We now come to the main business. I remind the House that the terms of the motion and the amendment before us do not cover the events on which the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House last Wednesday—the leak of the draft report. For that reason, and because the House's settled procedure for examining and reporting on such leaks is now under way, I am prepared to permit only passing reference to those matters. I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
I beg to move,
That this House endorses the criticisms made of Ministers in the Second Report of Session 1998–99 (HC 116) of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Sierra Leone and the Report of the Legg Inquiry; deplores the conduct of Ministers which led to such criticism; and calls on the Ministers concerned to accept responsibility for their conduct.
It is almost two years since a military coup in Sierra Leone ousted the democratically elected Government of President Kabbah. We shared the Government's dismay at that event. Indeed, the previous Government had helped to finance the elections which led to President Kabbah's accession. We share too, as will the whole House, the dismay that the current situation in Sierra Leone evokes. Conflict in that country continues. More than 10,000 people are believed to have been killed in the wave of rebel attacks since December alone. Many more have been very seriously injured. Freetown has been left in ruins. What should be one of the richest countries in Africa is one of the poorest and most miserable. The situation has rightly been described as desperate.
The ability of the British Government to influence events in that tragic country may be limited. It is right to pay tribute to those in the diplomatic service and the armed forces, who have done what they can—and are doing what they can—to try to relieve suffering and end the conflict. But, however limited their influence, the Government are accountable to this House for their policies and action. We are here to ensure and enforce that accountability. We cannot do so unless we are told the truth—the whole truth—about the Government's policies and action. When we discover that we have not been told the whole truth, it is our duty to bring to account those responsible for that failure.
One of the ways in which we exercise such accountability is through Select Committees. I pay tribute to the Foreign Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), for its report on Sierra Leone. It is, of course, an all-party Committee; the majority of its members, however, come from the Labour party. Its report has rightly and widely been described as one of the most scathing of a Department, ever. It is certainly devastating in its criticism of officials. It is also devastating, however, in its criticism of Ministers, and it is that aspect on which I intend to concentrate. In the light of your observations, Madam Speaker, I shall not deal at all with the revelations of last week. I shall focus on the specific criticism of Ministers in the Select Committee report and in the Legg report.
If one listens to what Ministers have said, one could be forgiven for believing that there was no such criticism in either report. The Foreign Secretary said of the Legg report:
I would perfectly happily accept any criticisms of myself in the report, but there are none."—[Official Report, 27 July 1998; Vol. 317, c. 28.]
Very, very shortly after the publication of the Select Committee report, the Prime Minister said on the Jimmy Young show:
The criticisms are made of civil servants and not Government Ministers.
He also said that there was nothing new in the report—a claim described as "absolutely absurd" by the Chairman of the Select Committee. One reference in volume I of the Select Committee report seems to offer some succour to the Foreign Secretary. On page LXXXII, we find the following sentence:
As far as Ministers were concerned, there is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that they deliberately misled Parliament.
Unfortunately for Ministers, that sentence appears in a paragraph to which the Committee did not agree. It was excised from the report; not even the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) was prepared to vote for it. That attempt to exculpate Ministers comprehensively failed. In fact, both reports contain serious criticism of Ministers. I shall begin with the Select Committee's criticism of the Foreign Secretary's failure to co-operate with it.
May I draw the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to paragraph 112 of volume I of the report—the postscript? Is he saying that the Committee did not agree to that paragraph before it was published? That paragraph, which contains the words that he is disputing, states:
We commend the resolute support which the British Government is giving to the restoration of democracy and to the alleviation of suffering.
Is not that in the report?
I do not know what that has to do with the points that I am making. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a moment, he will understand the criticisms. At paragraph 7 of the report, the Committee records how its work was impeded by the Government's refusal to release to it
firstly telegrams concerning Sierra Leone, and secondly … information which fell within the ambit of the Legg inquiry.
At paragraph 8, the Committee sets out what it describes as further "frustrations" that it encountered. It asked to hear three of the officials involved in the affair; it was allowed to see only two. It was not allowed to see relevant
intelligence reports. Its requests to take evidence in private from the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, or to be briefed by him in private, were also refused. At paragraph 101, the Committee says:
it would be quite wrong and an unacceptable precedent for a Government in the future to be able to argue that any select committee inquiry could be superseded, or perhaps blocked for a considerable period of time, by a whistled-up departmental inquiry.
The Committee recommends
that the Government undertake in future to respect select committees' requirements for information, irrespective of any departmental inquiry on related matters which might have been established.
At paragraph 107, the Committee says:
We greatly regret that we were not given access to intelligence material and that we were refused the opportunity to take evidence from the Director of the SIS.
We cannot now say that we have had access to all the sources of information which would have allowed us to come to unequivocal conclusions.
The Committee condemns what it calls the Government's obduracy and, at paragraph 108, it contrasts
the reluctance of the Foreign Secretary
with the helpfulness of other Ministers, including the Defence Secretary. It recommends that the Government reflect, in
any future inquiry like that into Sandline,
as to the merit of what it calls
a more mature attitude towards controlled access for the Foreign Affairs Committee to appropriate intelligence material and to witnesses from the Secret Intelligence Service.
The House will wish to take those observations and recommendations extremely seriously. In relation to the Foreign Secretary, they exemplify and underline the obstructive attitude that he took to the Select Committee's inquiry. They provide yet further evidence of the arrogance with which he and the Government treat Parliament. In my remaining remarks, I shall focus on the substantive failure on the part of Ministers to which both the Select Committee and the Legg inquiry drew attention. The Select Committee put it in this way:
We conclude that the government policy on individual arms embargoes must never again be stated in a way which could mislead Parliament, the public and even the FCO's own staff.
The Legg inquiry concluded:
Government has a responsibility to give citizens, and its own officials, reasonable publicity and explanation of the laws it makes under delegated powers, especially laws creating serious criminal offences. That was not done in this case.
Those are very serious charges. They are abundantly justified by the contents of the two reports. As I shall show, Ministers were directly involved.
What happened, in essence, was as follows. Ministers decided, for good reasons, to impose an arms embargo on Sierra Leone after the junta had deposed President Kabbah. For understandable reasons, they made that embargo comprehensive in scope. It had the goal of drying up arms supplies to all the parties in Sierra Leone; that was the objective of Ministers. Yet the embargo was consistently and deliberately described as a partial embargo. It was that misdescription which was misleading—to Parliament, the public and even the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's own staff—and, as we shall see, that misdescription was the responsibility of Ministers. That is the essence of the charge that we make.
That order made it a criminal offence, punishable by a maximum of seven years' imprisonment, to supply or deliver arms and military equipment to
any persons connected with Sierra Leone.
As Legg and the Select Committee found, if, indeed, any such finding was necessary, it was the Government's duty to publicise and explain that law. Yet the Government wholly failed to discharge that duty. Every document that they issued which sought to explain it, every statement that they made about it, was, in the words of the Foreign Secretary himself, "plainly wrong".
Those statements included Foreign Office daily bulletins, a telegram to posts in west Africa advising them of the embargo's ambit, an answer to the House from the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), even a reference to the embargo in the communiqué of the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference at Edinburgh, to which the Prime Minister put his name.
The statements extended it to a letter, written by a senior Foreign Office official to the Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone—I quote verbatim from the Select Committee's report—
making it clear that the UN sanctions applied to the Junta but without disclosing that, in the British government's view, they also applied to the very government to whose Foreign Minister she was writing.
All that would be bad enough if it had been accidental, but it was deliberate. That is what the Legg inquiry concluded. It stated:
the British framers of the October 1977 Resolution"—
the Security Council resolution—
… did not doubt that the arms embargo imposed by the Resolution was comprehensive in its coverage.
However, British officials and Ministers"—
I stress "and Ministers"—
continued to play this aspect down".
Legg goes on to explain why. It was, the inquiry says, partly because of the sensitivities about the possible role of the Economic Community of West African States, which, unlike Her Majesty's Government, had explicitly contemplated the use of force, and about the role of Nigeria within ECOWAS and the ECOWAS military observer group.
There, in a nutshell, we have it. A deliberate attempt was made to mis-state the scope and effect of the embargo, to play it down, in the words of the Legg report, because British officials and Ministers knew that those on the ground in Africa contemplated the use of force. What was the role of individual Ministers in all this? The Minister of State authorised United Nations Security Council resolutions. He saw and approved the Order in Council which created the criminal offences. He knew that its scope was comprehensive. That, after all, was his policy. Yet on 12 March 1998 he told the House that the sanctions were imposed "on the military junta".
That could have been an oversight. It could have been inadvertent. The Minister of State could have done what "Questions of Procedure for Ministers" require him to do, which is to
correct any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.
But he has not done that. The Minister of State and the Foreign Secretary persisted for months in their attempt to justify their mis-statement of the effect of the embargo as
not inconsistent with the fact that it was not only to the Junta to which the arms embargo applied.
It was that explanation to which the Select Committee referred when it gave its damning findings in paragraph 19 of its report that
half-truths are a dangerous commodity in which to trade.
What an extraordinary thing for a Select Committee to say about the language of a Foreign Secretary and his Department.
Not at the moment. As we know, even the Foreign Secretary was unable to continue with that fiction indefinitely. In the end, on 16 December, the Foreign Secretary gave up. He finally recognised and admitted the truth. The language used in telegram 277, which sought to explain to posts in west Africa, the ambit of the Security Council resolution was, he said, "plainly wrong". He had at last realised that he could no longer carry on the farce of pretending that the language used by his Department was correct but incomplete. It was not: it was plainly wrong. The language used in that telegram describing the ban as a ban on the supply of arms to the junta was the same as the language used in the Foreign Office daily bulletins, in the Commonwealth Heads of Government communiqué and in the Minister of State's answer in the House. If the telegram was plainly wrong, then so were they.
What does the Minister of State intend to do about his answer to the House on 12 March: the answer that the Foreign Secretary has told us was plainly wrong? We look forward to hearing what the Minister of State has to say about that when he winds up the debate. What of the Foreign Secretary? Did he not see the telegram that was plainly wrong, or the FCO daily bulletins? Was he unaware of the Minister's answer to the House on 12 March? Was he not consulted on the communiqué issued at the end of the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference? We know of his well-publicised aversion to finishing his paperwork. If he failed to see any of the documents itemised by the Select Committee, that, in itself, speaks volumes about the way in which he discharges his responsibilities. I call on him to answer each of the specific questions which I have put. The truth of the matter is that, in the words of the Legg report, Ministers deliberately "played down" the scope and effect of the embargo that they had imposed. They deliberately misrepresented the terms of the Order in Council, which created criminal offences that could have led to someone being sent to prison for seven years. They stated their policy in a way in which, in the words of the Select Committee's report, misled
Parliament, the public and even the FCO's own staff.
It is difficult to imagine a more serious charge. This is the Government who the Prime Minister said must be purer than pure. This is the Foreign Secretary who purported to introduce an ethical foreign policy. This is also the Foreign Secretary who said:
Tonight Parliament has the opportunity to insist that Ministers must accept responsibility for their conduct in office and to assert that the health of our democracy depends on the honesty of Government to Parliament."—[Official Report, 26 February 1996; Vol. 272, c. 617.]
I invite him to live up to those words today.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
'welcomes the decision of the Foreign Affairs Committee in its Second Report of Session 1998–99 (HC 116) on Sierra Leone to commend the resolute support which the British Government is giving to the restoration of democracy in Sierra Leone and endorses the conclusion of the Legg Inquiry that no Minister had given encouragement or approval to any breach of the arms embargo on Sierra Leone; notes that the inquiry on Sierra Leone of the Foreign Affairs Committee has found no evidence of Ministerial encouragement or approval; and congratulates Her Majesty's Government on accepting all the recommendations of the Report of the Legg Inquiry and on the steps it has since taken to modernise management in the FCO.'.
I found myself agreeing with the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) for one minute at the beginning of his speech. That was the one minute in which he dealt with the plight of the people of Sierra Leone. I fully share his dismay at their plight. If the House will allow me, I intend to take more than one minute to respond to that plight. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he wants to talk about the conduct of Ministers. All right, let us talk about the conduct of Ministers on policy towards Sierra Leone.
Last night, a special report at the top of the BBC news exposed the evil that the rebels in Sierra Leone represent. In their brief occupation of Freetown in January, the rebel forces vividly lived up to their reputation for brutality and butchery. They murdered politicians, humanitarian staff, religious workers, journalists and lawyers. They carried out repeated acts of arson, even when they knew that the consequence would be to burn alive elderly and disabled men and women.
From the first day of the rebel forces' entry into Freetown, local hospitals admitted a growing stream of civilians with arms amputated, including children as young as six. A large number of children who were abducted by the rebel forces are still missing. In at least one case, their father was forced to watch his female children raped before they were taken away.
What should concern the House most of all is how we can prevent such evil from gaining power by force of arms in Sierra Leone.
The Foreign Secretary will know that the violence has spread outside the capital, Freetown. My constituency has a link with the town of Kambia, which is north-east of the capital. I am a patron of the Kambia hospital appeal, which seeks to support doctors and nurses providing health care in the area.
At the weekend, I received unconfirmed reports that the hospital had been hit by the rebels, looted and perhaps set on fire. Has the Foreign Secretary heard any further news about what is going on in the region, and can he assure us that our Government will provide whatever assistance is necessary to get the hospital up and running again?
I can confirm that the hospital has been looted, and has been badly damaged by arson. I can also confirm that the Department for International Development will be ready to try to make good some of the damage. First, however, we must regain the territory in which the hospital is situated. We must work with ECOMOG to push the rebels further back in the country.
The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe said that our influence in the country was limited. That is true; nevertheless, the fact is that no nation on the globe outside the region has done more than we have to prevent the rebel forces from gaining power, or more to support the legitimate Government of Sierra Leone. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) pointed out, the Foreign Affairs Committee itself commends
the resolute support which the British Government is giving to the restoration of democracy and the alleviation of suffering
in Sierra Leone.
First, we have provided a wealth of practical support for the ECOMOG forces who are doing the fighting. Since the start of this year alone, we have provided more than £1 million-worth of trucks and communication equipment. We have organised and paid for the airlift of the Ghanaian battalion to join the Nigerian forces in Sierra Leone. Even the maps used by the ECOMOG operation have been supplied by Britain. Partly as a result of that help, ECOMOG has been able successfully to clear the rebels from Freetown. The support that we gave helped to preserve the legitimate Government of Sierra Leone, and, more immediately, saved the lives of thousands who might otherwise have perished at the hands of the rebels.
Secondly, Britain is far the largest national donor of development aid to Sierra Leone. Since the restoration of President Kabbah a year ago, Britain has committed more than £20 million, which has been vital in supplying food, promoting security and providing medical aid to help the victims of the rebels' brutality. It has also helped in the longer-term task of recreating the basic institutions of government in Sierra Leone.
Thirdly, Britain has led international pressure on Liberia to end its support for the rebels. The real tragedy of Sierra Leone is that its people are among the poorest in the world, while their country is among the richest in diamonds. There are too many outside forces whose sole interest is in seizing and retaining control of the diamond fields.
The situation on the ground in Sierra Leone remains very worrying. The rebels retain control of much of the countryside, and have successfully launched counter-offensives on some provincial towns. The struggle for control of Sierra Leone is not over, and there is no guarantee that the forces of democracy and stability will prevail. We have therefore been reviewing what further support Britain can provide, and I am pleased to say that the Government have decided to commit up to an additional £10 million from the reserve to promote stability in Sierra Leone.
That substantial investment will have three objectives. The first objective is to help the ECOMOG forces to roll back the rebels. We shall use those resources to meet the most pressing needs of ECOMOG to transport its troops, communicate with them and feed them. The second objective is to encourage the rebels to lay down their arms, and to offer them a future in a civilian life. We shall use part of our funds to underwrite initiatives in demilitarisation, and to integrate the rebels into the civilian economy. The third objective is to create a professional and democratically accountable army for the Government. We shall fund a British military training team to supervise a programme for a professional army and for its civilian management.
We are asking our partners around the world to make similar contributions, and I am pleased to say that the Administrations of the United States, Canada and several of our European partners are already considering how they can follow our lead.
Britain's support is well known and well appreciated in the region. Last month, President Abubakar of Nigeria rang my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to thank him for Britain's invaluable support for ECOMOG. Last night, I spoke to President Kabbah by telephone to inform him of our new programme of support. He also recorded his gratitude to the UK for its continued support and assistance.
President Kabbah and the people of Sierra Leone would regard with disbelief the partisan speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe. They know that the conduct of Ministers has provided them with more help than any other western country. In the past two months, throughout the crisis in Freetown and the many measures that we have taken in response to it, the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his team have shown no interest in the problems of the people of Sierra Leone; nor have they made a single proposal as to how to help their plight. They remain utterly obsessed with Sandline International.
Let us at least agree on one point. Sandline International's activities from start to finish have been totally irrelevant to the military balance on the ground and even more irrelevant to the needs of the people of Sierra Leone. The main interest of Sandline International and its sister group of companies has been not democracy, but diamonds.
The first finding of the Legg report was that Sandline International's supply of arms played "little or no part" in the restoration of President Kabbah. That is not surprising as the arms did not even arrive until the rebels had been cleared out of Freetown for the first time.
The Foreign Secretary is probably correct to say that the arms were not key, but what was absolutely essential was the military advice and co-ordination of the air cell that was provided by Sandline International to ECOMOG forces. Those forces had been repulsed in December. It was President Kabbah's assessment that he needed good military advice and advisers to enable ECOMOG to succeed, which is what it did when he got them.
As I recall, the air cell to which the hon. Gentleman refers was one rather ancient eastern European helicopter, which, famously, required repair by a British naval ship. It is that sort of enormous self-obsession with what Sandline International may have contributed that creates fury in Nigeria, where thousands of troops have died fighting to restore the legitimate Government of Sierra Leone.
The Legg inquiry did find a number of misjudgments by officials and cultural failings in the Foreign Office. I accepted those findings. I accepted all the inquiry's recommendations. Since I presented the Legg report to Parliament seven months ago, I have acted on those recommendations.
The right hon. Gentleman says that he has put things right by following the recommendations of the Legg report. How then can he possibly explain why he connived in the leaking of the Select Committee report? Surely that is something that he should—
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For what it is worth, there were two leaks of the Select Committee report, one in The Independent and one in The Times. Neither came from the Foreign Office. The source of those leaks is elsewhere, but the hon. Member for North—East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said that he was rising on the point that I was addressing. Let me then tell him what we have done to put right what the Legg inquiry identified.
I have restored the central unit for the enforcement of sanctions, which the previous Government had abolished. I have taken steps to ensure that all intelligence reports are properly logged and distributed. I have issued new guidance that there should be no contact with private military firms without clearance or a written record.
I have initiated a programme of modernisation in the management of the Foreign Office, which is increasing the number of specialists and professional managers in our administration. We are able to afford that programme of modernisation only because last year's spending review produced the best settlement for the Foreign Office for half a dozen years. [Interruption.] I honestly do not know what the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) finds funny about that. She belongs to a party that, in the previous Parliament, cut the Foreign Office budget by a sixth. The number of diplomatic staff dealing with Africa fell by a quarter during a decade in which her party was in office. It is no wonder that the Legg report concluded that one of the reasons that mistakes were made was that officials had an impossible overload.
In the spending increase, I have secured the Department's budget. I have doubled the number of staff in the West Africa section covering Sierra Leone—[Interruption.] It is true.
May I tell my right hon. Friend that one of the concerns I had as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee was the appallingly long hours worked by middle and junior-ranking officials. Will he confirm that they are no longer working 70 or 80-hour-weeks?
I cannot confirm to the House that there are not officials in that section, or in other sections in the Foreign Office, who may occasionally be required in emergencies to work 70 or 80 hours a week. I am confident, however, that the pressure on the section has been greatly eased by the doubling of its numbers.
The sharp reduction—100 staff in the Africa command—in the past decade has to be placed in the context that, in the same decade, there were in Africa more conflicts and crises, which had to be handled by a dwindling number of staff. If Conservative Members wish to debate the conduct of Ministers, vital to the debate is the way in which we are repairing the damage done by their conduct of the Foreign Office.
The Legg inquiry concluded that the officials involved were "loyal and conscientious". The inquiry recognised that the officials had had to
endure an anxious period of criticism and uncertainty",
and expressed the hope that its report would
close the chapter as far as they are concerned.
I have never made any secret of my view that it was wrong that the same officials were then put on trial, for a second time, by the Foreign Affairs Committee. Nevertheless, contrary to the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, the Foreign Office fully co-operated with the Select Committee inquiry. With the sole exception of secret intelligence reports, the Select Committee was given access to every document that the Legg inquiry saw.
The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe said that we had obstructed the Select Committee's work—[Interruption.] Perhaps I should refer him to paragraph 99 of the report, in which the Committee welcomed the documents that I released. The report states:
It was a quantum leap in extending the capacity of committees to hold the Executive to account. As the Foreign Secretary himself said, the 'committee has had more access to official documents than any of its predecessors or indeed any of its parallels.' We welcome the Government's decision to allow the Select Committee access to most of the key official documents in the Sandline affair.
That is the view of the Committee itself.
As I said, I accept all of the recommendations of the Legg report. I shall respond later formally to the Select Committee's report, but I tell the House now that it is my intention to accept many of its recommendations.
I agree with the Select Committee, for example, that any change to arms embargoes should be announced to Parliament and placed in the Library; it has already been done. I agree that all officials should be doubly careful in contacts with persons under criminal investigation, and I have instructed them to consult first with our legal advisers. I agree with the Select Committee on the need for action against arms brokering, and the Government are carefully considering responses to proposals in our recent White Paper on the subject.
I believe also that the Committee is right to be concerned about the particular sensitivities in dealing with military companies whose staff include former members of the armed forces or intelligence agencies. I also share its view that Colonel Spicer should have known more about the legal position on the supply of arms, and that he was less than frank with Foreign Office officials about his supply of arms. In its postscript, the Select Committee observes that the aim of lasting peace in Sierra Leone is "hardly likely" to be helped by the activities of mercenary forces. I could not agree more.
I also welcome what the omissions from the Select Committee's report tell us about what the Select Committee found. The report does not raise the slightest doubt about the central findings of the Legg inquiry—that there was no connivance in the Foreign Office at a breach of the arms embargo, and no conspiracy by either officials or Ministers to undermine the publicly stated policy.
The sole ministerial quote that was produced by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe in his entire speech was that from the speech by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) in which he said to the House, correctly, that the embargo applied to the junta.
That speech, made in March, was utterly irrelevant to a breach of the arms embargo by Sandline which had already happened. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has never explained how he imagines that a speech in March could have caused confusion to Sandline when it signed a contract the previous December or when it supplied the arms in the previous February. Not even Colonel Spicer has used the novel line of reasoning that in December 1997 he was confused by a speech that was to be made in March 1998. Yet, after two exhaustive reports, that is the best that the right hon. and learned Gentleman can do to find fault with the conduct of Ministers.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has spent the past year trying to unearth a political scandal over Sandline. He has not found it because it does not exist. This is not the arms to Iraq affair where Ministers in the previous Government relaxed the rules in order to arm Saddam Hussein, where the same Ministers deliberately resolved not to inform Parliament of the change in policy and where Ministers tried to cover up their own complicity by suppressing the evidence.
In the case of Sierra Leone there was no change in policy, no secret approval of the supply of arms and no cover-up. There are lessons to be learned and that is why I set up the Legg inquiry to establish what went wrong and how we put it right. We have acted on its recommendations.
I have been waiting patiently. The Foreign Secretary has been speaking for nearly 20 minutes but he has still to deal with the main charge that I made in my speech. Is he suggesting that it is perfectly all right to mislead this House, as the Minister of State did on 12 March, as long as Colonel Spicer was not misled? Will he now deal with all the other documents—every single one of them—in which the policy of Her Majesty's Government was mis-stated in a way that, as the Select Committee report says, misled Parliament, the public and the officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Will he answer that question?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that I was not saying that about the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister of State. [Interruption.] Colonel Spicer and anybody else seeking to supply weapons or arms to Sierra Leone would have known perfectly well, as the Select Committee said, that there was domestic legislation in place. [Interruption.]
Order. There is a lot of noise in the Chamber and it is coming particularly from the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). The hon. Gentleman is trying my patience. I must hear what the Secretary of State is saying.
The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe complains that I have been speaking for 20 minutes, but I am addressing the House on issues on which he did not address the House—the problem of Sierra Leone. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to debate the conduct of Ministers on Sierra Leone, he must be prepared to hear about the conduct of Ministers on Sierra Leone.
I go to the region next week. I will visit Nigeria where I will be one of the first Foreign Ministers to congratulate the newly elected president. My visit will be against a background of good will of the people of Nigeria for this Government because they know how strongly we condemned the repression of General Abacha and because they know that we worked harder than any other country to see their democracy restored.
I will go to Ghana and the Ivory Coast with my colleague Hubert Vedrine, the French Foreign Minister, on the first ever joint visit. In the Ivory Coast we will convene a joint conference of British and French Heads of Mission. There is no other European country with as strong a representation as Britain and France. We will be exploring how we can co-operate and use that joint strength in tackling the problems in Africa of violent conflict and the poverty that breeds it.
I am addressing the problems of the region, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not. He said nothing about what more the Foreign Office could do about the problems of the region.
I intend to meet President Kabbah while I am in the region. I expect to discuss how we can best use the resources that I have announced today to strengthen his Government and promote stability in Sierra Leone. The visit will underline the Government's commitment to the region and our fresh approach to its problems. That is the conduct of Ministers on Sierra Leone that should concern the House. I am happy to be judged on it.
By contrast, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech did not contain a single policy proposal towards Sierra Leone or the region. It is worth restating that, because it remains the flaw in the Conservatives' criticisms of Ministers' conduct. They wish to debate the conduct of Ministers, but not their conduct in relation to Sierra Leone. The debate is motivated not by their support for the people of Sierra Leone, but all too transparently by their desire to wring party advantage from the crisis in that country. That approach would be massively rejected by the people of Sierra Leone and it should be massively rejected by the House.
The most important conclusion of the Select Committee's report is the last one, which reminds us that the purpose of the Select Committee system is to ensure that
officials and Ministers are aware that the beam of the select committee searchlight may one day swing in their direction, and they may have to justify their action—or inaction—when subject to intense scrutiny".
I cannot avoid making some reference to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) before I deal with the Committee's conclusions. He is right to be concerned about half-truths. If he remembers the Scott inquiry report, he will know that a distinguished civil servant, who has but recently left the Foreign Office, said that half a truth could still be the truth. That comment attracted some of Sir Richard Scott's most damaging criticism. The Cabinet of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a member declined to accept the report.
The centrepiece of the Scott inquiry report was the fact that the House had been deceived, because, while the statement of policy remained the same, the method of application of that policy had changed in a material way. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct to be indignant if the House has been misled, but he would also be right to remember that the Government of which he was a member did not have a distinguished record in such matters. It gives me no pleasure to say that some of the conduct of this Government has been eerily reminiscent of that of the previous Government. We were entitled to better, and we expected better.
The Foreign Secretary sought to distance the Foreign Office from Sandline. That is a legitimate argument, but it does not sit with the extent to which Colonel Spicer was in contact with the Foreign Office at material moments of the narrative with which the Select Committee is concerned. After the Legg inquiry and the report of the Select Committee, which was couched in terms as strong as any of us can remember a Select Committee using, no one is responsible, no one is at fault and no one has been disciplined.
One issue above all lay at the heart of the mismanagement of the affair: the misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the United Nations resolution limiting arms exports. The Select Committee report reveals that, for months collectively, the Foreign Office did not appreciate the contents of that resolution; for months collectively, it did not understand the effect of that resolution when it was incorporated into domestic law. In my judgment, that lack of understanding was culpable and cannot be excused.
The Select Committee report contains a catalogue of failures, outlined either expressly or by implication, including the failure of officials to brief Ministers, which is described as appalling; the failure of officials to advise Ministers of material developments, including even a raid by Customs and Excise on the Foreign Office; and the failure to advise of the possibility of the prosecution of a Foreign Office official on an indictable offence.
How often does Customs and Excise knock on the door of the Foreign Office with a warrant in its hand, that it should not rate the immediate notification of Ministers? How often are Foreign Office officials at risk of prosecution for indictable offences, that the Foreign Secretary should not be instantly advised?
There was a failure to respond to the article in the Toronto Globe and Mail of 1 August 1997, which said that Sandline was involved in plans to overthrow the junta; and a failure to respond to Colonel Tim Spicer's phone call of 5 January 1998, saying that he had signed an agreement to give $10 million of support to President Kabbah. How on earth could it be, as the Committee rightly asks, that no one thought that the support might involve the supply of arms? Was not that a reasonable inference from the size of the sum involved?
There was a failure to understand the significance of, and to act on, the letter of 5 February 1998 from my noble Friend Lord Avebury drawing attention to the Toronto Globe and Mail article and a new article in US News and World Report, which contained accurate information about the supply of arms. That failure was described by the Foreign Secretary, in his evidence to the Committee, as
one of the gravest errors and misjudgments".
There was a failure to brief Ministers properly and, as a result, the House was misled, but still no one is responsible or at fault and no one has been disciplined.
The truth is that both Legg, in rather more sedate language, and the Select Committee report, in rather more blunt and direct language, reveal an embarrassing litany of incompetence that is all the more significant if we recall that Sierra Leone was the subject of direct prime ministerial interest, as the Prime Minister extended to the deposed President Kabbah an invitation to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh as his personal guest.
Neither Sir Thomas Legg nor the Committee held Ministers personally to blame, but Ministers should feel some sense of discomfort about the fact that such things were going on in a Department for which they had responsibility. I want to read a passage that reflects the kind of responsibility that ought to be taken on such occasions.
In the Scott report debate, the Foreign Secretary, who was then shadow Foreign Secretary, said:
The Government are fond of lecturing the rest of the nation on its need to accept responsibility. Parents are held responsible for actions; teachers are held responsible for the performance of their pupils; local councillors are held legally and financially responsible; yet, when it comes to themselves, suddenly not a single Minister can be found to accept responsibility for what went wrong."—[Official Report, 26 February 1996; Vol. 272, c. 606.]
That was approximately three years ago—it is as apposite today as it was then.
I am bound by Madam Speaker's ruling that there can be no reference to the events with regard to the obtaining of the Select Committee draft report, except in passing. In passing, all I can say is that I would have expected Ministers to have some sense of discomfort about the sudden and unheralded appearance in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of a draft of the report. I am bound to say that, judging by its previous performance, I am almost surprised that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office realised the significance of the document that had been sent to it.
Last week, the Foreign Secretary responded to a question from me as to why the document simply had not been sent back by saying that no one would have believed him if he had sent it back and said that he had not read it. He may, with time, care to reflect on that self-assessment of his credibility.
Following that line of logic, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain how it is that, with a permanent under-secretary of considerable experience, probity and efficiency—as witnessed by Ministers from the previous Government and other observers—the Foreign Office is such a toy-town organisation? I find that incredible, and it seems that the permanent under-secretary is acting as an air-raid shelter for Ministers.
That was a timely and helpful intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the Committee addresses that matter, and has views on it. The Committee considered the evidence in detail and reached a conclusion. I was not present throughout the consideration by the Committee and, therefore, I am not willing to substitute my judgment for that of the Committee.
It is time to blow away the fog of obscurity surrounding arms exports. It is time to have a Select Committee of the House to monitor arms export policy and, if necessary, to scrutinise individual transactions. It is time to provide for an international means of dealing with arms brokering in defiance of UN resolutions. It is time to provide that a transaction involving a transfer from anywhere in the world to anywhere else in the world would be illegal if it would be illegal for those arms to be transferred from the UK.
We ought to be willing to consider extra-territorial jurisdiction in this matter, because it makes a nonsense of UN resolutions—and the way in which they are imported into our domestic law—if, as in the present case, arms transferred from Bulgaria to Sierra Leone at the instigation of a broker based in the UK would not, apparently, constitute a breach of criminal law.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the reports had not directly criticised Ministers. Does he agree with the verdict of the Select Committee report that
many of problems which occurred would not have occurred … If ministers had made their policy on dealings with mercenaries clearer to officials".
Does he agree that, in that sense, Ministers are culpable?
That is the conclusion of the Committee, and I see no reason to substitute my judgment for its judgment. I go further—one would have expected Ministers to be on their inquiry. I go back to the fact that Sierra Leone was not some country of which we knew little. It was a country in which No. 10 Downing street was taking an express interest, at the instigation, quite rightly, of the Prime Minister—all the more reason for Ministers to be on their inquiry.
All of that produced for the people of Sierra Leone nothing but the lasting horrors of a civil war of utmost brutality, which is still being visited upon the population of that benighted country. That is why I have urged the Government before today to ensure that they continue to provide logistical assistance to President Kabbah, following the statement that the Secretary of State made in the House on 19 January.
The Government should work with the Commonwealth and the United Nations to ensure that Nigeria does not become so disillusioned with its role in Sierra Leone that it pulls its personnel out of the ECOMOG forces. The recent election in Nigeria must surely throw that matter into sharp focus. The Government should bring all possible pressure to bear on the Government in Liberia to cause them to cease to interfere in the internal affairs of Sierra Leone. We should be making plans now for the rebuilding of Freetown's damaged infrastructure, and providing support for development programmes in the region and emergency relief.
Coincidentally, the Foreign Secretary came today with £10 million in his pocket. I am delighted that he brought that money. It is only a little more than the $10 million that Sandline was to gain for providing support to President Kabbah. Of course £10 million is better than nothing, but what effect will it have on the devastation from which we now know Sierra Leone is suffering?
That is a proper commitment, but we will want to see that it is fully implemented. Only if the Government fully implement the commitments announced and reinforced today by the Foreign Secretary will they have a chance to salvage something from a period in their history that has done no credit to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and even less to the Government themselves.
I have three initial reflections. First, the backcloth is the agony and suffering of the people of Sierra Leone. That should be our main concern. Against that agony and suffering, the ambit of the Foreign Affairs Committee report is relatively insignificant. The people of Sierra Leone and the friends of that Commonwealth country would be appalled if the debate turned into just another party game. That is why I welcome the £10 million which my right hon. Friend said in his statement today would be committed to Sierra Leone.
Secondly, the prospect of the debate becoming a party game is part of the problem that we face in a Select Committee in a highly partisan and personalised political structure. Select Committees act as Committees of the legislature monitoring the Executive. There is clearly great pressure on Committee members not to score own goals and to support their own side, particularly on a matter such as this. Since May last year, the debate in the Chamber has become highly partisan, and it seemed that those on the Opposition Front Bench were trying to dress it up as if it were a replay of the arms to Iraq scandal.
However, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, that was light years away. The Government at that time deliberately misled the House on a change of policy and were even prepared to countenance the imprisonment of business men to cover up their own failings.
It is true. I invite the hon. Gentleman to examine the history of the Scott report and the conduct of the Conservative Government at that time.
The highest the charge can be put in this case is that the Government allowed, or connived at, the action of a British company to supply a quantity of arms to an elected and internationally recognised head of state of a friendly Commonwealth country who had been ousted in a coup by a motley group of rebels.
The House hardly needs to be reminded of the arms to Iraq scandal and of the role played by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary at that time. I suspect that the Opposition thought that they had struck gold with Sierra Leone, and that they would be able to find the Foreign Secretary's fingerprints on some form of conspiracy. Those who had not been conspicuous in their concern for Sierra Leone, either before or after the sad events and the suffering there, seized on an apparent opportunity to embarrass the Secretary of State as he sought to help to stabilise that benighted country.
My final preliminary point relates to the leak. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs this morning agreed its first special report on the premature disclosure of the report on Sierra Leone. I congratulate the Committee's staff on ensuring that the special report is available in the Vote Office so that hon. Members may peruse it.
There is sadness that there was a leak. I trust that the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges will consider the substantial mitigation offered after the event by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). The leak is a warning to every hon. Member of the seriousness of those matters, particularly when it comes to the leaking of a draft report on which a Government who were so inclined might seek to pressurise members of a Select Committee to moderate their views.
I commend the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee's staff on the original report. They worked long and hard in difficult circumstances. Hon. Members will know that two thirds or more of the report deals with the substance of the arms to Sierra Leone affair. The last part of the report deals more generally with relations between the Executive and the legislature, which, in my judgment, are of general importance to Select Committees.
I shall outline the background of the events relating to the supply of arms. The terms of reference of the Foreign Affairs Committee were: first, to examine whether
actions by Government personnel in relation to Sierra Leone after
the ousting of President Kabbah on
25 May 1997 were consistent with implementation of the Government's policy that
President Kabbah should be restored only
by peaceful means; and, whether deficiencies have been revealed in the arrangements in the FCO for passing information to Ministers and implementing their instructions.
Was there a conspiracy? There is not, in the phrase initially used in the report, a scintilla of evidence to suggest that the Foreign Secretary knew that there was a potential breach of the arms embargo. Try as anyone might to find the fingerprints of the Foreign Secretary, or any knowledge on his part, there is no evidence to that end.
Nor can any reasonable person conclude that the Foreign Secretary should have had such knowledge or made inquiries. Is it seriously suggested that the Foreign Secretary should scurry around the corridors of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, looking in at the doors of relevant sections to say, "Is there anything untoward in Sierra Leone that I should know about?" That is not a counsel of perfection, but an absurd proposition. However much one tries to pin blame on the Foreign Secretary, it is clear that he did not know about what was happening in Sierra Leone, and there was no reasonable way for him to have found out about it by his own means.
The hon. Gentleman may intend to develop his argument on those lines, but will he say who is to blame? As I said when I intervened on the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), the permanent under secretary at the Foreign Office is a highly efficient and competent senior official. It is to be expected that the Foreign Secretary would have asked questions about the matter, and that his officials would report to him on it. There appears to be an enormous credibility gap at the centre of the hon. Gentleman's exposition.
The hon. Gentleman asks who is to blame. Does he seriously suggest that the Foreign Secretary should go around asking people whether anything is wrong in Sierra Leone? It cannot seriously be suggested that my right hon. Friend knew what was going on. As for blaming anyone, as the Legg report and our Committee pointed out, serious deficiencies in the conduct of officials were revealed during the course of our inquiries. I invite people to read the Committee's report and to let it speak for itself in terms of the actions—or, rather, the inactions—of several key players in the machine.
I believe that I speak for all members of the Select Committee in expressing our enormous admiration for the quality and efficiency of Foreign Office personnel in our dealings with Foreign Office officials in this country and when we travel abroad. However, in this episode, we conclude that the officials concerned failed badly, and that is where the blame lies.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I do not suggest that the Foreign Secretary—to use the hon. Gentleman's emotive words—should scuttle around seeking information. However, the Foreign Secretary has senior officials, who report to him, and special advisers. Speaking as a special adviser to a previous Administration, I can say that one would immediately recognise that, if something like that was going on, one had to act as the eyes and ears of the Foreign Secretary. Indeed, I understand that, in this case, it was the special adviser—
The fact is that those officials did not inform the Foreign Secretary. The hon. Gentleman takes a rather classical view of ministerial responsibility. The last time that the view was taken that Ministers should be responsible for everything that happens in their Department was the Crichel Down affair in 1954 and the doctrine was obsolete even then. Given the complexity of modern government, no Minister can seriously be expected to be responsible for everything that happens in his Department. If the hon. Gentleman still holds that strict classical view of ministerial responsibility, I suggest that he has a quiet word with the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who has previous form on that matter from his time at the Home Office.
I am not a psychiatrist, merely a politician. I can only suggest that the Foreign Secretary was showing an excess of misguided loyalty. Initially, he said that the Committee was unfair to civil servants. However, I invite hon. Members to read the report and let its words on the conduct of the officials speak for themselves.
Let me first go through the Foreign Secretary's three criticisms. Secondly, he said that the Legg committee set out what went wrong and that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had put it right. That is partially correct, but the Select Committee's recommendations went substantially beyond those of the Legg report. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary very properly said today that the Foreign Office was responding positively to a number of our recommendations—recommendations that were not part of the Legg report.
Finally, the Foreign Secretary said:
Seven months later the Select Committee has not come up with a single significant fact that was not already in the Legg Report.
I would respond as follows. First, Sir Thomas Legg is an establishment figure—a fact reflected in his report—and he clearly pulled his punches unnecessarily in many instances. Secondly, the Legg report was conducted in private, while the Foreign Affairs Committee held meetings in the full glare of the press, television cameras and the public. We are accountable to the public and the people can draw their own conclusions.
Paragraph 72 of the report refers to a clear instance when the Committee uncovered more than the Legg report in relation to minutes of a meeting of 3 December 1997. The Legg report proceeded on the basis of a certain assumption that was revealed only in January this year to be incorrect. I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary has said that he will respond positively to a number of our recommendations.
I shall now deal with the final part of the report about Executive-legislative relations, which is of general interest to the House.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. My intervention is prompted by the comments of the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) about the permanent under-secretary who, in my opinion, is a very fine civil servant. I remind my hon. Friend that the permanent under-secretary was astonishingly and refreshingly candid whenever he appeared before the Committee, and readily admitted that he and his officials had made mistakes. Is that not so?
Indeed. The Committee can have only the highest admiration for the permanent under-secretary in all his relations with it. The main charge against the permanent under-secretary is that, at the end of March 1998, he became aware of a raid on the Foreign Office and four weeks elapsed before he informed the Foreign Secretary about a highly sensitive matter. That information reached the Foreign Secretary only as a result of a letter from solicitors acting on behalf of Sandline. The four weeks of inaction and the failure to inform a Minister form the gravamen of the charge against the permanent under-secretary.
I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want the House to run away with the idea that he is trying to talk down our report, which was widely acclaimed in the media upon publication. Sadly, all the detailed criticisms of the internal workings of the Foreign Office fall squarely at the door of Sir John Kerr. Is that not correct?
Far from talking down the work of the Committee, I believe that it has played a major role on behalf of Parliament and enhanced the credibility of Committees as a whole. If we had rolled over and done nothing, we would have remained very limp and lame for the rest of the Parliament. The Executive—if it were so inclined—could have easily ignored Select Committees.
In our system, Select Committees are a relatively new and weak creation. We have Executive-led Government, and that is particularly true in foreign affairs, where there is the Crown prerogative. If the Government are committed to the distribution of power—I am confident that they are—they should distribute power between Parliament and the Executive with the same zeal that they have shown in distributing it within the United Kingdom to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Select Committees are the main instrument available to Parliament for keeping the Executive in check.
The Foreign Secretary can claim with justification that he has appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee more frequently than any of his predecessors. He is also justified in claiming that he has allowed greater access to official documents than did any of his predecessors, including Conservative Ministers. However, those concessions were given reluctantly, tardily and only following protracted argument. We believe that the Foreign Secretary should have been far more willing to be open with the Committee and to provide us with the tools that we needed to do our job. That is particularly true of intelligence. We believe that Committees should have controlled access to the intelligence community and must be trusted by the Executive. Why should Sir Thomas Legg have greater access than hon. Members? We point that out forcefully.
The last part of our report deals with access to information and what is relevant to the work of other Committees. That was discussed last Thursday in the Liaison Committee, which brings together the Chairmen of all Select Committees. Since the leak has been made, I can say only that there is widespread dissatisfaction among the Chairmen not only with this Government but with all Governments and their co-operation with Select Committees. A dossier will be compiled by the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, and I hope that it will be not only debated in the House but taken seriously by the Government.
I hope that the Government will take seriously all our recommendations and that the House will recognise that we have done an effective job on behalf of Parliament. We concluded our report by using the searchlight analogy mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats.
Had there been a simple Opposition motion asking the House to agree with the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Committee, it would have been extremely difficult for us to oppose that motion. Of course the Opposition have tried to be too clever and could not resist the temptation to go too far. The motion has three legs. The first
endorses the criticisms made of Ministers
in the report. No conclusions in the report directly criticise Ministers, and many seek to strengthen Ministers in their relations with officials. The high point, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife pointed out, is paragraph 19, but that recommendation is to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a whole.
The motion's second leg
deplores the conduct of Ministers which led to such criticism".
I have already covered that point in my remarks on the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. Finally, the motion
calls on the Ministers concerned to accept responsibility for their conduct.
That fails because, in general, Ministers' conduct in substantive matters was not criticised.
On the relations between the Executive and the legislature, the criticism is mild. In paragraph 99, we welcome the increased access to documents. In paragraph 101, we urge the Government to accede to the Select Committee's request for information, irrespective of the existence of a departmental inquiry. In paragraph 109, we deal with intelligence. The Government gave more information and access than any of their predecessors, but that was not enough. It is possible, particularly because of the failure to grant access to intelligence material, that the focus of the report is not what it should have been. The Government should have been more open and co-operative.
Thus, the motion misses the point of the report: in this instance, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office machine, which is normally efficient and highly admired by the public and, indeed, by the Committee, failed to perform and to give Ministers the quality of advice that they needed. The Opposition's attempt to distil the report into criticism of individual Ministers is therefore surely a partisan distortion. I shall oppose the motion.
I am sorry that the debate is not called "The conduct of Ministers and their relationships with a Select Committee", because those are the most imperative matters to come out of the report.
I shall make, I hope, only one remark that will be viewed as incredibly political. I honestly believe that Ministers have to ask questions and that those with responsibility for dealing with Sierra Leone in Parliament had enough external evidence to make more inquiries of their officials in the equatorial African department in the Foreign Office, which is concerned with Sierra Leone. If they had done so, much of the fiasco would not have arisen. I shall deal with the relationship between the Select Committee and this House, and the Government, which the report has highlighted.
I have been concerned with Select Committees since their inception under the then Leader of the House, Lord St. John-Stevas, and have twice chaired the Procedure Committee when it has monitored the work of Select Committees—first in the 1980s, and then in the 1990s. It is important to me that the work of Select Committees should be able to proceed properly and fully. I believe that this is the first time that the Executive, by their action, have frustrated or attempted to frustrate the examination of one of their Departments. If I am to make that claim, I must substantiate it—and I shall.
I accept immediately the right of Ministers to ask certain appointees to examine an internal problem in their Department. That cannot be denied, but it should not be a means of frustrating or delaying the work of a House of Commons Select Committee. In this case, we were told time and again during the Committee's proceedings that details on matters, witnesses and papers could not be made available until the Legg inquiry had reported. That massively delayed the Committee, and extended the time that it took to produce its report. The Foreign Secretary criticised that delay but he was responsible for it.
Ministers and Departments should readily and willingly release papers that are necessary for an inquiry, when requested by a Select Committee. The Foreign Secretary claimed that never had more papers been made available to a Foreign Office inquiry. That may be so, but let it be understood that those papers had to be dragged out of the Department. A request was made, and refused; a further request was also refused. Finally, following another request, the Committee was offered the option of just three of its members being allowed to go to the Foreign Office to inspect certain of the papers. The Committee grudgingly accepted that, although, following the publication of the Legg Report, all such papers had to be made available.
When the permanent secretary was first cross-examined before the Committee on 14 May 1998, he agreed to the existence of one set of papers and promised that he would do something about the matter. We did not receive the papers until five months later. That is hardly the sort of co-operation with the Committee that the Department has suggested has occurred.
Departments should not set out actively to mislead; surely that is imperative. There were several illustrations in the giving of evidence of activities which, in the kindest terms, can only be described as deliberate obfuscation. Perhaps the prime example of that was only recently, when my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
who was the first person in his Department to have sight of a copy of the Foreign Affairs Committee report on Sierra Leone; and at what time and on what day it was seen.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office replied:
Copies of the report were collected from the Foreign Affairs Committee office … on 9 February by the Head of Parliamentary Relations Department and the Parliamentary Clerk."—[Official Report, 16 February 1999; Vol. 325, c. 751.]
That is factually correct, but is misleading to the nth degree. The Minister must have known that the Foreign Secretary had had sight of the report at another time. Ministers and the Government must not give a Select Committee such misleading information.
Instead of misleading, the Government should ensure that the Minister volunteers all necessary information to a Select Committee engaged in an inquiry. I believed that that point had been established—I had something to do with it—when the Conservative Government were criticised by the Trade and Industry Committee, of which I was a member. Towards the end of our inquiry on Concorde we stumbled on several papers—accounts—that had not been presented to the Committee, and which considerably affected our inquiry. The outcome brought an assurance by the Leader of the House that it was the Government's job to help, not frustrate, the working of Select Committees, and that they should be willing to provide any documents that they knew about concerning a Committee's inquiry. I believe that that must be established absolutely in any consideration given by the House or any of its Committees, because that must be the proper way for the Executive to be held to account.
Lastly, I return to the subject of the Foreign Secretary's refusal to meet the request of the head of the Secret Intelligence Service to be seen by the Committee. The Foreign Secretary's constant refusal of any of the Committee's requests is in direct contrast to the behaviour of the Secretary of State for Defence, who was willing for the Committee to see the Chief of Defence Intelligence, Vice-Admiral Alan West. We did so very satisfactorily. The Foreign Office's refusal of our requests seems even stranger in light of the fact that it said that there was very little that "C", the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, could say. If that was the case, why prevent his appearance? Surely that made it more likely that people would ask, "Why, oh why?" and suggest that there must be something to hide.
Today's Foreign Affairs Committee report is before the House. I hope that, in dealing with these matters, the Standards and Privileges Committee, which will have to take up the matter, will be certain to ask the right question. If documents were in the hands of a political adviser to a Government, surely no one would believe that that official would not try to ensure that Ministers, when they were preparing to make their statements, really understood what had been in the Committee's report, although that report had not been published until a few minutes before the statements were made. If the Committee's recommendations were given to the Secretary of State's political assistant, it is beyond credibility that that had no influence on the fact that Ministers, after the report was published, set out to rubbish the report merely so as to subvert the Committee's recommendations. That must not be allowed to happen again.
I make this speech in defence of the House because if we cannot, as Select Committees of the House, hold the Executive fully to account, we are failing in our duty, and I believe that Governments, whatever their complexion, must try to ensure that we can achieve that. I believe that the Government are open to severe criticism on that basis.
I shall not follow the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) in much of what he said because, in some respects, there is common ground between us on a Select Committee's role and functions and, in particular, on the powerful reaffirmation of that role which is contained in our report.
In that context, I particularly underline those conclusions and paragraphs which state that we had every right to hold an inquiry of the kind that we did. If, every time a Select Committee considered undertaking such an inquiry, it was within the gift of the Executive to set up an alternative inquiry, the Select Committee would be neutered and that would be wrong. I am sure that we have common ground in that regard, and I hope that we would gain the support of the majority of hon. Members—at least, those on the Back Benches.
However, the Opposition motion, which seeks to lay special emphasis upon ministerial responsibility, is unjustified and unjustifiable, given the totality of the Legg report and of the Select Committee's report, and the mountain of evidence that was collected. For such an emphasis to be laid by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) in his speech and in the Opposition motion is, in a curious way, an addition to the catalogue of misleading elements that have dogged the affair.
That is because that emphasis distracts from the most extraordinary feature that emerges from all the evidence and inquiries, which is that Ministers were kept in the dark about sensitive political issues that were going on and being discussed, initially within the bowels of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but which gradually rose to the top, to the level of permanent secretary.
I, like everybody else, have found that one of the most mystifying and mysterious aspects of the whole affair was that, despite all the Select Committee's efforts to discover quite what had happened and why, the central feature of all the evidence that emerged, which jumps out at one, which screams at one, was that Ministers were kept completely in the dark about quite fundamental aspects. That is why I do not agree with the emphasis of the Opposition motion. However, it is a question that we must try to answer, or at least address.
I need not illustrate that too much because the Select Committee's report is a detailed catalogue, as in some respects is the Legg report—I agree with the muted criticisms of that report by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson)—although it does not bring out the matter to the same extent.
The high commissioner, as a result of the most wonderful and commendable contact with President Kabbah, obtained "priceless" information about an arms contract, but did not initially effectively convey the nature of that information to officials in the Foreign Office.
However, Foreign Office officials dealing with the matter in London, in addition eventually to receiving from Mr. Penfold the minute of 2 February saying that this was a contract dealing with the purchase of arms had, by this time, also received, through their connections and contacts with Sandline, details of Operation Python—a detailed blow-by-blow account of how the contract was to be delivered and executed.
To be clear on that point, the Foreign Office officials received that critical document from the British high commissioner who had previously received it from Sandline; and the British high commissioner, Mr. Penfold, passed it to the Foreign Office the day after he received it from Sandline.
Yes, that is a factual statement. It is commendable that Foreign Office officials obtained that information with such speed.
The officials, however, did absolutely nothing. They did not inform their senior officials, and they certainly did not inform the Foreign Secretary's private office, let alone the Minister of State responsible. I hope that the Minister of State will confirm that he did not know that the document on Operation Python was available in the Department. It was an extraordinary state of affairs.
As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, and as we know from the television programme, the Customs office knocked on the FCO's doors and raided the files, but the permanent under-secretary did not feel it sufficiently important to write even the simplest of minutes to tell the Foreign Secretary that he should be aware of what had occurred. This conjunction is incredible, and requires explanation.
My hon. Friend asks the question, and we await an answer from the Minister.
Given the circumstances that I have described, I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was fair in claiming that by holding our inquiry we were putting officials in double jeopardy, and that officials could not speak for themselves. Anyone reading the burden of our evidence in the lengthy transcripts will see that many members of the Committee—it was certainly the burden of my questions—were almost pleading and begging officials to explain what had happened. We did not want to reach those conclusions: it was the last thing we wanted. We tried as hard as we could to discover why this failure to pass information through officials to Ministers had occurred.
I am not a natural critic of the FCO: one of the greatest privileges in my parliamentary and political life was to serve in that Department. I have enormous respect for the FCO, and I understand and appreciate the excitement of serving in such a post. I have tried, therefore, to search for an explanation. Initially, I thought that it might be a structural problem. There have been considerable changes in the way in which the FCO is organised and administered. There has been a growth of command structures: the autonomous, self-financing portions of the FCO. I have once or twice wondered aloud whether the decision-making process had been affected by that autonomy, and whether the chain of communication had been broken, because I had thought that information was passed on quickly. I found no evidence for that explanation, and no support for it when I asked about it. I am as mystified and as dumbfounded about what happened as are other members of the Committee and many others, including Sir Thomas Legg.
The most important thing is that this failure of communication should never happen again. We cannot write a code or a manual on ministerial-civil service relations. All the textbooks in the world cannot describe the curious chemistry of the working relationship between a Secretary of State, a Minister of State, the private office and officials. It cannot be laid down in tablets of stone. I criticise the Opposition motion, because if there is one message that should go out from the House tonight it is that we must not allow such a total breach of communication between officials and Ministers as occurred in this case to happen again.
Do not paragraphs 10.56 and 10.57 of the report imply that criticism should be levelled less at individuals in the Department—who are described as loyal and conscientious—than at the institution that had been inherited from the last Government?
I think that we all understand the incredible pressures experienced by a small, understaffed Department dealing with west Africa. We must remember that the arrival of all this vital information coincided with the beginning of the Nigerian assault—the assault by ECOMOG—on Sierra Leone. There are mitigating circumstances, which are mentioned in the Legg report; but they cannot explain, or erase, the breach of communication that our report demonstrates so vividly—and, in my view, not inaccurately, unfairly or unjustly.
Let me mention two other aspects of the matter. One is the whole issue of the use of force. I believe that the Government experienced a genuine dilemma in that regard. If they were to restore President Kabbah by some form of military means, they had two options. They could accept support from a Nigerian regime that was a pariah in the international community, including the Commonwealth; or—and this option was undoubtedly bound up with the Sandline contract—they could arm the Kamajors in Sierra Leone.
Understandably, that second option was queasily opposed by those in the Foreign Office—rightly, in my view. I believe, and document after document states, that it would have been wrong to arm, or rearm, the Kamajors, because that would have inflamed and accentuated the civil war. That is made clear by a number of statements, and by documents from the Cabinet Office. The Sandline contract, however, was designed to do precisely that: arm the Kamajors. Whether or not there was a breach of the UN embargo, the Sandline contract certainly constituted a breach of Government policy in every meaningful sense, and that is one of the saddest aspects of the affair.
In his evidence to the Committee, Mr. Spicer of Sandline pleaded ignorance of the UN arms embargo. That is curious. On 2 March, in a letter to President Kabbah describing the difficulty that he had experienced in delivering the contract, Mr. Spicer invoked the embargo as the obstacle. That was before any Customs raid had taken place. I view some of the pleas of total ignorance with a degree of incredulity.
Like everyone else, however, I feel that the issues must be seen in the broader context of the terrible tragedy of Sierra Leone itself. Diamonds and mercenaries have not proved to be Sierra Leone's best friends, in any sense. If there is another lesson that we can learn, it is that we should act on the whole question of arms brokerage and mercenary activity. It worries me that the idea that mercenaries could or should be used legitimately in certain circumstances is being mooted in fashionable quarters. Experts have said as much on television. It is being suggested that we should return to an earlier age of privatised warfare. If the privatisation of war is to be the bequest of the late 20th century to the 21st, that will constitute an horrific illustration of how little we have learned from our history.
I hope that, when the arguments are over, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and the Government, will find time to promote, wherever possible, a broader international consensus on how mercenary activity should be dealt with. The position is extraordinary. How in the name of heaven did Ukrainian mercenaries manage to reach Sierra Leone? We know, or suspect, how they were paid—they were paid in diamonds, in one way or another—but how did they get there? What was the chain, and what international connivance allowed it to happen? In the answer to those questions lies one of the important lessons that can be learned from the whole affair.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not mind my making a final observation about the mild irony of the conjunction of certain circumstances. One of his early acts in government was to commission the FCO historian to write a definitive account of an earlier Foreign Office mystery, the mystery of the Zinoviev letter; and one of the most interesting aspects of that paper, which makes fascinating reading, is the title chosen by that chief historian in the FCO to describe the 1924 mystery—"A Most Extraordinary and Mysterious Business". It is not a bad epitaph for Sierra Leone.
I am pleased to be able to follow the pertinent and experienced speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), with much of which I agreed. I shall devote most of my own speech to what I regard as the most neglected aspect of the affair: the Government's overall policy on Sierra Leone.
I want to make two observations relating to the Select Committee report. One concerns officials, the other Ministers. When the Foreign Secretary made his statement about the Legg report on 27 July last year, he said at the outset that he was making it on the first available sitting day following his receipt of the report. He is to be commended on his promptness in coming to the House.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman had time to read the report from cover to cover, but I would not be surprised—I do not say this in any spirit of criticism—if he had been unable to read in full the Legg key documents, 1 to 123. The Committee, of course, had the benefit of access to those documents. I think it most unlikely that, if the Foreign Secretary had had time to read them in full, he would have chosen to single out in his statement one official in the Foreign Office, the British high commissioner Mr. Peter Penfold, and to name him in the House for public reprimand—a naming that was carried extensively in that evening's television bulletins.
A valuable aspect of the Select Committee's report is the fact that the Committee managed to rebalance, at official level, the issue of where responsibility lay. It is patent that, where there were failures, they were not exclusively the responsibility of Mr. Peter Penfold; there were serious official failures elsewhere in the Department, going right up to the permanent under-secretary. It is important to note that a greater degree of justice has been done to Mr. Penfold in that respect.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman and I will disagree on this point. What was Mr. Penfold doing when he was holding meetings with mercenaries throughout the Christmas holiday, when he was back in the United Kingdom? That is the $64,000 question: why was he negotiating, or dealing, with mercenaries?
The answer to that question will be clear when I turn to my second point—the responsibility of Ministers—but Mr. Peter Penfold was by no means alone among Foreign Office officials in having contacts with Sandline International.
It is abundantly clear, indeed indisputable, that what impaled the Foreign Office on the Sandline International affair was the decision, which was conscious and deliberate, to misdescribe the arms embargo policy. I am in no doubt that all the diplomatic service officials who have been before us are men and women of integrity, and that, if all the officials concerned had been clear that the arms embargo applied to all the parties to the Sierra Leone crisis, including the Government of President Kabbah in exile in Guinea, the Foreign Office would not have become involved in Sandline International's activities. It was the misdescription of the policy that lay at the heart of the Foreign Office's difficulties.
The misdescription started at an early stage and continued from the autumn of 1997 through the rest of that year to the time when President Kabbah was restored.
It is not adequate to say that officials were responsible for the misdescription of the policy. Ministers are responsible for policy and its presentation. It was not simply an external matter. The misdescription was carried through into the internal communications of the Foreign Office.
Three Ministers were associated with the misdescription: the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd). As chair of the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in October, the Prime Minister must take responsibility to a degree for the fact that the communiqué of 27 October misdescribed the arms embargo policy. Indeed, if that communiqué had correctly described the policy—if President Kabbah had known what the real policy of the British Government was—I am certain that President Kabbah, who had attended the conference by invitation, even though he was no longer in government in Freetown, and had been delighted to be at that conference, would have been furious. As Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman must, without question, have been associated with and played a role in approving the communiqué at the end of the conference.
I found extraordinary the way in which the Foreign Secretary sought to dismiss the Minister of State's description of the arms embargo on 12 March last year. Far from being irrelevant, 12 March was a critical date in relation to making it clear to whom the arms embargo applied because, two days previously, on 10 March, President Kabbah had been restored to Freetown. The arms embargo applied to the very Government who were now in post in Freetown. Therefore, if there had been a time in Parliament when it was necessary to make it clear that the arms embargo applied to President Kabbah, it was precisely that moment on 12 March.
I find it singularly unattractive and somewhat distasteful that throughout, Ministers have sought, on the Floor of the House and in evidence before the Foreign Affairs Committee, to lay the blame for the misdescription of the policy at the door of officials. It is unacceptable that, on such a central issue, Ministers have not accepted their responsibility for the misdescription.
The right hon. Gentleman has long experience of being a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Indeed, he and I served on the Committee for five years in the previous Parliament. It is in that context that I want to ask him to confirm that the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Committee report on Sierra Leone do not criticise Ministers, whereas he, my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and I were on the Committee in 1994, when, with a Conservative majority, it produced a report on the Pergau dam that explicitly condemned Ministers, including the former Secretary of State for Defence, for their behaviour with regard to the House and for the way in which they had dealt with that matter. Will he confirm that the latest Select Committee report does not specifically condemn Ministers?
I am delighted to agree with the hon. Gentleman that, in the previous Parliament—and I do not wish to be called out of order—the Conservative Members on the Foreign Affairs Committee, who were in a substantial majority, unshakeably did their duty to criticise the then Executive. As for Ministers and the latest report, he will see from the proceedings section that a number of amendments were tabled. They were voted down in some circumstances, but, even with the report as published, it is far from true to say that it is free of criticism of Ministers. The Select Committee makes it clear that half-truths are unacceptable and that half-truths are one of the central issues.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to misdescription, as has the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who refused to give way earlier on the same point. Following parliamentary questions that were tabled by me and by one of my colleagues, it became apparent that, from 1979 to the present, Orders in Council confirming United Nations embargoes in relation to various countries had described policy and been circulated in exactly the same manner as they have been by the present Government. Therefore, in terms of misdescription, the Government appear to be doing nothing different from previous Governments.
Based on a written answer that the Select Committee received, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The practice had always been to circulate United Nations Security Council resolutions in toto, rather than the Orders in Council themselves. That policy has been stated by Ministers. It has, apparently, been a long-standing practice. However, I am not aware of a previous occasion when Ministers have described, as they need to do in a single sentence or two, the ambit of the criminal law on an arms embargo conspicuously inaccurately.
I move to my central point: the issue of Sierra Leone policy, which has been seriously neglected. The Foreign Secretary spoke as if the British Government's policy was the most committed of any country towards the restoration of the democratic regime of President Kabbah. The right hon. Gentleman, perhaps not for the first time, was highly selective in his description. It applied to the period from March 1998 onwards, after President Kabbah was restored to power.
The following question is central to the debate: what was the British Government's policy between May 1997, when President Kabbah was ousted, and March 1998, when he was restored to power? That is the critical period for the purposes of the report.
The policy was established within a matter of weeks of the ousting of President Kabbah. As far as I am aware, the policy was stated for the very first time in the written answer that the Minister of State gave me on 11 July 1997, at column 625. It was the first time on which it was explained that the Government's policy was based on a peaceful solution to the crisis. That policy, having been stated, became set in stone. It was, of course, reflected in the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution, and continued to be repeated right up to the point at which President Kabbah was restored to power.
The question that I have to ask is how realistic was that policy? Military juntas—particularly an extremely nasty military junta like the one in Sierra Leone—do not have a very good track record of going peacefully out of power, and that junta was absolutely no exception. After going through all the Legg documentation, I have seen not one piece of evidence that the British Government's policy of peaceful solution had any impact on the junta's policy. I do not believe that the policy ever had any chance of success. It was doomed to failure from the outset, and fail it did. President Kabbah was restored not because of British Government policy but in spite of British Government policy.
Some officials, of course, became increasingly concerned about whether the policy could be sustained. However, it was what Ministers decided to do. It was their policy; it was a cul-de-sac, leading nowhere.
If I make those criticisms, hon. Members are perfectly entitled to come back at me and ask, "What should the policy have been?" I do not agree with the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney that there were only two options—either continue the policy of peaceful solution, or arm the Kamajors. The third option, which I believe is the one that should have been followed, was not to send in British troops—as I believe that there was absolutely no case for putting at risk in that particular theatre the lives of British service men and service women—but to give logistical and intelligence support to ECOMOG. It is the very policy that is now being followed.
As the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney made it clear, there was a significant point of difficulty in that policy. As we know, the difficulty was that ECOMOG was Nigerian-forces led. Moreover, we are talking now about the Nigeria of Abacha.
We have a Government who are committed to an ethical foreign policy. I say that with absolutely no disparagement. Ethical considerations are a very important dimension to all foreign policy, and formed part of the previous Government's foreign policy. Two ethical issues were in conflict in the matter. The Government had the option either of continuing with a policy that led nowhere, or of "swallowing the pill" in giving logistical and military support to ECOMOG and achieving their prime ethical objective: restoration of the democratically elected Government of President Kabbah. I believe that the latter option is the one that should have been followed.
Sadly beyond doubt is the fact that, in Sierra Leone, between May 1997 and March 1998, we saw—certainly not for the first time this century—something that has happened previously under both Conservative and Labour Governments: foreign policy being driven by wishful thinking, rather than by recognition of the harsh realities. Once again, it resulted in failure.
I should like to touch on what the Select Committee's report reveals about issues in the relationship between Government and Select Committees. Although the debate has so far been more about implementation of policy rather than its substance—for which we might be criticised—policy implementation is key both to government and to the reality of government. A three-hour debate spent in examining those issues is therefore warranted.
Obscured by all the sound and fury surrounding the Select Committee's report is the fact that it was a Labour report, which every Labour member of the Committee, and our Liberal Democrat colleague on it, signed. Despite all the talk about partisanship and party political interests, the fact is that it was a Labour report—making it all the more remarkable that there was such fear of it, such a need to have sight of it before the embargo was lifted, and such a need to rubbish it precipitately. It really is extraordinary that a Labour report should excite so much antagonism from a Labour Government.
There never was a golden era in the relationship between Select Committees and Government. For eight years, I served on the Treasury Committee, under the distinguished chairmanship of a series of Tory Chairmen. Let us be quite clear that the previous Government could be just as ruthless and manipulative in their relationship with Select Committees as the Government have been in the past 18 months.
There never was a golden era in the relationship. None the less, when a Government have the majority that my Government have, and when—with the greatest respect to my colleagues—an Opposition are as weak as the current one, the role of Select Committees, as part of the system of checks and balances and of scrutiny, deserves, and perhaps currently is, receiving, far greater emphasis than before.
When a Government have a large majority and a command and control attitude to governance, Select Committees should play a key role in acting as a check and a balance, and in enabling Government policy to be subject to proper scrutiny and examination.
One criticism of the Foreign Affairs Committee was that it produced its report with the benefit of hindsight. I tell Ministers that producing reports in that manner is the exact role of Select Committees. They should consider past events and draw conclusions—which is what the Foreign Affairs Committee quite correctly did in its report.
In the Treasury Committee, we had our fair share of gut-wrenchingly sycophantic Government questioners of Ministers. We had our fair share of reports containing rather bland recommendations, because party political conflicts could not be resolved. We had our fair share also of Chairmen who turned up on the "Today" programme to act as apologists for the Government. However, in that Committee, certainly in the eight years that I served on it, we were always clear about the fact that we were a Committee of the House. We were not an arm of Government.
I should add that, although some things happened in that Select Committee that should not have happened, I served under several Tory Chairmen who were scrupulous in not using their chairmanship to act as apologists for the Government. As a Committee—which included some interesting characters—we were always clear that we were our own Committee, that we were a Committee of the House and that we chose our own agenda. Although some of the recommendations in our reports were fudged, they were always—throughout the Parliaments in which we served—substantial reports in which we made clear arguments.
At the beginning of this Parliament, I was removed from the Treasury Committee. Why? I do not know. Perhaps it was felt that, as I had served on it for eight years, I might just be capable of making a speech on Treasury matters without a brief from Millbank. Of course, that would never do.
I was removed from the Treasury Committee and appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee, under the very distinguished chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). However, as soon as I was appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee—despite the manifold experience, expertise and brilliance of my colleagues—I sensed in the air something that was very different from the atmosphere in which the Treasury Committee had operated. It was the notion that, in some sense, the Foreign Affairs Committee was a branch of the Foreign Office. During my first few weeks on the Select Committee I was charmed and delighted that the entire Committee was called to lunch with the Foreign Secretary. In my eight years on the Treasury Committee we had never been called to lunch with a Treasury Minister. We all trooped into lunch and the Foreign Secretary gave us the benefit of his views on what we should be doing. It turned out that he thought that we should be travelling to far-flung corners of the globe and staying there and building good personal relationships with obscure Wisconsin Congressmen.
I was interested to hear the Foreign Secretary's views on what the Select Committee should be doing, but I was not entirely clear what business it was of his. I am afraid that it was my voice that piped up at that lunch, as it has at many subsequent Committee meetings, to say to the Foreign Secretary, "We are a Committee of the House and it is not clear to me why you are giving us the benefit of your thoughts on what we should be doing."
That is not a criticism of any colleagues or even of any Ministers, but I just caught in the air a sense that the Committee was some sort of branch of the Foreign Office and that we were good for entertaining 10th ranking dignitaries from obscure central European states and that was about it. Having served for eight years on a different sort of Select Committee, I came to the Foreign Affairs Committee with the clear notion that, above all, we had to struggle for our independence and to be taken seriously.
It is not enough for colleagues to wail about the Sierra Leone affair and about the fact that the Tories are making political capital out of it. What on earth are we to expect Tories to do? It is their job. Ministers must understand why they are back on the Floor of the House two years after the event having to answer for their activities.
Some unkind members on the committee—not me or my colleagues—refer to some of the Ministers' aides-de-camp as Haldeman and Erlichman. I will not do that today. If one asks Ministers—even if one were to ask Haldeman and Erlichman—they will say that this issue has run on because the Tories are making political capital. Hello, what are the Opposition supposed to do? If they are asked again, they might say that someone is a troublemaker or that someone is bitter because he or she is not a Minister. The one thing that Ministers and their aides-de-camp will not address is the very real issue about the relationship between the Executive and the legislature that has been raised in the long-running battle between the Select Committee and the Government.
For as long as they content themselves with ad hominem attacks, things will not change. I was telephoned by a journalist yesterday who told me that people at the Foreign Office have an arsenal of personal information that they want to release about me as part of a fight-back against the Foreign Affairs Committee. I must tell the House—it is no big secret—that, since having my son seven years ago, I have led a private life of stupefying dullness, but I wish them luck in their attempt. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) may laugh.
The problem that Ministers have with the Select Committee does not concern individuals, and it is not about bad luck or about the Opposition wilfully doing what they are supposed to do, which is to oppose. It is their own unwillingness to recognise that Select Committees have a right, an obligation and a duty to act independently. They have a duty to determine their own agenda. On Sierra Leone, the Select Committee had a duty to produce the report that it did. It was wrong and provocative of Ministers to imply that we did not need to produce the report, that we discovered nothing new and that the report was in some sense worthless. That is not the way to build a constructive relationship with the Select Committee.
Much has been said about the content of the report, which is important, but my argument to the House and to Labour colleagues is that if Ministers learn nothing by having to turn up and answer for themselves so long after the event, they must learn something about the right way to conduct relationships with the legislature. Select Committees are not an arm of Government. I shall touch on some of the pressure points of the relationship between Select Committees and the Government on which it is worth my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench reflecting.
Under this Government—it is not a new phenomenon, but it is intensified—we have seen an attempt to make the Whips Office writ run inside Select Committee meetings. We have had undue interference—it is passed now but I want to put it on the record—about who should be the Chair of Select Committees. I served on the Treasury Committee for eight years. During every Parliament we got winks and nods about who the usual channels had agreed should be the Chair. Twice running, my Select Committee ignored those winks and nods and we made our own choice. The Whips knew that they could advise, hint and suggest, but they could not make us appoint a Chair whom we did not want. I know of a Select Committee—it was not mine—where the Labour Whips went as far as holding a meeting inside the Committee Room prior to the Committee's first meeting. They had a vote on who should be Chairman and bound Labour Members to it in order to ram through the Chair of their choice.
Another issue—I have mentioned it but I will raise it again—is the notion that the Government can determine what Select Committees can or should investigate. It is for Select Committees to decide what to investigate. It is not proper for Ministers to maintain pressure on Select Committees saying, "We do not think that you should be investigating this. Anybody who votes for investigating this is an enemy of the regime". That is not proper and it is not an aid to good government.
I am always very careful about what I say on the Floor of the House. I was not present at the meeting of the parliamentary Labour party where that was done. Labour colleagues who were present might want to comment.
I have talked about a concerted effort to make the Whips writ run in the Select Committee. That is wholly improper and undermines the basis on which Select Committees operate. I have talked about an attempt to determine what Select Committees can inquire into. Finally, the Foreign Affairs Committee suffered ad nauseam from people, presumably loyal to their Government, seeking to advance the Government's cause not by engaging in the arguments that the Select Committee is making, but by rubbishing the work of the Select Committee and the individuals who serve on it. Where has it got people? It has meant that two years later individuals are having to account for themselves on the Floor of the House.
It was a privilege to serve on the Treasury Committee and it is a privilege to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have had the honour of serving under a number of distinguished Chairs, including the current Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Government see Select Committees as an irritant, an obstacle and a problem that must somehow be brought under the command and control structure. I believe that Select Committees can enhance the work of the Government. I believe that they can help to make government more transparent and more accountable and be a factor in producing better government. After all, is not better government what we are all about?
The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) have made clear the effective role of Select Committees under the previous Government.
Before I begin my remarks I want to follow a hare that was set running by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). He made a disgraceful allegation that has wide currency in the Scott affair and the arms to Iraq affair. He said that Ministers under the previous Government were prepared to see innocent business men go to prison. That is absolutely and totally untrue. When the defence in a criminal trial have discovery of documents, if those documents are classified, it is the duty of Ministers to sign public interest immunity certificates, in the knowledge that the judge in the case will see the documents and reach a conclusion as to whether they are pertinent to the defence. If they are, they will be given to the defence. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is a fair man, does not believe that Ministers for whom I worked—I have direct knowledge of the issue—would have contemplated putting themselves in such a position.
Last Wednesday, when the Foreign Secretary made his latest statement on Sierra Leone, I did not catch Madam Speaker's eye. The right hon. Gentleman challenged Ministers from the previous Government to say that they had not seen early copies of Select Committee reports.
Under the tenure of the previous Foreign Secretary, a Rolls-Royce Department performed as a Rolls-Royce. It did not stagger from one own goal to the next. The permanent under-secretary was generally happy in the discharge of his duties. There were no rumours of Sir John Coles saying that he would not go before a Committee of the House again to cover up for his ministerial masters after yet another mauling from the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Let us make the comparison. The Foreign Secretary has been in office for as long as his predecessor was. Under his predecessor, the Foreign Office dealt with issues such as the Hong Kong handover, the intergovernmental conference and the Bosnia Dayton accord, to name but three. It did not stagger from one crisis to the next. There were not controversies week after week over foreign affairs.
Why has the conduct of foreign policy changed? Why has the Rolls-Royce of a Department been reduced to an old banger, in the words of the Chairman of the Select Committee? The answer is ministerial leadership. That goes to the heart of the objective of new Labour—to be all things to all men. As soon as he came to office, the Foreign Secretary launched his ethical dimension to foreign policy. The contradictions were immediately and cruelly exposed on exports to Indonesia and on Kashmir. There was no suggestion under the previous Foreign Secretary of a state visit becoming a foreign policy disaster.
Even in opposition, when the right hon. Gentleman addressed a meeting of largely Indian British citizens in Southall he told them that Kashmir was part of India. He was received with cheers. When the point was put to him afterwards, he denied it. Unfortunately—
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am debating the conduct of foreign policy that has led to this shambles over Sierra Leone and goodness knows how many others. Policy towards Kashmir is a classic example of the Government's desire to be all things to all men. That is why they are incapable of giving leadership and why a Rolls-Royce of a Department has ended up as an old banger. Kashmir is a good example. The Foreign Secretary had to backtrack from what he said to an Indian audience in Southall. The Pakistani high commissioner then had to go to the Labour party conference in Blackpool to write Labour's policy statement.
In returning to the subject of Sierra Leone, perhaps I could touch on other areas, such as the Gulf and Kosovo, on which the Government do not have means and ends aligned in a way that will result in the execution of British foreign policy. Sierra Leone is a classic example of the Government willing the ends but not the means. The Government's policy was the peaceful restoration of the Kabbah Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling elegantly explained why that policy could not succeed. Peter Penfold knew that. Tim Spicer knew that. President Kabbah knew that. The United Nations legal secretariat knew that when it interpreted Security Council resolution 1132.
The first failure of ministerial leadership was the fact that resolution 1132 sought to be all things to all men and could be interpreted differently by United Nations legal advisers in New York and legal advisers for the Foreign Office. The problem was drafted into an international text because the Government attempted to be all things to all men.
The practitioners knew the harsh truth that only military force would remove an unpleasant military junta from rule in Sierra Leone. The Minister denied that reality. His repeatedly expressed visceral distaste for private military companies spoke volumes about his inability to face the facts about what was required to restore the situation in Sierra Leone.
The irony is that Sandline was central to President Kabbah's restoration to power in early 1998. The December attack by ECOMOG failed. Only when ECOMOG had the benefit of the decent military advice and staff planning supplied by Sandline under contract from President Kabbah was its subsequent attack on Freetown a success.
There was confusion throughout the Government about the objectives. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development is on the Front Bench at the moment. His Department gave £250,000 for communications equipment to President Kabbah during his exile. That equipment was used to broadcast invitations to the Kamajors in Sierra Leone to rise up in military revolt, in contradiction of the stated British policy of peaceful restoration of the Government. The confusion sown by ministerial leadership had the absurd result of a company that had briefed Ministers in London and the high commissioner on the ground being investigated by other officials of the Crown.
I do not have time.
The cavilling, confused language in Security Council resolution 1132, typical of policy pursued by the Government, started them on the road to trouble. The hand-wringing, stuttering uncertainty in dealing with that difficult, bloody situation that has been characteristic of the Minister's handling has led to the problems. The delivery of the humanitarian, democratic and British interest was obstructed by the Government's agonies over the means that they needed to adopt to secure the ends.
The Government endorsed the end, but they were not prepared to face up to the means. No wonder Peter Penfold and Sandline were confused about the Government's position. They were the heroes of the shambles—people who were prepared to act to achieve the agreed and desirable objective. The Prime Minister endorsed Peter Penfold when he first became aware of the affair.
Peter Penfold and Sandline pursued their goals through a sea of cavilling Ministers and officials, few of whom acted with courage and decisiveness, or accepted responsibility. The primary objective of Ministers and many officials has been to cover their backs. That characterised the Foreign Secretary's handling of the reports. The horrifying harshness of what was happening in Sierra Leone was accompanied by Ministers trying to face in all directions at once.
Since 1 May 1997, the Foreign Office has had disastrous personal leadership from Ministers. That is why the Rolls-Royce has been reduced to the status of an old banger. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), should consider their positions.
I in no way underestimate the cycle of violence in Sierra Leone. Some hon. Members have sought to diminish our interest in the plight of the people in that country. We say that the situation is desperate, and any effort to relieve the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone will be supported by Conservative Members.
The contributions to this debate have been well-informed and have shown care and diligence. We have heard distinguished contributions from my right hon. Friends the Members for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) and for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) and from my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling made a superb speech and went into the details of the Government's contortions and the flaws in their policy towards Sierra Leone.
Even more telling, though, were the contributions from Government Members. The hon. Members for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands)—distinguished members of the Select Committee—seemed very willing to wound the beast but not to deliver the coup de grace; but the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) proved once again her superb independence. If she will permit me, I will pay her a compliment: she is charming but lethal.
I am sorry that we did not have more time to accommodate all the hon. Members who wanted to contribute. We have spent three hours debating one of the most scathing reports ever published by a Select Committee on the workings of a Department.
The hon. Lady has not been here very long.
I have been here long enough to know a Government who are a shambles when I see one, and in the past two years my eyes have certainly been opened by the Labour Government.
The Select Committee report was compiled in what could almost be described as a hostile environment. It says:
Our inquiry has given a unique insight into the working, or lack of working in this case, of the FCO machine.
The report goes on to say:
It has exposed even further a story which the FCO would have preferred not to have had besmirch its reputation.
The Foreign Secretary did not want the report to see the light of day but, thanks to the Committee's determination, it has been published and the whole House can draw its conclusions on the sorry affair from both the Select Committee report and the Legg report.
The reputation of the Foreign Office has indeed been besmirched, and the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) have betrayed the trust placed in them, that they would at the very least conduct the foreign affairs of this country in a competent fashion, finish the paperwork and deal in whole truths, not half-truths: a trust that we can, sadly, no longer place safely in them.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) spelled out the main indictments. Like him, I will not dwell on the serious questions of integrity raised by the revelation that the Foreign Secretary, by foul means rather than fair, received four weeks' advance warning of the content of the Select Committee report—that will be investigated by others, as Madam Speaker said—but I will reiterate the specific criticisms that Ministers have sought to brush off and evade in another fine example of the "Not me, guv" society, as practised to perfection by the Government.
At first, the Government tried to frustrate the work of the Committee, as the hon. Member for Swansea, East and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon said. The report says:
The Committee's interest in Sierra Leone continued, but was impeded"—
by the refusal of the Government to release to the Committee, firstly telegrams concerning Sierra Leone and secondly … the information which fell within the ambit of the Legg inquiry.
When the Committee's persistence prevailed, Ministers yet again sought to impede its progress.
The report states:
We have again encountered some frustrations. Our original request to hear three of the officials involved in the affair was met by a proposal that we should take evidence from only one of them.
In the end, a compromise of taking evidence from two officials was agreed on.
The Committee's request to see relevant intelligence reports and take evidence—in private—from the head of the Secret Intelligence Service was refused. Is that open government, or an ethical position? No. The report says:
This sounds very much like a Minister determined to defend his own position.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon said, the contrast with the attitudes of other Departments is striking. The Chief of Defence Intelligence was allowed to appear before the Committee, and the director general of the Security Service was allowed to brief the Home Affairs Committee. Even the hon. Member for Swansea, East condemned the lack of access afforded to his Committee. I leave the House to draw its own inevitable conclusions about the Foreign Secretary's actions and whether they were designed to help or to obstruct the inquiry.
Ministers would prefer to interpret the reports as laying the blame at the door of officials. The Foreign Secretary said:
I would perfectly happily accept any criticisms of myself … but there are none."—[Official Report, 27 July 1998; Vol. 317, c. 28.]
That really will not wash. Even the Legg report concludes that
the officials concerned were working hard and conscientiously, and should not be judged too harshly.
Officials made mistakes, no doubt, but so did Ministers. The Select Committee report concludes that the Government's policy on the arms embargo was stated in a way that could mislead Parliament, the public and even the Foreign Office's own staff into thinking that the arms embargo applied only to one side of the warring factions: the junta.
The Legg report lays the blame squarely at the Government's door, saying that it is the Government's responsibility to give citizens, and even their own officials, a reasonable explanation of the laws that they make under delegated powers, especially when those laws create a serious criminal offence: in this case, an offence punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment.
The Legg report says that no such explanation was given. Instead, the impression was given in communications that the embargo applied only to the junta. As Legg concludes, British officials and Ministers
continued to play this aspect down.
Ministers patently failed to give a clear and full explanation, preferring to deal in half-truths, not whole truths.
If we need further confirmation of that, we need look only as far as the Foreign Secretary, who said, of the telegram that advised key diplomatic staff of the extent of the arms embargo, that it was
quite plainly wrong that this telegram did not make it clearer what was the full scope of the resolution.
I hope that the Minister will deal with the point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe and tell us what his response is to the Foreign Secretary telling us that his answer of 12 March was "quite plainly wrong".
The Committee report reinforces ministerial culpability when it refers to the Foreign Office's dealings with Sandline. By way of a final indictment of ministerial behaviour, it says that
many of the problems which occurred would not have done so … If Ministers had made their policy on dealing with mercenaries clearer to officials.
What picture do we paint of Foreign Office Ministers and their competence? It is a very sorry picture of bungling and buck passing. We have a Foreign Secretary who does not finish the paperwork; a Foreign Secretary who deals in the dangerous commodity of half-truths, and is quite content to do so; a Foreign Secretary who should hang his head in shame, but who could not even come to the Dispatch Box today to utter one word of apology for the mess over which he has presided. As his own permanent under-secretary put it:
The revelation of this mess, which is not a pretty sight, has not been a very enjoyable experience.
He is a master of understatement.
The Foreign Secretary and his Ministers are, and should be, accountable to this House for their policies and their Department's actions. The Foreign Secretary has shown today that he is too arrogant to accept that responsibility, and that "sorry" is a word sadly lacking from his vocabulary. That should be a matter of grave concern in all quarters of this House.
What a shambles—our once-proud foreign service has been brought to its knees after less than two years by a group of incompetent and arrogant Ministers. We are supposed to have an ethical foreign policy, yet by the handling of the Select Committee report and its endeavours to inquire into the facts surrounding the Sierra Leone affair, and through the lack of respect for the responsibilities of this House, the Foreign Secretary has shown that he does not know the meaning of the word ethical.
The Foreign Secretary is a man with a mindset; a man who believes that nothing is his fault; who says that if there is fault, it is not his; a man who obstructs investigation and resists all criticism so that he fails completely to see the chaos that he leaves around him. Tonight we are, first, asking Ministers to take responsibility for their actions—and I hope that the Minister will use the word "sorry" in his speech tonight—and, secondly, demonstrating our support for the Select Committee and its report. I ask all right-minded hon. Members to do the same, and to demonstrate their belief in the Select Committee system and it scrutinising role by voting with us tonight. We believe that the Select Committee was right, and its report catalogues an extended episode of incompetence by the Government. By this report, the Government stand rightly condemned.
Into my constituency advice bureau a couple of weeks ago came a woman—a British resident, who is from Sierra Leone. She told me a story about her husband, who had custody of their two children and was living in Sierra Leone. It was reported that he had been found on the streets of Freetown with his stomach shot out. He was alive and taken to hospital, but subsequently died. Obviously, her concern was a human one, and my concern for her, as my constituent, was a human one.
Another constituent received news recently of his two daughters in Sierra Leone. One, aged 15, and her aunt—who was looking after her—were the victims of a mass rape by members of the junta. She was then physically abused. The other sister is now missing in that country, and there is no trace of her. I can tell the House many stories of similar atrocities.
The Opposition claimed to talk about Sierra Leone today. However, the shadow Foreign Secretary—in a speech of nearly 20 minutes—spent a little over one minute on the issue of Sierra Leone. That is simply not doing justice to this House, or to any concept of British foreign policy.
The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) said that the Opposition would support the Government on those occasions when our policy was designed to relieve human suffering. However, in the years between the coup taking place in Sierra Leone and President Kabbah moving back to Sierra Leone, no questions were tabled by the official Opposition—except for one, tabled by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley). I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on speaking for the whole Conservative party for all that time.
As no party politics were involved, the shadow Foreign Secretary had no policy at all. That is the reality. I invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman to come to the Dispatch Box any time during my speech—but with this proviso. Will he make clear why his party tabled one question relating to policy specific to Sierra Leone, and many questions on matters of purely party political interest? Will he also say whether he endorses the views of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt)—who, at least, spoke a little about Sierra Leone?
Sadly, the hon. Member for Reigate talked entirely about supporting the role of mercenaries. Does the policy of the Conservative party, now it is in opposition, depend on the espousal of the use of mercenaries—people who have destroyed Sierra Leone and parts of west Africa; ripped the diamonds out of that area; killed those whom they are paid to kill; and worked on either side?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right—it is disgraceful. It is disgraceful that the hon. Member for Reigate could make such a speech in this House.
During their period of control of Sierra Leone the rebels received no condemnation from the Opposition. Now, when they have been fighting a bitter campaign—abusing and maiming citizens—no criticism has been made in public by the Opposition. Does that not matter to the shadow Foreign Secretary? Does it not matter to the Opposition? During this debate, Conservative Members have, in total, spoken for well over an hour. Comments relating to Sierra Leone have totalled a little over seven minutes. That is what they are reduced to.
I normally admire the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), but he dwelt very little on the substantive issues of Sierra Leone. I shall remember that in future when he wants to take a high moral tone.
I look forward to that letter and to support from, at least, the Liberal Democrats, for our policy.
The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling said that our policy could not succeed. When President Kabbah returned to Freetown last year, he spoke about three countries in particular which had given exemplary support to his regime, kept him going through the dark days and allowed him to return to his own country and lead a democratic Government. Britain was one of those countries—and, I must say, Nigeria was another.
When General Abacha was the military dictator in Nigeria—doing things that we could not or would not want to work alongside—there was no question of our supporting Nigerian military intervention in Sierra Leone. That ought to have been unthinkable. I make no apology for that. I make no apology for the fact that our objectives were the restoration of democracy in Sierra Leone and to secure the return of the democratically elected President to Sierra Leone.
I make no apology for the fact that we did not seek to do that with the intervention of Sandline. Sandline, as numerous people have said, is an irrelevance to the issue. Sandline—quite literally—was a sideline; a political convenience for the shadow Foreign Secretary, but a total irrelevance.
The shadow Foreign Secretary is hardly the person to speak about half-truths, even in his last comments. Let me make two things clear. First, I answered no questions; I made a speech. I did so when President Kabbah's Government were already reinstated in Freetown. I spoke about the role that Britain had played. I spoke, rightly, about the way in which we helped to restrict arms to the rebels. For that, I make no apology.
Secondly, let me tell the shadow Foreign Secretary something that he did not mention, although the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling seemed to know this. Not long afterwards, we were instrumental in having the Security Council resolution changed to allow the supply to the legal and democratic Government. I make no apology for that.
Before the Security Council resolution was changed, the embargo applied to everyone connected with Sierra Leone, including President Kabbah's regime. On 12 March the Minister told the House that the embargo was aimed at the junta—precisely the language that the Foreign Secretary said was quite "plainly wrong".
Will the Minister of State address that point and apologise to the House for the quite plainly wrong answer that he gave on 12 March?
That has obviously been a year's work for the shadow Foreign Secretary. I know that he is a talented lawyer, but he is not a very talented shadow Foreign Secretary. Let me help him a little. He got no support from his hon. Friends in the debate, except for one other Conservative speaker.
The real question is whether the Government at any stage misled in a way that was germane. I quote the conclusion of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which stated:
It is the view of the Committee that Mr. Spicer should have known the law about arms sales to Sierra Leone.
The Select Committee is quite clear about that. The central charge of the shadow Foreign Secretary's case is not sustained by the report that he is praying in aid in the motion against the Government. That is how little credibility he has.
I shall try again, for the third or fourth time. It is a perfectly simple, straightforward question. The Minister of State told the House on 12 March that the embargo was aimed at the junta. The Foreign Secretary said that that language was quite "plainly wrong". He said that of language that was identical to that used by the Minister of State. Will the Minister now deal with the matter and apologise for the fact that the answer that he gave the House on 12 March was quite plainly wrong?
Let me remind the shadow Foreign Secretary that I asked him to undertake to make certain comments of his own if he rose to speak at the Dispatch Box, which he signally failed to do. Nevertheless, I shall answer the question.
That statement was not wrong. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already made it clear once today that his comment was made in an entirely different context. That is the point. The shadow Foreign Secretary knows that he is dealing in half-truths. He is dealing in lawyers' words. He knows that he has no credibility outside the House when he speaks about Sierra Leone.
I shall say a little about what the British Government have been trying to achieve over recent months. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] Let me tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman what we have been trying to achieve in the context of Sierra Leone.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said that the extra £10 million was comparable to the sum that Sandline was prepared to provide. I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that Sandline had no moneys of its own—it would have been paid through the mineral wealth of Sierra Leone. That was no act of grace by a military organisation, but a commercial transaction to steal that country's diamonds. We had no intention of dealing with mercenaries or with the expropriation of the mineral wealth of a poor country such as Sierra Leone.
The £10 million for Sierra Leone announced by the Foreign Secretary today is on top of the £24 million that has already been committed, and the £20 million that has been given for emergency aid, health care, education and to rebuild the shattered infrastructure of that country. It is on top of the £2 million given before Christmas and a further £2 million given since that time to ECOMOG for logistical support to make sure that Ghanaian troops are there fighting with Nigerian troops, and to make sure that they have the intelligence and communications to prosecute the war properly. We have partners in ECOMOG in whom we have trust.
That is why we have made that commitment. That is why, if President Kabbah were to comment on the Governments from whom he has received support, Britain would rank high on the list. Britain has been pulling its weight and wants Sierra Leone to be secure. Britain is committed to the restoration of democracy. The Government have been responsible for that.
This has been an interesting debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] It has revealed to us a shadow Foreign Secretary who has plenty of personal animus, but no policy whatever, and who cannot take the trouble to debate the real issues associated with Sierra Leone, beyond the party political debate.
The Government will not apologise. We believe in democracy in Africa and seek to build that process. Along with our partners, we seek to ensure that the values of human rights—an ethical dimension to foreign policy—is at the core. The House will consider carefully the speeches that we have heard from the Opposition, and the Opposition motion, and will reject it.
Does the hon. Gentleman wish to raise a point of order? I understand that he does not. The Question is, That the original words stand part of the Question.
It is customary in the House, when we have had a full debate and hon. Members on both Front Benches have wound up, to put the Question to the House. That is what I intend to do.
I understand only too well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that certain procedures in the House are agreed by both sides. However, on an Opposition Day, it is for the Opposition to choose when the Division is to be called. If an hon. Member wants to speak, I believe that under Standing Orders he has the right so to do. He should be given that right, which is the right of any Back Bencher.
In view of the adversarial nature of the debate, I wanted to ask the Minister, and perhaps he might respond, about recommendation 29 of the report, which urges the British Government to take initiatives at the United Nations, in the European Union and in Parliament to outlaw mercenaries operating from this country. I listened carefully to the Foreign Secretary and I do not think he said that that recommendation had been adopted. It would have been welcome if the Minister had said that the United Kingdom would take initiatives on the strength of that recommendation.
|Division No. 83]||[7.10 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Fearn, Ronnie|
|Allan, Richard||Flight, Howard|
|Amess, David||Forth, Rt Hon Eric|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Fraser, Christopher|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Gale, Roger|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Garnier, Edward|
|Baker, Norman||Gill, Christopher|
|Ballard, Jackie||Gillan, Mrs Cheryl|
|Beggs, Roy||Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Bell, Martin (Tatton)||Gray, James|
|Bercow, John||Green, Damian|
|Blunt, Crispin||Grieve, Dominic|
|Body, Sir Richard||Gummer, Rt Hon John|
|Boswell, Tim||Hague, Rt Hon William|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Hammond, Philip|
|Brady, Graham||Harris, Dr Evan|
|Brake, Tom||Harvey, Nick|
|Brazier, Julian||Hawkins, Nick|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Heald, Oliver|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Burnett, John||Horam, John|
|Burstow, Paul||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)|
|Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)||Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)|
|Cash, William||Hunter, Andrew|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Jack, Rt Hon Michael|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Chidgey, David||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Chope, Christopher||Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Key, Robert|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Collins, Tim||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Colvin, Michael||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Lansley, Andrew|
|Cotter, Brian||Leigh, Edward|
|Cran, James||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Lidington, David|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Duncan, Alan||MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert|
|Evans, Nigel||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Madel, Sir David|
|Faber, David||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Fabricant, Michael||Malins, Humfrey|
|Fallon, Michael||Maples, John|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian||Syms, Robert|
|May, Mrs Theresa||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Moore, Michael||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Moss, Malcolm||Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Norman, Archie||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Oaten, Mark||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Ottaway, Richard||Thompson, William|
|Page, Richard||Townend, John|
|Paice, James||Tredinnick, David|
|Paterson, Owen||Trend, Michael|
|Pickles, Eric||Tyler, Paul|
|Prior, David||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Randall, John||Viggers, Peter|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Walter, Robert|
|Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)||Wardle, Charles|
|Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)||Webb, Steve|
|Ross, William (E Lond'y)||Welsh, Andrew|
|Ruffley, David||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Russell, Bob (Colchester)||Whittingdale, John|
|St Aubyn, Nick||Wilkinson, John|
|Sanders, Adrian||Willetts, David|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian||Willis, Phil|
|Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)||Woodward, Shaun|
|Soames, Nicholas||Yeo, Tim|
|Spring, Richard||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Steen, Anthony||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Streeter, Gary||Mr. Stephen Day and|
|Swayne, Desmond||Mrs. Caroline Spelman.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Cann, Jamie|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Caplin, Ivor|
|Ainger, Nick||Casale, Roger|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Caton, Martin|
|Allen, Graham||Cawsey, Ian|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Chaytor, David|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Clapham, Michael|
|Armstrong, Ms Hilary||Clark, Paul (Gillingham)|
|Ashton, Joe||Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)|
|Austin, John||Coaker, Vernon|
|Barnes, Harry||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Barron, Kevin||Cohen, Harry|
|Battle, John||Coleman, Iain|
|Bayley, Hugh||Colman, Tony|
|Beard, Nigel||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Cooper, Yvette|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Corbett, Robin|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Benton, Joe||Corston, Ms Jean|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cousins, Jim|
|Berry, Roger||Cranston, Ross|
|Best, Harold||Crausby, David|
|Betts, Clive||Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Blackman, Liz||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Cummings, John|
|Blizzard, Bob||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Boateng, Paul||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Curtis—Thomas, Mrs Claire|
|Browne, Desmond||Dalyell, Tam|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Burden, Richard||Darvill, Keith|
|Burgon, Colin||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Davidson, Ian|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Campbell—Savours, Dale||Dawson, Hilton|
|Dean, Mrs Janet||Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Dewar, Rt Hon Donald||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Dismore, Andrew||Jones, Helen (Warrington N)|
|Dobbin, Jim||Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)|
|Dobson, Rt Hon Frank|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)|
|Doran, Frank||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)|
|Dowd, Jim||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Drew, David||Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa|
|Drown, Ms Julia||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)||Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)|
|Edwards, Huw||Kelly, Ms Ruth|
|Efford, Clive||Kidney, David|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Ennis, Jeff||King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)|
|Etherington, Bill||Kumar, Dr Ashok|
|Fisher, Mark||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Fitzpatrick, Jim||Lawrence, Ms Jackie|
|Fitzsimons, Lorna||Laxton, Bob|
|Flint, Caroline||Lepper, David|
|Flynn, Paul||Leslie, Christopher|
|Follett, Barbara||Levitt, Tom|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||Linton, Martin|
|Foster, Michael J (Worcester)||Livingstone, Ken|
|Foulkes, George||Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)|
|Fyfe, Maria||Lock, David|
|Galloway, George||Love, Andrew|
|Gapes, Mike||McAllion, John|
|Gardiner, Barry||McAvoy, Thomas|
|George, Bruce (Walsall S)||McCabe, Steve|
|Gerrard, Neil||McCafferty, Ms Chris|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||McDonnell, John|
|Godsiff, Roger||McFall, John|
|Goggins, Paul||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||McIsaac, Shona|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||McNulty, Tony|
|Grocott, Bruce||MacShane, Denis|
|Grogan, John||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Gunnell, John||McWalter, Tony|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||Mallaber, Judy|
|Hanson, David||Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||Marek, Dr John|
|Healey, John||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Heppell, John||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Hesford, Stephen||Marshall—Andrews, Robert|
|Hill, Keith||Martlew, Eric|
|Hinchliffe, David||Maxton, John|
|Hoey, Kate||Meale, Alan|
|Home Robertson, John||Merron, Gillian|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||Michael, Rt Hon Alun|
|Hope, Phil||Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Milburn, Rt Hon Alan|
|Howarth, Alan (Newport E)||Miller, Andrew|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Moffatt, Laura|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)||Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Morley, Elliot|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Hurst, Alan||Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)|
|Hutton, John||Mountford, Kali|
|Illsley, Eric||Mudie, George|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Mullin, Chris|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Jamieson, David||Naysmith, Dr Doug|
|Jenkins, Brian||Norris, Dan|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)||Southworth, Ms Helen|
|O'Hara, Eddie||Spellar, John|
|Olner, Bill||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|O'Neill, Martin||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|Osborne, Ms Sandra||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Palmer, Dr Nick||Stevenson, George|
|Pearson, Ian||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Pendry, Tom||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Perham, Ms Linda||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Pickthall, Colin||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Pike, Peter L||Stott, Roger|
|Plaskitt, James||Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin|
|Pollard, Kerry||Stringer, Graham|
|Pope, Greg||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Pound, Stephen||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Powell, Sir Raymond||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Prosser, Gwyn||Temple—Morris, Peter|
|Purchase, Ken||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Quinn, Lawrie||Timms, Stephen|
|Radice, Giles||Tipping, Paddy|
|Rapson, Syd||Touhig, Don|
|Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)||Trickett, Jon|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)||Truswell, Paul|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Rogers, Allan||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Rooker, Jeff||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Rooney, Terry||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Ruane, Chris||Wareing, Robert N|
|Ruddock, Joan||Watts, David|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)||White, Brian|
|Ryan, Ms Joan||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Salter, Martin||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Sawford, Phil||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Shaw, Jonathan||Wills, Michael|
|Sheerman, Barry||Wilson, Brian|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Winnick, David|
|Shipley, Ms Debra||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)||Wise, Audrey|
|Singh, Marsha||Wood, Mike|
|Skinner, Dennis||Woolas, Phil|
|Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)||Wray, James|
|Smith, Angela (Basildon)||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)||Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Smith, John (Glamorgan)||Mr. Mike Hall and|
|Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)||Mr. David Clelland.|
That this House welcomes the decision of the Foreign Affairs Committee in its Second Report of Session 1998–99 (HC 116) on Sierra Leone to commend the resolute support which the British Government is giving to the restoration of democracy in Sierra Leone and endorses the conclusion of the Legg Inquiry that no Minister had given encouragement or approval to any breach of the arms embargo on Sierra Leone; notes that the inquiry on Sierra Leone of the Foreign Affairs Committee has found no evidence of Ministerial encouragement or approval; and congratulates Her Majesty's Government on accepting all the recommendations of the Report of the Legg Inquiry and on the steps it has since taken to modernise management in the FCO.