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather). I add my congratulations to the many that I am sure she has already received on her remarkable by-election victory at the expense of the Labour party and, I have to say, my own party. On the strength of her maiden speech, I can say to her that she need have no worries whatever about either her age or her height. She spoke with confidence, lucidity and, clearly, great knowledge of her constituents and her constituency, and we look forward to having the pleasure of hearing from her on many future occasions.

One of the most sobering experiences of this calendar year, 2003, for me has been to go and see at close quarters the Israeli security wall. I am glad that the Foreign Secretary has, apparently, flown over it recently, and I hope very much that he and his colleagues from the Foreign Office and other Departments will go and see it for themselves at close quarters, because the wall needs to be seen closely for both its scale and its impact to be fully appreciated.

During the cold war, I, like other Members in all parts of the House, had the opportunity on a number of occasions to see, both from the ground and from the air, the Communist wall down the centre of Europe. I did not go as close to it as I did to the Israeli security wall, because that would have guaranteed a bullet in either one's back or one's front, but one was able to see it at reasonably close quarters. The Israeli security wall is pretty well a carbon copy of the cold war wall built by the Communists. It comprises a combination of wall in built-up areas, electrified razor-wire fencing beyond the built-up areas, watchtowers, lighting, anti-vehicle ditches, smoothed sand strip for the detection of footprints, and military road, with dogs available. The only things missing, so I was assured by the Israelis, were anti-personnel landmines. They, happily, are not present, but the wall is a formidable construction.

I do not in any way deny the right of the Israeli Government, or indeed of any other Government, to take what measures they feel necessary on their own soil to provide for the security of their people. The significance of, and the element of controversy arising from, the Israeli security wall is not those of its sections that follow the line of Israel's border, the green line, but those increasingly long sections that have already been and continue to be constructed inside the occupied territories.

In this matter we have some experience to bring to bear. If, to try to deal with the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland, we in this country had ever contemplated the creation of such a wall along the entire length of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, we would agree in all parts of the House that it would have done virtually nothing to contribute to security, and it would have been absolutely catastrophic for our attempts to achieve a political settlement and a resolution of the difficulties that we have experienced from terrorism in Northern Ireland.

I hope that, inside Israel, there will be a continuing and accelerating debate as to whether the wall provides any reality of security or simply an illusion. I have welcomed the recent public statements by no fewer than four former members of the Israeli security service, Shin Bet, who have expressed doubts about the value, in security terms, of the policies being pursued by the present Israeli Government. Even more significantly, those doubts have been expressed by no less than the current Israeli chief of army staff, General Moshe Ya'alon. That debate most certainly needs to continue.

What is not in any doubt is the impact of the wall on the everyday lives of Palestinians: farmers unable to get to their crops; mothers in labour unable to get to hospital in time; workers unable to get to their jobs; and businesses unable to secure delivery of their goods and services on time. Some of us on the Foreign Affairs Committee had the opportunity of going to the town of Qalqilya, which was alluded to by the Foreign Secretary in his opening speech. Qalqilya is a town of 43,000 Palestinians, and as of today, right now as we have this debate, that town is encircled, 360 degrees, by the massive Israeli security wall. There are just two entry and exit points.

The impact on the town has been absolutely devastating. If one goes up and down the main street one sees shops boarded up, one after the other, because they no longer have the business contact and trade that they once had. Of course, if the businesses close down, that impacts directly on the standard of living and wellbeing of those in the town. It is a bitter historical irony—some might say a historical inversion—that in Qalqilya now there is the spectacle of 43,000 Palestinians effectively in a ghetto, walled in by an Israeli wall, watched over by Israeli guards in towers. I have to hope and believe that inside Israel there are plenty of people who are appalled by that spectacle, and I hope and believe that there are many people in the Jewish community worldwide who are equally appalled.

The United Nations, in its recent compelling and important report, which was put out by the office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs in east Jerusalem, assessed the impact on the lives of Palestinians of the construction of the security wall. If I may, I shall read the few concluding sentences of that report, which was published at the beginning of this month. Under the heading, "Humanitarian consequences", it says: Little consideration appears to have been given by the Israeli Government to the Wall's impact on Palestinian lives. More people, unable to reach their land to harvest crops, graze animals or to reach work to earn the money to buy food, will be hungry. The damage caused by the destruction of land and property for the Wall's construction is irreversible and undermines Palestinians' ability to ever recover even if the security situation allows conditions to improve. Residents risk being cut off from schools, universities and specialized medical care. The Wall fragments communities and isolates residents from vital social support networks. If the military orders that restrict entry into the closed areas between the Green Line and the Wall are applied to the new parts of the Wall, then many thousands of Palestinians are likely to be forced from their homes and land. The Foreign Secretary said that the section of the new security wall inside the occupied territories is illegal, and I welcome his acknowledgement of that. However, it will not be sufficient for the Government or other Governments simply to wring their hands and say the wall is illegal. What is at stake is far greater than the legality or otherwise of the security wall. What I believe is at stake is the entire future of the peace process between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours. As the wall is constructed and extended in the occupied territories, mile by mile, any prospect of being able to achieve a viable—I stress viable—Palestinian state is being destroyed. The issue is becoming time-critical as the wall continues to expand.

Although the Foreign Secretary referred to greater pressure being applied on the Israeli Government in connection with the wall, we shall need an unprecedented degree of pressure—a greater degree of pressure than has ever been applied before—by the UK Government, the European Union, the United Nations and, above all, the United States Government, to try to persuade the Israeli Government to stop the construction of the wall inside the occupied territories, and to take down those sections of the wall that have been constructed inside the occupied territories. I sincerely believe that unless those steps are taken by the Israeli Government, there is no prospect whatever of being able to bring the road map policy to fruition.

Mr. Gardiner

I agree with everything that the right hon. Gentleman said about the illegality of the wall in the occupied territories and the negative effect that the whole of the wall is having, but will he consider that, this far into his exposition, he might have presented a more balanced picture had he mentioned the suicide bombers and the very real threat and danger that the people of Israel feel from that?

Sir John Stanley

I am certainly ready to acknowledge that, and I have already referred to it in my remarks. I said at the outset, and I hope the hon. Gentleman heard it, that I totally defend the right of the Israeli Government to take whatever measures are necessary within their own territorial boundaries to protect their own people. I do not have., and I do not believe that the Government have, any difficulty whatever with the construction of the wall along the green line. That is not the issue. The issue is the construction of the wall inside the occupied territories.

The second matter that I want to raise is Iraq. Last week, during President Bush's state visit, I listened carefully to what the Prime Minister said on the subject. He called on us in this country to stop raking over the coals as to why we went to war in Iraq; it was time to move on and to focus on the benefits that the war was bringing to the people of Iraq. I felt that that was a somewhat self-serving invitation from the Prime Minister, which I do not intend to accept. I do not believe that we can airbrush away any future debate about the circumstances in which we undertook war in Iraq.

As the Prime Minister has acknowledged on more than one occasion, the decision whether to take the country to war is the single most important decision that any Prime Minister and any Government can take. It is a very serious matter also because more than 50 British servicemen have already lost their lives during and since the war in Iraq, and because the issue does not concern merely the Government. It concerns each and every Member of the House of Commons because the Government, uniquely on this occasion—I give the Government credit for it—decided to seek the approval of the House of Commons on 18 March for the decision whether we went to war. To that extent, each and every one of us participated in that decision.

I shall not rehearse the case that the Government put forward on 18 March and in the weeks and months beforehand for going to war against Iraq. The House is intimately familiar with the arguments. They are encapsulated in a single sentence in the opening paragraph of the Government's paper which they published days before the war started, entitled "Iraq: Military Campaign Objectives". In that paper, the Government stated: The prime objective remains to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and their associated programmes and means of delivery, including prohibited ballistic missiles, as set out in the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions The justification for the war was to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

What we all know, and the Government, I am sure, privately acknowledge, is that since the war ended and the weapons of mass destruction have not been found, the Government have shifted their grounds of justification for the war. Every criticism that is made of the Government as to whether the grounds for going to war have proved valid is met with the response with which we are all too familiar: "We have toppled Saddam Hussein, the old regime has gone, the Iraqi people are much better off, so what are you complaining about?"

I want to answer that. We would have no grounds for complaint if the Prime Minister had made a different speech in the House on 18 March—if he had come to the House and said, "The reason why we are going to war is to remove Saddam Hussein and change the regime." He could have made a powerful speech arguing that case. He could have said that Saddam Hussein was guilty of mass murder. In his opening speech the Foreign Secretary referred to 300,000 Iraqis killed or missing. The Prime Minister could have said that Saddam Hussein was guilty of mass imprisonment without trial, torture and rape, that Saddam Hussein was guilty of massive crimes against humanity and that, for those reasons, the Saddam Hussein regime must go.

The Prime Minister would have had to add that, although that was a powerful moral case for going to war, it would be illegal. He would have had to make that clear. He could well have argued from the Dispatch Box that notwithstanding the illegality, on this occasion the moral imperative was the greater and justified the military intervention. But that was not the speech that the Prime Minister made. It is hugely significant that the justification of going to war for regime change was explicitly and emphatically, in black and white terms, rejected and repudiated by the Prime Minister on 18 March, because that justification would have been illegal.

I remind the House of two critical sentences in the Prime Minister's speech on 18 March. They are there in black and white in Hansard, as follows: I have never put the justification for action as regime change. We have to act within the terms set out in resolution 1441—that is our legal base."—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 772.] Today, the country and we in the House of Commons face an extraordinary and deeply concerning situation in which the Government's original justification for going to war in Iraq has so far proved to be invalid, and the Government are now using to justify their action a justification that on 18 March they repudiated and said was illegal.

Mr. Gardiner

The right hon. Gentleman has quoted two key sentences. Will he address the questions posed by two other phrases, the first found at the beginning of resolution 1441, which states that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations"; and the second at the end of resolution 1441, in which Iraq is afforded a final opportunity to comply"? What does he understand by the word "final"?

Sir John Stanley

The hon. Gentleman's point reinforces my argument. The non-compliance with the resolutions was all related to failure to comply with weapons inspectors' efforts in relation to weapons of mass destruction. It was all about weapons of mass destruction. At no time did the UN resolutions endorse the proposition that military action should be taken simply to change the regime in Iraq.

This country has been taken to war on a ground that has so far proved to be invalid, and the Government are now using a justification that they previously repudiated and stated was illegal. Perhaps in the end everything will come right for the Government: perhaps over the next few months or year, weapons of mass destruction will be found. If they are, I, as one who supported the Government on 18 March, will feel a distinct sense of relief—hugely exceeded, I am sure, by the sense of relief felt by Ministers. I voted in support of the Government in good faith, on the basis of the evidence about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction that the Government put before the House on 18 March and in the September 2002 dossier.

If in, say, a year's time, however, there is still no sign of those weapons of mass destruction, as I said in our debate in July, it will become incumbent on the Prime Minister, and the senior Ministers most closely associated with the decision, to consider their personal position, in view of the fact that they have taken the country to war on grounds that cannot be established. That is a matter for them, but at the very least, I sincerely believe that if no weapons of mass destruction are found, before this Parliament ends the Prime Minister will owe the country, this House of Commons and, most important of all, the families of the servicemen who have died a proper apology for being the first Government in our modern history to have taken this country to war on the basis of a threat assessment that was shown to be invalid.

3.14 pm
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab)

First, I congratulate the new hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) on her election victory and on her excellent speech today. Yet another Islington person has made their way into the House of Commons—and there are many more yet to come. Her speech was very good, especially her reference to the joy of representing an inner-city, multi-ethnic constituency. The strength of communities working and living harmoniously together, expressing their cultural diversity, is a joy to behold in this country. The right-wing journalists who continually denigrate multiculturalism as political correctness would do well to understand the fact that there is a joy of life in inner London that the rest of the world should understand and respect. I wish the hon. Lady well in her career in Parliament.

When he introduced the debate, the Foreign Secretary said that a strategy document would be produced next Monday. I am pleased to hear that, but find it a little odd that he announces that the document is coming on the day we debate foreign affairs. Why on earth could the document not have been made available to us today, so that we could have debated it today? Since it is not available, may I express the hope through you. Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the usual channels will ensure that there is a substantial debate in the near future on the strategy document, which will enable it to be properly analysed? Otherwise, what is the point of having the document at all?

The Foreign Secretary made the point that one of the underpinning principles of British foreign policy is support for the United Nations. I am sure that the whole House supports the UN—everybody supports the UN. The only problem is that the policies that have been followed by the United States and Britain in the past year have done enormous damage to the principles of the UN, UN law and international law in general. George Bush took us into the Iraq war specifically without the endorsement of the UN, and specifically claimed that the war was legal, when in fact the only basis of a legal war is self-defence. As the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley) explained, we were taken into war on the basis of the existence of weapons of mass destruction, none of which, strangely, have yet been found. I hope that the strategy document contains a serious affirmation of our support for the UN and reforms within it. The UN is a major world institution, it has an enormous effect on the lives of millions of people around the world, and many people living in the most desperate circumstances pin their faith and hope on it, yet we spend little time debating UN reports on the Floor of the House. Might there be a case for having a Select Committee on UN affairs, in addition to the existing Select Committee on Foreign Affairs?

Mr. Gardiner

I agree, of course, with my hon. Friend's assessment of the importance of the UN, but he stated that the only basis of a legal war is self-defence. Does he accept that military action is a penalty for failure to comply with obligations under chapter VII of the UN charter, which deals specifically with weapons of mass destruction?

Jeremy Corbyn

My hon. Friend is correct to say that that is a possibility under chapter VII. The problem with his submission is that neither the United Nations nor the Security Council ever agreed to such action in Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and, crucially, Britain and the United States prevented Hans Blix and his team from returning to Iraq in January this year to continue their weapons inspection programme. They were replaced by the Iraq survey group, which is vastly larger and better funded than Hans Blix's team, but which, after several months of trawling through every building in Iraq, has come up with absolutely nothing.

Perhaps someone at some point in the future will find weapons of mass destruction, but I suspect that had such weapons been available to the Iraqi regime, they would have been used at the point when the invasion occurred. They were not. I suspect that we were taken into war on the basis of misinformation in the documents that were presented to this House. That is a serious matter because of the damage that it has done to international law and to the esteem in which the British and American Governments are held.

Last week, President Bush visited this country. It was a deeply controversial affair—indeed, I tabled an early-day motion, signed by a number of Members, requesting that he should not be invited and that the visit be cancelled. However, the visit went ahead, apparently costing us between £7 million and £10 million and causing a great deal of disruption. A large number of people took part in demonstrations against the visit. The Foreign Secretary and others were wont to say that the participants were deeply anti-American and only wanted to attack the United States. However, having been involved in the demonstrations, I should like to tell the House that the march last Thursday was led by Americans, particularly the Vietnam war veteran Ron Kovic, who made a moving speech in Trafalgar square in the evening about the issue of American power and influence in the world and what could be done to try to curtail those ambitions and bring about a sense of world order.

Ron Kovic is an interesting man. He grew up in a deeply patriotic American household, and was proud to join the marines. He went to Vietnam and, on his second tour of duty, was shot and paralysed from the chest down. He came back home, where, frankly, he was ignored. Since then, he has spent his life campaigning for peace and justice. It is sometimes as well to remember that people who have made a personal voyage of discovery, as he has, have a contribution to make. He nearly died in Vietnam in a war that, at the time, he supported. He has drawn parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. He does not support Saddam Hussein any more than anyone else in the Chamber, but he has said that the invasion, the occupation and the large number of deaths from depleted uranium and cluster bombs and from activities resulting from an unlikely alliance of opponents to the occupation are not a recipe for a long-term peace—they are probably a recipe for long-term instability, not just in Iraq but elsewhere.

I received an interesting email yesterday from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of San Francisco, which sent a delegation to Iraq to meet people in various factories. I shall not read it all, as it is very long. However, the ILWU complained about order No. 39 of 19 September issued by the provisional Administration in Iraq, which I mentioned in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. The ILWU said that the order permits 100 per cent. foreign ownership of businesses—except in the oil industry—and allowing companies to take their profits out of the country. Order No. 37 suspends income and property taxes for the year, and limits taxes on individuals and corporations in the future to 15 per cent. The email went on to discuss the number of state-owned industries in Iraq that are being sold by the US-appointed Administration to any American company that comes along and wants to buy them. What kind of message does that send to the people of Iraq? The supposed liberation of Iraq, which took place in the interests of its people, has in fact resulted in a lot of George Bush's cronies being able to buy up a lot of real estate very cheaply indeed. We need to think about where that will lead.

The war on terror declared by George Bush after 11 September 2001 is simplistic in approach. It led us into Afghanistan, where there were 8,000 dead, and it has led us into Iraq, with all the dead there. I suspect that both those military activities undertaken on behalf of the United States have probably increased support for rogue groups around the world that will commit unspeakable acts of violence against individuals. The solution is not to meet the threat by saying that we will go to war anywhere, any place, any time. Surely, the solution is to look at what feeds those groups, the issues that face us and the poverty around the world that drives people to desperate measures. If we are to preach democracy and the rule of international law, and if our influence over the United States is supposedly so great following the visit of President Bush, why is the legal void of Guantanamo bay allowed to continue to exist? The United States created a non-existent legal phrase of "illegal combatant", and, for almost two years, has used it to incarcerate people in Guantanamo bay and other places without charge, trial or representation. There is only the unsatisfactory prospect of a possible military tribunal in the United States.

I plead not just on behalf of the British nationals in Guantanamo bay but for everyone else there. They all deserve a fair trial with independent representation in which they know the charges against them. Before we get too high and mighty, our own anti-terrorist legislation allows similar actions to be taken against non-British nationals whom the Home Secretary believes may have a connection with international terrorism. I have no time for criminals or people who commit criminal acts, but if we are to defend democracy we must have an open form of legal judgment in which defendants have the right of independent representation.

I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling, who spoke about the construction of the wall between Israel and Palestine, much of it on Palestinian land. I agree with him—I saw the wall under construction last year, and it is an unbelievable act of madness to assume that it will bring about a peace. The inability of countries that are closely allied to Israel—in particular, the United States but also, to some extent, Britain—to bring sufficient influence to bear on it to stop the construction of the wall sends a message across the whole region that western countries will support Israel come what may and will carry on funding it and supplying it with arms. That will not bring about a long-term peace—it is a recipe for more long-term conflict and problems.

I have met people from the peace movement in Israel and many people in Palestine and various Palestinian organisations and groups. There are brave people in Israel who are campaigning for peace, justice and recognition of Palestinian rights, including the right of return and the liberty to reside in Jerusalem. They surely have the vision and ability to look to the future, whereas the Sharon Government are offering a recipe for long-term disaster and conflict in the region. We could and should put far more pressure on Israel, including the suspension of all arms supplies while the construction of the wall and the illegal occupation continue. We should also recognise, as I have said, that many brave people in Israel have campaigned for peace, not least Mordechai Vanunu, the nuclear scientist who will be released, we hope, early next year.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling talked about the wall between Israel and Palestine, which is designed to achieve security for Israel, although I am not sure that it does. In October, I had an opportunity to visit another wall, which was constructed illegally by Morocco across the western Sahara to prevent the Sahari people from reoccupying land from which they were expelled in 1974. I should be grateful if, in his reply, the Minister can give us any further news of diplomatic initiatives to ensure that the UN agency dealing with Western Sahara and Morocco, MINURSO, is allowed to continue its work. I also hope that he can give us some hope that an early referendum will take place as part of the decolonisation process, as it is fundamentally wrong that more than 100,000 Sahari people, who were expelled from their land in 1974, should live in the misery of refugee camps in southern Algeria, forgotten and ignored by the rest of the world. I hope that progress has been made.

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will reply to the debate, but I shall ask the Foreign Office to provide the fullest reply to the points that my hon. Friend has raised.

Jeremy Corbyn

I thank the Minister for that. I look forward to his reply and I hope that a good response will be forthcoming and that Britain will continue to support the efforts to obtain a peaceful solution.

I visited the refugee camps and I went to the Polisario Front's 11th congress, which was held in a disused Spanish fort hundreds of miles into the desert in what is termed liberated Western Sahara. The sense of anger, frustration and outrage of people and their families can boil over at any time, although no one wants it to. One sees anger there, among young people in Palestine and in other parts of the world, and we have a duty and responsibility to try to bring about a peaceful resolution of those conflicts, otherwise the alternative is war, conflict, death and destruction.

We have been told that it is important for us to maintain close links with the United States, and that that underpins our foreign policy. I just wonder whether our message to the world is not a bit skewed when we are spending increased amounts on defence when we should be cutting it, when we have signed up for national missile defence, and when we are apparently prepared to countenance the use of nuclear weapons and the continued holding of nuclear weapons while condemning other countries for doing the same thing.

The real issues facing the world are the facts that a quarter of the world's population is living in desperate poverty, that we have a trade system that is skewed against the poorest people in the poorest countries, and that we are increasingly trying to look after the interests of western Europe and north America at the expense of the rest of the world. That is why the Cancun summit broke down.

We have a responsibility to take a more global view, and one of redistribution and sharing of wealth and resources, because at the end of the day it is instability, poverty, greed and the grabbing of natural resources that bring about war and conflict, and unless we change our attitudes in those respects, the war on Iraq will, unfortunately, not be the last of these gruesome conflicts and all the deaths, misery and destruction that go with them.

3.31 pm
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), not least because, as well as being a constituent of his in the past, I had the privilege of being the chairman of the Islington North Conservative Association. On the strength of his contribution today, I think that he is probably held in higher esteem among some of his constituents like me than he is by his own Front-Bench colleagues. He has always shown an admirable consistency.

We have had a number of truly excellent speeches in this debate and I have no doubt at all that the comments today of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) will have sent a shiver round the occupants of No. 10 Downing street, and a warning of battles that are to come. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), who made such an admirable maiden speech and told us about her constituency, will clearly make a big contribution in the House.

I start by referring to what the Foreign Secretary described rather grandiloquently as the Foreign Office's 10-year strategy for the world, which is to be published shortly. I have no doubt whatever that right at the top of his agenda must be the war on terror. We have only to hear the words of the lady who is responsible for our security services and of the chief of police of the Met to understand that the war on terror is critical to our future. Terrorism is a direct threat to all our constituents, and I emphasise today that combating it is our first objective.

The middle east peace process, on which a number of speakers today have commented, must also be right at the top of the Foreign Office's agenda and our national agenda. Quite often, we hear the Prime Minister's honeyed words—I do not doubt his commitment—but it is essential, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) said, that we see more third-party intervention in the middle east peace process in order to bolster support and take forward this critically important endeavour for our own security and for the security of the world. The Gracious Speech refers to tackling the underling causes of conflict and extremism, and in those two specific areas nothing could be more important.

The Gracious Speech contains quite a few measures of which I and my constituents will strongly approve. In Sutton Coldfield, we will be particularly pleased to see that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill has been recommitted because there are a number of protections that we urgently need from the planning process. I am very pleased that seven Bills have been published in draft and that there is a tremendous increase in the amount of pre-legislative scrutiny that is taking place. Nothing could be more important for the respect with which the processes of the House are viewed from outside than that expert bodies on which we seek to legislate should feel that they are properly consulted and their advice taken before legislation is framed and passes through the House.

I approve of the provision for child trusts. Had the last Conservative Government come up with such a proposal, Labour Members would have laughed at it as arch-Thatcherite. However, the proposal is welcome; it is a minor matter and will no doubt pass rapidly through the House.

I am pleased that child protection legislation is envisaged and that the post of children's commissioner will be established. Of course, it is easy to come up with such structural proposals, but it is vital that we prioritise far more than we have in the past legislation to protect our children.

I have previously raised in the House something that saddens me greatly: the tremendous risks to children in Birmingham. The social services inspectorate recently reported that social services in Birmingham are among the worst in the country. The inspectorate expressed serious concerns about vulnerable children and remains uncertain of the authority's capacity for improvement. Health Ministers must be put on notice that we expect provision for the care of children in the Birmingham area to be massively improved. Their urgent attention to that issue is required.

The reaction in Sutton Coldfield to the speech in general will be that the Government should spend more time sorting out the problems that they have failed to solve so far, rather than embarking on new legislation, worthy though some of it may be. The problem with the Government's approach to public services is that although they frequently will the ends, they do not will the means. Nothing demonstrates that more eloquently than what happened to foundation hospitals. They are a good idea and they would genuinely improve the quality of health services for my constituents, but the measure has been so filleted, in order for it to be accepted by Labour Members and the House of Commons, that it is meaningless. The original proposals made by the Prime Minister and the modernisers around him deserved support, but alas they have been so destroyed by pressure from Labour Back Benchers that they are relatively worthless.

If anyone in the City had produced a prospectus on university fees that said, as the Queen's Speech did Upfront tuition fees will be abolished for all full-time students", they would be guilty of misrepresentation and would be up before the Financial Services Authority. The language of those on the Labour Front Bench, as it appears in the Gracious Speech, shows that the Government have not renounced, as they said they would, their propensity for spinning everything.

I have no doubt that radical changes must be made to the funding system for university students, but it is clear that the Government's proposals will be unable to provide the required extra funding. I very much doubt that the measure will get through the House. Were it successful, it would massively increase the amount of debt hanging around the necks of students, which would be a serious mistake.

There is a flaw at the heart of the Government's proposals: a student from a poor family who became a lawyer, perhaps working for a City company such as Linklaters and Paines, where they could be earning hundreds of thousands of pounds quite soon after graduation, would pay nothing back; yet, if someone from a middle-class family in my constituency became a vicar, the level of their parents' earnings could be such that they would have to pay back the fees from their own relatively modest earnings. As far as I am aware, the Government have never addressed that important point.

The Government also will the ends but not the means on defence. We are told that there is to be a defence White Paper. I do not think that any defence White Paper since the Korean war has proposed an increase in spending. Such documents are always Treasury-driven, so they always look for spending cuts. I profoundly hope that that will not be the case on this occasion, although the omens, according to the leaks in the press, are not good. We face huge challenges on defence. On that area at least, in view of my opening remarks, I hope that the Government will will the means as well as the ends.

The Gracious Speech refers to a number of quality of life issues and I shall mention a couple of them. For the past six years the Government have told us that they will tackle crime. We have seen many gimmicks, but precious little reduction in crime. Since 2000, there has been a 15 per cent. increase in the use of guns in muggings here in London. According to the national crime statistics, in the past year we have seen a 19 per cent. increase in violence against persons, an 18 per cent. increase in sexual offences, a nearly 15 per cent. increase in robbery, an 8 per cent. increase in domestic burglary, an 8 per cent. increase in criminal damage and a 12.3 per cent. increase in drug offences. Labour Members are fond of saying that crime rose under the last Conservative Government, but they will also have noticed that during the tenure of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) as Home Secretary crime consistently went down. It is that record that they will have to match, but so far they have lamentably failed to do so.

Taxation is a quality of life issue. When the Government take huge sums through the 60 tax increases that they have imposed, my constituents have less choice in how they spend their money. It is an insult to hard-working families that the Government spend huge sums without much thought and certainly without achieving reform, waving and wafting money over all manner of different public service organisations. The Government will be found out. The case against the Government on taxation goes further than that. Many people, in particular elderly people, live in fear of council tax increases. That, too, is a quality of life issue.

Finally, the Government's approach to our constitution remains a complete dog's breakfast. The Prime Minister shows no respect for the conventions and constitution of our country. I shall raise two specific points. According to the Gracious Speech there is to be a Bill to make preparations for a referendum on the euro. We will undoubtedly look at that with great interest. It will not escape my hon. Friends that this proposition comes at the same time as the stability pact has been torn up by France and Germany. That will have a massive effect on opinion, particularly among the business community who are regularly asked to prepare for the euro in case Britain chooses to join. The evidence of this week alone and the reaction of the German and French Governments to the stability pact demonstrates, if evidence were needed, that the euro remains for them first and foremost a political construct, not an economic one. The best possible advice to British businessmen is to make sure that they do everything they can to ensure that we do not join the euro. It would not give them anything like the economic or financial guarantees that were inherent in the stability pact, but which are now laid bare as completely meaningless

I shall pass over the fact that the Government set their face adamantly against a referendum on the European constitution, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) mentioned this afternoon. We now hear mixed messages from the briefing machine in Downing street that perhaps a referendum could be held. I would be delighted if that were the result, which would be excellent. The Government would be hard put to have any success in such an endeavour.

We have now seen the Government's proposed next stage in their shambolic reform of the House of Lords. I do not hold a particular candle for the hereditary peers, but the Government had an easy option open to them to make the 90 remaining hereditaries life peers. That seamless arrangement would have got the Government what they wanted but would not have insulted many of the most hard-working and effective Members of the House of Lords. The Government have again approached constitutional change with all the instincts of a vandal. [Interruption.] The Minister is showing some signs of chirpiness and life. Nor do I approve of his Government's proposal for an appointments commission. I cannot for the life of me see why we should hand the power to put people into the other place to a distinguished grandee who runs a building society, a political activist from Islington and a governor of the BBC. People should be appointed to the House of Lords through the Prime Minister and through the traditional channels in No. 10 used for such things—those are the correct conventions. Then, if Conservative Members do not like it, we can throw rocks at the Prime Minister, taunt him, tease him and hold him to account at the Dispatch Box for his decisions on who should go into the House of Lords. We are being given a piece of political correctness to appease that argument, but it does not deal with what is required.

In that respect, as well as in many others, the Queen's Speech is deeply defective. There are things that I look forward to supporting and that I think will genuinely help my constituents in Sutton Coldfield, some of which I have mentioned, but by and large it is, alas, as so often with the Government, a litany of missed opportunities and continued failure.

3.46 pm
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con)

Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), I realise that Sutton Coldfield's gain is Islington's loss. Following the energetic and articulate way in which he delivered his speech, it is a privilege to follow him.

Although she has gone, I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) on her admirable maiden speech. I seemed to spend a lot of September in Brent. I was thinking that, if I had tipped that extra 10,000 votes, I would have been deprived of hearing her excellent speech.

I wish to make a few general points on the Queen's Speech. Looking at it and at the papers this morning, it has taken a scatter-gun approach. It seems to have no real theme—if there is one theme, it is of broken pledges on House of Lords reform and on tuition fees. Hardly anything is said on reform of public services. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition put his finger on it yesterday when he said that the approach in the Queen's Speech seems to be of an open wallet and an empty mind.

On higher education and tuition fees, the Prime Minister got it absolutely right when he said that, under a Conservative Government, fewer students would have university places. I agree with the Minister for Children, who said that we do not want Mickey Mouse degrees—people are doing degrees in hairdressing and in shoe design. The best way of funding higher education is a graduate tax, to which I have always been attracted.

As a Member of Parliament for a south London constituency, I give a cautious welcome to the draft Bill on identity cards. I am persuaded by the conversion of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, who considers it necessary for fighting crime in London. That must be taken into account. I give the draft Bill a cautious welcome. I hope that I can persuade Conservative Front Benchers to do the same.

As a London MP, I welcome the transport Bill. Those of us who remember the chaos before the introduction of the congestion charge in central London will realise that something must be done about the way in which utilities work on the roads. I do not particularly expect the Minister or his colleagues to reply to this point tonight, but will the legislation apply to acts by the Mayor of London, who seems to take a hands-on approach to manipulating traffic levels for his political convenience?

I give a cautious welcome to the civil partnership Bill. There is an issue that needs to be addressed—how to deal with property issues relating to same sex couples—but I give a tentative welcome because the details are unclear. Does it relate to taxation matters? Will there be exemptions from capital gains tax and inheritance tax? What happens in the case of a divorce between a couple in a partnership? What rights will platonic couples who live together have?

The theme of today's debate is, of course, foreign affairs. The Government's priority of doing their best to support international stability is essential to the defence and security of this country and to our trading interests. Our focus must be to reduce global tension, especially in the middle east, which is the flashpoint for global conflict wherever it is found. We live in a fast-moving world with a growing population and instant communications, and vigilance and diplomacy are more necessary than ever before.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), I was in Tehran when the Foreign Secretary came to negotiate the agreement on Iran's nuclear capacity. I congratulate him on what he achieved that day, although the picture since has been confusing. The clerics in Iran have crowed that it is a meaningless agreement and the United States has remained critical of the situation in Iran despite it. Indeed, the UN seems to have censured Iran following the agreement, although the basis for that is not clear. We must keep a close watch on the situation, because there are developments of concern to us all.

The case for war, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling dealt with so admirably, does not need repeating by me today. We will come back to the issue in the new year, when we receive the Hutton inquiry's report on the tragic death of Dr. Kelly. Whatever the outcome, it is a matter of trust. If we cannot trust the Government to put it to us straight on the case for war, why should we trust them on anything else that they say? In this case, we would probably have gone along with them, but that problem with trust hampers everything that the Government do. It will be the central theme when we debate the issue next year.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the next time a British Government seek to deploy our forces overseas, everybody will ask whether we can trust that decision, because of the apparent mistrust of the Iraq decision? It will make it much more difficult for any future Government of any colour to convince the House and the people of the necessity for military action.

Richard Ottaway

I agree. The parallel is with the boy who cried wolf. I could not disagree with a word of the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), and he made a similar point.

The situation in Iraq today is tense. We have daily attacks, with terrorists loyal to Saddam freely operating in the country. I was struck by a letter I received today from the Free Iraq Council, which claims that some 30,000 fighters are operating inside Iraq. The borders to Syria and Iran are also open. I am sorry that we no longer have a Foreign Office Minister on the Front Bench—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin)

What do you think I am?

Richard Ottaway

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon, but he changes Departments so often. Given that it now seems to be common knowledge that terrorists are entering Iraq through Syria and Iran, I hope that the Minister who winds up the debate will tell us what is being done about that. Will we just acquiesce, or will we join the United States in sanctions against Syria? We cannot sit back and do nothing. The situation in Iraq is very difficult. There are attacks in Baghdad, which appear to be co-ordinated. The situation is unstable and it raises question marks over the extent to which we are in control.

The Foreign Secretary spoke about the plans for a handover to a transitional Iraqi Government. Those remarks are obviously welcome, but I query whether the situation is stable enough at the moment for that type of handover. It will work only if it is sustainable and the rule of law can be maintained. The Government must not overplay their hand. They exaggerated the case for war; they should not now exaggerate the case for peace. I am not convinced that the climate is right. If the Government try a handover and fail, it will be a disaster and set back the cause out there for very many years.

I nevertheless consider that the Government should spell out in much greater detail the post-transitional arrangements. What is the plan? What is the exit strategy? Are we planning for troops to be there for many years? We also need to address with care the need for extra investment; for example, the oil industry must be a top priority for the transitional Government.

I shall now discuss the war against terrorism in the wider scale. The campaign is relentless; there will be no let-up. We shall live with it for generations. Some say that this is all the fault of the war in Iraq. I have no doubt that the invasion has agitated the situation but, as many people have pointed out, it is a long-running campaign. I cannot remember the date of the attack on the USS Cole, but it was several years ago; it certainly pre-dated 9/11.

I was listening the other day to a lawyer who was speaking, I think, in the context of Guantanamo bay. I do not criticise her position, but she said that this was not a war by definition. I believe that it is a war; it is simply that the rules have changed. Usually, wars are waged against other countries, but now we have an unseen enemy who leaves no fingerprints, observes no boundaries and dies for the cause—as suicide bombers—and we must recognise that the rules of the game have changed. The events of 11 September changed everything; the United States now marches to a different drumbeat.

I wish that I had had a chance to listen to President Bush's speech in the Banqueting House, but none of us got an invitation. He spoke of the bombings in Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Bombay, Mombasa, Najaf, Jerusalem, Riyadh and Istanbul, and in all these, the common theme was that they targeted innocent people regardless of their religion. He said that if the people who perpetrate these crimes could get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, they would use them, killing millions of people, and that we must face these threats and defeat them.

It is important to address what is going on in the Islamic world. I appreciate that this is the most sensitive of subjects, but I am concerned that much of this terrorism is being done in the name of Islam, yet the Muslims in my constituency do not recognise what is going on and it is not their way. The Minister for Europe, who sadly is not in the Chamber, rather blundered into this recently in his comments, when he said that the Muslim world must choose between the British way and the way of the terrorist. I know what he was trying to say, but I think it was rather inept. The question that he must put to the Muslim world is about what it is doing to prevent this happening again.

The terrorists say that they are responding to the call of a jihad, and that that is the duty of all Muslims. My judgment is that it is no such thing, and that the challenge to moderate Islam is to find ways to deal with this very difficult situation and put pressure on the fundamentalists to persuade them that they are going down the wrong path and that they should reject the way of terror.

At the heart of all this is the dispute between Israel and Palestine. That is a cause for which terrorists around the world campaign, and it is how they justify their actions. I have no doubt that that conflict is the sparkplug and flashpoint for global instability, that there will be no peace in the world until it is truly resolved and that it should be our No. 1 priority.

The road map was published in June last year. It is performance-based and goal-driven, with a two-state solution, but the key to its success—I made this point in my intervention on the Foreign Secretary, who did not demur—is that it needs third-party involvement to make it happen. The road map calls for an independent, democratic and viable state by 2005. That is a hugely challenging concept, but it is based on a weak document. However, it is the only plan that we have. It is consensual and it has international backing, and it must be made to work.

The problem with the road map is that there is no dispute resolution procedure. To give an illustration, it states that the Palestinian Authority must undertake visible efforts to prevent attacks on Israelis. The then Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, said that that issue, as well as unauthorised weapons, must be addressed. Hamas immediately said in response that it would not disarm until Israel ended its occupation. Those are entrenched positions, and the situation worsens.

Prime Minister Sharon, who is considered a moderate and pragmatic politician in Israeli politics, is under considerable pressure and has agreed to the construction of the separation wall, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling referred. The wall would be okay if it was built within recognised boundaries, but it is not. That is the problem, and that dilemma has been well illustrated.

I am a great supporter of Israel's right to exist. As a serving officer, I was in Aden in 1967, when the six-day war started, and the British Government's immediate reaction was to support the Israelis. I was proud to be part of that, but what is going on now is not the way to proceed. However, the Palestinians are not helping. There is huge mistrust in Israel. A ship carrying aid was arrested by Israel, as it was carrying arms procured by the Palestinian Authority from Iraq. President Arafat's wife, Suha, said that, if she had a son, he would be a suicide bomber. How can a peace settlement be achieved against that sort of background?

Dr. Julian Lewis

Is my hon. Friend aware of the fact that one of the principal suicide bombers' organisations—the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade—is organically linked to Yasser Arafat and is indeed a militant arm of Yasser Arafat's own organisation?

Richard Ottaway

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. That is the problem. The latest reports in the past few weeks from Yasser Arafat show that he is perhaps beginning to appreciate that he has to do something about those links, but there is a long way to go.

The United States was right to lean on Israel by withdrawing its loan guarantee support. If there is a way to persuade Israel to review its policy, it is economic. The economy is not good in Israel. Strikes are widespread, and unemployment is high and rising. My central point is that international intervention is needed. The present arrangements are under-resourced and have no power. The monitors report to their own Governments. Sustained and robust intervention is needed, as well as a third-party arbiter. We have seen that before in Israel—monitors have been in place ever since the 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt and they have worked very successfully—but who is the right party to intervene? The US is wary because it will be an election year and there is worry about upsetting the Jewish vote. Frankly, any one of the Quartet could step in to take its place. There is the EU or the UN—Kofi Annan has called for an intervention—but whoever intervenes must work to end violence. We need a conflict resolution mechanism, an exchange of security information and the creation of secure conditions that will allow economic activity and a return to normal life.

The challenge will be to inch the parties along on a parallel course so that confidence can be increased, in the same way as we have seen peace developing in Northern Ireland. It needs a robust engagement and I call on the Government to make it their No. 1 priority; otherwise global instability will continue, which is in no one's interests.

4.5 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)

It is always a pleasure to follow my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), and I would like to start by developing some of his points about the middle east, which should also be viewed in the context of what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), whose speech was a significant and powerful indictment of the Government's approach to Iraq. He began with a description of the wall that is currently disfiguring the occupied territories, and I concur with everything that he said about it.

We should not for one minute forget the fact that the position was wholly unacceptable even before the wall was erected. Roads have been built all over the occupied territories, to which the people who live there legally—the Palestinians—have no access. Access points to the new roads are denied to them. If they drive on the roads, their cars are stopped and impounded by the Israeli security forces. The illegal settlements in those areas dominate all the high ground, and all the Palestinian settlements have been subject to the most disgraceful intimidation—quite apart from the degrading treatment that they have received at check points when they try to cross within their own territory.

I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South, and to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) who intervened to point out that the al-Aqsa Brigades were intimately linked to Yasser Arafat, that that is not remotely surprising. Anyone who has visited a Palestinian refugee camp, as I did last year, will know that the al-Aqsa Brigades and their supporters represent, frankly, the mainstream of Palestinian opinion in those camps. As I say, that is not surprising in view of their experience as a people over the last 50 years.

Dr. Julian Lewis

One problem is that many people friendly to Israel, such as myself, do not particularly admire the present Government of Israel, but have to ask themselves why that Government came to power. One of the answers is that the moderate Barak Israeli Government, who brought events to within a whisker of a two-state solution, were rejected primarily by Israel's Arab neighbours. That is probably the reason why the hard-liners came out on top in Israeli society.

Mr. Blunt

I commend to my hon. Friend, whom I know to be a fair-minded man, the work of the Palestinian negotiators support unit, which is funded by our Department for International Development and gives legal advice to the Palestinian leadership. The unit would provide a clear exposition on why that solution was not a fair solution in the eyes of the Palestinian people and could not be sold to them. My hon. Friend is right that we need to work towards a solution, and we must accept that any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will be rejected by extremists on either side. After any agreement, terrorism remains highly likely to continue from either extreme in either camp. We have seen the tragic assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by an Israeli extremist, and I am equally certain that any Palestinian leader who signs a settlement with the Government of Israel will be putting his life in peril, as did President Sadat when he settled with Israel over the return of Sinai. It is simply no good for the Government of Israel to say that until there is no terrorism at all, there will be no deal. That is no basis on which to proceed.

Our Prime Minister has made the achievement of progress on the middle east peace process an extremely high priority, but the tragedy is that he has failed to get real American pressure on the Israeli Government to come to a settlement. I shall return to the wider point about the Prime Minister and our relationship with the United States. However, the middle east peace process is a good example of an absolute No. 1 priority for the United Kingdom in the Prime Minister's eyes. He managed to get Mr. Bush's attention on the issue but, when it came to the US doing anything to exercise leverage over the Israeli Government, nothing effective happened. I shall return to the detail of our bilateral relationship with the US in a moment.

I want to follow up the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling about the reasons for the war. I wholly concur with his indictment of the Government about the false reasons that they gave for the war, but I point out to him and the House that the Government have form. They did the same over Kosovo. They took us to war over Kosovo without the benefit of a United Nations resolution, and they justified it in terms of the humanitarian catastrophe that then overcame the people of Kosovo and was caused by the bombing of Serbian forces in Kosovo by the United States and the United Kingdom. That led to the expulsion of many Kosovans from Kosovo. The war then became justified on the basis of what had happened but, to a large extent, that was caused by our military action.

The Government have taken us to war five times in six years. With such willingness to go to war, perhaps it was hardly surprising that the Kosovo Liberation Army was wise enough to begin a campaign of terrorism inside Kosovo in 1996. The campaign followed the Dayton accords, and it led to Serbian repression and an incompetent, ill-managed overreaction from President Milosevic's forces. That led directly to the Clinton and Blair Administrations being drawn into action in Kosovo without the UN's authority.

We should remember just how close we came to NATO breaking up. The air campaign was meant to work within 72 hours, but it took 78 days before the whole campaign was rescued by the Russians persuading President Milosevic to withdraw his forces from Kosovo. By that time, the Prime Minister had become convinced of the necessity for a ground campaign. He had to convince the Americans of the necessity for that campaign to rescue a military action that was not working. Had that campaign taken place to bring the war to a conclusion, NATO might have faced the most enormous difficulty, with other NATO countries being absolutely opposed to a ground invasion.

The lesson for the Government is that they have been far too willing to enter into military action without properly exploring all the potential consequences of that action. If they fail to justify properly the military action that they take, they will, as the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) made clear, take the most appalling risk with their ability to convince the electorate of the need to take military action when there is a real and absolutely pressing need to do so.

I wish to concentrate the rest of my speech on British influence and interests and to focus on the position of our Prime Minister. I believe that no Prime Minister since Winston Churchill has enjoyed such stature in the United States as the current Prime Minister does today. Even Lady Thatcher in her heyday did not enjoy the universal acclaim accorded to the Prime Minister, which reached its spectacular climax with that extraordinary joint session of Congress in July. That was not the first time that he had received a tumultuous reception from Congress. When President Bush addressed the emergency session of Congress in the wake of the events of 11 September, the Prime Minister was there. He received a standing ovation on his arrival in the Senate and during the President's address. The President addressed his remarks directly to the Prime Minister and said: Thank you for coming, friend. Twice in two years, the British Prime Minister has received a unique accolade that has been delivered with huge warmth and enthusiasm by the most powerful legislature that the world has ever known. Of course, the image favour was returned last week. The President made his state visit and had pictures taken with Her Majesty—no doubt the pictures have been safely banked for next year's election campaign.

All that makes it more galling to those of us who fundamentally believe in the Atlantic alliance that such influence and status have failed to deliver effective protection of British interests in the substance of American policy not only on post-war Iraq but in several other key areas of British interest. Our wider reputation in the rest of the world has suffered. Poodle is the term most frequently used by British ambassadors who report back on how Britain is viewed by their host countries.

A British Prime Minister who achieves great respect in the United States should be viewed as an important national success, but that achievement should be for something other than the self-image of the individual. The uncomfortable truth that we must face is that the Prime Minister has achieved his personal status, to an extent, at the expense of British interests. It has come to a pretty pass when the great achievement of our influence on the United States that is seen during the President's visit to this country is a hint—no more than that mind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that we might have the singular honour of having some of our citizens in Guantanamo bay returned to us for trial here.

The debit side of the bilateral relationship is rather more substantial. Under the current American Administration, farmers have been given such spectacular subsidies that the common values of global free trade have been appallingly violated and the hand of the French and the subsidisers in the European Union has been reinforced. All that has been directly contrary to British interests and led directly to the collapse of the latest world trade round, which was a disaster for a nation such as ours that relies more on free trade than any other large nation in the world.

Steel tariffs have been imposed, with a direct cost for British steel producers and at the expense of a growing trade war between the European Union and the United States, in which Britain will lose the most. Kyoto was denounced by the Americans. The International Criminal Court has been made largely worthless by American non-participation. On the Prime Minister's central plank of policy in the middle east, as I have said, the Americans have failed to use their leverage to help to find a solution for Israel and Palestine. Indeed, the policy was actively derailed by supporters of Prime Minister Sharon in the United States Administration. We should not forget that the Prime Minister's efforts to persuade President Clinton to commit ground troops to the war in Kosovo failed.

We now see the consequences of our full-blooded support for the United States in the war on Iraq with the tragic consequences of the attack on British interests in Turkey. I accept that that was the inevitable consequence of a policy that I support, but it forms part of the debit side of the bilateral relationship. Our interests should be protected in return for the risks that we run and the investment that we put into the relationship.

People will say that, although there are overt signs of limited British influence, underneath that, during direct discussions between the Foreign Secretary and Colin Powell, and Sir David Manning—in his previous capacity—and Condoleezza Rice, some real, sophisticated British guidance is effectively being given to the naive and heavy-handed Americans. If that were true, the occupation of Iraq would not be such a mess, but the UK is tied to a Pentagon-led occupation that has experienced dreadful and avoidable misjudgments. Frankly, we should have prevented the Pentagon from being in charge in the first place. It should have been possible for a Prime Minister with huge public status in the United States decisively to influence the American Administration's internal debate in our interests, not to mention their own, but he failed to do so.

The early plan was for the State Department to lead the administration of the occupation and the change from coalition to Iraqi control. Eight months of State Department planning ended in an internal American Administration victory for the Pentagon. All the expertise on the region and the need for a political process to take precedence were handed over to the Pentagon when security priorities were put in the lead-a direct rejection of British experience for the past 100 years or more. It led to the two most serious misjudgments: the dismantling of the Iraqi army and the Iraqi civil administration. Saddam Hussein had largely removed the zealots from the Iraqi army by creating the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard. Any country needs an army, not least one the size of Iraq. The decision to put 300,000 men on the streets with no pay and to create Iraqi security forces from scratch was a dreadful mistake. We should not wonder why there is significant, well-organised resistance to coalition forces.

All that could have been avoided had the UK exercised real influence within the American Administration. The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence implored their American counterparts to put far greater resources into dealing with the aftermath of war on Iraq from July 2002. It is true that the Department for International Development was working to rule on preparing for post-war Iraq during 2002. Despite the fact that the rest of the Government were prepared for the inevitability of war, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) refused to believe that it would happen.

The problem for the UK is that a junior partner that is taken for granted has no influence. That is how the UK is now regarded around the world. The Prime Minister is seen, to a degree, as President Bush's Foreign Secretary who simply travels rather more than Colin Powell in pursuit of American policy goals. The Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that the Americans are pragmatic. They will work with those who give them something useful in return. Britain's support is of enormous value, and that is why our Prime Minister is so highly regarded in the United States, but if in dealing with the Americans we do not follow the basic principle of negotiations—that we are prepared to walk away—we can hardly complain if our interests are walked over.

The Prime Minister's status is personal. It reflects the very personal way in which he conducts foreign policy. He believes not only in his ability as a mediator, but in the moral purpose of his mission. That is why we have gone to war five times in six years under his premiership. His beliefs have led to Britain being caught up in an American policy based on a new doctrine of American primacy and pre-emption that is the product of only one part, although the dominant part at the moment, of the American Administration. Under the Prime Minister, Britain has bought in completely to that approach, yet it is highly questionable whether the strategy will survive engagement in Iraq, let alone whether it is in the interest of the UK. Never have we been so committed to United States policy; never have we been so taken for granted. The irony should not be missed: our Prime Minister has all the appearance of influence—the image of importance in the US—yet that influence is a chimera, never effectively deployed to advance British interests. Style has triumphed over substance again.

4.23 pm
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con)

I hope hon. Members have noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and I have felt it necessary to initiate a debate on the Opposition Benches in light of the fact that on the second day of the new Session the Government are represented at this moment in the debate on the Queen's Speech by the Minister, the Whip and the Parliamentary Private Secretary. They are not doing very well. Before the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) gets too jovial, I should explain that whereas Conservative Members outnumber Labour Members by 3:1, we outnumber Liberal Democrats by 10:1. Having said that, however, it is naturally a pleasure for me to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), who I am sure will shortly be resuming her place, on her excellent maiden speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) said that he spent much of September in Brent, East, sadly to little effect. I spent much of August in the High Court, I hope to somewhat greater effect. I am glad to say that I was not in the dock. I was not even in the witness box. I was watching from the wings at the Hutton inquiry as a succession of Ministers from the Prime Minister downwards, a succession of civil servants and a succession of journalists were paraded for the edification of the public as to the inner workings of this new Labour Government in the run-up to the war on Iraq, although admittedly the terms of the inquiry are more narrowly defined to the events that led to Dr. Kelly's tragic death.

I wish, seeing that there is such an absence of Government representation this afternoon, to try to do a little favour for the Government and try to make a case for the Government. I am not sure that I will entirely agree with my own arguments as I do so, but I will see what I can do to add a little grit to the oyster, as it were, in the hope that a few pearls might be formed.

At the Hutton inquiry on 21 August, something was said by one of the journalists—Nicholas Rufford—which I found revealing and informative. It was to remind us of what a weapon of mass destruction really is. The essence of such a weapon is that it is a relatively small device that can cause, if used, a large number of deaths and injuries. So it is in the nature of a weapon of mass destruction that it is easy to conceal. Nicholas Rufford, in his testimony—I found it to be rather reliable and convincing—about a telephone conversation that he had had with Dr. Kelly in June 2003, said that he, Dr. Kelly, mentioned that. it was very easy to hide weapons of mass destruction because you simply had to dig a hole in the desert, put them inside, cover them with a tarpaulin, cover them with sand and then they would be almost impossible to discover. If that is true, it is hardly surprising that nobody has yet managed to discover these devices, if they exist. We can be sure that if Saddam decided to conceal them, he had plenty of time to do so. Saddam evidently decided to conceal himself, and so far he—a human individual—probably not much smaller in bulk than a fairly lethal dose, if we were to measure the dimensions of chemical and biological weapons, has not been discovered either, despite the best efforts of an army of people to find him.

Later testimony at the Hutton inquiry on 21 August came from a former British ambassador to Prague, Mr. David Broucher, who at one stage seemed to be contradicting the testimony that had been given in the morning. He said, recollecting a distant conversation that he had had with Dr. Kelly, that he thought that Dr. Kelly felt that inspections properly carried out would give a degree of certainty about compliance. That appeared at first impression to contradict what the journalist had stated was Dr. Kelly's view—that it was well nigh impossible to find weapons of mass destruction such as biological and chemical devices if they had been systematically concealed.

But Mr. Broucher went on to explain that it was from Dr. Kelly's experience in Iraq that his judgment was that you could gain quite a lot of certainty about compliance with the Convention"— on biological weapons— because, in the case of Iraq, there were very precise written records about what they had made and destroyed. This was something he said that they had learned from the British. One would think that, if it was going to be well nigh impossible to discover systematically concealed chemical and biological weapons without assistance, it would have been a top priority of the coalition to have two intelligence targets. One would be the personnel who had a hand in the production, storage and concealment of those weapons, and in that sense the coalition has done quite well in apprehending the individuals concerned. The other would be the documents in the Foreign and Defence Ministries and the intelligence headquarters giving the details of where the weapons had been produced, where they had been stored and where they had been hidden.

We all know, however, that the task of going after the documents was lamentably neglected. We know the story of how even a fortnight after the fall of Baghdad on 9 April this year journalists, not to mention looters, were going in and out of the Ministries, rifling the contents, destroying some and taking away the rest. It must be said that if the campaign had been properly planned, properly thought through and properly executed, such neglect would never have been allowed to happen.

At the end of the second world war, for example, the Americans and the British set up something called the combined intelligence objectives committee, which was specifically designed to target documents, weapons systems and scientists and to make sure that they were secured and brought back to this country and the United States. I have yet to receive a convincing explanation from our Government as to why that did not happen.

So much for a Government failure. But I think that the Government could have made a stronger case than they did for going to war. I consistently supported them in their wish to go to war, and I think that where they went wrong was in thinking themselves too narrowly confined by what they interpreted international law as saying at the present time are the only grounds on which one can go to war. What are those grounds? I think that there are three, as commonly understood.

As commonly understood, we can go to war if we or allies of ours are attacked. As commonly understood, we can go to war if we or our allies are in imminent danger of being attacked. And as commonly understood, we can go to war, somewhat more controversially, as we have heard in the debate today, if we believe that our military intervention is necessary to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Where I think the Government went wrong was in slavishly trying to twist the facts and to make a presentation to enable one or other of those existing perceptions of international law to come into play.

Let us look at the three of them again. We could not say that we were going to war because we or an ally had been attacked—that had applied in 1990 when Saddam invaded Kuwait, but he had not done anything like that this time. As for the third reason, the humanitarian catastrophe that had to be prevented, we could hardly say that we were doing that this time. After all, despite those hundreds of thousands of victims who are now, retrospectively and belatedly, being mourned by the Government, we had not intervened to save them, so it would be rather strange to say that we were suddenly becoming conscience-stricken and had to intervene to stop Saddam.

That left the Government with the middle reason—the reason of imminent danger of attack. Looking at the matter as I now can, because we have had that inner sight of what was going on in the intelligence community, which we were denied at the time when we had to take these decisions, I believe that the Government tried to invest every scrap of intelligence, half-intelligence, semi-intelligence and pseudo-intelligence with a degree of significance which, in the cold light of day, perhaps it did not fully bear. That is why the Government did what they did.

What should the Government have done? I said that I would try to make the case for the Government, and they may feel that I have not been trying very hard up to now. I see the Minister smiling. I believe the Government should have said that international law is not fixed in concrete or set in aspic. If it is to be taken seriously, international law must evolve in order to recognise circumstances as they develop in the world. International law has yet fully to adjust to the significance of 11 September 2001. Before September 2001, in so far as these matters had impinged on our consciousness widely in America and the United Kingdom, we relied on principles of containment and deterrence. Those principles had served us well.

With the advent of the suicide terrorist, however, those principles, though not falsified in general, are no longer sufficient. In the past it might have been enough to say that with respect to a country such as Iraq, with a regime such as Saddam's, which has a track record of trying to get weapons of mass destruction, we would contain and deter it because we thought that whatever else those people are—they may be ruthless, brutal and bestial—they are not idiotic. They are quite calculating, and the last thing they want is their own lives to be prematurely ended.

We could have taken the view that we could live with the possibility that Saddam had the potential to create such weapons, even though we might not be sure whether he still had them. Post-September 2001, that is no longer adequate. It is no longer satisfactory to say that we are content that rogue regimes with a track record of trying to get weapons of mass destruction or, in the case of Saddam, actually getting weapons of mass destruction, and in the case of Saddam, using weapons of mass destruction, should be allowed to go their own sweet way. We can no longer accept even the possibility that a country with such a regime—still less a country in which such a regime might give way to another regime that might be more closely allied with the suicidal Islamist movements that could have taken over, and could yet take over, if we make a mess of the handover in Iraq after the end of Saddam's rule—might create those weapons and hand them over to groups that could not be deterred by any rational method from using those weapons, because such groups use suicide terrorists who believe they are going to paradise when they die.

I am drawing my remarks to a conclusion, and I shall end on a slightly more positive note. A few months ago I was delighted to be contacted by the secretary of a group called the Islamic Society of Britain. I should like to inform the House that a group like that, which regularly holds panel discussions and meetings in the House of Commons, is out there ready to engage, usually from a different political perspective, but on democratic terms, with those of us who believe in dialogue, debate and discussion.

I have had the privilege of taking part in two of the society's events in the House of Commons. It was interesting when, during the second event, towards the end of our discussions—lively discussions on the middle east, as one might expect—two or three people successively rose to their feet and started to rant at the assembled people that they should not be sharing the platform with infidels and that jihad was the only way. What was impressive about the incident was not only that in the large assembly of people present there was no support whatever for those extreme views, or that it was entirely agreed that those individuals should resume their seats and, if they did not do so, we should ask the police to remove them, but that it was obvious that those few individuals who were trying to wreck the discussion saw the danger of a relationship between moderate young British people of the Islamic faith and the democratic political process which that meeting represented. I take encouragement from the fact that such a dialogue is going on. I believe that Islamist extremists are no more representative of the Muslim community than the extreme left was representative of socialist democratic opinion in this country in the 1960s, 70s and, to some extent, 80s.

I believe that there is hope for the future, but we have to ask ourselves one question. Why do some people believe that they will go to paradise if they kill themselves while killing civilians in a suicide attack? They must have got those beliefs from somewhere—someone must have inculcated and taught them those beliefs. The religious hierarchy of the Muslim community must try to explain on religious grounds why those beliefs are false. If people do not think that they will go to a better world if they do such terrible things, they might be dissuaded from doing them in future.

4.42 pm
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con)

I start by adding my congratulations to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) on her maiden speech. As one who also made his maiden speech in this Parliament, I can say that she comfortably put mine in the shade and that she will clearly be a great asset to the House.

It is, as always, a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). He has a wonderfully lucid and informed style and made his customary considerable contribution to the debate.

The Queen's Speech debate on international affairs takes place, once again, against a backdrop that can only be described as challenging. The past year has witnessed the war in Iraq and the ongoing post-conflict situation; the continuation of the fight against international terrorism, particularly in Afghanistan; concerns about weapons of mass destruction in places such as Iran and North Korea; the ongoing middle east crisis; and, lest we forget, problems in sub-Saharan Africa, in countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo and Zimbabwe. I fear that there is little to suggest that the coming year will be any less turbulent. However, those of us who are interested in defence await the publication of the defence White Paper, due next month, and I shall address my remarks today to the background to that review.

Our world has seldom been more dangerous. For more than 45 years after world war two, defence policy was governed by the certainties of the cold war. With the collapse of the Berlin wall, all that changed. There was talk of peace dividends and brave new worlds, but instead, freed from the straitjacket of communism, the world became a radically more dangerous place. Sir Anthony Parsons, our former ambassador at the United Nations, brilliantly summed up the position with the phrase: From Cold War to Hot Peace. The indications of that new and dangerous terrorist threat were evident throughout the 90s, from the World Trade Centre to the USS Cole and the embassy bombings in Africa. They finally reached fruition in the attacks on the twin towers on 9/11, with the loss of more than 3,500 lives including, lest we forget, the single largest loss of British lives to a terrorist action.

This is a new and utterly lethal enemy, which wants not simply to occupy our country, as others have in the past, but to destroy our entire way of life. Our response to that enemy must be more proactive, wide-ranging and co-ordinated. International institutions have a large part to play. The modern world needs strong international institutions. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, has talked at length about the need to repair the fractured institutions of NATO, the United Nations and the EU. It is a tragedy that they are weakened and divided at the very time when the need for them is so great. NATO needs to be reformed and refocused so that an institution that won the cold war can be turned into one that can meet the challenges of the 21st century. It is vital that it remains the cornerstone of our defence.

The United Nations also needs to be reformed. In an excellent debate in the House three weeks ago, a number of areas requiring reform were highlighted, including structure, financing and staff recruitment. There was widely held admiration across the House for the UN's work in many areas. As a number of Members said, the glass is half full rather than half empty. However, there was recognition across the House that the UN must change and reform. With the entry of accession states into the EU, existing practices must change. In future, there may well be ways in which EU countries can work together in the spheres of defence and foreign policy, but the track record thus far is not encouraging. In Bosnia in the early 90s, there was a ridiculous situation in which the French backed the Serbs, the Germans backed the Croats, we were sitting in the middle, and the Americans backed the Bosnian Muslims. The lessons were clearly not learned, as those divisions were present again in the recent Iraq crisis. I suspect that the countries of the EU have their own historical links and attachments, which it is unrealistic to expect them to drop in a new and untested system.

Three practical issues cause me concern, the first of which is overstretching. The European security and defence policy can only be an extra commitment for our already overstretched armed forces. New headquarters will have to be manned and employed. Where on earth will the manpower come from to meet that new commitment? There is also the technology gap. The United States is the world's only hyperpower, and Britain is unlikely to mount a full-scale war without it. Better, surely, to ally ourselves with it in a tried and tested alliance such as NATO than to open up a new front.

There is also a huge cultural difference between NATO and the EU, because as an organisation the EU tends to concentrate on inward matters. The current international threat requires outward-looking solutions and an outward-reaching focus, but I wonder whether the EU in this day and age is capable of delivering that. International institutions are only one aspect of defence policy. We need to broaden the scope of defence policy to react to the new and increasingly complex political and military environment. Asymmetric threats demand responses that are not purely military but are often political, humanitarian, economic and legal. Iraq is an extremely good example. The military response—the fighting of the war—was an outstanding success, but the political preparations were clearly inadequate, and we are paying the price for that now. I am not alone in thinking so. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), the former Secretary of State for International Development, said that preparations for the post-conflict situation were inadequate."—[Official Report, 4 June 2003; Vol. 405, c. 210.] That must never happen again.

The build-up to the war in Iraq also highlighted the inadequacies of the international legal system. As somebody put it to me at the time, "You can get international law to prove almost anything." International law must be updated to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

A number of lessons must be learned and the relevant structures put in place, but there are also lessons to be learned at political, strategic and military levels. On the political front, if ever the importance of a clear aim, a fundamental military principle, was shown, it was during the current Iraq crisis. The 1991 Gulf war had a clear, simple and achievable aim. By contrast, in this conflict we moved from weapons of mass destruction to international terrorism to regime change, with huge implications for the military. The constant shifting of the war aim is directly linked to many of the difficulties that we have seen in the post-conflict environment.

At a strategic level, the conflict in Iraq also showed the need for reliable intelligence. I fear that the Iraq war may go down as one of the greatest intelligence failures of modern time. That is evident not only in the case of weapons of mass destruction but in the failure to predict that the Iraqi army would fade in the early stages of the war and that urban guerrilla warfare would predominate afterwards. The Government must examine the reasons for that failure and do everything to ensure that it never happens again.

A number of military lessons can also be learned directly from the crisis in Iraq. Before I come to that however, two points are worth making. First, the fighting of the war in Iraq was an outstanding success. I suspect that the campaign will be studied in staff colleges across the world for many years to come as a classic of its type. It is right that we in this House should record our gratitude not only to the men and women of the armed forces who did the fighting but to all those at the Ministry of Defence, at Permanent Joint Headquarters and at other defence establishments who were involved in the planning and execution. I hope that the Foreign Secretary, whom I am delighted to see back in his place, and other Ministers feel proud of their achievements in that regard.

One other wholly extraordinary feature of the conflict is not so much that the operation demanded so many different phases of war, from the delivery of humanitarian aid to the actual war fighting, but that it demanded so many of them simultaneously. I do not believe that that has ever happened before, and to pull it off was a remarkable achievement.

However, there are lessons that can be learned. I think that all would agree that there was a lack of an adequate strategic deployment force. A heavy strategic lift capability based on aircraft will be vital in the years ahead. There was also a lack of a strategic and operational intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance concept. I am told that unmanned aerial vehicles flew 3 per cent. of the sorties but acquired 55 per cent. of the targets. If that is true, our forces must plan now for the integration and manning of the new Watchkeeper equipment, because that will be a vital area of the modern battlefield.

There is also the perennial problem of communications, which is vital for network-centric warfare. A recent visit that I made to HMS Marlborough highlighted that problem. We looked at the desk at which the principal warfare officer sat, and there were his computers in front of him and the American one behind him. The two systems were wholly unintegrated. That clearly cannot work in future.

There is also the question of the identification of friendly forces. My own regiment suffered in that regard during the Iraq war. The development of an electronic identification system must be a top technical priority for the Ministry of Defence. Finally, I should like to mention a few of the issues concerning equipment. The carriers are clearly a topic of the moment. Last week during a cross-party group visit, the flag officer sea training made the point clearly that the new carriers must be as big as possible to generate the maximum number of sorties.

There is also and will always be a need for heavy war-fighting equipment. Challenger 2, Warrior and AS90 have all proved themselves in recent years to be battle-winning assets. As recently as this summer, one of the brigade commanders in Iraq described the Challenger 2 battle tank to me as the man of the match. I would wholly welcome moves to develop a medium armoured force, based around the future rapid effects system concept, but it must not be at the expense of our heavy capability.

This year, the debate on the Queen's Speech once again takes place against a difficult and dangerous international backdrop. Our response to the threats must be more proactive, more co-ordinated and more wide-ranging than ever before. The defence White Paper, due out next month, must take into account the need to strengthen our international institutions and to anchor our defence policy in NATO. It must develop the formal mechanisms to integrate political, military, economic and humanitarian responses to the threats of modern warfare. It must review the organisation of our armed forces, which must be driven by a current threat assessment, not by the Treasury.

We certainly need to develop and support the modern equipment necessary to fight network-centric warfare, but that must not be at the expense of manpower. Even in a modern battlefield, we still need men, women and equipment "to take and hold the ground", in military terms. It is hard to imagine any strategic analysis, especially after five wars in six years, that could possibly justify a reduction in manpower.

Finally, the most important thing is that the defence review recognises that the men and women of our armed forces are our most important assets. They are feeling overstretched and unappreciated at present, and we must correct that. Without them, nothing is possible.

4.56 pm
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con)

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) who, as a former regular officer, always speaks on military matters with real knowledge and experience. He and I have a link, as I have just learned that his regiment suffered a friendly fire incident in the recent Iraq conflict and my regiment, the Royal Fusiliers, suffered a similar shocking incident during the first Iraq war.

It was also a pleasure to listen to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather). I am sure that all Members agree that she spoke with great style and poise and will join me in wishing her well in Parliament

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) opened the debate for the Opposition. He pointed out the huge inconsistency in the Government's position on the European constitution. They say that it is a matter of such little importance-a mere tidying-up exercise—that it is not necessary to put it before the British people, yet at the same time they say that the matters before our country are so urgent that they may need to veto the whole treaty. Those two positions cannot logically be held at the same time. We should be aware of that significant point.

I was pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned Zimbabwe and Burma. It is certainly true that the UN has failed those countries especially poorly. We have a special duty to the people of Zimbabwe, a country in which I declare a personal interest, as my great-great uncle showed Cecil Rhodes where it was. The situation is appalling, with nearly 6 million people facing starvation. The citizens of Zimbabwe rightly look to the UK to make a serious effort at the UN on their behalf. If we can do that for Iraq, we can do it on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe—we have been remiss in that regard.

Similarly, Burma is all too prone to slip from the gaze of the international community. The UN should consider the situation there much more seriously.

We have heard some outstanding speeches this afternoon. I do not think I am showing bias by saying that they came mostly from the Opposition Benches, as we have heard relatively few contributions from the Government Benches.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) was right to say that, as a loyal partner of the United States, the UK needs to make sure that we are not ignored by the US. There should be some payback for our loyalty to and support of the United States, but that has often been lacking.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) correctly pointed out that international law has not caught up with events after 11 September. That is one of the most urgent issues facing the world community, if we are properly to deal with such threats legally in the future. He raised an important matter, and we are all indebted to him.

I pay particular attention to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), who put with greater clarity and force than I have heard to date the appalling fact that the Government are now claiming a justification for the war with Iraq which they clearly said in column 772 of Hansard of 18 March was not a legal one. That is a shocking state of affairs. The British people will not easily forgive or understand it.

I understand that during these debates it is the convention for hon. Members to raise issues in any part of the Queen's Speech or that they think should have been included. I want to move away from international affairs to consider one or two items that I am extremely sorry that the Government have not included. In particular on social policy, I believe that family breakdown and father absence are among the most severe issues facing us. The figures are shocking. Recently we learned that a quarter of all dependent British children live in single-parent households. The average across the European Union is 14 per cent. When I mention that figure, many people suggest that that must be because the Catholic south, with its greater sense of family values, brings the average down. They are wrong in that assumption. In the Netherlands and Luxembourg, only one in 10 children live in single-parent families.

This country sticks out poorly and worryingly in this area. The situation causes massive distress to parents and children and it costs the country a huge amount—a conservative estimate is about £15 billion a year. We spend peanuts by comparison on trying to do something about the problem—about £5 million or £6 million a year through the Mars—marriage and relationship support—programme and support for community-founded trusts, which do excellent work. Is it not time that we put greater emphasis on prevention rather than cure? We have heard a lot about preemption in international affairs this afternoon. What about some focus on prevention in this area?

It is a shame that there is only one Government Back-Bench Member present this afternoon, and he is the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary. The links between child poverty and single-parent households are significant. I serve as a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions. We have just had a briefing on the subject in which we were told that 22 per cent. of children in couple families live in poverty, compared with 54 per cent. of children in lone-parent families—a full 32 percentage points more.

The good news is that there is a road map to do something about it. Only a few weeks ago we were privileged to have a visit to this country and House from Dr. Wade Horn, the United States Assistant Secretary for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services. He would be the equivalent of a Minister of State, probably in the Department for Work and Pensions. I chaired the meeting in Committee Room 12 which was attended by Members from all parties, and indeed the Work and Pensions Minister Baroness Hollis. We learned about the welfare-to-work programmes in America, and in particular the family support measures focusing on father absence, healthy marriage programmes and support for fragile families. They have had real success. In America in the past five years, child poverty has reduced from 22 per cent. to 16 per cent.

Dr. Horn was formerly the president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. We need a similar body to undertake such work in the United Kingdom. We need a body that emphasises fathers' responsibilities, not just fathers' rights. There are issues around fathers' rights—access and the way in which courts deal with cases—but for the good of our children, the emphasis should be on responsibilities. That is urgent. I personally would like to be involved in such moves. In America today, there are about 24 million children in father-absent households. As I have said, a quarter of all British children are in that position.

It is a great pity that the Queen's Speech did not say anything about that important matter, which is of great concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. Sadly, children in father-absent homes are significantly more likely to do poorly, on any measure of child well-being. Figures for America tell us, and I have no reason to suppose that they are hugely different from those for this country, that 72 per cent. of adolescent murderers and 70 per cent. of long-term prison inmates grew up in homes without fathers. It is always important that we handle these issues sensitively, and we are talking about generalities, but we cannot ignore such figures if we are to do the best for our country.

The United States Government are putting money into programmes that are having positive results. I regret that the Queen's Speech said nothing about that. Those programmes are having demonstrable results and making the situation better. For example, 16 per cent. of couples in the study group who did not attend the prevention and relationship enhancement programme divorced after five years, but only 3 per cent. of couples who were on the course divorced.

Another programme, known as relationship enhancement, had dramatic effects on reducing domestic violence. Of 90 violent husbands, all of whom were first offenders for spousal abuse, not one who was on the programme was arrested again for the same offence within a year, whereas 20 per cent. of those who were not on the programme were arrested again. The Queen's Speech refers to a Bill on domestic violence, but it is a question not just of passing a law on such behaviour but of providing the courses that will help to change behaviour. That will have results and lead to improvements.

The United States is spending £300 million a year on what it calls its healthy marriage programmes. Those are for people who have decided to get married and want to stay married. Who could possibly be against that? It is not the state interfering in people's private lives, because these people have already made that choice freely. It does not involve taking any money from programmes in support of single parents. I am saddened when I see the contrast between America and this country. We learned yesterday from some of our press that page 41 of the Government's paper on civil partnerships says that they want to abolish the words "marital status" from all Government forms. Why cannot we just have the words "spouse/partner"? What would be the problem with that? That would recognise the world as it is and give some recognition in that area.

It is a concern that we trap so many lone parents in poverty by treating lone parents better than those who live together. I give two brief examples: the council tax discount for single occupiers and the invisible second adult in the tax credit regime.

Those are hugely important areas of social policy. The Queen's Speech could have said something about them. It is not a case necessarily of passing laws or even spending vast amounts on those programmes, but we urgently need a national debate. We need to spend time and attention on these matters. I hope that that will happen in the very near future.

5.9 pm

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con)

It is a great honour to have been given the job that I have, and I appear here tonight as a happy and proud person. I wish to start by congratulating the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) on a formidable, excellent and witty maiden speech, in which she paid handsome tribute to her predecessor, as did my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. The House was impressed by her contribution and I am sure that we will hear much more from her in the future, to our great advantage. She deserves to be thoroughly congratulated on a competent and confident performance.

I do not wish to strike a sour note, but it is astonishing that, on the second day of debate on the Queen's Speech, there were long periods for which not a single Labour Back Bencher was present in the Chamber. That shows an extraordinary sense of priorities on something so deeply important to our country. Nevertheless, this has been a good debate with many good speeches, especially from the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). I thank him for his most generous words and, as usual, a formidable speech. The House clearly agreed with his views on Zimbabwe, as it did with those of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife was also interesting on the subject of Iraq, and many of us agreed with his comments.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who is unfortunately not in his place, made an important speech, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley). The House appreciated what he had to say. I was struck by the fact that he said that he voted for the Government in good faith and would be much relieved if weapons of mass destruction were found. Many of us are in the same boat.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) gave his usual rant on Iraq, the United States and Israel. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), in an effective and interesting speech, covered a broad range of issues of interest to himself and his constituents, especially in respect of the care of children in the Birmingham area and quality of life issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), who is a distinguished member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke knowledgeably about the middle east and made some important remarks about the peace process there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), with that capacity unique to him, spoke with great authority and courage about a matter of profound and primary importance to our foreign policy. Many will have agreed with what he said. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who spoke to great effect about the Hutton inquiry and the arguments for going to war, made some telling points about the development of international law after 11 September 2001. As usual, he made a well-informed and interesting speech.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) spoke powerfully about the harsh realities of terrorism since the end of the cold war and highlighted the importance of multilateral institutions, especially NATO and the United Nations. He also raised, as many of us will wish to do in coming months, the issue of overstretch in the armed forces. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who speaks so effectively on social matters, also made an important speech.

I join the Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to the staff of the Foreign Office, and I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in extending our sympathy to the families of those killed or injured in the terrible atrocity in Istanbul.

We welcome the content of the Gracious Speech and we look forward with interest to the forthcoming defence White Paper. We will wish to examine with the greatest care the armed forces pension and compensation Bill, to ensure that our servicemen and women are properly and honourably dealt with. I thank the Secretary of State for Defence and his colleagues for their kind, courteous and helpful response to my appointment, for which I am extremely grateful.

Mr. Keetch

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment. Concerning the defence White Paper, he will have heard the Secretary of State talk in the past about network-centric warfare. Smart weapons undoubtedly win wars, but does he agree that given that peacekeeping and peace enforcement are being carried out now by soldiers and armour on the ground, the rumours about cuts in infantry are particularly worrying? We need a balanced White Paper, not one that puts too much emphasis on smart gear instead of troops.

Mr. Soames

I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman, and of course it would be wrong if the White Paper were to assume that it is not boots on the ground and the armour issued that offer the means to hold, consolidate and control security. If that arrangement went out of kilter it would have serious implications. I echo the hope expressed by other hon. Members that, given its nature, the White Paper will contain real detail of what is to come.

I pay the fullest tribute to the British armed forces, who have again covered themselves in glory in Iraq. They have again done wonders for the name and fame of Britain. By their gallantry and determination, and above all humanity, and by the patience and fortitude of service families and the very impressive efforts of MOD civilian staffs, they have proved yet again that there is no other place in our British national life in which there is so much human achievement in such small institutions as there is in the armed forces of the Crown.

The security challenges that the United Kingdom faces today have significantly changed since the cold war and will continue to do so. We live in an unpredictable world, where the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism and regional instabilities combined with civil strife represent our new security threat. It is important that we ask what alliance, institutional or framework changes, if any, should be implemented to ensure that the UK's security interests are addressed and that we are properly prepared for the challenges of the 21st century. Furthermore we must ask, is European and American security indivisible and does the development of an autonomous EU force defence capability-the ability to plan and conduct military operations without NATO-contribute to or undermine our own security?

We agree with the Government that European nations should increase their military capabilities. Europe should be able to do more and I welcome the EU's efforts, under NATO's auspices and help, in Macedonia. But the truth remains that many continental forces have only the most basic logistic communications facilities and can hardly operate at any distance from their home bases. Few can sustain operations with any credibility, and in almost every respect those forces have to rely almost entirely on the United States for intelligence, strategic support and military muscle. The Government must do more with our European partners to see to it that they address the need for operational capability and effectiveness within their force structures. This is important for all of us in NATO and the wider Europe.

So far, however, the European defence project has failed to deliver on capabilities. Defence budgets are decreasing rather than increasing, while defence programmes are being slashed. Meanwhile at home, so great is the monetary pressure that the axe is poised over the Type 45 and over the Astute submarine programme, while possibly dozens of Challenger tanks are due to be mothballed and the number of the joint strike fighters is to be cut. Such cuts are particularly serious, given that we are clearly engaged in a process of fundamental and essential change, which will lead to the introduction of new technologies. That process will have to be properly funded, and we all look forward to the defence White Paper offering us some real substance and detail about that, not just a long blue-skies essay.

The sole contribution of the European defence project thus far is the creation of proposed duplicate and competing structures that will dilute NATO and could eventually lead to the decoupling of the United States from the defence of western Europe.

The problem for us is that perfectly good arrangements already exist to deal with understandable European defence aspirations. Those arrangements were agreed in Berlin in 1996 and later reaffirmed at the Washington summit in 1999. Paragraph 10 of the Washington summit communiqué calls for assured EU access to NATO planning capabilities to contribute to military planning for EU-led operations and the presumption of availability to the EU of pre-identified NATO capabilities and common assets for use in EU-led operations.

It is difficult to know what more they could want, but there is now truly widespread confusion about the Government's apparent inability to ensure that European defence remains anchored in NATO and, indeed, what truly are the Government's intentions, for we really do not know which Prime Minister we should believe. Is it the Prime Minister who assures the President of the United States that European defence would in no way undermine NATO, that there would be a joint command and that planning would take place in NATO? Or is it the Prime Minister who goes to Europe and agrees with the German Chancellor and the French President that together, we are convinced that the EU should have a common capability for the planning and leadership of operations independent of NATO means and capabilities"? The danger of weakening NATO when readily available, well-trained and interoperable forces are needed in Afghanistan and Iraq is what we ought to concentrate on. NATO has indeed a vital ongoing role to play, and the Opposition assert that NATO is absolutely crucial to a stable world at a time of considerable uncertainty It is the only organisation that binds the United States to Europe and Europe to the United States.

Afghanistan is only the beginning: discussions about more NATO involvement in Iraq are already taking place. Some at NATO are openly calling for a NATO peacekeeping force for the middle east. It would be a monumental folly to undermine that capability at a time of genuine uncertainty and very considerable danger—facts that have been brought to our attention today by many colleagues on both sides of the House.

On overstretch, particularly in the Army, the underlying picture is that it is often clear that the Government's ambitions on defence do not match reality or just simply ignore it. The overstretch of the armed forces is a case in point, particularly in the Army. In June, 55 per cent. of the Army was either deployed on or recovering from operations. The Navy regularly reports that its ships routinely go to sea with gaps in their full complement. There are reports that RAF training flying hours have been cut. Since 1997, our forces have been heavily deployed, yet we have almost 12,000 fewer trained regulars than six years ago and the Army is still nearly 4,000 men understrength, even on the reduced manning requirement figures.

The Opposition most earnestly warn the Secretary of State that, in the present circumstances, we believe that it would be an act of cardinal folly to use the Army's strength as a peace dividend if normalisation were to occur in Northern Ireland. If any troops were to be released from that task, they would be urgently required elsewhere in the Army to reduce overstretch and increase the opportunities for a more normal military life. The Secretary of State for Defence is seized of that, but the fact remains that he is under gross pressure on manpower, and it would be a great mistake if he were to allow the forces of darkness to prevail upon him in respect of numbers. It is well known that the Treasury does not work for us; it works for the enemy.

Last weekend, it was reported that some of the Army's most famous regiments are to be disbanded, when those in the infantry—the workhorse of the British Army—are already operating at an intolerable level of activity. Surely that would be an act of cardinal military folly. The Royal Scots, the Black Watch, the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire are reportedly to be disbanded. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could give us some idea of his intentions on those matters tonight. What impact does he believe that proposed cuts of that size and scale will have on the morale of the forces?

Mr. Blunt

I understand that the Secretary of State has given a public undertaking about cap badges and regiments, but he should not be allowed to get away with what he did to my own regiment. He was supposed to retain four armoured reconnaissance regiments, but he achieved that by giving such

regiments three squadrons rather than four. If he starts stripping companies out of infantry battalions there will, frankly, be no point in what he is proposing.

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and we look to the Secretary of State tonight to give us an assurance about his intentions, so that the forces can be clear about what will happen. These men are putting their lives on the line and it remains unclear whether their jobs will be on the line tomorrow. What effect will that have on the tour gap, on hard-pressed families and, indeed, on further recruitment and retention?

Sir John Stanley

As the House knows, I chair the all-party Nepal group. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that any threat of major cuts to the Gurkhas, who have made an enormous contribution to the British Army for more than a hundred years, would be most profoundly unwelcome, particularly in view of the current serious position in Nepal?

Mr. Soames

I wholly endorse the views of my right hon. Friend and I pay tribute to the Gurkhas for all that they have done in their military service of the Crown over the years. The Secretary of State will understand that cutting the Gurkhas below a certain level cuts into the critical mass of the entire Gurkha operation. That would be a catastrophe, and it would be wrong—for international relations and the interests of the British Army—to make cuts in such signal service that has been provided for generations.

Intervals between operational tours are well below the guideline figure of 24 months, with some people having as few as six months respite between operations. It is wholly unrealistic for the Secretary of State to go on expecting the armed forces to be able to continue at that rate. The impact of overstretch on individuals and their families, particularly in forces experiencing significant manning shortfalls, is an issue of major concern.

When the services are meeting an extraordinarily high level of operational commitment at the same time as training hard for other contingencies, my colleagues and I recognise the real pressures that can be brought to bear on the families of servicemen and women. I should like to take this opportunity to pay the warmest possible tribute to service wives, their children and their wider families. At a time of high levels of commitment, when their loved ones are away a great deal, I want to acknowledge each and every one of them for their patience and their forbearance. I am personally very conscious that theirs is sometimes not an easy life and I want them to know that their concerns and anxieties are very much at the forefront of our thoughts.

Soldiers today have less time for training and for personal development through career courses. Furthermore many planned exercises have been cancelled already this year, which is becoming a wholly unacceptable feature of the operational tempo, and will in time have profound implications in all three services for efficiency and effectiveness. Not only is the overstretch of regular forces disrupting the training

cycle—this year, for example, with the fast track—but further problems have been caused by the lack of resources in the training system.

We believe that it is true, and not an idle boast, to say that the British armed forces are, man for man, the best in the world. In the Gulf, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Bosnia and Northern Ireland, both enemies and allies have been truly amazed by their fitness, their determination, their courage and their professionalism. The question is, why are they so very good? The answer is that their training and discipline are extremely thorough and very robust. They deliver first-class young men and women with absolute confidence in themselves and their commanders. Any threat to training is therefore profoundly serious, and we would be grateful for an assurance from the Secretary of State tonight that there is no intention to degrade the rate of training or the ability to train the large numbers of manpower that are required for the very high tempo of operation, and for his absolute assurance that he is satisfied that service training is not being degraded across all three services.

The pressures on the armed forces mean that the reserve forces are being intensively used. I pay a warm tribute to all those involved for the tremendous skills and enthusiasm that they bring. The Territorial Army, in particular, has been heavily used. In operations in the Gulf, I understand that the reserves account for 25 per cent. of the total deployment. The question is: do we give them a fair deal?

On 1 October 2003, The Times reported that some of the 5,800 reservists mobilised compulsorily for war duty in Iraq were given such short notice that they had no time to prepare their families or their employers. Some employers did not even know that they had reservists on their payrolls and complained to the Ministry of Defence about a serious lack of information. This is not acceptable.

I understand that the problem is being addressed. Indeed, I chaired a session at the Royal United Services Institute conference on the use and call-up of the reserves. Of course, there are lessons to be learned and the Ministry of Defence will learn them, but I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could give us an update. How long does he believe that we can expect to maintain this level of commitment from the Territorials? Does he therefore believe that an increase in the strength of the Territorial Army is necessary given the extraordinarily increased demands on it and the great value that it provides?

Andrew Selous

I was a Territorial for 12 years. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to consider the peacetime employment protection of our reserve forces? Given that we give local councillors the right to attend council business for a limited time in their working hours, is it not outrageous that there is no right in peacetime for our reserve forces to undertake the training that they need to be competent at time of war? Does he not agree that we should consider this issue?

Mr. Soames

Yes, I do. When my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) returns from his service in the Gulf, we shall

put him to work to see how we can better operate. Given the extraordinary demands that the Government make on the TA, it is inexcusable that the process for a call-out should not run as smooth as silk.

I hope that the House realises how extraordinarily lucky we are in Great Britain to have such armed forces. At every level of command in all three services, and indeed throughout all ranks, they are truly formidable in their standards both personally and professionally. In their teamwork and in their highly developed sense of cohesion, duty and obligation, they are an institution that forms a matchless asset for Great Britain in the pursuit of our aims and interests both at home and abroad. It is of enormous credit to the quality of the forces' leadership that, in a period of considerable upheaval, they have retained exceptional flexibility combined with great clarity of purpose and endeavour.

As I said, we welcome some of the items in the Queen's Speech. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes said, we particularly welcome the proposal for an armed forces pension and compensation Bill—an issue to which we will wish to give detailed scrutiny. However, my message to the Secretary of State is that we believe that, whatever the Government's intentions, it looks as though the armed forces of the Crown are being used as a political pawn in a high-stakes poker game over the future defence of Europe. It is not good enough.

5.34 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence(Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

May I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) on his well-deserved, although belated, return to the Front Bench? However, I must warn the House that that is likely to have extraordinarily serious consequences on the Ministry of Defence's budget. I have already authorised emergency action to reallocate extra funds to the catering corps. As I speak, our best logisticians are scouring our stores to find a suitably sized set of combat clothing.

Mr. Soames

I have already got one.

Mr. Hoon

But does it still fit?

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) on her superb maiden speech. On behalf of Labour Members, I am especially grateful for her moving tribute to Paul Daisley, her predecessor. That was most appreciated and I thank her very much.

When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary opened the debate, he outlined the common series of security threats that we and our allies face. First, and most obviously, international terrorism presents a real and immediate danger, and we saw the devastating consequences of terrorism yet again in Istanbul. Secondly, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technology and the delivery systems required to launch attacks pose a direct threat to our peace and security as access to technology and production becomes easier. Our obvious concern is that international terrorists will manage to acquire such weapons. The third key challenge concerns weak and failing states that are characterised by political

mismanagement, ethnic and religious tensions or economic collapse, which in turn can lead to humanitarian crises and mass migration. Such circumstances may provide an environment in which terrorism and organised crime can flourish.

Therefore, to achieve our foreign policy and security goals, we will need to engage directly with our international partners. We will need a still more joined-up approach across Government to ensure that the diplomatic, economic and political instruments available to us are used to best effect. However, the ability of the UK to project and deliver armed force is, and will remain, a vital instrument of our foreign and security policy. Not every problem demands a military solution, but as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pointed out, we must be prepared to act when and where necessary.

The challenge that I put to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex remains the same as that which I put to his predecessor. If he says that the armed forces are overstretched, which I do not accept, he must explain which of the challenges that the Government took up to act as a force for good in the world he would not have undertaken—that is the issue. Unless Opposition Members wish to remain permanently in opposition, it is no good for them to criticise without addressing that question. Unless and until they answer the question, they cannot pretend to form a fit and proper Opposition that could act as a Government.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con)

To help us to answer that question, will the right hon. Gentleman provide us with the detailed information that we require in the White Paper, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) suggested, or will there be merely a long essay?

Mr. Hoon

I shall deal with the White Paper shortly and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read it with interest in due course. White Papers are always designed to set out the principles of Government policy. I am sure that if he consults all the White Papers published while the Conservative Government were in office—I accept that that Government are fading a little in the memory, but nevertheless they published White Papers—he will see that they adopted the same practice, which this Government will follow.

British forces have conducted a series of successful combat and stabilisation operations in recent years. They fought against international terrorism and its supporters in Afghanistan, achieved peace and greater stability in Sierra Leone, East Timor, the Balkans and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and most recently, of course, undertook high-intensity combat in Iraq, where they are currently engaged in stabilisation operations. Those successes are in no small part due to the excellence of the brave men and women who serve in the United Kingdom's armed forces. We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude.

Jeremy Corbyn

Will the Secretary of State confirm how many troops are still in the Congo and tell us his plans for their future? Will they be joined by further UN staff and what hopes does he have for a solution?

Mr. Hoon

A small number of international forces remain in the Congo. Then presence has been largely successful, but I recognise that it is in a limited area. The problem in the Congo is much wider than that, however. The country is large and still unstable.

Donald Anderson

Will my right hon. Friend say more about peacekeeping and peacemaking in Africa? From time to time, the point is made that Africa should provide its own peacekeeping forces, albeit trained by outsiders such as the US, the UK and the French. South Africa already plays a part in the DRC. Surely, with the African Union, there should be greater efforts to help Africa to help itself across the board politically and economically, but ultimately with military forces.

Mr. Hoon

My right hon. Friend is right. He refers to the training efforts under way on behalf of the South African Government. He will be aware that the British Government support those efforts not only financially, but by providing people to work with members of South Africa's armed forces to give the training that he describes. In addition, British forces intervened to stabilise the situation in Sierra Leone after a ruthless and bloody uprising. They are still there, training its armed forces. I have been privileged to visit Sierra Leone a number of times and have seen their excellent work. Our armed forces also appreciate that work. They get enormous satisfaction from providing the high-quality training that they enjoy and from extending the benefit of that to Sierra Leone. Stability for its armed forces is crucial to the country's future.

Mr. Dismore

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the continent of Africa, will he comment on the situation in northern Uganda, which many constituents have raised with me? The civil war has caused serious humanitarian problems there. Is there anything we can do to help?

Mr. Hoon

The Foreign Secretary extended his apologies to the House for not being here at the end of the debate. Unfortunately, he did not leave his notes behind. However, I do not anticipate that in each and every country of the African continent there is necessarily a military solution. That point is well taken by the Opposition Front Bench in relation to our geography tour of the African continent. I am sure that my observations will be noted by those who are here representing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. No doubt they will write to my hon. Friend.

The Government plan to introduce a Bill to provide enabling powers to bring in new pension and compensation arrangements for the armed forces. The new pension scheme will continue to be based on defined benefits at a time when such schemes are under increasing pressure in the private sector. It will provide equal terms for officers and other ranks, and benefits for spouses will be extended to include unmarried partners in a substantial relationship. The new arrangements will offer a high level of assurance for service personnel appropriate to the demands of military service.

The Gracious Speech also set out the Government's intention to publish a defence White Paper before the end of the year. It will provide a comprehensive statement of defence policy and the security and policy baseline against which future decisions will be made. The Government remain committed to the process of reform and change set out in the strategic defence review and the new chapter. An expeditionary capability will be even more necessary for future operations. Counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation operations in particular will require rapidly deployable forces that can respond swiftly to intelligence and achieve precise effects in a range of potential theatres across the world.

The White Paper will set out the need for flexible armed forces that are structured and equipped to deploy globally and rapidly on a small and medium scale, able to link up with our allies quickly and effectively when they arrive in theatre. Future priority will be given to meeting a wider range of expeditionary tasks at a greater range from the UK and with increased strategic, operational and tactical tempo.

The White Paper will also set out the case for change to exploit new technologies while restructuring those force elements that are less relevant and less useful in meeting future challenges. The focus will be on capabilities rather than on volume or numbers of platforms, with the emphasis on the delivery of military effect. I assure the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) that contrary to speculation about cuts in the Army, no decisions have been made on numbers or regiments. The same point was made by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), who is also back from the Chingford chill but double-hatted now, being on both the Opposition Front Bench and the Opposition Back Benches. I am delighted that he participated in the debate.

I shall address some of the other issues raised during the debate. Right hon. and hon. Members rightly referred to the arrangements for commemorating the 60th anniversary of D-day next June. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on Monday 24 November during the British-French summit, Her Majesty the Queen and he have been invited to lead the United Kingdom's participation in the commemorations next June. A programme for parades and services are planned in Normandy. A number of units are planning to attend, although it is too early as yet to provide precise details.

Across Government, a range of measures have been agreed to support the celebrations, including the provision of free one-year passports for veterans who wish to attend second world war commemorations. A 50 per cent. discount has been generously offered by P&O Ferries for veterans' groups travelling to Normandy in 2004.

The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) sought clarification of the Government's intentions—

Mr. Dismore

There is some other unfinished business arising from the second world war, and that is the question of the civilian prisoners of the Japanese. My right hon. Friend knows that the Government introduced a generous compensation scheme. Unfortunately, some people were omitted from the scheme because their grandparents were not born in the United Kingdom. Several of my constituents are in that position. I know that there has been litigation involving the campaign group and the Department, which was not successful for the group. However, these people feel a real sense of injustice. Many of them are UK residents, and have been for some time. Will he think about this issue again?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue, which has been a difficult one. A great deal of detailed consideration was given to eligibility issues when the initial scheme was devised. As he said, that scheme was the subject of litigation. In accepting the judgment of the courts, the Government sought to extend that scheme as fairly and consistently as we could, without necessarily opening it up to all-comers. I invite him to recognise that for every extension of the scheme, we would bring in not only his worthy constituents, but the worthy constituents of all other right hon. and hon. Members. That is not something that we can accept. If he writes to me about the particular case, I will ensure that it is considered carefully in the context of the revised scheme as currently operating.

The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes sought clarification of the Government's intentions to support the celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of our association with the people of Gibraltar. We intend to play a full part in celebrating the warm relationship that we have enjoyed with the people of Gibraltar for the past 300 years. There is an extensive programme of commemorative events to take place in Gibraltar next year, in which I certainly intend to take part.

The bands of the Royal Marines, the Royal Engineers and the Royal Air Force, and the pipes and drums of the Royal Irish Regiment. are planning to participate in four major events. The Royal Gibraltar Regiment and military units from the United Kingdom, including Royal Navy ships and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will take part in a total of more than 20 events throughout the year. I hope that that more than satisfies the right hon. and learned Gentleman's ambition in terms of the UK's involvement.

As for the provision of support for our troops in Iraq, I remind the House that the operation to support more than 40,000 members of the armed forces in Iraq was the biggest logistical effort undertaken by the armed forces for more than a decade. I recognise, and have told the House before, that while there were some individual shortfalls, the overall effort was a considerable success. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife raised the case of Sergeant Roberts. I have met Mrs. Roberts and members of the family to discuss their case. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House will understand that, as the death of Mrs. Roberts's husband is currently the subject of a detailed investigation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this stage.

I shall deal with the observations about NATO made by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes. It is increasingly clear that our response to the security threats that we face needs to be taken in conjunction with our allies and partners, whether it be diplomatic and economic engagement or the deployment of military force. It is wrong and dangerous to talk of the need to make a choice between the United States and Europe. Those who founded NATO recognised that a strong relationship between European states and the United States offers the best prospect for international peace and stability. NATO will continue to provide the collective forum through which we can defend, discuss and promote our common security interests. But NATO itself also needs to reform and change. We will need to continue to develop the crisis management and expeditionary capability of NATO and encourage members of the alliance more effectively to develop their own military capabilities.

Some commentators have in recent times predicted the end of NATO, questioning its relevance. In fact, the alliance has made itself still more necessary. While fighting was continuing in Iraq, NATO agreed to take over the international security assistance force in Afghanistan, its first operation outside the traditional Euro-Atlantic area. NATO's June ministerials reaffirmed the unity of the alliance and its commitment to implement the Prague agenda. Since then the alliance has made progress on its transformation agenda, with agreement on a newly streamlined command structure. The interim operating capability of the NATO response force has been established ahead of schedule. NATO continues to be relevant and to develop in ways that are relevant to today's security challenges.

As the House will know, the UK is also a strong supporter of developing EU military capabilities on a basis that complements NATO. The EU has now established an operational security and defence policy with the military structures needed to support it, though recognised shortfalls remain to be met before the Helsinki headline goal is achieved in full. One of those is, indeed, strategic heavy lift, as the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) identified. However—and I hope that he gives us credit for this—the UK has made a significant contribution in that respect and intends to go on doing so.

The successful EU-led action in Macedonia and the Democratic Republic of Congo provides evidence that an EU crisis management capability is now a reality. Those operations illustrate the complementary role that the European security and defence policy plays, where NATO as a whole is not engaged, as a means of supporting the EU's common foreign and security policy. It is vital that, in the process of engagement with the EU that the Government are setting out, we are capable of improving European military contributions. Without that, NATO itself will be weakened.

I simply invite Opposition Members who have criticised the EU's involvement to recognise the need to engage European nations, through whatever mechanism is appropriate, in the improvement of their military capabilities. [Interruption.] I hear the suggestion from those on the Opposition Front Bench that this is about money. It is about increasing the amount spent by European nations in their own defence, but it is also, crucially, about encouraging those nations to spend that money more effectively.

Donald Anderson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is also, crucially, about where the operational decisions will be made? If they were to be made at SHAPE—Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe—they would be intimately linked with NATO. If they were to be made at Kortenberg, the point of principle would be conceded, and even though that might be a small baby at the moment, there would be a danger of it growing in a way that some in the Union want but which is very different from the path on which we set out.

Mr. Hoon

We have made clear the need to avoid duplicating military capabilities. Returning to the point about more money, we have debated consistently in the House the importance of reforming the UK's military capabilities to take account of the very significant changes in the strategic environment. We need to develop structures in NATO and complementary structures in the EU to persuade our partners and allies to embark on the same course. Many have started on that course, but they need to go further and they need to go faster; otherwise we will see not only a weakening of Europe's contribution to NATO, but a weakening of NATO's position. In the new spirit that pervades the Opposition these days, I invite them to start thinking hard about the importance of European defence, rather than simply having these knee-jerk reactions to that important development.

Mr. Soames

The right hon. Gentleman is in danger of reducing this to a facile argument. There are very important issues at stake, and those are made more serious by the astonishing behaviour of the French and German Governments over the stability pact. Does he accept that reliability is a major factor, and that there is a real question arising from the fact that in these alliances we depend on people turning up, with the kit that they say they will have, on the day that they are due to turn up? People remain extremely anxious about anything that would be outside the NATO umbrella, where all the good military practice exists, which the right hon. Gentleman knows is the key to all successful military operations.

Mr. Hoon

I do not necessarily disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but he is missing the point that I was making. It is a matter of improving European military capabilities and the various ways in which that can be achieved. [Interruption.] I hear from the shadow Foreign Secretary that that must be within NATO, but that is not always so. Not all the United States forces are committed to NATO. Not all of the United Kingdom's forces are necessarily always committed to NATO. It is about developing and harnessing national military forces to be used in the context of NATO and in the context of United Nations operations—coalitions of the willing. It is about having usable, effective military forces. I invite the Opposition to think about how to engage other European nations in that process.

We agree across the Dispatch Box that the United Kingdom has gone a long way towards ensuring that our armed forces are usable and effective in the modern strategic environment. The challenge for the Opposition is to ask themselves why, in a knee-jerk anti-European spasm, they feel the need to criticise any effort made by the European Union to achieve a perfectly proper outcome—the improvement of European military capabilities. They say that they want to improve European military capabilities, but they deny the means of achieving that through the European Union. I invite them to consider that as they refresh their policy.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)(Con)

Will the Secretary of State concede that there is a difference in principle between allowing military units to serve in certain operations under NATO and in certain operations under the EU, and establishing a rival military planning headquarters for the EU, which would be a direct rival to what already exists at SHAPE? That is a fundamental change and it is wrong for him to try to fudge that.

Mr. Hoon

I am not in any way trying to fudge that. I said that the developments in the European Union and the improvements in military capability, whether they are in structures, items of equipment or trained forces, need to be complementary to the efforts made through NATO. I emphasise to the House once again that it is important that NATO reforms. NATO was, and largely still is, couched in the cold war. Too much of its organisation, bureaucracy and committees are based on cold war concepts. The challenge for most of our European partners is how to re-organise their armed forces to ensure that those forces are capable, as I believe ours are, of dealing with a modern strategic reality.

Mr. Soames

I imagine that the Secretary of State was intimately involved in the defence capabilities initiative at NATO, where the capabilities have not moved on. He accuses us of being anti-European, but why does he believe that those capabilities would move on outside NATO, when there already exists a coherent, joined-up command structure, with all the means of delivering our military requirements?

Mr. Hoon

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are countries that give greater weight in their international relationships to membership of the European Union than to membership of NATO. It seems eminently sensible that we should encourage those countries to develop military capabilities. whether through the mechanisms of the EU or through NATO. What difference does it make in the end, if we get better military forces that are better organised and better structured to engage in overseas operations? That must be something on which everyone should agree.

We spoke about multilateralism. That has been a recurring theme of our international relations, and is reflected in Iraq, which is a thoroughly multinational effort. There are currently more than 30 countries on the ground there, contributing military forces, and helping to set the conditions for a secure, stable and prosperous Iraq. The United States continues to provide the bulk of the international presence, but many of our European partners and a host of other countries are helping to provide security in large areas of Iraq, where there is no American presence. As well as providing much-needed military capability. such a presence demonstrates the political will of the international community to help Iraq get back on its feet.

There are many positive developments in Iraq that we simply do not hear as much about as we should. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes for the tribute he paid to the work of British forces in Iraq, and for his acknowledgement of the progress being made in restoring stability there. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that the provision of basic services—water, electricity and oil—has improved significantly. Almost all of Iraq's 240 hospitals are now functioning and the child vaccination programme is much wider and more effective than ever before, as is the system for distributing medicine. The school year began last month and more than 1,500 schools have been refurbished.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]

Debate to be resumed on Monday next.