Orders of the Day — Foreign Affairs and Defence

– in the House of Commons at 4:35 pm on 22nd November 1999.

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Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons 4:35 pm, 22nd November 1999

I must inform hon. Members that there is a limit of 10 minutes on Back-Benchers' speeches throughout the entire debate.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

May I start by taking the dangerous step of inviting 30 seconds of consensus in the debate? I invite the House to join me in paying tribute to the work of the members of the diplomatic service. Without their work, we should not be able to hold today's debate on international relations. I have worked closely with them for the best part of three years. In my experience, they show a powerful commitment to the public service and put in long hours, well beyond any reasonable requirement of their contracts.

There is a media caricature of diplomats living a life of receptions in luxurious embassies. That is grossly unfair both to the hard work of the diplomatic service and to the conditions under which it is carried out. Most of our foreign posts are run on a shoestring; half have four or fewer UK-based staff. Those posts always involve some isolation; they frequently entail hardship and, occasionally, real danger. Among the violent crimes against diplomats last year were car-jackings at gunpoint, knife attacks, and a shooting that left two diplomats wounded. After those 30 seconds, I hope that enough bipartisanship remains for the House to join me in recording our appreciation of the universal commitment and the frequent courage of members of the diplomatic service. Their work is all the more relevant because we live in a world in which nations are more interdependent than they are independent.

The aim of foreign policy, therefore, must be, first, to strengthen Britain's security by deepening our alliances; and, secondly, to promote our prosperity by widening our commercial links. To do that, we need partners in every continent. The Government will thus engage constructively with any country where we can make progress through dialogue. That means that, sometimes, we must be willing to build a working relationship even with Governments who do not share all our values.

During the past year, we have restored a working relationship with two such countries, where we had inherited a long-standing stalemate from the previous Administration. With Libya, we have negotiated the handover of the two men charged with the Lockerbie bombing. After a decade, the relatives of those who died that night will hear the evidence brought out in open court during the coming year. The Government of Libya have also handed over compensation for the killing of WPC Fletcher—thus removing the last obstacle to the restoration of full diplomatic relations. We expect a British ambassador to take up his post in Libya next month.

Britain already has a full ambassador in Iran, for the first time in more than a decade. Next year, I intend to visit Iran as the first British Foreign Secretary to do so since the fall of the Shah, 20 years ago. We retain real concerns about several aspects of the policy of Iran, but we are now able to raise those concerns through a dialogue that did not exist previously.

However, we are more likely to find more natural partners among countries that share our values and among people who share our freedoms. It is thus to our advantage to widen the number of countries that have open Governments, open societies and open markets. That is why it is in our national interest to support democracy and to strengthen international law. The Gracious Speech takes forward that commitment to international justice by announcing a draft Bill to give effect to Britain's support for an international criminal court.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

If my hon. Friend will let me finish the point, I shall happily give way.

We shall publish the Bill in draft—my hon. Friend will be interested in that—so that the non-governmental organisations that are concerned with human rights can comment on it before it is introduced, and so that its terms can be scrutinised by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Members of the House.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

My right hon. Friend is well aware of the importance of being among the first 60 countries to ratify that important convention, and the effects that will flow from that. Can he give the House a clear undertaking that, after the welcome scrutiny by the Committee and by the non-governmental organisations, the Bill will be enacted in time for the United Kingdom to be among the first 60 to ratify?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I am happy to confirm that our commitment remains to be among the first 60 to ratify, because the court cannot come into effect until 60 countries ratify the agreement. It is in our interests to be among the first 60, because we can then shape the nature of the court, and I believe that we are on target to do so. Only four countries have so far ratified the convention, and those four did not require primary legislation to do so.

The legislation will be complex. As I said when I announced it in the House a year ago, it will not be a fast-track or simple procedure. That is why it is helpful for the House and those outside it who are interested in the matter to have the opportunity to comment on a draft, so that we can ensure that we have an agreed text ready for when the opportunity arises.

The existence of a permanent international criminal court will end the need to invent a new remedy every time that there is another case of mass atrocities such as those committed in Rwanda, Kosovo or East Timor. It has been a paradox of our century that those who murder one person are more likely to be brought to justice than those who plot genocide against a million. This measure will put on notice the Pol Pots and the Saddams of the world that major crimes against humanity are the business of all humanity and will no longer go unpunished.

Our co-operation at the conference in Rome, attended by more than 100 countries which supported the setting up of the court, is also an example of how we can best fulfil our foreign policy objectives by being a constructive member of an international community. Britain has long ceased to be an imperial power. If we are to influence world events, we must do so, not alone, but in partnership with the international community; and Britain has unique opportunities for such partnerships.

We are the only country that is a member of the Group of Eight, of the Commonwealth and of the European Union, and a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations. This summer, in the G8, we demonstrated what a valuable forum it can be for international co-operation when, over three solid days in Cologne, we hammered out the details of the peace settlement in Kosovo. I vividly remember one adjournment of the proceedings in order that eight Foreign Ministers around the table could get on their mobile phones to give fresh instructions to their ambassadors in the United Nations about the Security Council resolution. It was a practical, operational way of demonstrating how the international community, working together, can find a solution.

In the Commonwealth last week, we secured a common commitment that, at Seattle, we shall all work together to ensure that the next world trade round has a strong development dimension. We must ensure that not only the rich countries gain the benefits from the globalisation of trade. The Government are proud that we are carrying through a big expansion of our development programme. As Foreign Secretary, I frequently see the good will that that has brought us around the globe. It also enables us to take the leading role in international debate on how best we face the most profound millennium challenge—the elimination of the deepest levels of poverty throughout the world.

In the European Union, we shall continue to act as a leading advocate for the middle east peace process. If the political settlement is to be secure, we must also deliver a peace dividend for the Palestinian people. The European Union can play the lead. The European Union must open up access to its markets to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority on equal terms, and help provide the firm economic base on which a just and lasting settlement can be built.

Finally, in the Security Council, the United Kingdom played a leading role in the delegation to Jakarta which was instrumental in compelling Indonesia to accept an international military force in East Timor. At the Asia-Pacific conference I promised that we would not allow the cry for the freedom of East Timor to be drowned in blood, and we are delivering on that pledge.

In short, the international effort of the Foreign Office is as much multilateral now as it is bilateral. However, there are two bilateral relationships that will always be of strategic importance—our relationships with the United States and with Russia.

The Queen's Speech finds the Atlantic alliance in good health. Sometimes, I hear Conservative Members talking as if disengagement from Europe would help strengthen our Atlantic partnership. They are sadly mistaken if they imagine that those views are reciprocated in Washington. The more that Britain can influence thinking on the continent, the more it is valued in Washington as a prime European ally.

Britain's role in the Kosovo crisis, in maintaining the cohesion and resolve of the alliance, was possible only because of the trust and respect which we have built up on both sides of the Atlantic, which enables Britain to act as a natural bridge between them. I know that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) has wanted to intervene for some time; I am glad that he has now made up his mind to do so.

Photo of Mr David Chidgey Mr David Chidgey Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I was trying to choose the appropriate moment, so as not to interrupt the Foreign Secretary's flow. I am grateful to him for recognising that.

Does the Foreign Secretary not share my concern that, at the moment, the only thing that seems to distinguish the barbarism practised by Milosevic in Kosovo and that practised by the Russian generals in Chechnya has been the reaction of us in the west?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

No, I would not agree with that at all. On Chechnya, there is a difference between us and Russia, and we have been robust about that difference. Indeed, only last week in Istanbul, I met Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, and at that meeting I stressed to him our three key demands: that Russia refrain from military actions that make the civilian population suffer; that it allow in humanitarian agencies to help the refugees, and, most important of all, that it accept that the crisis can be resolved only by a political process leading to a settlement. That is why I am glad that we secured language in Istanbul that provides a recognition for the role that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe could play in this matter and that provides an invitation to the OSCE's chairman-in-office to visit the region.

Before I return to my remarks about Russia, I wish to complete what I was saying about Atlantic security. Britain is able to be the natural bridge across the Atlantic, but, at the same time, Europe must shoulder its share of keeping that bridge strong.

Kosovo revealed that Europe must do more. There were more than 2 million men and women in uniform in the armed forces of the European allies, yet it took an heroic effort to deploy 2 per cent. of that total as part of a peacekeeping effort in Kosovo. We would not have been able to do it at all if we had taken the advice of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) who, at the start of the Kosovo conflict, complained that British troops in Macedonia have become a hostage to fortune and I query the wisdom of having pre-positioned them."—[Official Report, 25 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 612.] Had we listened to his wisdom, the British Army and its allies would not have been able to carry out the swift liberation of Kosovo when Milosevic submitted.

We must absorb the lesson of Kosovo. We must ensure that the European armed forces have the rapid, flexible, mobile capacity necessary for crisis management.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of Kosovo, will he comment on the statement that appeared under the byline of Robert Fisk in The Independent today, which said that NATO had refused to allow the United Nations to investigate the effects of the depleted uranium used this summer? Is that true?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

We are in dialogue with the United Nations on that point and I would like NATO to be as co-operative as possible with the UN. Equally, we should not overlook the prime finding of the UN study on the environment in Serbia, which was that most of the pollution had occurred before the conflict began and as a result of neglect of the economy by Milosevic and his cronies.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax

Our partners used depleted uranium.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I have just told my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that we are in dialogue with the UN at present. I hope that that dialogue will produce a positive outcome. As the House knows, we used no depleted uranium in the course of any action we took in Kosovo and it is for the United States to decide how open it will be about what its national forces did.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House when it is likely that a completed battle damage assessment and the lesson learned from the Kosovo campaign will be made available to the House for a more detailed discussion than has been possible so far?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

The NATO study of the impact of the bombing campaign in Kosovo has already been published. I am not aware that it is not in the Library; if it is not, I will make sure that it is placed there and made available to hon. Members such as the hon. Gentleman, who follows these matters closely.

The Foreign Affairs Committee is in the middle of its inquiry into Kosovo. I look forward to giving evidence to that Committee very shortly, and I am sure that the House will be enlightened by the outcome of that inquiry.

I was stressing that Europe must learn the lessons of Kosovo and we must expand our capacity for crisis management. Before concluding my remarks on that passage of my speech, however, I want to stress that the security initiative that Britain has commenced within Europe is about crisis management, humanitarian intervention and peacekeeping. It is not about the defence of the continent. That remains squarely the responsibility of NATO, and with one of our former British colleagues now in the post of Secretary-General of NATO, the Government are even better placed to make sure that Europe and NATO work closely together.

A secure Europe depends on a stable Russia. It is a matter of regret that 10 years on from the collapse of the Berlin wall, the Russian people have not secured the economic and social benefits from democracy that their friends would have wished. It is in our interests to help the Russian people to secure a democracy dividend that will demonstrate to them that the new politics can produce real gains in their quality of life. Over the next year, Britain and our European partners will be taking forward a number of initiatives to help the Russian people with social concerns such as the alarming spread of TB. The west needs to be seen by the people of Russia as part of the solution to their domestic concerns, not only as the problem in their foreign concerns.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

Could not the Foreign Secretary link the provision of aid, particularly financial credits, to Russia to progress towards attaining the three objectives that he set Foreign Minister Ivanov in Istanbul with regard to Chechnya, namely a cessation of fighting, relief to the refugees and a political settlement? If the aid and credits to Russia are maintained while the war is prosecuted, it will seem that the west is subsidising a conflict that is bloody and inhumane.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, and when I met Foreign Minister Ivanov, I put it to him that it is increasingly difficult for us to understand what purpose is being served by the scale of the military activity in Chechnya. We understand Russia's frustration at the lawlessness of the region, and all Members of the House will be aware that we have seen three British citizens become victims of violent crime in Chechnya in the most brutal and horrible manner.

It is, however, hard to see how terrorism will be rooted out by a military campaign of which the prime victims have been civilians who are every bit as innocent of terrorism as the victims of the original terrorist bombs. I would not therefore rule out any possible lever being considered at some future time.

I say to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) that I do not find myself attracted to using that financial pressure because we should not lose sight of the fact that the current International Monetary Fund negotiations in Moscow are intended to help Russia to repay its existing debt to the international community and the IMF, and it is not clear how it would serve our interests to put Russia in a position where it defaulted instead. That said, we will use whatever platforms are available to us to press our concerns on Chechnya.

Last week, with my German and Dutch colleagues, I secured agreement within the European Union to those three demands on Chechnya. That agreement was given unanimously, by all 15 member states. That was a good example of Britain working for unity in Europe and to secure a stronger voice on world affairs than we could ever have on our own. The Government's world view starts from the perspective that Britain is a European nation. That is more than just the reality of geography. We share with those European countries the same values of freedom and social justice. We have inherited a common culture and civilisation. Since Europe began in the post-war era to build common structures, our peoples have benefited from half a century of peace and stability.

One of the most important issues for Europe in the coming year is to help the countries of the Balkans to share such peace and stability. We promised that we would make the defeat of Milosevic and his poisonous politics of ethnic hatred a turning point for the region. We are now delivering on that promise through the stability pact for south-east Europe. It is providing a framework for initiatives in the region to promote disarmament, to guarantee media freedom and to stimulate inward investment. Through the stability pact, we are sharing with the countries of the Balkans the key lesson of post-war Europe: the best formula for security is not arming our frontiers but dismantling barriers to trade, mobility and co-operation.

At the same time as the countries of the Balkans are keen to learn the lessons of post-war Europe, here in Britain we are faced with an opposition party that is equally keen to forget them. It would be unreasonable of me to detain the House too long in detailing why Tory policy on Europe is a mistake. [Hon. Members: "Go on."] It is unnecessary; so many senior members of the Conservative party have already done the job for me.

The last Conservative Prime Minister has described his party's policy as absurd, politically crazy and economically crazy". The last Conservative Deputy Prime Minister has said that his party is moving towards a policy of "incalculable folly". The last but one Conservative Foreign Secretary has described the policy as misleading, damaging, frivolous and unreal". The last Conservative Foreign Secretary has termed it "bunker Toryism".

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I am thrilled that so many Conservative Members have leapt to their feet to support their party's leadership. I shall give way to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis).

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

In the interests of balance, will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the words not of previous high officeholders of the Conservative party but of the present Prime Minister, who said in the election campaign prior to becoming an hon. Member: We'll negotiate a withdrawal from the EEC, which has drained our natural resources and destroyed jobs"? Am I right in thinking that the Foreign Secretary subscribed to the same manifesto?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

Demonstrably I did, since I was elected in 1983, as was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. One of the points that makes us despair of the Conservative party's approach to Europe is the sheer inability to learn from what has happened over the past 20 years. The idea that we should all be mired at some point 20 years ago without noting what has happened since is exactly why Conservatives cannot come to terms with the modern world.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman later because I am about to refer to him. He should be seated just now. I promise that his turn will come; he is already in my speech.

The shadow Foreign Secretary may wish to take the opportunity to respond to such critics of his policy. If he is to be convincing, he must answer one question: can he name a single European member state that supports his demand for a pick-and-mix Europe? [Interruption.] Norway is not the correct answer. If the hon. Gentleman cannot do so, what will he do when every other member state says no to his policy? At the Conservative party conference, his leader said that there would be no new treaty from the intergovernmental conference unless the other member states said yes.

The protocol to the Amsterdam treaty is clear; it resulted from an amendment that I moved during the summit. Without reform of the European institutions, there can be no further enlargement. If there is no new treaty, no new member states will be allowed to join. The masterstroke of the shadow Foreign Secretary's policy is to unite the 13 countries that are trying to join the EU with the 14 existing member states in the same frustration with the British Conservative party. The Tory Euro-sceptics are the modern militant tendency.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman's turn is coming soon.

Those Euro-sceptics have saddled their leadership with a policy of demands that are impossible for them to fulfil. The Tory Euro-sceptics do not want their demands to be met successfully: they want failure, because from failure will come a crisis in Britain's relations with Europe, which they will use as a pretext to withdraw Britain from Europe.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

Oh, very well—I cannot wait any longer.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. No sensible person—from which category one should probably exclude the right hon. Gentleman—would favour European Union enlargement at any price. Given his risible failure at Foreign Office questions on 2 November to do so, will he now give a categorical commitment that he will not sign any EU enlargement treaty that allows for the erosion or diminution of national vetoes in respect of defence, border controls or taxation?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I said during Foreign Office questions that that is precisely our policy and we have no intention of changing it; I do not know what more the hon. Gentleman wants. Since he mentions people of good sense, I shall remind him of some of his own remarks—after all, he should take some credit for having, in part, masterminded the shift in Opposition policy. He said: renegotiation should start from the premise that we will stay in the EU if we can strike a deal and pull out if we cannot". Much as our European partners respect Britain, it is possible that, confronted with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), they will suggest that he skip the renegotiation and go straight to the pulling out.

By contrast, the Government are firmly committed to maintaining Britain as a full member of the European Union. Last year, more than half our exports went to other member states, so we have to be there when they make the rules under which our businesses sell and export their goods. The inward investment that comes to Britain comes not to sell to Britain, but to export to the whole of the European Union—the largest single market in the world, with 370 million consumers. We have to show that we are committed to staying in if we want business men in Tokyo and Texas to show their commitment to investing here.

Membership of the largest single market in the world gives Britain a clout in international trade talks that we would never have on our own. For the past two months—[Interruption.]

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Foreign Secretary, but I have to tell the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that he has spoken for 34 minutes in the debate on the Queen's Speech so far and I do not want to hear him add to that total from a sedentary position.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, to intercede for the hon. Gentleman, I should say that we on the Government Benches relish his interventions when they are made from a standing position.

Britain has been helping to shape Europe's mandate for the next round of World Trade Organisation negotiations, to be held in Seattle. Did we not do so, member states in the rest of Europe would draw up a mandate that suited their interests, not ours. That is why our strategy is to make Britain a leading partner in Europe: a Britain that is shaping Europe, not shunning Europe.

Because we support the EU, we want it to be modernised and reformed. In that respect, the Opposition spokesman could use a little help from his party's Members of the European Parliament, who last month voted to prevent the new anti-fraud office from investigating MEPs' accounts. They were perfectly happy for it to investigate the Commission, the Council and even the staff, but not themselves. Last week, most were shamed into reversing their vote, but three Tory MEPs still voted to keep the anti-fraud office from investigating MEPs' accounts.

Conservatives cannot be taken seriously when they practise the double standard of promising reform in Britain, but voting against it in Brussels. Nor can they be taken seriously when, with one breath, they pledge that the euro is such a fundamental threat to national sovereignty that they will ban it, but, with the next, say that they will ban it for one Parliament only. Will the hon. Member for Stratfordon-Avon tell us whether keeping Britain out of the euro is a great principle of eternal truth, or just a small principle with a sell-by date? He would be wise to clear up that point before he despatches his leader to tour Britain, campaigning to ban the euro from the back of a flat-bed truck—if he ever finds a truck that has not been made within the euro zone. The decision on whether or not to join the euro will be of fundamental significance to Britain and it is important that we get it right. It is important that we make the right decision for Britain. The decision must be made by giving honest answers to the questions that reflect the real world, in which Britain could soon be the only country in the European Union outside the euro zone.

If the euro proves a success and if our five economic conditions are met, we shall let the people have the choice through a referendum, in which they can decide what is in the national interest. Whether or not we join the euro, it will be a fact of our lives. Last month, BMW announced that it was to pay Rover suppliers in euros. That will bring the reality of the euro to the accounts of big companies trading across the channel and to scores of small firms in the west midlands. Marks and Spencer and Siemens have announced similar moves.

The awkward truth for Euro-sceptics is that they cannot ban the euro by blockading the ports and preventing it from getting in as in a mirror image of French farmers. There is an underlying unreality to the hostility of Opposition Members to integrating with our neighbours. That was caught perfectly in a headline in the Daily Express which read: Hague Wages War on World". Opposition Members are swimming against the tide of the powerful and rapid current of globalisation.

Back in the real world of interdependence, the deepest political divide is between those who embrace the cosmopolitan character of the modern world and those who reject it and want to retreat into isolationism. Opposition Members are firmly into isolationism. They will never come to terms with globalisation so long as they make their starting point being as rude as possible to our immediate neighbours.

Labour has always been a party of internationalism. We recognise that the more we play a full part in the international community, the more secure we make our country and the safer we make the world. The most moving experience for me over the past year was when I walked the streets of Pristina and saw the joy of the people of Kosovo at their liberation. One of them described it to me as emerging from one long dark night into the dawn. Their liberation was secured through a campaign by an international alliance in which Britain helped maintain resolve. Their administration is now provided through an international mandate which Britain helped to draft. Those who attempted to ethnically cleanse them are being pursued through an international tribunal, which has received more support from Britain than from any other country.

Kosovo demonstrated that although Britain may not be able to act on its own, it can and does make a leading contribution in partnership with others. It is on the basis of that successful record of building new partnerships and strengthening old alliances that we ask the House to support the Government in making Britain a leading player in Europe and a respected force for good in the world.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State 5:08 pm, 22nd November 1999

I was going to offer the Foreign Secretary more than 30 seconds of consensus at the beginning of my speech. He can certainly have it on praise for the diplomatic service, although I suspect that it will think it a pity that it has taken him two and a half years to praise it. It would have appreciated his praise at the time of the Sierra Leone affair, when he was blaming his officials for the shortcomings of his own policy. His officials, many of whom I meet in my present role, do a wonderful job for Britain abroad.

The right hon. Gentleman could have had a greater degree of consensus had he not spent the first 10 minutes of his speech praising himself for his few successes and the last 20 minutes of it criticising by caricature our policy in various areas. I find it extraordinary that a British Foreign Secretary has not taken the opportunity to talk more widely about British foreign policy, given that we have not had a foreign affairs debate, apart from on Kosovo, for well over six months. Surely we are entitled to a more in-depth report on his custody of his office.

There are a great many areas of agreement between us, which is as it should be on foreign policy. However, there are areas of fundamental disagreement, one of which is the European Union and another the European security and defence identity. I shall touch on both. Next week, we have a full day's debate on the European Union, so it is somewhat surprising that the right hon. Gentleman chose to use up so much of his time today discussing a subject that we shall debate at length next week. I am perfectly happy to speak about Europe, even though we shall debate it for a whole day next week. The Foreign Secretary chose to debate it today, but he has not mentioned China, the far east or Africa. There was a passing reference to the middle east, but he spent most of his speech criticising a misrepresentation of our policy.

There are areas of agreement. I go back to the consensus with which I would have started, had the Foreign Secretary not made his particularly small-minded speech. We all share the optimism about the progress in the middle east, East Timor and Cyprus. There is greater reason for optimism about those areas than there has been for a long time. There are dangers still in North Korea, Libya and Iraq, and in relation to rogue states and rogue actors such as bin Laden, and we would agree on how we should attempt to contain those.

There is the question of managing the difficult relationships that we have with Russia, an empire in decline—and China, an empire almost certainly in the ascendant. We welcome the end of the fighting in Kashmir, although, as the Foreign Secretary learned to his cost some time ago, the negotiation of peace is a matter for the countries involved, not for us.

We support the Government's moves to have the military regime in Pakistan suspended from the Commonwealth. However, I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would agree that the previous democratically elected Governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were not exactly a byword for liberal democracy and were among the most corrupt Governments, both economically and politically, that we have witnessed. I hope that the Commonwealth will play a role in trying to help Pakistan back to a more genuine democracy than it enjoyed under those Governments. Wrong as the military regime may be, it is not a typical military takeover and we should try to encourage Pakistan back to democracy.

The tragedy of Africa continues, with wars in the Congo and between Ethiopia and Eritrea. We regard those as tasks for the United Nations, and we join the Government in giving the UN Britain's wholehearted support.

In Iraq, there is an urgent need to re-establish UNSCOM. Containing the threat to peace is probably the best that we can hope for in that region.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a significant step towards solving Africa's problems would have been some mention in the Queen's Speech of legislation to control the activities of arms brokers?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

A mention might have been expected in the Foreign Secretary's speech today.

We agree with the Government on the Balkans, and we are behind the policy. Despite the Foreign Secretary's small-minded remark about troops in Macedonia, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former shadow Foreign Secretary, and I supported the Government on that policy during the campaign. They were entitled to our support, and they received it. However, there are problems in the way policy and events are unfolding in the Balkans.

In our debate in June, the Foreign Secretary said that the Government were determined to make every attempt to create a pluralist, multi-ethnic Kosovo", and would not allow the ethnic cleansing of the Serb population in Kosovo, nor of any other ethnic minority. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 170,000 of the 200,000 Kosovo Serbs have now left Kosovo.

The Foreign Secretary went on to say that there could be no future stability if we try to sweep every ethnic group into its own pure cantonment".—[Official Report, 17 June 1999; Vol. 333, c. 585–6.] However, that now appears to be happening in northern Kosovo, where there is effectively a Serb sub-region and some evidence that Milosevic is helping to organise it.

In his speech, the Foreign Secretary promised that we would make sure that refugees had shelter for the winter, but that is not happening. I am not sure of the reason for that, and whether it is the fault of the UNHCR, which estimates that only 50,000 of the 120,000 damaged homes in Kosovo will be fit for habitation this winter. I know that there are serious troubles on the Macedonia border with the way in which customs posts are being used and lorries held up, but I hope that those matters can be resolved.

KFOR has been an undoubted success in Kosovo, but I am not sure that UNMIK, the United Nations civilian mission, has. Recent reports show that there is serious disquiet about morale among mission members being at an all-time low and huge sums of money being wasted. They show that ethnic Albanians and Serbs, infuriated by the incompetence of the administration, have largely taken the governing of the province into their own hands.

I hope that we are doing something to improve UNMIK's performance and to try to resolve the difficulties, because it seems that the situation is rapidly moving towards ethnic cantonment—exactly what the Foreign Secretary said must be avoided—and that the chance of reintegrating Kosovo into Serbia or Yugoslavia is almost impossible.

As I said in our debate in June, a danger continues to hang over Montenegro, with 15,000 Yugoslav troops in Macedonia. General Wesley Clark is quoted in a recent edition of U.S. News and World Report as requesting and receiving Pentagon approval to draw up plans for possible NATO military action in Montenegro. I have asked the Foreign Secretary about that before; the Government's policy on the matter is not clear. Are we committed to Montenegro's integrity? There is a danger of NATO being sucked into a conflict.

The normalisation of Serbia is crucial to the stability and economy of the region. We agree with the Government that progress cannot be made until Milosevic goes. However, is some progress possible on the Danube, which is blocked? That blockage is seriously damaging the economies of other countries—more than that of Serbia, which uses it less than other countries. Serbia has a legal obligation to clear the Danube, but it insists that NATO should do that and pay for it. Has the Foreign Secretary any ideas about the way in which that problem might be resolved?

There is some evidence that the Dayton agreement is failing in Bosnia. Refugee returns across internal borders have been almost non-existent. The UNHCR states that only 340,000 refugees have returned to Bosnia-Herzegovina since Dayton—93 per cent. to the federation and 0.7 per cent. to Republika Srpska. No non-Serbs are being allowed to return to Republika Srpska. The United Nations at least acquiesces in that, but if it is allowed to go on, Dayton will not work. There is a danger that Tudjman's successor will try to incorporate the Croat part of Bosnia-Herzegovina into Croatia. If that happens, Republika Srpska will also almost certainly try to break away. What are we doing to try to ensure that ethnic cantonments are not created, and to achieve our original objective? The United Nations and NATO need to get a grip on matters and stop the drift; otherwise, a solution will be imposed on the ground, and the ethnic cleansers will have won in Bosnia and Kosovo.

We got involved in Kosovo without a United Nations Security Council resolution that authorised force. The Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary assured us that our intervention was legal. However, that has since become a matter of dispute. The British and the Foreign Office view of the legality of such intervention must be settled. The Prime Minister set out a moral right of intervention and something of a moral crusade in his Chicago speech and his article in Newsweek. The Foreign Secretary supported that in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly. He said that we must work out the rules, and Kofi Annan made similar comments. What are we doing to work out the rules? Indeed, what are the rules?

A recent pamphlet published by Mark Littman QC claims that there is no legal justification for the intervention in Kosovo. He quotes from a 1984 Foreign Office document that considered the right of intervention. It states that the overwhelming majority of contemporary legal opinion comes down against the existence of a right of humanitarian intervention".

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

Things have moved on since 1984.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

Perhaps that is so, but I want the Foreign Secretary to explain, because the argument for the right of intervention in Kosovo stood on two planks: Serbia's breach of three United Nations Security Council resolutions, which somehow internationalised the conflict and legitimised NATO's actions; and the various treaties on human rights. The mention of human rights in the United Nations charter somehow superseded the charter's other provision, which states that the only legitimate uses of force are self defence and pursuance of a UNSC resolution.

There is an attempt in the United Nations to develop the right of intervention as a doctrine. That requires legal principles, and we want to know what they are. In the international community, there is a clear division of views: Britain, the United States and Germany want to be able to act without United Nations authorisation; France believes that United Nations authorisation is necessary; and other countries, led by Russia and China, claim that no such right exists. The Foreign Office must take a view. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said that events had moved on since 1984, which is true, but the Foreign Office has not presented another view on the international legality of intervention since then. I invite the Foreign Secretary to present such a view and to publish the basis on which we believe such intervention to be legal. Our attitude to events in Kosovo, East Timor and Chechnya has been radically different and, despite all the moral rhetoric about crusades, the Government are adopting a rather practical policy in those matters. We cannot intervene in lots of places—it is simply impractical or too dangerous—and I believe that foreign policy should be based on British interests, not moral crusades.

Of course, British interests involve a strong preference for democracy and human rights, but we also have an interest in stability and a peaceful world, which relies on relationships with other powers. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions about the moral doctrine and the legality of intervention if it is to be a feature of NATO policy in future. I am not saying that it should not be a feature—I wholly approve of what NATO did in Kosovo—but we need to understand rather better the moral doctrine and, more particularly, what international legal view the Foreign Office takes.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

I wholeheartedly support the hon. Gentleman's proposition. In all the international disputes with which we have been involved over the past 20 years, there have always been rows in the House of Commons about the legal justification, both before and during those disputes. It would be helpful if we could have those matters updated, because many of us have a great interest in them.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

I welcome support from any quarter; perhaps the Foreign Secretary will listen to his hon. Friend if he will not listen to me. We need to be slightly clearer about the basis on which the House is invited to authorise military action and to be sure that it is legal. I understand that international law is an organic matter that moves on with circumstances and practice, but we need a slightly better basis than we have at the moment, particularly as the only outstanding document from a British Government—admittedly a previous Government—denies the legal right of such intervention.

That leads me to the Government's so-called ethical foreign policy, which the Foreign Secretary launched in one of his first acts, as though ethics was something new and people such as Geoffrey Howe, Douglas Hurd and Malcolm Rifkind had been unethical and had pursued unethical policies.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

I do not think that Lord Archer was ever Foreign Secretary, or likely to be.

Ethics has always been part of foreign policy, both in its conduct and its objectives, but the Foreign Secretary made it the main objective. By doing so, he has opened himself to charges of hypocrisy and foolishness. His pretentiousness knew no bounds, and he even made a video about it to complement his speech. I refer him back to that speech, because it illustrates some of the points that I am making. He listed a series of human rights that he said were important—not all of them, because he said there were too many to do that—and then, rather pompously and with no apologies to Thomas Jefferson, he said: We hold these rights to be self-evident", as though he had coined the phrase himself and it had not been said 225 years earlier by somebody else.

The Foreign Secretary then listed certain commitments on behalf of the Government, and I should like to remind him of some of them. He said: Britain will support measures within the international community to express our condemnation of those regimes who grotesquely violate human rights". Not, apparently, including China. He went on: Britain will fully support sanctions applied by the international community. Not, apparently, including sanctions on Cuba. He added: At multinational conferences, such as the annual meeting of the Commission on Human Rights, Britain will"—[Interruption.] I am coming to Cuba. I have something to say about the right hon. Gentleman's views about Cuba, because he has contradicted himself about it. [Interruption.] No, there are United States sanctions on Cuba. [HON MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Let us come to the next charge.

The Foreign Secretary said that at meetings of the Commission on Human Rights, Britain will support measures and resolutions which criticise abuses of human rights". Under his stewardship, Britain, for the first time, failed to sponsor the United Nations resolution on human rights criticising China. He went on: Britain will support the proposal for a permanent International Criminal Court. However, as we have heard again today, not yet. [Interruption.] It is more than a year since we signed the treaty—a whole parliamentary Session has gone by and now, apparently, most of another is to go by. He said: Britain will give stronger support to media under threat from authoritarian regimes. That, apparently, did not extend to him meeting Wei Jingsheng, China's most famous human rights activist, at that gentleman's first request.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

The Foreign Secretary met him.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

The Foreign Secretary met him eventually, but he refused to meet Wei Jingsheng—who described the right hon. Gentleman as two-faced on human rights—on his first visit to Britain. I accept that I may not be an authority on human rights, but Wei Jingsheng certainly is. He has spent half his life in jail in China and the Foreign Secretary refused to meet him the first time that he was asked to do so. Under considerable pressure from us, the media and other people, he eventually met him.

This is what I wanted to say to the Foreign Secretary. Nowhere in politics is policy more driven by facts outside one's control than in foreign policy, and it is those facts that have exposed the hollowness of the Foreign Secretary's pretentious position on human rights. In Kosovo, in East Timor, in Chechnya, we have seen columns of refugees, we have seen provinces seeking autonomy or independence from effectively imperial masters, and we have seen brutal repression; but our responses to all those have been very different. In Kosovo, we rightly launched a moral crusade. In East Timor, we did a little. In Chechnya, until this week, we have done absolutely nothing. We waited for someone else to take the lead on East Timor, and until last week we had nothing to say about Chechnya.

I told the Foreign Secretary that I would return to the subject of Cuba. In his party conference speech, he contradicted himself in the space of half a page. Cuba is, of course, one of the left-wing dictatorships for which the Foreign Secretary has a predilection. He said, "Britain has held talks"—[Interruption.] I bet the right hon. Gentleman had posters of Che Guevara on his walls when he was a student. [Interruption.] This Foreign Secretary, who spent much of his speech lecturing us on Britain's place in the world, is the Foreign Secretary who used to be a campaigning member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, who begged Labour conferences to pass motions on nuclear disarmament, and who was a tacit friend of the Soviet Union during the cold war. No doubt he was what one of his childhood heroes would have described as a useful idiot.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

Not yet; not to the hon. Gentleman, anyway.

In his party conference speech, the Foreign Secretary said: I made it clear we want to see better human rights"—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen. The speech contains a direct contradiction within the space of a few lines. The Foreign Secretary said: I made it clear we want to see better human rights in Cuba. But we have a better chance of getting them, not by blockading Cuba but by making the world open to Cuba. Four paragraphs later, referring to Burma, the right hon. Gentleman said: It is because of their behaviour that this Government has stopped all support for trade with Burma and discouraged any tourism to Burma. There is no consistency there. If we are in favour of trade sanctions to stop human rights abuses, surely that applies to both countries—but it seems that we have a soft spot for left-wing dictatorships.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

I will in a moment, but I want to make another point first. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can answer this point as well.

We saw a similarly prejudiced reaction in the case of General Pinochet. Here we have a right-wing dictator, no doubt part of the demonology of the right hon. Gentleman's youth. The right hon. Gentleman showed how the Government were prepared to sacrifice the interests of a nascent Chilean democracy and the interests of the Falkland islanders to indulge again the stupid prejudices of his youth. There is no consistency in that policy, and the right hon. Gentleman should not have allowed himself to be exposed to this charge of hypocrisy.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I make no complaint about the hon. Gentleman's attack on me, but I feel that he should reflect on whether he should begin by complaining that others attack him in their speeches in the House.

Let me return to the serious point that the hon. Gentleman made about Burma. He attacked me for what I said about that country. Let me get this clear: are the Opposition saying that our position on Burma is wrong? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Burmese Government are one of the rare Governments in the world who connive in the heroin trade? They have carried out massive ethnic cleansing of many Burmese tribes; they have been denounced by the International Labour Organisation for their practice of forced labour; they rule by power, and by power alone; they have 200 elected MPs in prison; and they refuse to deal with Aung San Suu Kyi. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, in the light of all that, he thinks that we should support trade with Burma—yes or no?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

I think that the Burmese regime is one of the nastiest in the world and that we should do all that we can to improve human rights in Burma. What I am saying to the Foreign Secretary is that he contradicts himself: he has a policy that puts human rights in Burma at the top of the agenda, but not those in Cuba.

Let us deal with what the right hon. Gentleman did last week, at the Commonwealth summit. We are really tough on Pakistan, because it has a military dictatorship, but we are soft on Zimbabwe, Kenya and Malaysia, where political opponents are beaten up and imprisoned. In many such countries, Governments have even tried to kill them. We have the laughable situation of the President of Zimbabwe being on a high-level team to examine and settle the future of the Commonwealth. The President of Zimbabwe runs a Government who are probably the worst human-rights abuser in the Commonwealth, but the Foreign Secretary goes along with that. All I am saying is that foreign policy is and should be driven largely by the facts with which one is confronted. The Foreign Secretary has got into a mess, opening himself up to the charge of hypocrisy that I level at him, by the pretentiousness of elevating human rights as though it would be the sole objective of his policy.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

Can the hon. Gentleman clear up one ambiguity that has arisen as a result of what he has said? Does he support the Helms-Burton legislation, which is characterised by the fact that it seeks to take extraterritorial jurisdiction over countries that are far away from the United States simply because companies in those countries may seek to trade with Cuba?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

The Foreign Secretary can probably defend himself without the Liberal Democrat spokesman's intervention. I do not support the Helms-Burton Act. I have never supported the attempt to extraterritorialise United States trade policy, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman is virtually a part-time member of the Government. We have now found out that, before the election, the Liberal Democrats were conspiring with the Labour party, unknown to the electorate—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."' I have answered the question: I said no.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

Let me finish; I can deal with only one intervention at a time.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

No, I will not give way. I will turn to China.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

I have said that I am not giving way for the moment.

China must have one of the worst human rights records in the world. The Foreign Secretary made a bad start by, as I have said, refusing to meet Wei Jingsheng. As we all know, China' s record extends from the rape of Tibet to the kidnap of the Panchen Lama and the suppression of democracy activists who were trying to use their rights under a UN convention that China signed only last year. We laid on a state visit. Pinochet gets arrested, but the Chinese President gets dinner with the Queen.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

Then we saw the obscenity of the heavy-handed policing.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Stratfordon Avon (Mr. Maples), but the Minister of State must contain himself.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

Perhaps the Foreign Secretary could put the Minister of State out of his misery and let him make a speech in the Chamber some time.

The heavy-handed policing of the demonstrations when the Chinese President was here was extremely unusual. We now discover that it was conspired in the Foreign Office. I met Wei Jingsheng during the events of that week. He had been outside Buckingham palace on the pavement, standing peacefully. He had pulled a banner out of his jacket, which said simply, "Free political prisoners." He was grabbed by three policemen, two of whom pinned his arms to his sides. The other tore the banner out of his hand. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rotherham should be ashamed that that happened. It did happen and there is no justification for it.

I saw Wei Jing Shen a couple of hours later. He said that Chinese secret policemen in the crowd were identifying people such as him to the British police. Labour Members choose not to believe Wei Jingsheng, who has better credentials than anyone in the Government on the matter.

We then found out as a result of questions to the Foreign Office that it had no less than eight meetings with the police before the visit and that 35 Chinese secret policemen accompanied the President. The reason was given away by the Minister of State, who said in a written answer: Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials and the Metropolitan Police discussed the proposed programme for the State Visit and the concerns of the Chinese authorities about the possible impact of demonstrations on the visit. We are not talking about the safety of the Chinese President—of course he is entitled to that protection; we are talking about the impact of demonstrations. The Foreign Office sought to suppress those.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

Not for the moment.

The Foreign Secretary and his officials conspired with the Chinese to prevent lawful demonstrations by human rights activists. I do not suppose that he will make a video about that. The self-styled champion of global human rights has been exposed as a fraud, a mouse that cannot even squeak, let alone roar, when the Chinese are the audience.

Photo of John Battle John Battle Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Queen visited China in 1986 under the previous Government and that the recent visit of the Chinese President was a return visit? Will he also confirm that there are usually meetings between officials when there is any state visit? I spelled out in repeated replies in the House that there was no collusion between our Department and the police. There were no meetings between Ministers and the police. The Chinese were informed that there would be demonstrations in this country and that they would, as usual, be freely respected. Will the hon. Gentleman also confirm that no one was arrested, no one was charged or countercharged, and no one has reported having been arrested or charged as a result of the visit? What is the difference between that and the way in which the Department dealt with state visits when he was a Minister, except for the fact that he took no action?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

My God, have we touched a raw nerve? The hon. Gentleman gave the game away in answers to his hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). He said: Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials and the Metropolitan Police discussed the proposed programme for the State Visit and the concerns of the Chinese authorities about the possible impact of demonstrations on the visit."—[Official Report, 28 October 1999; Vol. 336, c. 993W.] It appears from the prompting that the Minister was getting that he did not know that the Queen had visited China until his hon. Friends behind him tipped him off, but two things have happened since then. The first was Tiananmen square, and the second is the Foreign Secretary's human rights policy. I have no objections to the Chinese President paying a state visit, but the Foreign Secretary should have if he believes in his human rights policy. However, we have found that his policy allows him to bully and lecture the weak while kowtowing obsequiously to the strong.

Before concluding, I want to move on to the two foreign policy issues on which we disagree fundamentally with the Government. They are profoundly wrong on the European security and defence identity. The policy will weaken our security and that of Europe; it will undermine the transatlantic alliance; and it breaches Madeleine Albright's three conditions of no duplication, no discrimination and no decoupling. There was a press briefing in the Foreign Office on the subject today. We are used to the press being briefed a few hours before the House of Commons is told, but no press release was issued. Apparently a paper is to be issued on Wednesday. I suppose that that is so that this debate is well out of the way.

The Government's position changed at St. Malo. At the Amsterdam summit, the Prime Minister refused to go along with the proposals on the European defence and security initiative. He said that it was an ill-judged transplant. He changed his mind last November because we were not going to be in the first wave of the euro and he desperately needed something to resurrect his European credibility and the good reception that he gets from other EU leaders. No other explanation has been given for that Uturn. The Berlin accords in 1996 clearly envisaged the development of a European pillar inside NATO, but the St. Malo agreement talks about it being inside or outside the NATO alliance.

The Foreign Secretary has repeatedly told me that the Americans are happy about the developments and that they were endorsed at the Washington summit, but that is not true. The strategic concept said that the European Security and Defence Identity will continue to be developed within NATO. That is not happening. Any ambiguity has been removed by the Cologne summit and the various bilateral summits this year. We are clearly talking about the European Union absorbing the Western European Union without dealing with the problem of discrimination against countries that are in NATO but not in the European Union, such as Norway and Turkey, or new members of NATO, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, which are very unhappy about the development.

The Cologne summit called for European Union military spending on intelligence, transport and command and control. That is expensive duplication. Those assets already exist in NATO. At a time of falling defence budgets in every European Union country, it is stupid to duplicate expenditure on assets that already exist.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

Did the hon. Gentleman say Czechoslovakia?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

I think that I said the Czech Republic, but if I said Czechoslovakia I mis-spoke myself.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery Conservative, East Devon

Before my hon. Friend leaves this subject, will he comment on the great danger that if the Western European Union is taken over by the European Union, four EU nations which are neutralist and not members of NATO will be making military decisions and will have some say about military decisions taken by the WEU and, therefore, by NATO?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. I am concerned about the premature folding of the WEU into the European Union. The WEU provides an extremely useful meeting point for countries that are in one of the bodies but not the other, but it is now to go. Those countries which are useful and valuable allies in NATO but which are not in the EU will not have a say, but countries which are neutral and, frankly, not useful as military allies will have a say.

I said that we had breached the conditions of discrimination and duplication, but we have also breached the decoupling condition. At the Franco-Italian summit in Nimes in September, there was a call for the European Union to have permanent political and military bodies responsible for security and defence questions—that is, military committees. If that is not decoupling Europe from NATO, I do not know what is.

The Foreign Secretary told us that there will be no European army, but all last week we were hearing about a 30,000 to 40,000-strong Euro corps. If he thinks that the United States was not concerned about this at the time of the Washington summit, he should read the recent speech given by Strobe Talbott, the Deputy Secretary of State, in London last month. He said: We would not want to see an ESDI that comes into being first within NATO but then grows out of NATO and finally grows away from NATO, since that would lead to an ESDI that initially duplicates NATO but that could eventually compete with NATO. Two other things had bothered him. The Anglo-French summit at St. Malo raised concerns among non-EU allies—to which I have just referred—and the EU leaders' declaration at Cologne in June, which could be read to imply that Europe's default position would be to act outside the Alliance whenever possible, rather than through the Alliance. That seriously concerns us, and it is now developing.

It is clear from the speeches of many European Commissioners and Mr. Solana that the United States is right to be concerned, as they want a European Union foreign policy that is backed by a European Union military force outside NATO.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Did the hon. Gentleman also read that part of Strobe Talbott's speech in which he said that he supported the ESDI, as did the United States?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

Yes, but that is polite cover. [Laughter.] I happen to have discussed this matter with Strobe Talbott, and his views are perfectly clear to me. The communiqué in Washington said that the initiative would be developed within NATO. He is happy about that, as am I. If we develop the ESDI within NATO—a European pillar, as envisaged at Berlin—my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will be totally happy. We started that process.

We do not like the initiative being taken out of NATO and given to the EU, which is not the right organisation for it. The Government have surrendered to France what the French have long wanted—an alternative to NATO.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

On the disingenuous intervention from the Secretary of State for Defence, is it not the case that Strobe Talbott said that the US support for the ESDI will be guided by the answers to two questions"? He went on to detail those questions, one of which related to the precise quotation from his speech that my hon. Friend gave the House a couple of minutes ago.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

Disingenuous interventions by the Secretary of State may fool a few Labour Back Benchers, but he should not let himself be blinded to what is happening in foreign policy. It is being changed—there is no point in pretending that this initiative is not developing outside NATO. It is, and that is the French agenda.

On 8 November—the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall—President Chirac made an incredibly anti-American speech in Paris. He called for the European Union to work for a multipolar world that contained US military…power. This agenda has been pursued by the French for some time, and the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have fallen for it. It is a dangerous policy, and it is not in the UK's interests. It will weaken NATO and substitute something with less political credibility and less military clout.

Everybody in Europe is cutting defence budgets, and we will need to duplicate certain things to make the ESDI work. It is possible to make it work if we are all prepared to spend a lot more money, but we are not. The idea that we can strike out on our own is a dangerous fantasy. It is the Foreign Secretary's job to stop the Prime Minister playing games with our long-term security for his own personal vanity.

The Foreign Secretary spent an awful lot of his speech dealing with our policy on the European Union, so let me say what it is after I have dealt with what he has succeeded in getting in the EU. His handling of European affairs has been characterised by surrender. He has raised pre-emptive concession to an art form. The Government signed up to the social chapter without getting anything in return. At Amsterdam, they gave up our veto in 16 areas and asked for nothing in return.

The European security and defence identity is a 180-deg reversal of policy. The Government conceded ground on the corpus juris at Tampere. They are trying to introduce the single currency by stealth, and I believe that they are planning to give up our veto in more areas at next year's intergovernmental conference.

What is the purpose of all that? The Prime Minister says that it is to generate good will. He says, "We will have much better relations than those awful Conservatives had with the Germans and the French and we will be able to get things in exchange." Until a month ago, when asked what we got in exchange, he said that we got the beef ban lifted. That was the only prize that he could identify from the ream of surrenders and pre-emptive concessions. Apparently, our relations with France were not even good enough for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to telephone his French counterpart for a week. I do not know whether they had lost one another' s phone number or could not find an interpreter.

This is pathetic. We have surrendered long-term, hard-won interests for good will, and all we have gained is the supposed lifting of the beef ban, which has not even happened. That really illustrates the bankruptcy of the Government's policy.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Minister (Education)

In the light of the Foreign Secretary's low music-hall bluster, does my hon. Friend recall that, at column 86 on 2 November, the Foreign Secretary, having been invited by my hon. Friend to commit himself to veto an enlargement treaty that eroded our national vetoes, three times declined to do so?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Shadow Secretary of State

Indeed, he refused to rule that out, which makes me very suspicious that the Government are preparing to surrender our veto in more areas, which is of course the agenda of the President of the European Commission.

We are allowing the European Union to continue down the wrong road. A lot of the regulation being imposed on business imposes unnecessary costs that do not fall on businesses in America or Asia and attracts more power to the centre. If we do not stop it at some point, that will eventually lead to a European super-state. The Government say that they do not want that, but others want it. It is what the Simon-Dehaene report, commissioned by President Prodi, says. He has said that he wants that in many pronouncements, including his speech last week to the European Parliament.

The danger is that we will get that over-regulated super-state unless the Foreign Secretary is prepared to stand up for Britain's interests. One of Europe's main tasks should be to concentrate on ensuring that European business is competitive, that we can continue with our agenda of free trade and that we complete a north Atlantic marketplace and the single market in the areas in which we want it to be completed; but the European Union and the Commission are obsessed with integration and harmonisation, leading to expensive regulation that makes European businesses uncompetitive and will eventually lead to job losses and, I believe, calls for protection for some member states.

We must reverse that before it is too late. We have an opportunity, because enlargement, as the Foreign Secretary said, requires institutional reform. A European Community of 25 to 30 members will need some reform. There are two models for that reform. One is the Prodi model of removing the national veto, and introducing much more qualified majority voting and a requirement for much bigger blocking minorities. The alternative model would not require every country to go along with every piece of legislation. Of course we must be bound by the core legislation on the free market and free trade and competition, but we do not all need the same trade union recognition rights or the same paternity leave arrangements.

The flexibility model offers an alternative vision of Europe. There is a clear distinction between our policy and the Government's. Our vision is of an open, flexible, outward-looking, free-trading, free-market, low-cost Europe. The Prodi vision, in which the Government are acquiescing, will lead to an inward-looking, protectionist, over-regulated super-state.

I said at the beginning that there were large areas of agreement between us on foreign policy and if the Government are in a morass on their pretentiousness over human rights, that is their own fault. They are pursuing a dangerous and anti-British policy on the European security and defence identity and they are supinely acquiescent in allowing the federalist regulators to take over the European Union. It will take a Conservative Government to put that right, and put it right we will.

When we are in government, we will not lecture the world on morality. We will not sacrifice fundamental, hard-won British interests for short-term popularity abroad, and we will not allow Britain to lose her independence in a European super-state. We will be, as we always have been, the guardians of Britain's true interests. We will strengthen the European Atlantic alliance and we will ensure that Britain is in Europe, but not run by Europe.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I wish to remind the House that the 10-minute rule now applies to Back Benchers' speeches.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 5:51 pm, 22nd November 1999

That was a sad speech by the hon. Member for StratfordonAvon (Mr. Maples), who was a moderate European in the past and now feels under pressure to bow to the prevailing wind in his party. The vision of Europe that he set out is shared by no other Christian Democrat party on the continent, although it is perhaps shared by Mr. Haider in Austria, and it goes against all the traditions and interests of this country. The hon. Gentleman used words such as surrender—at least six times—against our partners in Europe, as if they were our enemies. His policy is self-defeating, against our national interest and shared by no one. The fact that the hon. Gentleman imagines that we can have a pick-and-mix Europe, at a time when Europe is being transformed and the world is changing, shows that he is someone who stands on the sandbank of time and spits against the wind.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

No, I have only 10 minutes.

On the subject of the law of humanitarian intervention, it is a pipe-dream to imagine that we can have consensus on that. I invite the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon to consider the debate in the United Nations General Assembly. He can ally himself with the speech made by Mr. Ivanov on national sovereignty or he can adopt the policy of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, which is the only honourable and moral one. In the case of Kosovo, it would have been immoral for us to stand on the sidelines and do nothing when we had the capacity to intervene for good.

I wish to offer some general reflections about where we are now. I make no excuse for that: this is probably the last foreign affairs debate before Christmas and therefore the last of the millennium, so we may take some time for reflection. Ten years ago there was some euphoria in foreign policy circles. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, and all was to be new. Some scholars were talking about the end of history. The mood has now changed and, in my judgment, changed too far. Anyone with a sense of history knows that that euphoria could not last. We need a balance: we have much about which to rejoice but we also face great challenges.

I was concerned that much of the foreign policy content of the Gracious Speech appeared to be an afterthought. The speech contained a welcome reference to the International Criminal Court, although I had hoped that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would give a clear commitment today not only that we would be among the first 60 to ratify but that the Bill would become an Act during this Session. I was also surprised that the Gracious Speech contained no mention of Kosovo or the Commonwealth, and that whole swathes of foreign policy were not addressed.

What is clear is that whereas for 40 years following the five-year or so period of intense institutional adjustment after the second world war, we had the stability of the cold war, the past 10 years have seen great movement: it is as if a boulder had fallen into a pond whose ripples have affected our defence policy and our relations with the European Union and the third world.

I believe that the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of communism—the revolutions of 1989—will be far more significant historically than the failed revolutions of 1848. The effects of the end of communism will be felt for the next 10, 20 and even 50 years. The immediate effect was the end of the USSR, leaving the US as the only super-power. As there is now no perceived threat, many in the US ponder their role in burden sharing in Europe, and that has led to the necessary debate in Europe on the European security and defence identity and where we stand after Kosovo. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave some figures showing how much we spend on defence and what we get for that, as compared with our US partners.

Ten years after the fall of the Berlin wall on 8 and 9 November 1989, NATO has responded with many important institutional initiatives, from the North Atlantic Co-operation Council of 1991 to "Partnership for Peace" and the special agreements with Russia and the Ukraine culminating in the Washington summit this year at which three former Warsaw pact countries joined NATO. That was an earth-shaking event. The security map of Europe has been redrawn and will be again, as membership action plans are implemented for those other countries that also seek membership of NATO.

Ten years ago, the alignment of countries that we see in KFOR, the Kosovo force, would have been unthinkable. There is a new momentum in transatlantic arrangements and a proper debate about the role of Europe. For example, the incorporation of the Western European Union into the institutions of the European Union will be done only when the interests of those members of the WEU not in NATO, such as Norway, Turkey and Iceland, have been addressed. I support the lead taken by the Government at St. Malo and beyond. It has not yet been reflected in the European defence industry, but that will follow.

The fall of the Berlin wall also had profound effects on the European Union. We understand the desires of the former Warsaw pact countries to seek full integration into the European Union, and I should have thought that the best option for those who do not wish to see further integration within Europe would be to support enlargement. However, the Conservatives' motives were questioned by our European partners because they were not part of the club, or were not thought to want to be part of the club, and their views were disregarded.

The Commission's report on 13 October made it clear that six countries are already negotiating entry to the European Union, and six more are to be invited. An intergovernmental conference will be necessary in advance of that, but it will transform the whole political landscape of Europe.

Whereas European history has hitherto seesawed between the dominance of Germany and that of Russia, Germany is now a full and leading member of the European Union and Russia is seeking to determine its own relations, in a rather turbulent manner, within the new Europe.

We do not know where enlargement will end. Reports of this weekend's Financial Times conference dealt with the fact that we shall have to accept that, if there is to be a core Europe—an entity called Europe—there will have to be a non-Europe. We must ourselves begin to work out the limits of enlargement, and a dynamic debate on that matter is under way.

On the night when the Berlin wall was demolished, I was travelling back from Namibia, having witnessed its first democratic elections. I had arranged for a full range of press conferences on the success story of democracy in Africa to take place on my return, but no one was interested in the story. Alas, the incident symbolised Africa's place in today's world. In one sense, the fall of the Berlin wall sidelined the third world; but it also precipitated the end of apartheid—first, with democratic elections in Namibia in 1989 and, secondly, with South Africa's 1994 elections. The end of communism also marked the end of client-state status held by countries such as the Congo and Somalia, where we were constrained in attacking human rights violations. We are now able to take a far more objective view of the situation in those countries.

I rejoice, for example, at the way in which East Timor—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his time.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament 6:01 pm, 22nd November 1999

In my 10 minutes, I shall certainly not—as the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said—have time for reflection on the great events. Although I should have liked to say something about Northern Ireland, anti-terrorism legislation, legislation on communications interception, the appalling problems facing British agriculture, and the overwhelming planning and land-use issues which affect so many parts of the United Kingdom and which will be of considerable interest this Session, I shall focus on two issues that might be summarised as great national assets at serious risk.

The first issue transcends all the issues raised in the debate on the Loyal Address. I am not seeking to make a party political point, but believe that the quality of government and administration in the United Kingdom is at serious risk. We used to pride ourselves on the quality of our administration and government, which were described as the envy of the world, but in recent years, and over many years, the quantity and complexity of legislation has exceeded the system's capacity to administer it. As an example, I need only refer to the problems of the Child Support Agency—in relation to which various proposals were mentioned in the Gracious Speech.

Some hon. Members will be aware of the problems with the administration of IACS, the integrated administration and control system, and of the difficulty in getting answers from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—from a system and administration for which the rules and regulations are regularly changing, and from staff who are overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the problems with which they must deal. The House should spend more time addressing those issues.

Last week, a farmer brought to my constituency surgery the names of those whom he had contacted in Workington in an attempt to get an answer to his problem with the British cattle movement service. The list included Miss Justin, Phil Christopher, Sue Owen, Pat, Jackie, John Briggs, Mr. Cater, Darren and Viv Gill—hall of them dedicated, decent and hard-working people, trying to cope. When I wrote to the Minister about my constituent's problem, he replied that, although he appreciated my constituent's frustration, especially at having to speak to different people when he telephones …the BCMS has dealt with nearly 300,000 calls in the past year and an open helpline is the only way to cope with this volume of calls. My constituent did not receive solutions to any of his problems.

Constituents have also alleged that, in reply to their queries, people at overstretched offices have said, "I'm sorry, but we've never received your letter". Subsequently, when my constituents have said, "But I sent it by registered post, and I have a signature for it," the letter has been found.

The House shares responsibility for good administration and government, and cannot pass by the Queen's Speech without recognising that fact. The Queen's Speech states: As part of my Government's drive to address inappropriate and over-complex regulation, legislation will be introduced to increase the effectiveness of the power to remove regulatory burdens. The House should have a sweepstake on the number of regulations that will be introduced as a consequence of the proposals in the Queen's Speech. The Government have proudly said that the speech describes 28 Bills—on e-commerce, utilities regulation, financial services regulation, CSA reform, welfare reform, interception of communications, a right to roam, national aviation, trustee reform, party funding, local government, freedom of information and armed forces discipline. I may be wrong, as I have not seen the legislation, but I suspect that every one of those Bills will entail new regulation and a new administrative burden.

I say with all humility that I have had some involvement in various Departments of State, and that I am seriously worried that the civil service's capacity is not what it used to be. Parliament will have to give more serious consideration to that issue. There is no point in passing legislation if it cannot be effectively implemented and administered, and we would be doing a disservice to our constituents if we tried to pretend otherwise.

We once subscribed to the slogan, "to govern is to serve." It is the duty of a Government to govern wisely. Although I do not have time to deal with the ways in which the problem should be dealt with, the first step is to acknowledge that there is a problem. In a non-partisan spirit, I say that we have a serious problem, which is underlined in the Queen's Speech.

The second of the great national assets at risk—which I have already identified to the Secretary of State for Defence, who is in the Chamber, and whom I welcome to his first Queen's Speech in his new office—is our armed forces. Although our armed forces are respected and valued, they are seriously at risk, and although the Foreign Secretary has gloried in the achievements of our forces in Kosovo, there is no question but that our forces are seriously overstretched.

The strategic defence review asked our forces to do more with less. They have subsequently been asked to do much more with even less. Our forces are admired because they are so well trained and motivated. However, time is an essential component of training. If our forces are constantly deployed on operational duty, they will have time neither to withdraw for operational training nor for the rest and recuperation that everyone rightly expects. If our forces are continually deployed, they will also not have time to be with their families. Their families resent that, and put pressure on them to leave the forces.

Every time I hear of a new assignment being undertaken or honoured by the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary, saying—admirably—that Britain will play its part, I worry that we may not be remembering who will have to discharge that duty. I was delighted that the Secretary of State's first comments on taking up his new and important office expressed his worries about overstretch.

Exactly what I feared would happen is happening. According to anecdotal evidence, key trained people—Army majors, captains, sergeant-majors and sergeants; people with some years in service, who had planned on making the armed services their career; the very core around which young recruits are built into efficient units—are the ones who are leaving. We run the risk of doing permanent damage to our services. It is no good the House simply paying tribute to our forces: it is vital that we maintain conditions in which our forces are happy to continue serving, and in which their families are willing to allow them to do so.

May I add one final comment arising from the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples)? The Secretary of State's smart remarks may sound good, make the headlines and cheer up the troops behind him. But I beg him not to be under the illusion that the Americans will look with ease or relaxation on a separate European identity and on the United Kingdom moving away from NATO. Many people in the United States would like it to pull out of NATO; they believe that it makes too big a contribution and that the Europeans are not playing their part. If the Europeans give those people any encouragement, NATO—an organisation whose value the whole House recognize—will be put at risk. I beg the Secretary of State to remember that the core importance of NATO to all our undertakings cannot be overestimated.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross Labour, Dundee West 6:11 pm, 22nd November 1999

I support my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's comments on the Gracious Speech. He spoke about our role as a member of the international community. As chairman of the board of governors of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, I thank the whole House for the support that we have received. The organisation, which began its life under a previous Government, has played an expert role in projecting Britain's foreign policy on a level that demonstrates to the outside world how at our best we can work together to support foreign policy and help restore democracy and civil government in parts of the world where there is conflict.

This year, we received a major increase in funding of 33 per cent., for which I thank my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. We have used that most beneficially in support of Britain's role as a member of the international community. I pay tribute to the way in which the political parties have worked together, particularly on the extra-budgetary technical projects in which the foundation has been engaged over the past few years. That has demonstrated to parts of the world where there is conflict and internal strife that working together can build a better society.

In Bosnia, all three British political parties are working to strengthen the parties that follow the multi-ethnic and democratic agenda. In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, we have taken concrete steps to strengthen the fabric of civil society and help independent media survive in difficult circumstances. We will be helping democratic political parties and civic groups to build effective structures. As soon as the refugees started returning to Kosovo, we were in there with a scoping mission. We seek to overcome the divisions created by the extreme national and ethnic polarisation in that society as a result of the conflict, and I think that we are having some success.

The foundation's strong cross-party nature enables it to gain access to a wider audience, and to reinforce the messages of openness and tolerance, both through our methods of operation and through the content of the programme that we seek to deliver; it has begun to produce results at grass-roots level in Bosnia, Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia.

In central Asia, an area characterised by authoritarian government, great social hardship and concomitant low levels of political activity and awareness, we have targeted grass-roots women's organisations to help them provide education in electoral and general civil rights. A group of women in Tajikistan who are actively involved in the voter education programme in the run-up to the elections which they hope will take place before March 2000 have been in the United Kingdom learning from our experience.

We have been involved in Nigeria, a very important country for the whole of Africa. Despite all the difficulties, we continue to support a range of organisations in Nigeria, from women's rights groups to civil education and human rights campaigners. In Kenya and Zimbabwe, we have assisted with major constitutional reform processes and helped the Zimbabwe constitutional commission with academic advice as it seeks to rewrite its constitution. In Rwanda, while the rest of the world may have been looking elsewhere, we have been funding the work of lawyers and paralegals, helping ordinary citizens who suffered human rights abuses in 1994 and are seeking redress.

Perhaps the area that demonstrates best how both arms of our policy work together is Nepal. Geeta comes from Chitika, a village in the Katmandu valley. She is in her fifties and, like 80 per cent. of Nepalese women, has never had any schooling. However, she attended adult literacy classes and learned to read. She has also received training, through a WFD-funded project, to help her become a grass-roots representative of her people in the democratisation process. The village supplies most of the Gurkhas who are serving with such distinction in Kosovo and East Timor, working to support democratisation and peaceful self-determination. In that way, all our policies come together: we are helping the village people of Chitika and they are helping us to deliver some of our other policies.

I should like to thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in scoping missions and supported the WFD, which demonstrates the best of this House in action.

I should briefly like to mention two other subjects—first, the middle east peace process. I think everyone in the House was overjoyed at the election of a new Labour Government in Israel. We are all pleased at the move towards final status talks, but there has been some confusion over some of the comments of the new Israeli Prime Minister and his negotiators. We must remind him that if there is to be peace, it must be based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. The resolutions cannot simply be pushed aside while the two sides move to the final framework agreement. Whether or not the word "the" is in resolution 242, resolution 194 recognises the rights of the Palestinian refugees. Without the resolution of that conflict, there can be no peace in the area.

It is not for us to tell the two sides how to negotiate. However, neither Yasser Arafat nor Ehud Barak can take away the right of those refugees under international law. They have the right of return or the right of compensation, or both, depending on how this matter is resolved. There have been other dialogues, and whether they have been in Oslo or Sharm El-Sheikh, it does not remove our responsibility to those refugees under international law.

In the early 1980s, when the prospect of the Palestinians and Israelis sitting down together was very remote, I remember sitting in a café in Covent Garden, listening to a ginger-haired, blue-eyed young person from north London telling his friends how great it had been working in Israel over the summer, and how he intended to go back and settle down. Among our company was a Palestinian student, who is now the Palestinian representative to Ireland. He was listening to someone who was born in north London and has the right to settle in Israel, yet he could not go back and visit his mother.

If we are to resolve this problem once and for all, the Palestinian refugees must have their rights addressed; without that, there can be no peace there.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) commented on the need to consider international law in certain areas. I do not support all that he said, but a dialogue must continue on how we define humanitarian law and the role of the United Nations Security Council. There are great divergences of opinion over the role of humanitarian law and its applications and over the rules that should cover our actions. I hope that many hon. Members will have seen two television programmes over the weekend—the drama "Warriors" on BBC 1 and the subsequent debate, on "Heart of the Matter". Those programmes posed problems that the House should resolve. As the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) said, we could once pretend that we did not know, but we can no longer hide behind that—

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence) 6:21 pm, 22nd November 1999

The debate embraces both foreign affairs and defence. Unusually, we have not had a defence White Paper this year, or the normal two-day debate on defence matters. I do not criticise the Government for that. It was right that the incoming Secretary of State should take the opportunity to revise the White Paper left by his predecessor. I have no doubt that we shall hold the debate—almost traditional in the House of Commons calendar—in due course. As a result of its absence, however, we have had no obvious pointers to the Government's defence proposals, except for those on the European security and defence identity.

I share many of the apprehensions expressed by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). There is no doubt about the overstretch facing all three armed services, but particularly the Army. There is an urgent need to resolve procurement problems thrown up by the strategic defence review. For example, there is the problem of heavy lift and the abortive competition to obtain the short-term capability of C 17s or their equivalents. There is a need for confident confirmation by the Government of their intention to obtain the carrier replacements that are central to the expeditionary strategy enshrined in the conclusions of the strategic defence review.

I do not go too far by saying that resource problems in the armed services need urgent attention. In particular, the 3 per cent. so-called efficiency saving has been described to the Select Committee on Defence by Sir Charles Guthrie, Chief of the Defence Staff, as "challenging". Anyone who knows Whitehall-speak will realise that Sir Charles means something rather more than that. There is plenty of evidence from senior budget holders of the consequences to which they have been subjected by their endeavours to achieve the 3 per cent. efficiency saving.

When the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Roger Wheeler, can give an on-the-record interview to a national newspaper that points up the problem of overstretch, and when the Secretary of State, in almost his first major television interview, can acknowledge that same problem, we are living in strange days for defence. Perhaps freedom of information is beginning to have an effect, even if the legislation is not yet on the statute book. Those statements emphasised the extent of the pressure that our armed forces, particularly the Army, are experiencing.

We cannot have an expeditionary strategy unless we are willing to pay for it. We must have the capacity both to get to places quickly with sufficient numbers and to stay as long as necessary. Before any tax cut could recommend itself to me, I should think it much better to consider putting more resources into the defence budget of the United Kingdom.

I referred earlier to the exception of the European security and defence identity. The Liberal Democrats have consistently argued for much more integration in defence in Europe. We have sought to rely on the principles of interoperability, common procurement and force specialisation. Two recent experiences serve to underline the importance of those ideas. First, there was the paralysis experienced over Bosnia. The international community and NATO were unable to move until the United States of America agreed to do so. Secondly, and equally embarrassingly, in Kosovo the European contribution was a fraction of what it should have been.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Scotland)

As a result of the discussions at Rambouillet, there was a great deal of Anglo-French momentum to try to initiate operations in Kosovo, but it proved impossible to do so. Was not the reason the fact that, until the United States could be got on board, such operations were simply a non-starter? How would that problem be resolved when there is a growing split between the idea of getting the United States involved and the developments advanced as desirable by the right hon. and learned Gentleman?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

I have a copy of Strobe Talbott's speech, some passages of which, if fairly read, suggest that there is more support for the European security and defence identity on the other side of the Atlantic than some hon. Members might be willing to acknowledge.

Let me return to the financial and statistical information that I was about to outline. Europe spends £100 billion a year on defence—approximately two thirds of American spending, but for a fraction of the capability. The USA contributed 75 per cent. of aircraft in Kosovo and 80 per cent. of munitions. As the previous Secretary of State for Defence has pointed out several times, European forces struggled to put on the ground a force equivalent to 2 per cent. of all the men and women under arms in Europe.

The alliance will not hold if that imbalance between the USA and Europe continues. Which of us would confidently assert that the Americans would necessarily come to Europe's aid in similar circumstances in the future? I am not talking about collective defence, because I do not doubt that the Americans would come to Europe for that. However, there will be increasing reluctance in the USA, even to the point of refusal, to take part in operations such as Bosnia and Kosovo.

Europe must spend more wisely, but Europe may have to spend more. That is why the defence capability initiative that arose from the Washington summit is so important. Europe may need more than that—a European-wide defence review. The key to the European security and defence identity is capability. Architecture and command-and-control issues will be much more easily resolved when our capability is adequate.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) rightly referred to the three Ds—no duplication, no discrimination and no de-coupling. If what is produced at the end of what Strobe Talbott calls an iterative process does not conform to those principles, there should be no deal. Those principles were slightly differently described by the Secretary General of NATO when he addressed the North Atlantic Assembly in Amsterdam a fortnight ago. He talked of adding to Albright's three Ds Robertson's three Is: improvement in capability; inclusiveness, involving total transparency between NATO, the Europeans and the north Americans; and indivisibility, meaning collective defence uninfringed and undiminished by what is proposed.

When American politicians express reservations we should take account of their views. But there is a paradox: the United States calls on the Europeans to take greater steps in their own interests, but then claims that Europe is turning its back on its transatlantic partners. Some of those who expressed the strongest reservations were against intervention in Kosovo; they were against the ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty; they are in favour of the revisal of the anti-ballistic missile treaty; they are in favour of the Helms Burton resolution and the extra-territorial jurisdiction that it seeks to achieve. Until recently, many of those who are so vociferous about the ESDI were against the United States of America paying its dues to the United Nations. The transatlantic relationship is absolutely vital, but it must be a mature relationship in which the United Kingdom and Europe are partners of the United States, not satellites.

Furthermore, it is true that, so great are the resources and capabilities of the United States, nothing that Europe could do would ever detract from the overwhelming military capability of the United States and the political leadership that it gives to NATO in collective defence.

There have been references to Strobe Talbott's speech. I doubt if he expected it to be pored over like a conveyancing document, or a memorandum or prospectus from something like the south sea bubble. In relation to Kosovo, he stated: Many Americans are saying: never again should the United States have to fly the lion's share of the risky missions in a NATO operation and foot by far the biggest bill. Many in my country, notably including members of Congress—are concerned that, in some future European crisis, a similar predominance of American manpower, firepower, equipment and resources will be neither politically or militarily sustainable, given the competing commitments our nation has in the Gulf, on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere. He continued: It did not take Kosovo for both Americans and Europeans to recognise that there is an asymmetry in the transatlantic relationship; that is unwelcome and unhealthy; and that we must find ways to rebalance our respective roles. On the ESDI, he stated: I'll start by reiterating what I hope is a clear, unambiguous statement of American policy. It's a policy of support: the US is for ESDI. It's in our interest for Europe to be able to deal effectively with challenges to European security well before they reach the threshold of triggering U.S. combat involvement. That is quite right. As the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former shadow Foreign Secretary, pointed out, there are questions to be answered. That is perfectly right. However, if one reads the speech as a whole, Strobe Talbott's position on behalf of the American Administration is, "Yes, we are in favour, subject to these questions". His speech does not state that they are against the matter because of those qualifications.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

It was notable that in commenting on the rebalancing of the relationship, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) did not have much to offer by way of constructive proposals. If he has such proposals, the House will be happy to hear them on some other occasion.

We have heard some exchanges about the single European currency. I realise that there will be a full-scale debate on Europe in a week's time and I do not want to dwell on European issues, apart from the fact that—rather like the Foreign Secretary—I find it difficult to understand that there is a principle of such importance that it is time-limited until the expiry of the next Parliament. If it is a matter of principle that one is against the currency, one will be against it for ever, no matter how many economic advantages might flow to the United Kingdom. One would be against it as a matter of principle. One cannot hold such a principle and say that it will lapse at the end of the next Parliament. I think it was the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) who, in analysing that policy, said that it was a bit like saying that one was against rape, but only until the end of the next Parliament. No doubt, he chose his example for some of the connotations that it might carry.

I am not a part-time member of the Government. The Government have been timid—continuously so— the single currency. For our part, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) pointed out in his response to the Queen's Speech, we believe that it would be right for the Government to declare in principle an intention to join, to work towards the convergence criteria that are necessary and then to hold a referendum, so that the people of the United Kingdom can pass judgment on what is not just an economic matter, but a political and constitutional one.

It would once have been unthinkable to ask whether a Conservative Government would withdraw from Europe. However, it is now no longer impossible to see circumstances in which they might do so. That would be profoundly against the interests of the people of the United Kingdom. If the Conservatives do get into power and they want to withdraw from Europe, will they pledge to hold a referendum so that the people of the United Kingdom can have the opportunity to pass judgment before that withdrawal takes place? To those who say that the North American Free Trade Agreement offers a sensible or viable alternative, what procedures within the agreement would compel the United States or Canada to accept British beef? I doubt if there is a commission, and I doubt very much if there is a court.

In relation to Kosovo, there are not only issues as to the requirement for better integrated defence, but questions as to the right of intervention. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon gave the impression—no doubt it was a slip—that the House somehow authorises intervention, but, of course, we do not. Intervention is an Executive prerogative. I agree substantially with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn): when we send young men and, increasingly, young women from this country into circumstances in which they risk their lives, the House of Commons ought to have the right to pass judgment on that decision.

Does a right exist if no UN resolution allows it? That question is not new. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in the document "Agenda for Peace", published 10 years ago, argued for an extension of the right of intervention. I assert that such a right exists, but that it is subject to the following criteria, which might be swept up in the Foreign Office study that has been urged on the Government. First, force should always be the last resort. Secondly, all diplomatic efforts should have been exhausted. Thirdly, the intervention should be undertaken to deal with a systematic breach of international law, or the universal declaration of human rights. Fourthly, regional stability should be threatened by the mass movement of refugees, or there should be a risk of severe environmental damage. Fifthly, applicable United Nations resolutions should have been flouted. Sixthly, the intervening powers should be willing to make a commitment to make good damage and to restore democratic institutions. Seventhly, will the intervention diminish conflict, rather than escalate it? Finally, as a matter of principle, rather than of pragmatism, can the intervention be made effectively? Those are the type of criteria that justify intervention.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, as he is not time limited. What does he think are our obligations towards countries such as Bulgaria and Romania? They went along with NATO in good faith and are now desperate to have the Danube unblocked—of which there is no possibility. Do we have some obligations to such people?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

Yes, we do. Indeed, I have pointed that out in the House. Those countries made great political sacrifices—in the case of the Bulgarians, because they thought it might enhance their application for membership of NATO—but they are certainly entitled to proper treatment now. I may surprise the hon. Gentleman, because I would go further: it is not right to ban all humanitarian assistance to the people of Serbia. It will not do much good for the cause of intervention, or the cause of the west, if we allow people in Serbia to die of hunger or cold throughout the coming winter. I put that point to the Prime Minister, and received a pretty dusty reply. However, I still believe that it would be the right thing to do. It is time for a recognition and a codification of a right of intervention based on those criteria.

I feel a considerable sense of discomfort as to Chechnya. We have seen the indiscriminate shelling and bombing of citizens and the prevention of humanitarian effort by the United Nations. We have seen the denial of free passage for refugees. The two situations—Kosovo and Chechnya—are not the same. However, I hope that when the Secretary of State was arguing with—or, perhaps more correctly, putting his points to, or making a demarche on—Mr. Ivanov, he not only raised the question of International Monetary Fund support but raised what seems to me to be a compelling matter in all this: the extent to which things are being done for the domestic political aspirations of Mr. Putin and others in the Yeltsin camp.

The Government set out to achieve a foreign policy with an ethical dimension, and there are some achievements of which they can rightly be proud. Among those are the Ottawa treaty on land mines, ratified pretty well in the course of a day, one Friday, here in the House of Commons; the publication of an annual human rights report; and a European Union code of conduct on arms sales where none previously existed. But arms sales are as effective a test of the ethical dimension as any other, and both the present Government and their predecessors experienced considerable embarrassment in relation to Indonesia and the repression that was carried out in East Timor.

New legislation is required. The Queen's Speech should have announced a new strategic arms export Bill, because in his report on the arms to Iraq affair, Sir Richard Scott was very critical indeed of the rather clumsily named Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939. As its date tells us, it was passed through the House at a time of national emergency. Surely different considerations now apply, and a new Bill should license and regulate arms brokers, tighten end user controls, bring forward criteria for control of licensed production in third countries and establish a Select Committee of Parliament to monitor arms export policy and to scrutinise individual export licence applications above a certain size. If the right hon. Member for Bridgwater can be trusted to scrutinise MI5 and MI6 along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickupon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), surely Members of that stature in the House could be trusted with the responsibility of monitoring arms export policy.

Let us also have an annual report on arms exports which is intelligible, and which contains detailed and easily understood information showing what arms have been exported, and to which countries. Categories that include a jet fighter aircraft at one end of the spectrum and a parachute at the other are not readily intelligible even to those who make a special study of these matters.

The arms to Iraq and arms to Sierra Leone affairs were both significant. They had significant domestic consequences, but they also seriously damaged the reputation of the United Kingdom abroad. I believe that if a Select Committee had been in place, it would have prevented them.

I feel profound disappointment that there is no Bill in the Queen's Speech to achieve ratification of the statute establishing the international criminal court. I know that there is a promise of draft legislation, but that is not the same as the indication of determination to publish a Bill and take it through the House. As the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs pointed out, the Government's 1999 human rights annual report promised that the United Kingdom would be among the first 60 states to ratify.

There is too much uncertainty surrounding the Government's intentions. This could be the last full Session of Parliament before the general election. Would there be time, in a truncated Session before a spring general election in 2001, for the ratification of the treaty?

Without difficulty, I reach the following conclusion. A foreign policy with an ethical dimension would look a little tattered if the Labour party faced the electorate without the ratification of the treaty establishing the international criminal court.

Let me finish by discussing nuclear weapons. Article VI of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty imposes a legal obligation on the United Kingdom to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. That obligation was renewed in 1995, when the Conservatives were in Government. What steps will Her Majesty's Government take in the coming year to fulfil that obligation?

It is a curious treaty because India and Pakistan are, technically, non-weapon states under the NPT, although they have now, as we all know, exploded nuclear devices. What steps will the Government take to persuade them to adhere to the obligations incumbent on weapon states in the NPT? We would all have hoped to persuade India and Pakistan to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty, but the decision of the United States Senate to refuse to ratify has made that prospect remote, to say the least.

The difficulty of relations with Russia is compounded not only by the failure to ratify the CTBT but by an apparent determination in the United States to depart from, or at least renegotiate, the anti-ballistic missile treaty. What steps will the Government take to persuade those in the United States who stood in the way of the ratification of the test ban treaty that they should now ratify it? What steps will the Government take to persuade the United States of America not to depart from the ballistic missile treaty?

I leave the Government with proposals as to what they should do about nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom should convene a conference of the five permanent members of the Security Council to prepare the way for a new round of strategic arms reduction talks, covering the weapons of all existing nuclear weapons states, including our own. That conference should include a review of all previous nuclear weapons agreements, including the ABM treaty.

We should work to bring about an annual declaration of nuclear weapons stocks held by all de facto nuclear weapons states under a United Nations nuclear weapons register. We should embark on the negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention to match those for chemical and biological weapons, so as to formalise the commitment of all nuclear weapons states to nuclear disarmament.

The nuclear threat is much reduced, but we should take the opportunity to reduce it even further. That truly would be a foreign policy with an ethical dimension.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley 6:46 pm, 22nd November 1999

I should like to talk about many things tonight, but there is not enough time, so I shall get straight to the point.

I want to ask especially about our policy towards arms exports to Indonesia. I have probably asked more questions on that subject than any other Member has, and I am continuing to ask those questions because the embargo imposed by the European Union comes to an end in the very near future, and certainly before we have an opportunity to discuss it again in the House.

I hope that we would heed the words of one of the leaders of the East Timorese, who has now returned to East Timor, who came to this country many times when a spokesman for the then opposition. Over and over again he begged this country not to export arms to Indonesia, but we continued to do so. I believe that many people have learned a lesson from the events in East Timor, and I hope that that lesson will be acted on when the question of renewing that arms embargo arises in the next few weeks.

I should like to quote the words of Jose Ramos Horta, vice-president in exile of the East Timorese, who has just returned to his country. He says that the destruction and human suffering caused by 24 years of Indonesian military occupation are indescribable. For peace in the region, and in particular for the future of East Timor, it is crucial that the embargo stay in force, at least until all East Timorese refugees have returned safely to East Timor—there are still about 200,000 in West Timor—all militia are disarmed and Indonesia co—operates with a commission of investigation established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Moreover, Jose Ramos Horta has drawn attention to the fact that the Indonesian armed forces play a very controversial role in other parts of Indonesia—in the Moluccas, Irian Jaya, West Papua, Acceh and Kalimantan—and repress the opposition in Indonesia. An arms embargo is necessary until the military become subordinate to democratic control.

There is no equivocation about that point of view, and I hope that that message has got through today. The East Timorese want that European Union arms embargo extended, and I hope that our Government will work towards that end.

I had the privilege of witnessing the referendum in East Timor. Many of the things that we had predicted in the Chamber came to pass. There was violence, which I believe could have been avoided, and there was great suffering. I believe that when the final body count is made, we shall find that many thousands of people lost their lives there. They got their democracy—yes—but at such a price. I am afraid that we are all responsible because we supplied arms for many years. The previous Government supplied arms, and this Government have supplied arms. I hope, therefore, that we now listen to the views of people such as Jose Ramos Horta and Xanana Gusmao, the leader of East Timor who is now back in his own country.

I shall talk about one more country—Iraq—in the short time that I have available. However, I would have liked to have mentioned many countries and conflicts and to have asked our Government what role we are playing in trying to bring conflicts all over the world to an end. In particular, I wanted to refer to countries, such as Sudan, where the conflict has gone on for many years.

Nearly 10 years ago, before the international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were set up, it was clear that Saddam Hussein and his close associates should be indicted as international war criminals. When Pol Pot and his associates in Cambodia were indicted as war criminals, when Milosevic and the people responsible for the events in the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo have now been indicted as war criminals and when we are talking about indicting some of those responsible for the terrible events in East Timor, we must ask ourselves why Saddam Hussein has not been indicted by the United Nations as a war criminal.

Unfortunately, Saddam and his cronies are still viewed by a few Governments as leaders with whom they may want to do business one day. Some may even be doing that business right now. Saddam and his associates are looked on as leaders of a country under siege by the powerful, struggling to survive against the odds. In reality, as the American ambassador for war crimes, Ambassador Scheffer, said in New York a few weeks ago, these are thugs who terrorize what was once, and could again become, a great nation. I chair an organisation, Indict, which is focused on bringing Saddam Hussein and some of his close associates before an international tribunal. The latest report from the United Nations rapporteur on human rights in Iraq was published a few weeks ago and it shows that atrocities are being carried out by Saddam' s army against the Arabs of the southern marshes with a ferocity that is as widespread—and over a longer period—as that waged by Milosevic against the Kosovo Albanians.

We have identified nine major criminal episodes under Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq. Three of them continue to this day and, indeed, one of them is accelerating at an alarming pace. In the 1980s, crimes against humanity and possible genocide were committed in the Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds, including the notorious use of poison gas in Halabja in 1988. In the 1980s, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the use of poison gas, took place in the war against Iran. In the 1990-91, there were crimes of humanity and war crimes against Kuwait. In 1991, war crimes took place against coalition forces during the Gulf war.

There is not time to list all the crimes, but, of course, Saddam Hussein did not commit them on his own. We know that he has built up one of the most ruthless police states, using a small number of associates who share with him the responsibility for those criminal actions. Ali Hassan Al-Majid became known as "Chemical Ali" for his leadership and enthusiasm in using poison gas against Iraqi Kurds in the Iran-Iraq war. He also turned up in Kuwait during the occupation and, more recently, as governor in the south of Iraq and acted against the Shi'ite people. Saddam Hussein's sons, Qusay and Uday, are both involved in all the crimes.

My organisation has come up with a list of 12 people who we believe should be indicted by an international war crimes tribunal. There must not be a memory lapse when it comes to the war crimes of Saddam Hussein and his inner circle. This is a man and a regime who have brutally and systematically committed war crimes and crimes against humanity for years, are committing them now and will continue committing them until the international community finally says, "Enough".

A few weeks ago I asked my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary what we were doing in the Security Council of the United Nations to establish an international tribunal to try Saddam Hussein. He said: we do not at present detect a consensus in the Security Council for a war crimes tribunal on Iraq."—[Official Report, 2 November 1999; Vol. 337, c. 95.] Recently, the United States has said strongly that the Security Council would be fully justified in establishing an ad hoc international criminal tribunal without—this normally happens in such cases—having a commission of experts to consider the matter beforehand. The evidence is there, and I have seen much of it—5.5 million pages of captured Iraqi documents that were taken out of northern Iraq by Human Rights Watch. They detail in the minutest fashion the day-to-day nature of the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein against the peoples of northern Iraq. An archive of Iraqi documents contains more than 4 million pages and there are video tapes shot by cameramen and an archive of classified documents is, at present, being declassified. There is plenty of evidence, so I ask my right hon. Friend to do his utmost to bring about an international tribunal to try Saddam Hussein and his associates as soon as is humanely possible.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe 6:56 pm, 22nd November 1999

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who has fought so long and so hard for the causes that she holds dear—indeed, causes that impinge upon us all.

Many criticisms can be made of the present Government's approach to foreign affairs and defence and my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), the shadow Foreign Secretary, made many of them most effectively in his speech. I particularly agree with his call for an up-to-date statement of the Government's view of the legal basis for humanitarian intervention. It is perfectly true, as some Labour Members pointed out, that things have moved on since 1984. Indeed, I remember making the point during the debates on Kosovo that international law in this area is evolutionary. That is precisely why an up-to-date statement would be helpful, and I am happy to endorse my hon. Friend's call for that.

Even my hon. Friend did not have time to cover all the criticisms that can be made of Her Majesty's Government. I shall confine myself to one. The Gracious Speech tells us that the Government will ensure that NATO remains the foundation of Britain's defence and security. It is certainly true that NATO should remain the foundation of Britain's defence and security, yet the Atlantic partnership—the partnership between Europe, and not just Britain, and north America of which NATO is the most visible manifestation—now faces greater challenges than at any time in its recent history.

I believe that deep-seated forces are at work, on both sides of the Atlantic, that are tending to drive Europe and north America apart from each other. That poses great risks for the partners themselves and for the world at large. Yet instead of seeking to minimise those risks the Government are, perhaps unwittingly, making them worse.

It is worth spending a moment or two on the divisive forces at work. In north America the political, business and cultural centres of gravity are shifting westwards. California long ago overtook New York as the most populous state in the USA, and Microsoft and silicon valley are both on the west coast.

American—and Canadian—eyes are increasingly turned towards the Pacific and beyond. Japan, despite its recent difficulties, remains a most formidable economic power. The United States, in particular, is becoming increasingly preoccupied with China, both as a huge market and as a potential military rival. Those trends are to some extent reinforced by demographic changes. There is an increasing number of Americans and Canadians of Asiatic descent. The growing number and influence of Hispanic Americans is also significant. They tend to look south to Latin America, rather than east to Europe.

Those trends are exacerbated by the increasing number of trade disputes between Europe and north America. Americans are becoming increasingly frustrated by what they see as European failings to abide by rulings of the World Trade Organisation. Those frustrations feed the traditional forces of protectionism and isolationism which are never far below the surface.

On the European side, we have the drive towards deeper integration, partly—I emphasise partly—motivated in some quarters by explicit anti-Americanism and by a wholly misguided desire to set up in Europe a centre of power which it is thought could rival the United States. There is the European perspective on the trade disputes—the understandable concerns over genetically modified foods, hormone-treated beef and bananas from the Caribbean. There are also particularly worrying developments in defence, to which I shall return.

Of course, not all these developments are new, but while the cold war was still in being there was general recognition on both sides of the Atlantic that nothing should be done that would put at risk the ability of the free world to defend itself. That cement has now gone, and those irritations, which would once have been suppressed, are now increasingly allowed to dominate and divert policy.

The dangers are perhaps greatest in defence. No one would deny that the European members of NATO could and should do more to shoulder the burdens of the alliance. The most effective thing that most of them could do is to spend more money on defence and spend it more sensibly. Nor do I resile from the European defence identity, which began under the previous Government and was taken forward by Michael Portillo when he was Defence Secretary. When we were in government, however, that was always envisaged as being within the framework of NATO. That is the essential point.

We were assured, at the beginning of their term in office, that the present Government shared that view. After the Amsterdam council, the Prime Minister told this House that getting Europe's voice heard more clearly in the world will not be achieved through merging the European Union and the Western European Union or developing an unrealistic common defence policy. We therefore resisted unacceptable proposals from others. Instead, we argued for—and won—the explicit recognition, written into the treaty for the first time, that NATO is the foundation of our and other allies' common defence."—[Official Report, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 314.] It was not until the St. Malo agreement that we realised that things had indeed changed.

There has been a great deal of speculation about the reasons for that change. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon that by far the most credible explanation is that the Prime Minister, frustrated by his inability to smuggle Britain into the single currency and desperately casting around for some other way of establishing his credibility as a good European, identified defence as the only way forward. Be that as it may, whatever the reason, the Prime Minister signed up at St. Malo. That agreement specifically and expressly provides for defence co-operation "inside and outside" NATO. The Cologne declaration calls for the European Union to have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces and the means to decide to use them. Those are the agreements that have led to concern on both sides of the Atlantic. Those are the meetings that were described by Strobe Talbott, in exquisitely diplomatic language, as emitting a somewhat different set of signals to those emanating from Berlin in 1996 and Washington in April this year. In view of the references to him made earlier in the debate, it is worth quoting him in full. He went on to say: The Anglo-French Summit at St. Malo last December raised concerns among non-EU allies that they might not be sufficiently involved in planning and decision making structures. Then came the EU leaders' declaration at Cologne in June, which could be read to imply that Europe's default position would be to act outside the Alliance whenever possible, rather than through the Alliance. It is absurd, in the light of those statements, for the Government to deny that any concerns exist in north America over these developments. There is concern and it is serious.

At the very time when the Atlantic alliance is most at risk and most in need of reinforcement, Her Majesty's Government, instead of acting to strengthen it, are acting to weaken it. At the very moment when the partnership that has been the world's best hope for peace for the past 50 years is facing unprecedented challenges, Her Majesty's Government are taking action that could undermine it. At the very moment when the world is racked with uncertainty, Her Majesty's Government are taking action to add to that uncertainty.

I urge the Government to think again. I urge the Government to draw back from the actions that they seem to be contemplating. The Atlantic partnership can repeat in the next 50 years what it has achieved in the past 50 years. It is the Government's duty to help that process, not to hinder it.

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North 7:06 pm, 22nd November 1999

First, I should like to place on record my appreciation of the opportunity to speak in this debate, because this is the only day of debate on the Queen's Speech on which I am able to be present.

I noticed that there is very little mention in the Queen's Speech of foreign affairs and defence. I can only assume that it is because our manifesto commitments are being carried out and everything is felt to be satisfactory. It is certainly satisfactory as far as I am concerned. As a member of the Western European Union and Council of Europe delegations, I can say that we are held in very high esteem by many of our foreign colleagues, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has much to be proud of in having brought that about.

It has always been the tradition that the debate on the Queen's Speech is an opportunity for Back Benchers to state what they think about the planned legislation and to make a few remarks about what they would have liked to have been included in the programme. What struck me first about the Queen's Speech is that it contains many small, useful Bills. I am of the opinion that the road to heaven is often reached by small steps rather than by taking a large, broad-brush approach.

I particularly welcome, in the welfare reform Bill, further simplification of the Child Support Agency. Heaven knows that it is badly needed. Improvements have already been carried out that have probably made life much better for most Back Benchers who have had complaints about that organisation. Let us hope that the Bill will make things even better.

I particularly welcome also the Children (Leaving Care) Bill, which will give children—"children" is the correct term—support when they leave school, at a difficult time in their lives when they are deciding what to do with their future. Anything that can be done to try to point them in the right direction is very welcome and long overdue.

Similarly, I welcome the care standards Bill, which will bring the standards in private hospitals and clinics into line with those that we expect in the national health service. That must be right. If we are being told that private enterprise is best, it should certainly be able to stand up to some scrutiny.

I particularly welcome the Bill to help children with special educational needs. The parents of children who need treatment will be able to get the support that they so badly need. I am sure that colleagues on both sides of the House have come across parents who do not know where to turn. A little advice and knowledge will make life much better for them.

I turn now to the crime and probation Bill. I have always considered myself to be a civil libertarian, but I think that liberties come with responsibilities. I certainly do not think that anyone who has been incarcerated and who wants freedom should have any objection to being tagged. People will have the choice of continuing to be incarcerated or going out and being tagged, and if they are not going to do anything untoward, they should have no objection to being tagged. If I had the choice of being in jail or being tagged, I would take the chance of being tagged. Of course, nobody will be obliged to do so if they want to remain where they are.

In view of the problems with unauthorised drug use, which leads to some very serious crime, no one who is apprehended or suspected of being involved in crime should have any objection to being tested for drugs. That is a matter not of civil liberties but of common sense. We have heard much about the common-sense revolution; the proposal is proper common sense.

I am also delighted that, at long last, a Bill will grant access to the countryside—not unfettered access but sensible access, whereby responsibilities must go hand in hand with freedom. I very much welcome that.

Above all, I welcome the proposed amendment to sexual offences legislation, under which the age of consent will be 16 for all citizens, regardless of their sexual proclivities. That is long overdue. I have voted for such a change for many years, but it has always seemed to fall at the final hurdle. I hope that, on this occasion, we will drag ourselves if not into the 21st century at least into the 20th century.

As a humble Back Bencher, my first reaction to the Queen's Speech is always whether something in it will cause me a problem. As someone who has, on odd occasions, had to go against the Government line—not with any great joy and not always with total conviction, but in trying to follow my conscience—I was very relieved to discover quite a benign Queen's Speech. The only aspect that I can envisage causing me a problem is the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill. I find it very difficult to accept that it is right and proper for magistrates to decide whether a defendant should be tried by other magistrates or by a judge. I am very concerned about that. I do not rule out supporting the Bill, but I will have to hear some good arguments before I do so.

I see that there is another prevention of terrorism Bill in this year's Queen's Speech. Since I entered the House, I have voted against such Bills—and for a particular reason. We are all human beings and we have all had personal experiences. When I was branch secretary for the National Union of Mineworkers, three of my members lost their apprenticeships because of police abuse of the prevention of terrorism Act. Those young men were prevented from seeking proper legal redress, and it took a long time to get them back to work. They had to serve almost another year's apprenticeship before they became tradesmen, yet, without doubt, they had done nothing wrong.

I do not have time to go into great detail. Suffice it to say that, following those events, I felt that I would never accept a prevention of terrorism Bill unless it incorporated absolute safeguards that the police would behave themselves properly. The incident to which I referred occurred a number of years ago, and things might now be better, but I still remain to be convinced of the case for such legislation.

In another disgusting incident, a friend of mine was apprehended at Stranraer as we travelled back from Ireland. He was eventually released at 3 o'clock in the morning, without being charged. There could not have been any charge because there were no grounds for suspecting him. That was yet another example of police abuse of the Act, which they cited in proceedings. Before I could support legislation that empowers the police to detain animal rights activists or others who object to a civil rights matter, I would have to be convinced that it would not be open to police abuse.

I deal now with the pressure for locally elected mayors. I say to all concerned—some of my Front-Bench colleagues are present—that there is no enthusiasm whatever for an elected mayor on Wearside. The post is seen merely as yet another tier of government in which arguments could develop. There is nothing wrong with the present local government system, under which people are properly elected to represent a certain number of others where they reside. That works reasonably well, and cabinet systems have recently brought about improvements. Where people do not want a locally elected mayor, they should not have one foisted on them.

I was not very pleased to read that such mayors might be able to appoint people to help them govern. That would be a negation of democracy and a very dangerous road to go down. It would be like an emperor in his court deciding who will rule. It would not be good enough if such mayors were considered above elected councillors. I have very severe doubts about the proposed process.

In the next few days, a Back Bencher will be fortunate enough to come first in the ballot for private Members' Bills and will no doubt want to bring about the abolition of hunting with dogs. I would love to think that it would be me, but I am not usually that lucky. I hope that the Government pull out all the stops to ensure that a Bill along the lines that the public have been promised gets onto the statute book. I am disappointed that the Government themselves have not introduced such a Bill.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery Conservative, East Devon 7:16 pm, 22nd November 1999

It used to be the custom in these debates to refer to the previous Member's speech. I cannot congratulate the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) on many things that he said—I do not agree with them—but I very much encourage him in his intention to vote against the Government. Such views are most admirable.

The first part of the Gracious Speech to which I shall refer is on the future development of the European Union. It states that the Government will ensure that NATO remains the foundation of Britain's defence and security and will seek to continue the work of adapting the Alliance to meet the challenges and opportunities of the new century. I do not know what those words mean. The House has a right to know what they mean, because they raise certain worries.

Although the Queen's Speech announces 28 Bills, it outlines the introduction of 33 different regulations. The Government obviously have a right to include such regulations, but I condemn absolutely the fact that 15 paragraphs of the Gracious Speech are nothing other than propaganda. The doctors of spin from Downing street used the opportunity of Her Majesty's speech to make political points. That ought to be condemned and stopped right away.

One could spend ages debating the enlargement of the European Union. The Foreign Affairs Committee has been considering the six nations that are applying to join the EU. Although those nations obviously have a right to do so, I am concerned that every one of them will be takers and will not contribute one penny in dues and fees, as opposed to the very considerable amount of money that they will expect to receive. Those of us who are major contributors to the EU must realise that.

For the major part of my speech, I shall follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) in commenting on the European security and defence identity. It must be made absolutely clear that NATO has repeatedly endorsed a strong European pillar in the alliance, and that was adopted at the Washington conference. In 1996, the ESDI was declared in the Berlin communiqué. That was brought about by a Conservative Government. It was designed to enable European allies to make a more coherent and effective contribution to the missions and activities of the alliance, NATO.

We have witnessed the Labour Government move through the 1999 European Council Cologne declaration, based on the common European policy on security and defence, and the Franco-British declaration at St. Malo. The Franco-British declaration played entirely into the hands of the French, who had for ages been attempting to use the Western European Union as their instrument of defence to weaken NATO. They wanted the Americans to play a lesser role in the NATO structure and saw the WEU as a means of bringing that about.

I am therefore worried that the British Government are willing to accept and even endorse the merging of the WEU into the European Union, to work with the European Union and to ensure that the EU's implementation of the Cologne summit decision will promote a strategic perspective on transatlantic security issues that conflicts with that promoted by NATO. It will also create unnecessary duplication of the resources and capabilities provided by NATO. That will be a nonsense.

The December 1999 NATO ministerial and EU summit in Helsinki is to call for the co-ordination and harmonisation of the roles of NATO and the EU. How do we begin to harmonise the introduction into NATO decision making of four non-NATO countries—four nations that are neutral, but are to have an input into the military decisions of NATO? That will be a weakness. It has been suggested that the negotiations will prevent such an eventuality. The Government have an obligation to tell us how they envisaged that being achieved.

The implementation of the Cologne summit decisions will ensure that non-EU NATO allies, including Canada, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Turkey and the United States are discriminated against and not fully involved in the EU's decisions on the work of the WEU and, therefore, of NATO. Where does that leave those nations? They will be suspicious and might not necessarily want NATO as a whole to be strengthened, because their position in NATO will have been weakened. That is a cause of great concern. If the Government are to press forward with merging the WEU and the EU, which is entirely contrary to the treaty of Rome, they must explain how the two difficulties I have described are to be overcome.

I am greatly concerned about the world increase of biological weapons. We have a convention on biological and toxin weapons dating from the 1970s, but it contains massive inadequacies. The proliferation of biological weapons is known about and must be given serious consideration. It is imperative that this country contribute to the strengthening and extension of methods of controlling such weapons, and the responsibility to take positive action falls on the Government.

The subject is not sexy, it does not hit the headlines and people do not necessarily worry about it, but we all recognise the effect that biological weapons can have. We should all be massively concerned about their use and the threat of their use by terrorists. We have made no progress in control or prevention since the 1972 convention, and it is about time the British Government took positive steps. If terrorist organisations began to use biological weapons—they can be quite easily constructed—the damage and the danger they could cause to a massive part of a city would be immense.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow 7:26 pm, 22nd November 1999

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary deserves all credit for having persuaded the Americans to agree to a Lockerbie trial in a third country. The Foreign Office is aware that, with Dr. Jim Swire of the Lockerbie relatives, I had a three-hour meeting with Ambassador Walton and his wife: we wish them well in Tripoli.

I do not know how many Members of the House of Commons realise that they have no locus in the legal aspects of Lockerbie. They have standing in respect of the foreign affairs aspects, but the legal aspects are now entirely a matter for the Holyrood Parliament. We ought to be careful about the sub judice rule so that we do not jeopardise a trial which, I hope to heaven, starts at Zeist in February.

I am also delighted that the Foreign Secretary is to visit Iran early in the new year. Two years ago, my wife and I went on holiday there and we had the impression that the people there were yearning for contacts with the west.

With just 10 minutes in which to speak, it is not the points of agreement but the points of disagreement that one must address, however. My first point of disagreement with the Government starts with a question. What is to happen in respect of the follow-up to the raid on the Al Shifa factory in Sudan? To be frank, the evidence of the 0-ethyl-methyl-phosphonoic acid and of the circumstances surrounding the factory is such that we owe the people and the Government of Sudan an apology. It emerges that the Clinton Administration, in their enthusiasm for going ahead with the attack on the factory, ignored information from the Sudanese that they had arrested two people whom they suspected of involvement in the embassy bombings; and the State Department refused to let FBI investigators take up Sudanese requests that they question those suspects.

That is unsatisfactory, as is the lack of a proper investigation of the Al Shifa factory. It is inconceivable that nasties were made in a factory in the suburb of a capital city which had open doors and lacked the sort of security that one would associate with the manufacture of precursors or anything else.

My second point of disagreement relates to Iraq. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) knows that I take a view totally different from hers. I have a question down for answer on 1 December, which asks the Prime Minister: What recent representations Her Majesty's Government have received from (a) UN organisations and (b) Church organisations about continuing UN sanctions and military action against Iraq. Before my right hon. Friend answers that question, will he reflect on the situation now? It has been announced that the United States and Britain are pressing for the dismissal of Hans von Sponeck, the United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator in Baghdad. The push to get rid of him is driven by frustration following his public statements on the debilitating effect of nine years of UN sanctions on Iraq.

I have had conversations with both Hans von Sponeck and his predecessor, Dennis Halliday, who resigned. They are guided by the appalling humanitarian situation in the river valleys. For God's sake, 500,000 or more children have lost their lives. We must weigh up the sheer horror of the situation. Part of my question relates to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will have received from the Bishop of Coventry, and his associates who went with him, first-hand accounts of what they found in Baghdad.

My third item of disagreement is on Kosovo. I wish to press my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to deal with the question on uranium shells with which I interrupted my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Under the byline of Robert Fisk in today's Independentit is stated: American aircraft used so much depleted uranium ammunition during the Nato bombardment of Serbia that US officials are now claiming—to the disbelief of European bomb disposal officers—that they have no idea how many locations may be contaminated by the radioactive dust left behind by their weapons. I repeat my question: did NATO refuse to assist a United Nations team investigating the use of depleted uranium in Kosovo?

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and I went to Serbia. I cannot convey to the House the sheer scale of the destruction. I want to ask a direct general question: is it legitimate to target chemical complexes such as Pancevo, oil refineries such as Novi Sad and the infrastructure of a country to achieve a military objective? That is a wide question. The answer, from one who has seen the effects of these things, is absolutely not.

For many years I represented Leyland at Bathgate. There is a plant factory in Serbia seven times the size of Leyland at Bathgate that consists now only of twisted machinery; 130,000 people are out of work as a result. The situation is horrendous when one contemplates the winter. The idea that graphite bombs temporarily knock out power stations is nonsensical. The reality is that they debilitate them.

My next question relates to the stability pact. I have been reading Misha Glenny's remarkable writings. He states: The Stability Pact is washed up on a distant shore of the European Union bureaucracy…Countries like Romania and Bulgaria bent over backwards to assist the West during the bombing campaign and they expect payback, but they're not getting it. If they don't get payback their rulers will be out. And what you might get in their place, heaven knows. We are not even…giving Romania and Bulgaria reasonable access to EU markets. The Stability Pact was a good signal, but it is not happening. It really isn't moving. And yet you don't get Robin Cook coming on television every day to say the Stability Pact is in danger of being washed up, which it is. Do we hear people saying out loud: 'We're in new danger'? No. Misha Glenny was the person who was right in 1991, and he might be right again.

I ask about the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs and Roma in Kosovo involving 200,000 people. That is not why men of the British Army went to risk their lives. One of the terms of the peace agreement with Serbia was that in return for Yugoslav forces leaving the area, civilians would be protected and the Kosovo Liberation Army disarmed. Neither of those things has happened. The KLA is now being installed as the legitimate police force. Is that not a clear betrayal of NATO's solemn undertaking?

Why is NATO unable to stop the systematic destruction of more than 70 Christian monasteries and churches in what is clearly a co-ordinated and systematic campaign that is being carried out by people with knowledge of mining and explosives? They are not just a few vandals. Furthermore, my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax and I have the strong impression that there is no will on the part of KFOR to protect the ethnic Serbs whose home it was and to which the area was promised. Only the Irish Guards

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells Conservative, Hertford and Stortford 7:36 pm, 22nd November 1999

I shall take up shortly the remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about Kosovo, but first I want to copy him by congratulating the Government on two policies that were announced by the Foreign Secretary today. First, in the WTO Seattle round, the Government wish to adopt a comprehensive development trade round that will benefit the poorer countries in the world, and begin to attack the protectionism developed in the European Community and the United States against products and imports from developing countries. I believe that in that way we can make a great step forward to help those in abject poverty throughout the world.

Secondly, I congratulate the Government on their achievements on debt initiatives, which they took up at Cologne and succeeded in getting through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings at Washington in September and October. I am delighted that the United States has enacted the necessary legislation to support the initiatives.

I lament the fact that I will not be able to herald, as I would have wished, the report of the Select Committee on International Development on women and development, which will be published on Thursday. I will have to leave hon. Members to read that excellent but alarming and devastating report. I can, however, herald the report that the Committee intends to deliver to the House on sanctions, probably in early December.

That brings me to a serious question. The United Nations has put in place comprehensive economic sanctions cementing Saddam Hussain into power. As he has to ration food, health provision and clothing to all his people, they are all entirely dependent on him and will not revolt against him.

We are doing exactly the same thing in Serbia, against which there are comprehensive economic sanctions. There are 800,000 refugees without proper housing. They face a devastating winter and will be entirely dependent on Milosevic and his Government to enable them to maintain life and limb, to keep themselves warm so as not to die of hypothermia, and to keep their livelihoods. The sanctions policy is a nightmare. It is completely the wrong to achieve our ends.

The situation in Serbia is extremely serious. I shall speak about the refugees who were made homeless as a result of our bombing of Kosovo, but first I shall respond to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who is not in his place. In a previous debate, the right hon. and learned Gentleman challenged me on the legality of the intervention of NATO forces in Kosovo.

Mark Littman QC has published a book for the Centre for Policy Studies in which he asks: Was the Campaign Lawful? The eminent QC concludes, as I warned Foreign Office Ministers at the time, that the Government, while correctly accepting that the Kosovo bombing could not be justified if it involved a grave breach of international law, wrongly assured the British public that it did not involve such a breach, while refusing the Yugoslav challenge to have the point tested before the International Court of Justice. In other words, the intervention was and remains illegal.

It is all very well for the Government or the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife to say that we should have a method of intervening on humanitarian grounds, and to propose five points, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman did, but that is not yet international law.

What we did was to flout the law, and we did it deliberately, as Mr. Littman says. If we call on Israel, Palestine and Russia to obey resolutions passed by the United Nations, how can we refuse to abide by clause 2.4, which makes action of the kind that we took in Kosovo illegal?

Mr. Littman goes on to ask: Was the Campaign Necessary? His conclusion is: It is possible that the Kosovo problem could have been settled by diplomacy and without the use of force. It is certain that NATO did not make every effort to do so: at a critical point in the discussions at Rambouillet, NATO abandoned diplomacy in favour of a package of non-negotiable demands contained in a document described by Dr. Kissinger as 'a terrible diplomatic document', as a `provocation' and as an 'excuse to start bombing'. And it is likely that, if the terms which were agreed at the end of the campaign had been put forward at Rambouillet, then the ethnic cleansing and the war could have been averted. Those are not my words, but the considered opinion of an eminent QC who has examined all the facts.

The war having taken place, we must look after those who have been displaced. The UNHCR reported to the International Development Committee. Mr. O'Sullivan, who is in charge of UNHCR throughout the Balkan area, including Serbia, appeared before us as a witness and told us that UNHCR will have repaired only 50,000 houses by the time winter sets in. The winter temperature in the Balkans often falls to 20°, low enough to cause hypothermia in old people and children, and in the middle-aged population.

Materials have been supplied to repair only one room in each of the 50,000 houses. As we heard today, more than 100,000 houses were totally destroyed. That means that people will be living in tents which, even if winterised, are thoroughly inadequate to see young children and old people through the winter.

That is what we have produced in Kosovo, and our response is entirely inadequate, as was predictable. The Guardian of 15 October stated that the cost of humanitarian aid will be £2.54 billion, and that of reconstructing Serbia and Kosovo about £20.5 billion. What did the World Bank and other donors agree only two days ago to give to that area? One billion pounds.

Before the bombing, Serbia already had 400,000 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia in camps. There were Roma people among them, and the refugees were inadequately looked after, without food, shelter, medical supplies or the means of keeping themselves going during the winter. Serbia now has double that figure, most of them from Kosovo, and most having been ethnically cleansed by the Kosovars. That, too, was predictable.

Those people have no housing and no power. They have no power because the power stations were destroyed by our bombing, and we are proposing to do nothing about it, because sanctions have been imposed and because Milosevic is still in power. Is that a humanitarian response—an ethical foreign policy—to 800,000 people in Serbia who are likely to lose many of their friends, relatives and children from hypothermia this winter? I think not. The same is true of Kosovo. We need to redouble international humanitarian efforts in order to stop a true humanitarian disaster.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West 7:45 pm, 22nd November 1999

I start by wholeheartedly endorsing the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) that there will not be a sustainable settlement in the middle east peace process unless there is a proper recognition of the rights of the Palestinian refugees in international law and as laid down by United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The main topic about which I shall speak is Russia, and in particular the remarks in the Gracious Speech about improving the effectiveness of EU foreign and security policy, and our commitment to NATO as the foundation of Britain's defence and security.

Russia is clearly no longer the super-power that it was, but it remains an extremely important player in Europe and the world. It has huge potential resources, once it gets its economy sorted out, but it is also a huge threat, not because it may attack the west, as used to be the case, but because it has within its territory a vast number of decaying nuclear facilities, both civil nuclear power facilities and the enormous nuclear submarine fleet that is rotting in the Pacific ocean or the Baltic sea.

That problem not only poses a huge environmental threat to western Europe but—because security in the Russian Federation is not what it used to be—offers the possibility that some of those nuclear sources may go astray and fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. Furthermore, the breakdown of order in the Russian Federation has led to a huge growth in organised crime, which is starting to be exported to the rest of Europe.

Grave threats are posed by the Russian Federation which are much more serious to Europe than to the United States, simply because of distance. The threat is next door to us.

The EU common strategy on Russia recognises the need for the European Union to take seriously the issues posed by the Russian Federation, and to try to co-ordinate our foreign and defence policy in relation to Russia. The common strategy is largely driven by the Nordic members of the EU and tends to focus on the northern dimension, not least because people in Finland are under immediate threat of pollution if there is an accident at a Russian nuclear power station like the one that occurred at Chernobyl. Also, Finland has a border with the Russian Federation and realises the instability that arises when there is a great economic disparity between the two sides of a border.

The events taking place in Chechnya demonstrate the importance of developing a southern dimension to the EU's common strategy on Russia. We should be concerned about the dynamic among the European Union, NATO and Russia. I am referring not just to the Russian Government but to the internal dynamics within Russia.

To many in Russia, NATO is a threat. It is natural that the Baltic states and others that were formerly part of the Warsaw pact should wish to join NATO. I understand the reason why they want to do that—the security that it gives them, and the symbol that NATO provides of their acceptance into the western world—but we should be aware of the way in which the enlargement of NATO is perceived from the Russian point of view.

Enlargement plays to an agenda that suggests that NATO is trying to encircle the Russian Federation. NATO is a body set up for the defence of Europe, but defence is necessary against an external threat, and the Russians believe that they are seen as that external threat. Therefore, they view NATO as potentially aggressive rather than defensive. They interpreted NATO action in Kosovo as setting a precedent for NATO to act aggressively.

Kosovo caused several conflicts; the most obvious philosophical one was human rights versus sovereignty. To the Russians, human rights were placed above sovereignty in Kosovo. For them, that has obvious parallels with Chechnya. One analysis views events in Chechnya as the Russian military's riposte to what it believed to be the wrong decision in Kosovo, and a reassertion that, for it, sovereignty is more important than human rights.

We in the west need to continue to state clearly the values for which we stand, and to tell the Russian Federation that its behaviour in Chechnya is neither sensible nor justifiable. Its actions do not constitute the most sensible way in which to overcome terrorism, and it is not acceptable for the Russian Federation to cause such enormous damage to civilians and the infrastructure of Chechnya in its blitzkrieg attempt to blast a few terrorists into oblivion.

However, it is important for Britain and Europe to return Russia to the notion that it is acting in partnership with the rest of Europe. That would help to deal with threats to world security that endanger Russia and the rest of Europe. It means recognising Russian sensitivities. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said that the conflict in Chechnya was popular in Russia. That is true. It is ironic that Mr. Putin is taking such action in Chechnya because Russia is moving towards a form of democracy and he needs to play to voters' sensibilities. It is regrettable that most Russian voters do not have great respect for the human rights of the Chechens, and that they applaud their Government's actions in Chechnya. We must acknowledge that it will probably help to gain Mr. Putin a bigger vote in the presidential elections than he would otherwise have had.

In NATO, we need to take account of the balance of advantage. We gain security from the alliance and from enlarging it. We also gain from a real and effective partnership with Russia, not from the confrontation to which we seem to be returning.

We must be especially careful in the Caucasus. The recent announcements about oil pipelines from Baku to Ceyhan have been dictated by United States political objectives, not by economics. They are part of the Americans' aim to promote Turkey and to avoid at all costs a pipeline that goes through Iran. However, the proposal is likely to create in the Russians a fear of a United States-Turkey-Israel axis and has already led to Russia shipping weapons across the Caspian sea into Iran. Iran's isolation strengthens its theocratic elements, which we do not want to back, rather than its more progressive forces, which we support.

The key problems in the Caucasus are poverty, the lack of an effective Government in many of the countries in the region, and the fact that much power is in the hands of warlords and criminals. Working together through the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe is the best way forward.

In the Gracious Speech, there was a reference to the United Kingdom Government playing an active part in the Council of Europe conference against racism in October 2000. I would be grateful if Ministers made a note of the point so that they can deal with it. The conference is trying to present one of our key European values: tolerance of diversity and the notion that all are different but equal. I want to ensure that we will stress the importance of combating racism towards the Roma. Most European countries, including the United Kingdom, fall down on that issue. The United Kingdom should stress the need for human rights education and promoting a human rights culture in society. I hope that the Minister will tackle those points when he sums up.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex 7:54 pm, 22nd November 1999

I endorse much of what the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) said, especially about reaching a more sensible accommodation with Russia. Many of us spoke about that at the end of the Kosovo conflict. It is crucial to our country.

The Foreign Secretary's speech today was an atrocious response to the Loyal Address. It was one of the worst speeches by a Foreign Secretary that I have heard in 16 years in the House. He did not mention China's signing of a World Trade Organisation agreement with the United States; there was not a word about India—although the Foreign Secretary cannot have happy memories of that countrys—and nothing about the Gulf. He paid a chippy and insincere tribute to the Foreign Office, which I remember him caricaturing as being full of old Etonians dressed in pinstripe suits. He made a caricature of one of the finest diplomatic services in the world. From the Conservative Benches, I pay a genuine and warm tribute to the work of the diplomatic service in the past year. Wherever I go, I find people of extraordinarily high quality who do a remarkable job for our country.

Foreign policy requires clarity and confidence at home among the public and the media. The Government have neither. The so-called ethical foreign policy is a sham. Lord Carrington brilliantly describes it in The Daily Telegraph today as Cant, hypocrisy and double standards". The high-flown socialist sentiment has not translated into credible or practical foreign policy. If the Secretary of State for Defence could spare a minute from his lighthearted conversation on the Front Bench, he would hear me warn him that he is in grave danger of undermining the competence and authority of NATO. If he has read the violently anti-American speeches that President Chirac and Mr. Jospin made recently, he will realise that we are in dangerous waters. The Government use defence as a European bargaining chip. One of our greatest national assets is being used as a pawn in a European game. I warn the Secretary of State for Defence that he must ensure that it is not squandered on some squalid French deal.

I want to speak briefly on defence matters, but not on strategy, about which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) spoke. I shall speak about simpler matters. As a former Minister for the Armed Forces, who misses his previous job every day, I pay a warm tribute to service families, wherever they are. I know that the Secretary of State will want to do that, too. He will understand that undermanning and overstretch—which is much worse than when we were in power—in all three services impose significant strain on services wives and their children. By simply keeping the home fires burning, they give their menfolk in the field an important morale boost.

Despite the recent glossy "brochette" that has been distributed to the forces, not enough is being done for service families, given the parlous position of many of them. Families who return from overseas experience difficulties in getting the help that they need. There are housing difficulties, which are largely caused by lack of money; medical lists are often full, and service families experience problems in getting their children into the schools that they choose. The Secretary of State must deal with those issues as a matter of urgency.

When I was Minister for the Armed Forces, I failed to do something that I would like the Secretary of State to try to achieve. He should make it the convention that a service man who leaves the armed forces, returns to the town where he was born—should he go back there to live—and has been on the housing list before will automatically, with his family, go to the top of that list. That, surely, is the least consideration that we can give to our soldiers, sailors and airmen. The right hon. Gentleman should not employ consultants to tell him what to do, but should sit down and have a good, hard think about that and come up with some bold and original activity.

The strategic defence review promised a great deal but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows because he is trying to find a solution, it is already out of date. It was always going to be so; none of us in the House has ever yet seen the entirely fictional foreign policy baseline that was meant to be the guide of the SDR. Anyone who has worked in the Ministry of Defence knows perfectly well that the SDR was run by the MOD with the Treasury sitting on both its shoulders. As the Treasury works for the Russians, the result was entirely predictable. The problems that he has had to deal with are exactly the same as I had to deal with—recruiting, retention and commitments. The result of the SDR is that all three services are grossly overcommitted, seriously undermanned and very seriously underfunded.

The folly of the scaling down of the Territorial Army is brutally exposed every day but, on money, the Secretary of State must stand firm. He has the confidence of the armed forces because they believe that he has the ear of the Prime Minister and they will expect him to fight most vigorously for the extra resources that they need. It is now widely known that the financial situation at the MOD is desperate. Those of us who saw Admiral Blackham's memorandum, which was leaked to The Daily Telegraph at the weekend, know that that is the case. Further financial resources must be found. I say this to the Prime Minister: the services delivered for him; he must deliver for them.

On a personnel matter, I want to discuss ethos and political correctness in the armed forces. It has always been accepted—I hope that the Defence Secretary will understand this—that when someone joins the Army he chooses to abdicate certain liberties. The circumstances of military life are not, and cannot be, the same as those of civilian life. A high standard of personal conduct, respect for the law, teamwork, cohesion, trust, a highly developed sense of duty and obligation and real integrity are required. The problem is that those qualities are not immediately recognised outside the armed forces. It is encouraging, however, that the comradeship, team spirit, loyalty, patriotism and the emotional, intellectual and moral qualities that lead people to put their lives on the line are still hugely admired when people bother to think about them for a moment.

What sets the Army apart from all other institutions are the generally exceptional qualities of its leadership, but there will be real difficulties in maintaining that for the future. Potential officers will come from a British way of life that is in general intelligent, but rather unbiddable; acquisitive to the verge of selfishness; unfit; agnostic theologically and probably militarily; short-term; and inclined to immobility. Those officers will have to be converted into fit, resilient and inspirational young leaders who will accept discipline, danger, discomfort and separation and can lead in peace—and, most importantly, in adversity—with high professionalism, panache, a sense of fun and real understanding of the people they command.

For the soldier of today—as it was for his forebears—warfare will continue to represent the ultimate physical and moral challenge. He will encounter extreme danger in rapidly changing circumstances amid conditions of chaos and uncertainty. His skills, the quality of his training, his equipment and all that he has learned will be terribly tested. Such operations are sustained only by those who have had the most vigorous military training. I hope that the Secretary of State will determine that nothing will be allowed to interfere with the remarkable training that our troops receive. It gives them the confidence to remain as they always have been—unbeaten. He must see to it that political correctness does not destroy the ethos of the services, which has given us superb armed forces whose record and unbeaten glory should earn them the right to be left alone.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie 8:05 pm, 22nd November 1999

Everybody agrees with the tribute paid to the defence forces by the hon. Member for Mid--Sussex (Mr. Soames). I should however like to correct something that he said—he probably missed this point during one of his lunch hours: the Treasury no longer works for the Russians and it has changed since his day.

I particularly want to commend the Government for the proposal to take steps to ratify the establishment of an International Criminal Court, which is an important move forward. It will fill a yawning gap in international provision that has been present since the setting up of the United Nations itself. We have to bring law, order and justice to the regulation of such important international affairs as genocide. The perceived need for an international court grows and grows. Not only trade, but knowledge of the atrocities committed in places such as Rwanda, East Timor and Kosovo has been globalised. The demand for action from an International Criminal Court is present because we know what is going on, wherever in the world it is taking place, and we learn about such crimes through means that were not available in the past. We can no longer rely on ad hoc provisions such as those for Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. We need to establish an International Criminal Court with respected powers and procedures, and it needs to demonstrate quickly that it is a big hitter so that people such as Karadzic, Mladic and Milosevic know that they are not safe. We need such a court not only to deal with present atrocities, but to send a clear message for the future that we have to move on this issue.

I particularly welcome the fact that the election of the new British Government gave a strong boost to those who have worked so long for the establishment of an International Criminal Court, but there are flaws in the proposal and I hope that the Minister—either today or in writing—can give us the assurance that it will be improved. First, and most importantly, it is crucial that the prosecutor be genuinely independent. Unless he can act on his own initiative and not be subject to the control of the Security Council or anyone else, we will not be able to have full faith in the court. No one must be above the law.

I shall give a current example. All legislation passed by the House has to be tested against the European convention on human rights. We in Scotland have been bitten by the ECHR because a judgment has been made that the practice of appointing a large number of temporary sheriffs, which grew up under the previous Administration and continued under this one, infringes the ECHR. It was not possible to show that the judges were separate, or distant, from the Government. That judgment has to be taken seriously, but we are considering the establishment of an International Criminal Court, and the decision whether or not to take an initiative may be subject to global politics and the make-up of the Security Council. We must consider that issue.

We must also consider the provision, which was inserted by a group of nations at a late stage during the proceedings on the ICC, that a nation could be immune from action by the ICC for seven years. That just gives the go-ahead to those who commit genocide. Justice has to be rapid and it has to be done when memories are fresh. If there is a seven-year immunity, it will be a wrecking clause in respect of the carrying out of such justice.

I would like an assurance from the Government that they are working hard on the proposals for the ICC with those important nations that have not yet signed and ratified the treaty. We must have China, India and Israel on board, but above all we must have the United States.

Much has been said today about the United States. I am one of those who want the United States to be fully on board: we must not give way to the isolationist tendencies in the US that would seek to take it out of international relations. I am thinking of the republican right wing—the moral majority, as it would call itself, although I do not agree—which seeks to undermine the deal that was done in Cologne, and the deal that was done with the International Monetary Fund in Washington with regard to debt. It approved only half that deal last week. I am also thinking of those who say, "The United States can pay its dues to the United Nations, as long as the family-planning activities of the United Nations Family Planning Association are scrapped". We must involve the United States—or, at any rate, those elements that recognise their international duties, and do not want the US to fall into the hands of the republican right wing.

I welcome the steps that have been taken to inject an ethical dimension into foreign policy, but I do not mean "ethical dimension" simply in the sense in which we have referred to it tonight. I am also talking about trade policy, and the World Trade Organisation. I welcome the statement made in this morning's Guardian by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development that it was necessary to make the next trade round a development round". She said that we needed an agreement to discuss a broad based round, then we can organise to support real gains for the poor. That is what makes reality of an ethical foreign policy—when what people eat, and their ability to sell their goods, are looked after by powerful countries that can ensure that the terms of trade are fair.

The Select Committee on International Development has recently spent a good deal of time considering the issue of sanctions. I hope that, over the next year, the Foreign Office will also devote a lot of time to considering how we are to implement a system of punishment, or discipline, to be applied to rogue nations, that will put an ethical dimension into the heart of its activities. Many of us feel uncomfortable about condemning leaders, wherever they are in the world—I will not single any out—against whom we take sanctions, in the knowledge that, as a consequence of our actions, the populations involved may experience the same horrors as they experienced under those leaders.

We talk a great deal, saying that we must do something. It is striking that, in regard to sanctions, the United Nations does not seem to have a brain: it does not seem to have the research capability to specify the sanctions that should be employed in the relevant circumstances. It is offensive that Saddam Hussein and Milosevic should become wealthier while we are punishing them. We have not devoted enough attention to financial sanctions, and we have not ensured that, when we impose sanctions on countries, the outcome does not punish those who have already suffered heinously at the hands of brutal masters.

Photo of Mr Martin Bell Mr Martin Bell Independent, Tatton 8:13 pm, 22nd November 1999

I shall be extremely brief.

I listened to the Queen's Speech with a certain amount of dismay, because some of it sounded to me like a party political broadcast. I felt that whoever had drafted it had not paid enough respect to the Queen's dignity, or to the Queen's English.

I want to concentrate on defence, and to endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). A prelude to this debate was a remarkable documentary drama shown on BBC television over the past two nights, called "Warriors". It demonstrated, most powerfully, the new dimension of soldiering—the situations in which our young men find themselves, the horrors that they witness, their courage and their dedication. I walk out of most movies about the wars in which I was involved, but this was exceptional. It was truthful—at least as truthful as any news reports of the time, including my own.

Having seen the real soldiers, I often ask myself, "Where do we find such people?", and beyond that, "How do we treat them?" Do we treat them well enough? Is the duty of care as it should be? My experience, especially in recent years, suggests that that is not the case, which is why I welcome the legislation concerning military discipline. It is about time that soldiers enjoyed the same human rights, within the military discipline, as civilians. It is about time we ended the situation in which soldiers, especially officers, tend to be arrested in the most high-profile and demeaning circumstances. They are court-martialled, and, following their acquittal, their careers lie in ruins.

I am glad that the Secretary of State for Defence is present, because I want to tell him that he has a problem with his police force. There are more than 30 police forces in the country, and the least accountable is that of the Ministry of Defence. It is not highly regarded by the armed forces, or by other police forces. Its procedures are unjust, and it is apparently unaccountable. I wish the Secretary of State's officials to look at the minutes of the meetings of the Ministry of Defence police board over the past two years, in order to establish which officers did not attend and which officers did not send deputies. I think that these are important matters. I have raised a specific case repeatedly in the House, and I shall raise it again.

Problems of discipline are especially acute at times of severe overstretch, and this is a time of severe overstretch. I suggest to the Secretary of State that a new measure, or index, of that overstretch might well be provided by statistics that he may not have, but should acquire. I refer to the divorce rate among service men and women, particularly soldiers. The right hon. Gentleman will find that the rate is going through the roof, especially in engineering and reconnaissance regiments and medical units, which have had to bear the greatest burden in peacekeeping and peace enforcement. That burden has been increased by the commitment in Kosovo.

A certain theory, or doctrine, seems to have been taking hold. It seems to be believed that there is such a thing as a cost-free military operation—that we can intervene and change circumstances on the ground with no casualties to ourselves. It is true that, between March and June, none of the air crews involved in that aerial bombardment suffered so much as a twisted ankle; but that was at a dreadful cost on the ground. We were bombing from so high up that it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a tank and a tractor, and, in some cases, the chosen targets were deliberately civilian. Examples were a television station, a car factory, and bridges. That is against the Geneva conventions.

I commend to the House a remarkable article by a remarkable man in today's Daily Telegraph. The man is Lord Deedes, a front-line journalist 25 years my senior. I was with him in Kosovo in September. We toured the broken villages and the minefields, and we discovered, among other things, that most of the casualties—most of them were civilians at the time—were victims not of Serbian mines, but of NATO cluster bombs. Fourteen thousand of those cluster bombs are lying on the ground in Kosovo. Even the manufacturers admit that there is a 5 per cent. failure rate if they are dropped from the optimal height of 3,000 ft; if they are dropped from 15,000 ft and above, the failure rate is much greater. What those instruments of death and destruction have is the quality of aerially sown anti-personnel mines. Before we become involved in a moral debate about that, perhaps the MOD might ask, "Are we happy about using a weapon that does not work, that kills civilians, and that kills"—in the case of the two Gurkhas—"our own soldiers as well?"

When our weapon systems work, when the duty of care is exercised, when someone has got a grip on the Ministry of Defence, when our soldiers are fairly treated, and when we have a quality of direction of armed forces that matches the quality of the armed forces themselves, I shall believe that we have really made some progress.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am aware that many hon. Members have been present throughout the debate. If every speaker now takes his full 10-minute allocation, I shall disappoint several others, so I hope that the example shown by the last two speakers will be borne in mind.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford 8:19 pm, 22nd November 1999

A third of my constituents have ethnic minority origins, with large populations from the Caribbean, the Indian sub-continent and west Africa. Many seek my help with immigration and nationality problems, but others lobby me about the conditions in the countries from which they came originally. Sade Akinsanya, from the local Oxfam group, came to see me last Friday. Before that, I had representations from the local branch of the World Development Movement.

Also last week, I was privileged to meet a group of Indian farmers who were in the UK courtesy of the ActionAid charity and Iceland, the food retailer. They had come to lobby Ministers about the forthcoming World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle. They were poor farmers practising traditional agriculture and providing much needed food within sustainable local economies. It is they, like many of my constituents' relatives back home, who are on the receiving end of the WTO agreements. What they and their supporters in ActionAid, the World Development Movement, Oxfam and others are saying clearly is that, thus far, trade liberalisation has been the equivalent of an unequal bargain. Many developing countries have undertaken substantial liberalisation under structural adjustment programmes, but developed countries have not reciprocated.

Implementation of the Uruguay round means that the average tariff on imports from the least developed countries into the industrialised countries will be 30 per cent. higher than the average tariff on imports from other industrialised countries. Moreover, specific promises by the developed world have not been kept. Quota restrictions on textiles were supposed to be removed from 33 per cent. of imports by 2001, yet the United States and the European Union are likely to remove restrictions on a mere 5 per cent. of those products of importance to developing countries by that date.

Another specific and vital promise has been entirely forgotten. The 1994 Marrakesh decision recognised that trade liberalisation was likely to increase food import prices for the poorest. Assistance was promised to net food-importing developing countries and to the least developed countries if food price instability and higher food import bills resulted from falls in food aid and subsidised food imports. Yet, even when cereal prices rose by 68 per cent. in 1995–96, no action was taken.

That is the background to the Seattle talks: developing countries are losing up to $700 billion in annual export earnings as a result of trade barriers, while the United States support for its own agricultural sector alone still runs at about $25 billion, and that of the EU runs at around $85 billion. None of that will be news to Ministers. I welcome the commitment that was made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that, if the UK Government were able to determine it, there would be a strong development focus at the talks.

The Government have much of which to be proud, particularly the leadership of Ministers on debt relief to the poorest, but implementing the agreements is costing developing countries dear. As a World bank study for the joint WTO-World bank conference in Geneva this September found: implementing WTO agreements could cost more than a year's development budget for the very poorest countries, often for little benefit. That must give the House cause for concern. Trade is at the heart of our international relations. It is the means by which countries can lift themselves out of poverty and military conflict can be lessened, but trade liberalisation that is carried out too quickly can wreck fragile markets and distort fledgling economies.

The scope of the agenda at Seattle is crucial. The UK position is in favour of a comprehensive round, which Ministers believe will offer the best chance of making progress in sectors such as agriculture. However, development non-governmental organisations argue that WTO members should adopt a much more limited development-focused agenda. I am sure that compromise can be found, but, whatever the agenda, the fundamental imbalances already observed in implementing the Uruguay round must be addressed.

A commitment to review progress on liberalisation of trade in agriculture and services already exists. I urge Ministers to press for such a review of the impact of existing WTO agreements on developing countries before there is further liberalisation. WTO agreements should promote development and poverty reduction. The international development targets that have been fully endorsed by the Government provide us with the key benchmarks on which the efforts of the WTO should be judged.

There is a need to review the trade-related intellectual property rights—TRIPs—agreement. Article 27.3(b) of the agreement requires WTO members to provide intellectual property rights over plants and animal varieties. Developing countries believe that the review of the life patent provisions should be substantive in the light of recent developments.

Saving, exchanging and selling seeds has been the right and practice of subsistence farmers throughout the developing world for centuries. It is the basis of sustainable communities and food security for the poorest. Although the WTO agreements permit the development of a sui generis system as an alternative to patents, there is no agreement on what that means. As a consequence, developed countries have rushed headlong into patenting, with the result that the Governments of the south are bogged down financially and technically in implementing WTO agreements. India, for example, has a backlog of 30,000 patents.

A rash of so-called biopiracy cases has come to light, the most notorious of which concerns basmati rice, one of India's fastest growing exports. Basmati is unique to the Punjab border regions between India and Pakistan, yet, in September 1997, the Texas-based Rice Tec Inc was granted a United States patent on basmati rice lines and grains. The variety on which Rice Tec has gained a patent has been devised simply by crossing Indian basmati rice with a semi-dwarf variety. Small wonder that the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in India calls that a clear case of biopiracy—a theft of the collective intellectual biodiversity heritage of Indian farmers, a theft from traders and exporters whose markets are being stolen, and a theft of the name "basmati" which describes the aromatic nature of that rice.

Those issues are crucial to our wider commitment to an ethical foreign policy and justice for the world's poorest. While the lead Department in these matters is the Department of Trade and Industry, the UK's unique position in the Commonwealth and Labour's good record on aid lead many developing countries to look to Foreign Office Ministers to hear their case.

As ActionAid argues in its food rights campaign briefing: The liberalisation of trade is putting enormous pressure on developing countries to intensify their agriculture to produce for export, resulting in a bias against small farmers in favour of larger producers and agribusinesses. Trade liberalisation is being accompanied by a growing number of hungry people … and marginalisation of the rights of the poor over land, seed and traditional knowledge. The agenda at Seattle will determine the framework within which those problems will be reduced or increased. I urge the Government to hear the case being made by developing countries and development NGOs and to do whatever they can through their good offices in the European Union to ensure that the WTO does not remain, in Oxfam's words, "loaded against the poor".

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood 8:29 pm, 22nd November 1999

A speech by the Foreign Secretary is always an entertaining occasion and today's was no exception, particularly when he expounded the merits of his ethical foreign policy. His speech was so full of contradictions, inconsistencies and laughable hypocrisy that it was difficult to know whether it was a Rory Bremner Foreign Secretary's speech or the real thing. Sad to say, we know that it is the real thing. Our country is suffering from a credibility gap in the conduct of its foreign affairs because of the Foreign Secretary's consistent harping on two themes: first, the so-called ethical foreign policy, and secondly an obsession with the European Union and all its works.

I found it extraordinary that a Government proclaiming an ethical foreign policy should lay the red carpet out to the extent that they did to President Jiang Zemin of China and pay so little attention to the issue of Tibet and the liberties of Tibetans and freedom-loving people in the People's Republic of China. On Kosovo, our Government were firm and resolute and prepared to take military action supposedly in support of human rights, yet in Chechnya, where there are no human rights issues involved and the people are similarly determined to decide their own affairs, the Russians can get away with murder—literally—on a mass scale and with the use of weapons of mass destruction. When I asked the Foreign Secretary whether it was appropriate in the circumstances for the west to continue to give credits on a large scale, I was told that were we not to do so we would risk default by the Russians on western loans. The inference is that we are giving the Russians carte blanche. The more that they prosecute their murderous actions in Chechnya, the more credit from the west they will need and the greater the danger of default will become.

That is a deplorable foreign policy, giving the impression that the Russians have a free hand in what their military regard as their natural sphere of influence. The Foreign Office may regard countries or ethnic areas in the Russian Federation as fair game for military operations by the Russian armed forces, but it is a small step for the Russian military to take that logic further and pose a threat to the Baltic states and other former constituent republics of the old Soviet Union. I hope that the Government will increase their efforts to support Ukraine and build up a fruitful relationship with it. I was surprised that the Foreign Secretary failed to express his appreciation in his speech of the re-election of President Kuchma.

I was equally surprised that the Foreign Secretary failed to mention Latin America. Perhaps he thinks that the apprehension of an 82-year-old sitting senator in his London hospital bed is a substitute for an effective foreign policy. Better to fight the cold war in Chile of 26 years ago than to do something about the extremely hot war in Colombia today, which is causing mass misery and the deaths of thousands in a campaign by Marxist guerrillas and narco-traffickers, which is a menace not just to the preservation of democracy in Colombia, but to security in the region.

The Foreign Secretary's speech was a sorry performance, and so was the text to which he was speaking. I shall quote just one sentence from the Gracious Speech. It says that the Government will promote the enlargement of the Union, support co-operation in the fight against cross-border crime and work to improve the effectiveness of the European Union's foreign and security policy and its development programmes. Those are all ostensibly laudable objectives and I hear Labour Members saying "Hear, hear" in loud approbation. However, any close examination of what the Government are about will make the deficiencies of their policies plain.

On enlargement, it is noticeable that 10 years after the Berlin wall came down and eight years after countries such as the Baltic states and Ukraine regained their independence, there is no significant progress towards enlargement of the European Union. It remains the rich man's protectionist club, as demonstrated admirably in the speech by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock).

The common agricultural policy makes it too expensive easily to admit the applicant countries of eastern Europe. The common fisheries policy causes apprehensions, as we are worried that the Polish and Latvian fishing fleets will make further depredations on the common resource which is our waters. There is also the question of European law being sovereign and supreme within the EU, which means that the harmonisation process is difficult to achieve.

The ultimate obstacle is that applicant countries must meet the conditions necessary to join the European single currency. This country, which has one of the most buoyant economies in western Europe and the existing European Union, finds it hard enough to meet the five criteria set down by the Chancellor for admission to the single currency. How much harder it must be for the poorer and less-developed countries of eastern and central Europe.

Two aspects of the common foreign and security policy cause me profound apprehension. Many would not develop these arguments, but I will face them head on. First, the corpus juris with which the Government are flirting—ostensibly with the laudable objective, again, of preventing cross-border crime—would, I fear, provide a precedent for interference in the law and order policies of member states.

Secondly, the creation of a European intervention force—adumbrated at St. Malo by the Prime Minister and his French counterpart, and developed at the European Council of 15 November by the Secretary of State for Defence and his European counterparts—could provide the means for intervention by a European military force in another member of the EU to try to prevent it from seceding or pursuing policies which the EU as a whole believed to be inimical to its interests.

I have grave doubts about a Euro corps, over and above those so well expressed by the shadow Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford--on-Avon (Mr. Maples), and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). They made plain the degree to which the development of such a corps into a separate entity, pursuing separate political objectives from those of the Atlantic alliance as a whole, could diminish the credibility of NATO.

Another aspect of European defence collaboration is supposed to be in armaments, but here, too, I must urge caution on the Government. We need the tools to provide that European element to NATO's intervention forces, but we do not have them. We do not have the heavy lift, and many significant joint European programmes—such as the common new generation frigate, the multi-role armoured vehicle and other similar projects—have proved to be costly failures.

I urge the Government not to be too excited by the prospect of a European defence agency, but to put British industry first and to make sure that we as a country make a cost-effective contribution to the industrial defence base of our continent—and to do so in partnership with the United States just as much as with Europe.

Photo of Rachel Squire Rachel Squire Labour, Dunfermline West 8:39 pm, 22nd November 1999

I begin by joining all those who have paid tribute to the diplomatic services and to the British armed forces and their families. I share the concerns expressed on both sides of the House about the current shortfall in the British armed forces and the strains that that can place on the forces and their families.

The Government inherited armed forces that the previous Government had reduced by nearly a third, and they are making every effort to make up that shortfall through recruitment. I should be interested to hear what current commitments and interventions the Conservatives suggest we withdraw our forces from. I believe that developing a greater European defence capability will take some of the pressure off the British armed forces through greater commitment and action from our European partners.

I want to tackle some of the myths being propounded about a European peacekeeping force, the European security and defence identity and European defence capability. My understanding is that we are talking about a rapid reaction force, not a standing army; that the force would be convened by the agreement of all the countries involved within six to eight weeks; that it would be assembled only in times of agreed crisis and would therefore be very different from the current Franco-German Euro corps; and that the commitments would be made clearly within the framework of NATO.

It is time for us to act and to do what the Americans have long asked us to do: to deliver a greater European defence commitment to NATO and to European crisis intervention and peacekeeping, and to tackle the unacceptable situation that Kosovo highlighted and the unacceptable fact that, after five months' deployment, KFOR is only now reaching its full complement of 50,000 troops.

We all tend to focus on complaints and criticisms of the world as it is, but it is incumbent on us all to recognise the tremendous achievements of the past 50 years, including the establishment of the United Nations and its charter for human rights; the founding, operation and effectiveness of NATO and the role that it has played in the cold war and since the fall of the Berlin wall; and the formation of a European Union that, along with NATO, is seen by many countries as providing real hope of peace and prosperity for the millions of people in Europe whose experience throughout this century has been primarily of living in fear and with conflict. Our challenge must be to build on that.

I welcome the Government's commitment to modernising the United Nations and making the Security Council more effective and representative. Everyone agrees, and has agreed for some time, that reform is needed. I hope that one of the positive outcomes of Kosovo will be that it will act as a catalyst, and that the talking will stop and action will take its place. I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in wanting reform of the Security Council and discussion about the changes that are needed to the international law on intervention.

I very much welcome the lead that the Government have taken towards the establishment of a permanent international court and the fact that a Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech to ratify it. I hope that we will all use our contacts with colleagues in other Parliaments to encourage them to do the same. I hope that, in particular, the United States of America will be encouraged to sign up to and ratify an agreement on a permanent international court and—dare I say it—to pay its outstanding debt to the United Nations.

In connection with the attempts to develop an effective UN peacekeeping force, I also welcome the standby agreement that Britain has entered into, which earmarks forces that are prepared, in principle, to provide an emergency peacekeeping force. Other countries have already done likewise, and I hope that more will join them.

We have all recognised that, however effectively our armed forces have prepared, and however well they work together through partnership for peace, UN peacekeeping and other initiatives, it is politicians, whether on the UN Security Council, the EU Council of Ministers or in national Parliaments, who hold the key to choosing whether we have unity and inaction in the face of genocide, as was the case with Rwanda, or division and regional action, as was the case with Kosovo.

That leads me to the issue of the European security and defence identity and the common foreign and security policy. By developing an effective European defence capability, we will strengthen NATO, not weaken it. Why should we expect the United States to bear the brunt of dealing with the conflicts and ethnic tensions that have developed in Europe over decades, if not centuries? It is time for us to deliver more European defence capability and to make the ESDI a reality. There could not be a better time than now, as we move into the next century and recognise the shift of focus from common defence to collective intervention. Our military will need not only professional military skills, but—as the BBC series "Warriors" showed so effectively—the skills of diplomacy, law enforcement, building, engineering and humanitarian relief.

I welcome the suggestion that the time is right to consider a Europe-wide defence review and to bring together all the separate reviews that are taking place. We must promote greater co-ordination and co-operation, not the narrow nationalism and isolationism promoted by the shadow Defence Secretary in his recent speech to the US congressional committee on international relations.

I shall conclude by quoting the Secretary-General of NATO, who said: ESDI does not mean 'less US'—it means more Europe, and hence a stronger NATO. Strengthening Europe's role in security is about re-balancing the transatlantic relationship in line with European and American interests. Let us build on the partnerships developed in the past 50 years and ensure that, when we leave this century, we leave behind the millions of deaths that have occurred through conflicts and move into a peaceful and more prosperous future for all.

Photo of Mr David Chidgey Mr David Chidgey Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 8:48 pm, 22nd November 1999

I wish to draw out the aspects of the Gracious Speech on the ethical foreign policy and relate them to the control of instruments of torture. A few years ago, the Foreign Secretary told us, in reply to a written question, that the Government were committed to preventing British companies from manufacturing, selling or procuring equipment designed primarily for torture". He added that he would take the necessary measures to prevent the export or the transhipment from the UK of, among other things, leg-irons, gang chains and shackles. He continued: We are examining how to…ban the manufacture and possession of those items, and said that the Government sought views on the extent to which any new legislation should seek to control trafficking…and brokering of such deals."— [Official Report, 28 July 1997; Vol. 299, c.65–66W.] That was two years ago. Yet only last week, British-made leg-irons could be purchased openly in the United States and on the internet. It is a tale of two or perhaps three companies: the Hamburger Woollen company and the Hiatt-Thompson company, both of the United States, and the United Kingdom's Hiatt, of Birmingham.

The Hamburger Woollen company is a specialist in police equipment, and has been since 1940. It advertises for sale equipment supplied by Hiatt-Thompson, which claims to have been established in 1780, and specialises in nickel-plated steel heavy-duty leg-cuffs, with heavy-duty 14-in chains, and lead chains, belly chains, leg and handcuff connectors and chains. Those instruments of torture are distributed in America by Hiatt-Thompson.

Although Hiatt-Thompson is a separate company from Hiatt of Birmingham, it proudly claims to have been "simply the best since 1780"—the very year that Hiatt of Birmingham was established as makers of prisoner handcuffs, felons leg irons, gang chains and collars to the `Trade'". The House may be interested to know that the trade referred to was the slave trade.

When the company was challenged about the presence and provenance of those instruments which, although they are banned in Britain, clearly bear the imprint "made in Birmingham, UK", it said: These are old stock, made in the 1980s. However, the New Jersey shop selling the leg-irons said that it had been received in a recent delivery. The leg-cuffs and chains were bright, shiny and seemingly new.

When Hiatt-Thompson, of the United States, was challenged on the manacles and chains, it claimed that they were made at its own premises, which turn out to be a warehouse that is barely the size of the average high-street shop.

Thus a British company seems to be manufacturing components of banned instruments and implements of torture—oversized cuffs and separate chains—which, subsequently, are assembled overseas. Moreover, the practice is perfectly legal under current legislation. Customs and Excise officers have seen components in packing cases, but are powerless to intervene in their export. According to the Government's own annual reports on strategic arms exports for 1997 and 1998, outsized handcuffs were exported at least to Egypt, Barbados and the United Arab Emirates.

It is, therefore, still legal in the United Kingdom to broker leg-irons, gang chains and shackles. It is still legal to make leg-irons, gang chains and shackles in the United Kingdom and to export them, provided that they are in component form. The only legal change since the Foreign Secretary's July 1997 statement has been the change in the wording of the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1994 to include electroshock equipment.

The House and the public are still waiting for the Government to introduce an effective ban on United Kingdom involvement in the manufacture, brokering and export of instruments of torture. Perhaps the Minister will take this opportunity to tell us that, at last, some progress is being made.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling 8:53 pm, 22nd November 1999

I shall be very brief, as I know that the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) wants to speak. The Government Whip has also promised me that, although I have only 10 minutes in which to speak and must hurry, he will not report that my speech was rushed or overlooked major issues.

Today's debate is on foreign and defence policy. It is often said that people are not particularly interested in that policy sphere, as it does not deal with bread-and-butter issues. However, today's debate—and the increasing amount of correspondence and number of surgery appointments with constituents who are concerned about foreign affairs and international matters reported on television—has demonstrated that foreign and defence matters are becoming increasingly important to our constituents. Young people, especially, recognise that global interdependence rules out isolation as an option. The way in which the Government have worked with international organisations in dealing with some of the difficulties confronting us has the general support of the population.

The Government's declaration that ethics is central to their foreign and defence policy is important. It is easy to scoff at the idea of an ethical defence or foreign policy. However, it is not particularly helpful to be 100 per cent. pure about such matters. In the real world there is an element of compromise and of trying to do one's best. Taking a cynical view of any political decision, and believing that only 100 per cent. will do, leads to an underestimation of the very real achievements of all Governments, whatever their political party.

I should like to highlight some of the Government's achievements since they came to power in 1997. Signing the Ottawa treaty and banning land mines was a major step forward. Our role in Kosovo, pursuing humanitarian goals and putting human rights centre stage, is something of which we can all be proud. We now have a code of conduct on arms control, and annual reports are produced about its effectiveness; we have made statements on the restoration of democracy in Pakistan and the importance of the Commonwealth; and we are looking to reform the European Union to make it a more effective organisation for good in the world.

I do not think that anyone has yet mentioned the nuclear safeguards Bill included in the Queen's Speech, which will put into law international agreements on nuclear proliferation. Indeed, the Government have controlled the number of nuclear warheads on Trident submarines.

We can also be proud of the role of British troops at the forefront of many peacekeeping operations and missions around the world. The way in which our armed forces operate is changing. We no longer live in a time of cold war; our troops will increasingly be sent to places such as Bosnia and Kosovo, as we saw recently, and perhaps, in future, they will be sent to Africa. Many hon. Members have mentioned the stress and strain that the new type of operation places on our troops. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to listen to the real concerns about the pressures that the new role puts on our troops. Any change in the role of the armed forces must be considered.

Much has been said about human rights. Again, there are no absolutes. One could ask why the Government talked to China, Indonesia and certain African states and did not impose sanctions. To be fair, all Governments have to make a judgment about how best to promote human rights. One has to make a judgment about China. I think the Government were right to invite the Chinese Premier here, to try to influence him and promote human rights in discussions with him. Not to do that would not have helped the cause of human rights in Tibet or China. Again, it would be easy to take the purist line and say that the Government should not have entered discussions.

I was pleased to see a mention in the Gracious Speech of the 10th anniversary of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. I have the honour and privilege to be a parliamentary friend of the United Nations Children's Fund and have travelled with it to Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. The convention sets important standards by which children should survive, grow and be protected. It offers a yardstick by which we should all be judged. The plight of children around the world moves us all, and we should use the convention and work with international organisations to make a real difference to the lives of those children.

It is easy to be cynical when we consider all the conflicts around the world. It is easy to feel despondent, and that nothing can be done. As the lines between civilians and combatants are blurred, cynicism becomes even easier. None the less, we must remain optimistic—or else we will merely sit around saying that nothing can be done. I urge the Government to continue to try to put ethics at the heart of their foreign and defence policies. They must continue to promote and encourage human rights. I urge them to work with the international organisations, and to try to modernise the European Union and the United Nations. Only through such organisations can we offer hope to people across the world who desperately need a new world order and a framework for development.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Agriculture Committee, Chair, Agriculture Committee 9:01 pm, 22nd November 1999

I want to discuss two areas of foreign and defence policy where the Government seek credit but deserve blame: enlargement of the European Union and the handling of the Kosovo crisis.

I shall be briefer on enlargement than I might have hoped since I must contain my remarks within less than 10 minutes. The next historic function of the EU is its enlargement to the east. It is sad that the EU, the Commission and the Government talk the language of enlargement but engage in policies that make it more difficult. If the poorer, less developed economies of the former Soviet bloc are to become members of an enlarged EU, as we all hope will happen, we have a moral obligation not to erect huge barriers to their entry. High social costs, inflexible labour laws and the single currency are such barriers. At the very least, those barriers will make entry as painful as is humanly possible.

As Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture, I am painfully aware that the common agricultural policy is probably the biggest barrier of all to enlargement. Britain along with the Commission has been the strongest advocate of reform but, at Berlin, at the last moment, when our support was most crucial, we gave in, to coin a phrase, to the forces of conservatism. As the final session dragged on into the small hours, the Prime Minister gave in to the French president. His diplomatic and negotiating skills failed him, and that will cost the United Kingdom and Europe dear. That happened despite the pledge in the Gracious Speech that the, Government will promote the enlargement of the Union". The very next paragraph of the Queen's Speech discussed the future of NATO, saying that it remains the foundation of Britain's defence and security. The speech referred to the need to adapt the alliance to meet the challenges of the new century and said that the Government would work to make the Security Council more effective. How can such claims be taken seriously against the backdrop of the Government's appalling mismanagement of the wretched Kosovo affair?

A myth is being established on the Labour Benches that the NATO intervention should be treated as a model to be followed elsewhere. It is not so. The myth must be challenged. The intervention in Kosovo should instead be treated as a textbook example of what not to do. I am no apologist for Milosevic and I have only praise for the achievement of our armed forces. Milosevic is an evil man who must be removed from power as soon as possible. Our armed forces performed magnificently.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) has made clear, however, an interesting and important document entitled "Kosovo: Law and Diplomacy" by Mark Littman QC confirms that NATO's intervention in Kosovo was unlawful, unnecessary and unsuccessful. If his judgments are correct—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) can contain himself, I shall deal with that in a moment.

If Mr. Littman's judgments are correct, as I believe them to be, we must never again blunder into this kind of action out of a misguided sense that something must be done. As Littman puts it, respect for international law by countries such as ours is crucial. Without it, we would be back in the condition in which we were 100 years ago when all wars were lawful. What message does NATO's flouting of international law send to other states whose behaviour we may want to criticise?

Could the crisis have been resolved by diplomacy? It seems that it could and should have been solved without the dropping of a single bomb. A negotiated peace was on the table at Rambouillet. As Littman said: At a critical point in the discussions at Rambouillet, NATO abandoned diplomacy in favour of a package of non-negotiable demands contained in a document described by Dr Kissinger as 'a terrible diplomatic document' as a 'provocation' and as 'an excuse to start bombing'. The sad truth is that by 23 February this year, a statement issued by the office of the high representative for the Contact Group noted that the efforts of all the parties had led to a consensus on substantial autonomy for Kosovo, including on mechanisms for free and fair elections to democratic institutions, for the governance of Kosovo, for the protection of human rights and the rights of national communities, and for the establishment of a fair judicial system. The statement continued by pointing out that the groundwork had been laid for the modalities of the invited international civilian and military presence in Kosovo. Even at that most encouraging stage, it seems that the Government and NATO were prepared to wrench war from the jaws of peace by tabling aggressive, non-negotiable proposals for the military aspects of the agreement. Those terms were unreasonable, and NATO must have known that they would be rejected. Indeed, at the end of the bombing, NATO made precisely the type of concessions that it was not prepared even to discuss when the bombing began.

As the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) made clear during his impressive speech, the bombing did not make things better for the ordinary people of Kosovo and Serbia. The ethnic cleansing accelerated as a direct response to the war; it continues to this day, although now it is Albanians who are ethnically cleansing Serbs. To say that is not to be an apologist for Milosevic, but to say that the UK's analysis should be sophisticated enough to work out the likely response of an evil man to provocation.

What is even worse is that the whole situation in the Balkans is now less stable than it was before the bombing, and much less stable than if negotiations had been allowed to run their course. Furthermore, the campaign played fast and loose with our relationship with Russia. The Kosovo Albanians now seek full independence. The risk must be that they will seek union with Albania, forming a greater Albania that could then express an interest—shall we say—in the Albanians of Macedonia. Quite what Greece will make of all that, I think we can safely predict. Only by maintaining a significant military presence in the region for the foreseeable future, can that be prevented—and perhaps not even then.

That leads to the question of cost. There is a cost to Britain's reputation; to the social, economic, environmental and cultural fabric of Kosovo and Serbia; and to the British taxpayer. That money could have been so much better spent by the Department for International Development; for example, in Orissa or dealing with the street children of Mongolia—whom I saw on a visit there in September.

We must remember that, previously, the west and NATO had declined to become involved in Sierra Leone, Sudan or Rwanda. The message that we conveyed to the world is that lives in Europe are worth more than those in Africa.

If the Government believe that they will make the Security Council more effective by ignoring it; that they will ensure that NATO remains the foundation of our defence by discrediting it; and that they can meet the challenges and opportunities of the new century by intervening ineptly in the Balkans, then woe betide us all. Woe betide the armed services especially, who—overstretched and undermanned as they are—look set to bear yet again the burden of the Government's incompetence, in some other, as yet unknown, theatre where the Prime Minister decides that something, no matter how illegal, inappropriate and counter-productive, must be done.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 9:09 pm, 22nd November 1999

The debate has been lively. As it has not taken the usual form of a debate on the Gracious Speech, because it was split, with defence at the back end and foreign affairs at the front, I hope that the House will forgive me if I refer only to those Members who have spoken on defence; otherwise, we shall be here all night.

Many hon. Members made powerful comments and statements. Not least, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), early in his speech, made a powerful reference to overstretch. I hope to discuss that subject shortly. He said that we were at the delicate point of trying to figure out whether things are doable within the budgets that have been set. I agree that there are considerable doubts about that.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), in a contribution that was short by most standards but no less powerful for that, spoke about the European defence initiative—a subject that I shall discuss later. He made some very clear points about what Strobe Talbott said, to try to place some of the issues, and the way in which they are observed from the United States, in context.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) spoke about the operations of the defence initiative within NATO, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who spoke movingly about political correctness and the fact that, if allowed to travel too deeply into the psyche of the military, it will destroy their capability. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) also spoke about the defence initiative, and pointed out that it is heading outside NATO.

There were other speakers, too. I must mention the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), who referred to my comments in the United States. It is always good to have publicity. None the less, she did not agree with me, and I promise not to agree with her. On that basis, we can probably move on.

All in all, we have had a very good debate, as evidenced by many comments on foreign affairs, but those on defence went to the heart of some of the major problems that I wish to mention, such as overstretch, and the issues regarding the Government's policy on NATO and the European defence initiative.

I do not want to remember for long the experience of listening to the Foreign Secretary today. His speech was not especially good. He missed an opportunity to speak, in line with the Gracious Speech, about what the Government were going to do. Instead, he spent a huge chunk of his speech trying to guess what the Opposition might be doing. He sounded like a man whose greatest fear was the Opposition's return to power.

The Foreign Secretary made the accusation that, during the Kosovo saga, the Opposition had not supported early deployment into the surrounding region. [Interruption.] In the emergency debate on 11 February, the Opposition's position was made absolutely clear. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) said: The Opposition support the Government in their attempts to find a peaceful solution to this protracted problem. We know that what the Secretary of State announced makes good military sense. It leaves many difficult issues for him and for us."—[Official Report, 11 February 1999; Vol. 325, c. 566.] I hope that that puts the record straight, so that ludicrous comments are not made about what people are supposed to have said when clear statements were made at the Dispatch Box at the time.

The new Secretary of State for Defence is now in his place for the first time. This is the first opportunity that either of us has had to debate defence. Defence is probably the most important subject of all—the most important requirement for any Government is the defence of the realm—and we have had no big defence debates in the past six or seven months. We lost two days of defence debates at the end of the last parliamentary Session. Apparently, we had time to discuss vellum, but not time to discuss the defence of the realm. I condemn the Government for that.

We also had no defence estimates, which are usually produced during the year. There has been no White Paper. We are still trying to figure out where the Government are going. Perhaps we do not have a White Paper because the Government have not figured out where they are going, either. Yet, since the last Queen's Speech, our forces have been in new operations in the Gulf, in Kosovo and in East Timor, to mention but three locations. I hope that all hon. Members would agree that we owe our service men, not just in those operations but around the globe, a huge debt of gratitude for the dedication and professionalism with which they carry out their duties. I say that, not just as a politician, but as someone who, previously, in active service positions, had to do politicians' bidding. I know that service men cherish the support that they receive from politicians. I am sure that the House will join me in giving that support.

I do not want to dwell on what has happened in the past, but the House must consider carefully the strategic defence review, the underlying assumptions that were made when it was introduced and how and on what basis it is constructed. It goes without saying that two of my predecessors made the areas on which we agree—particularly the emphasis on power projection—quite clear. I do not intend to go into detail on that now, because that would simply be to repeat what my predecessors said.

The Secretary of State for Defence appeared to confirm in a recent GMTV interview that the assumptions made by his predecessor about the forecast level of commitments have not been borne out. Therefore, the whole basis on which the defence review was carried out when the Government took office has now collapsed. The problems associated with overstretch have created a crisis. The Government inherited a position that was, in itself, unsustainable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex said in his excellent speech, but they have turned a difficult position into a crisis. Changing the proportion of men on active service from 28 to 47 per cent. will create nothing less than that. Even their current efforts—laudable, it must be said—to reduce overstretch will not make it possible for our forces to sustain operations for a lengthy period.

The problem is not just about commitments. The Government have met some success with their recruiting initiatives, but retention remains singularly the biggest problem. The armed forces are losing far too many experienced people. Simply replacing them with inexperienced recruits will not help the problem; it will remain just as bad. Each month, we have a net loss of 100 men from the Army, which is the equivalent of two battalions a year. The armed forces face an internal crisis with their most experienced and best men and women leaving; their replacements will not make up the skills gap.

Part of the problem lies with the basis on which the strategic defence review was conceived. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex pointed out, the Government did not enter the review with an open mind. They entered the review process with the Treasury sitting on their shoulder and looking for a significant saving in the defence budget. At the last election, the Conservative Government made it absolutely clear that, if we were re-elected, we would ensure a period of stability and calm for the armed forces. There were no cuts laid down in our figures and we would have seen the armed forces through the changes that had already been made.

The Government came in and initiated the strategic defence review. In essence, they have allowed for savings each year of £685 million from 2001-02. That has put huge pressures on the Army alone. As we have discovered, 18,000 men have been axed from the Territorial Army and many more will find their jobs in jeopardy. However, it is increasingly evident from the figures that the £685 million saving is frankly an optimistic assumption. In reality, in the coming years, even deeper cuts are likely to be imposed on the defence budget.

The Treasury will take—it has already got its hands on it—a real cut of nearly £1 billion in 2001. It will get its £1 billion regardless of what the Ministry of Defence does and any savings that it makes.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Does my hon. Friend agree that the position is, in fact, worse than that? It is a saving not just of £600 million, but of £600 million plus 3 per cent. efficiency savings per annum, and those savings are not takeable.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

That is exactly the point that I am making. The Treasury has already got its hands on nearly £1 billion of savings a year. The Government put forward the figure of £600 million as the net saving, but, to achieve that net figure, savings have to be made through efficiency and on the procurement process, and the forces will have to make significant asset sales.

I shall deal first with asset sales, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex refers. The Public Accounts Committee has already warned the Department that it is selling off its assets far too slowly to meet its targets. The Chairman of that Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) said: The financial contribution underpins operational planning. It must be realised or operational ability will be impaired". In its inquiry into the strategic defence review, the Defence Committee said that we remain to be convinced of the realism of the projected levels of receipts from asset sales. The Government have published no figures on that. We have no idea how those sales are meant to proceed or whether they are achieving their targets, but we have a serious sense that there is something wrong with the estimates that were made.

Furthermore, the House of Commons Library points out that the previous Government set themselves targets on asset sales, but the problem was that they achieved those in double the time in which they had originally planned to make the savings. At least, therefore, the Government may be facing the serious problem that they may not even make the savings on time, and that in turn creates other problems.

Photo of Rachel Squire Rachel Squire Labour, Dunfermline West

I have the statistics that 1 believe that the hon. Gentleman quoted in his speech to the UN congressional committee. They reveal that the proportion of the United Kingdom's gross domestic product spent on defence was 5.2 per cent. in 1985 and had been reduced to 2.8 per cent. in 1997, which represents a cut of nearly 50 per cent. under his Government. Would he like to explain that to the House?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I know that it is easier for Labour Members to discuss what went on before the election because what they are doing now is so bad. The hon. Lady may really think that that cut was too great, but why are this Government cutting the figure even further? The figure that I quoted will be reduced dramatically by her Government's actions under the strategic defence review. That all adds up, but maybe she failed her maths.

I know that the right hon. and learned Member for North--East Fife was, in part, referring to the smart procurement programme. That programme concerns the way the Government will make significant savings that will allow them to make the net budget saving of some £600 million. Notwithstanding the optimism about that programme expressed by the Minister for the Armed Forces early in the summer, we later saw the premature move of a senior general who said that the planned defence savings from the smart procurement initiative would not be made on time.

We were promised that smart procurement would generate up to £2 billion in savings, whereas Lieutenant-General Sir Edmund Burton, a Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, was reported as saying that achieving the savings had proved to be a slow process. He is believed to have told civil servants that the big savings envisaged on the timings that were given were simply not possible. What was the Government's response? He found himself moving to another job rather sooner than he had anticipated. The sign of a Government in difficulty is that they try to deal with the messenger but do not deal with the message. The Government will be put under pressure by the costs that they must face up to because they will not make the necessary savings.

We may be facing a cut to the MOD's annual budget that is much greater than anticipated. Those savings are vital. As I said, the Treasury will be happy whatever happens because it has the money. The real point is how that cut, if it is worse even than the Government's official figure, will affect service families.

We know, for example, that far too many service families are living in sub-standard accommodation. I understand that some 30,000 MOD homes are now classed as sub-standard. There was to be an extensive refurbishment programme, but we now learn that the likelihood of its going ahead is about zero. The programme is about to be scrapped, and it appears that the reason may be money. Whether or not that is the case, the refurbishment programme for those homes was left in place by the previous Government; it has already begun to slip, and there is a question about whether it will go ahead at all.

The Sunday papers contained quotes from internal briefing papers produced by Vice-Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham. He said that the ambitious plans in the SDR and its supporting essays were in danger of coming to grief for want of resources, and concluded that, unless more resources were forthcoming, any pretence that we are putting people at the heart of our policy and that we have turned over a new leaf must be abandoned. The real issue is how the policy effects families.

In less than 18 months after the review set the financial position in stone, how can the MOD be having huge difficulty finding the money to sort out accommodation? That is a critical element of a policy for people.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Our policy had at its heart the refurbishment of the homes that this Government are going to curtail.

I discovered that, in Hohne, the German Government have refurbished a block of flats to house refugees. Our service men are now living in the next-door block in accommodation that is below the standard of that provided for the refugees. I have mentioned the problem of retention. When service men and women find the quality of their family life falling and falling, they can hardly be encouraged to remain in the armed forces.

There are other programmes, too. We are still waiting to discover when the Government will buy the short-term strategic heavy lift package that was originally anticipated. That seems to have been shelved.

Probably the single most desperate decision in the strategic defence review was to slash the Territorial Army by some 18,000 men. It goes without saying that those in the TA are bewildered. During a Remembrance day service the other day, they told me that they had never been in more need, that their signalmen are serving in Bosnia and Kosovo, and that some signal regiments could not meet at weekends because their equipment is being used by the Regulars in Kosovo and Bosnia. Some of the TA are needed in Kosovo and Bosnia, and are welcome out there with the Regulars. Yet, the Government seem to be making up policy on the TA as they go along. First, they cut the numbers. Then, before the ink has dried on the paper, they say that they might have to change the entire strategy behind the TA and perhaps deploy it as units due to problems of overstretch.

Then, with the armed forces under pressure and our service men and women spending less and less time with their families, what does our Foreign Secretary do? He signs a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations that says, "Don't worry because, ultimately, we can produce any level of armed forces that you require." It is a wonderful document. It says all sorts of things about units on 10 days' notice, naval logistic support, amphibious platforms and aircraft carriers—it goes on.

In a note at the bottom, the memorandum even says that only 10 days' notice is required for three strategic air transport heavy lift aircraft, yet we have not even bought them. That is the absurdity of what the Government are about. It is no wonder that the armed forces ask, "What is this all about?" It is no good the Government saying that such a document is a wish list because they have given an undertaking to the United Nations.

We have the ridiculous spectacle of the Government playing political games. They are saving money and putting pressure on our armed forces, yet, for political reasons, they take decisions that cost money. For example, the refit of HMS Spartan was condemned by the Defence Committee as not representing value for money, but the work went ahead—only two or three years before it will be taken out of service. In whose constituency did it happen to be refitted? The Chancellor of the Exchequer just happened to get the project. Then, there was the transfer of the Army headquarters from York.

Photo of Rachel Squire Rachel Squire Labour, Dunfermline West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman. The fact is—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Lady must know by now that that is not a point of order.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Through a boundary change, the Government managed to please both the Chancellor and a Labour Back Bencher and I am sure that that suits them very well.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

No, I am not giving way.

The hon. Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley), now the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, received an assurance about the transfer of Army headquarters all the way to Edinburgh. He was told by the Prime Minister that it was all about cost effectiveness and military expediency. However, a document written for the Government by Colonel Curran Snagge reveals that operational efficiency and cost effectiveness were not behind the move. In fact, we know that it was about helping the Government to fight the Scottish National party up in Scotland before the last election. For that, the Government used our service men and women and transferred them up to Scotland.

The biggest political nightmare that the Government have created is in Europe. I come to that subject at the end of my speech because it shows the nature of the Government: they care nothing about the armed forces, other than as a tool to further their own political ambitions. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said, at the 1997 Amsterdam summit the Prime Minister said that Europe's defence should remain a matter for NATO, not the EU. That was apparently the Government's view until October 1998, when the Prime Minister made it clear that he was prepared to drop those long-standing objections.

At St. Malo and Cologne, the Government joined their European partners in moves to establish European military structures outside the NATO framework. There can be no doubt that there is a strong trend in Europe to create an independent EU defence capability as part of the drive towards a European superstate. Mr. Chirac said: European Union cannot fully exist until it possesses autonomous capacity for action in the area of defence". At the time of St. Malo, even though the Government told the Americans not to worry because European defence would not go outside NATO, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said: the development of the European security and defence identity, another pillar of the process of European unification. That is the reality. We hear the Government's soft words, but others believe that there is a different agenda.

The evidence is clear. All the processes that were bound in at Cologne have given a voice to those who would have NATO divided and broken. The Government have said one thing and done another: they started out saying that they loved the pound and believed in a defence policy based on NATO; yet, within two years, they have reversed both of those key policies. It is ridiculous for the Government to pretend that their current policy will strengthen NATO, when in fact it will weaken it. The worst part is that they have succeeded in giving power to those in Europe who would break NATO and those in America who would see their country isolated. That is the result of Government policy.

In conclusion, as I have made clear, our armed forces are in crisis, facing huge pressures and massive cuts. Troops do not know when they will next see their family, or how they are to combine both operational duties and family life. The promised savings are nothing but a wish list—in all probability, they do not exist. Finally, there is a serious problem with the Government; the Foreign Secretary, and the Secretary of State for Defence, set out on a policy that will ultimately divide NATO.

The epitaph on the Government at the next election will be that they never, ever told the truth, but saw politics first and defence second. The Government will break NATO and break our defence forces before they are finished.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence 9:34 pm, 22nd November 1999

I am grateful to have the opportunity to come before the House this evening to make my first speech as Secretary of State for Defence. I have listened with great interest to the various contributions of right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House during today's debate.

The Government are engaged in carrying out the ambitious and radical plans that my predecessor set out last year in the strategic defence review. It is a significant modernisation that affects every aspect of the armed forces as well as those who support them. It is not a quick fix for financial or political reasons, nor is it change for change's sake. It is a far-reaching programme of modernisation that is designed to improve our ability to carry out operations successfully. That is, of course, the test by which everything we do will be judged.

At the same time, we have been committed to operations as never before. Earlier this year we were heavily involved in Kosovo. I look forward next year to reporting to the House on the results of the various studies currently under way into the lessons that we can learn from that campaign.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

If my hon. Friend will allow me to make a little more progress, I shall give way to him.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) raised the question of the defence White Paper, which I hope will be published before Christmas.

I wish to pay tribute to George Robertson, who carried out his duties as Defence Secretary during a difficult time with great authority, clarity of purpose and unswerving commitment to the achievement of a successful outcome. Members who have read the account that he published in October setting out the background to the conflict will realise the extent of what was achieved under his leadership. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) said, he is now in a role where he can continue to contribute to these enormously important matters. I am sure that the House joins me in wishing him well.

A number of right hon. and hon. Members have concentrated on European defence. It is important that the House understand what we are proposing, and crucially what we are not proposing. We are not proposing a European army. We are not proposing a standing force with a European badge under European command and exclusively earmarked for tasks agreed within the European Union. That has never been part of our thinking. Only national Governments and national Parliaments have the right to take decisions on how and where national armed forces are deployed. Moreover, we have no intention of carving up security tasks between the European Union and NATO. That would break the link between Europe and north America which is at the heart of the NATO alliance.

We are proposing that European forces—the forces of fully sovereign nation states acting in co-operation—should make a greater contribution to NATO, and that we should be in a position, where NATO as a whole is not engaged, to carry out European crisis management operations, drawing on NATO's assets and capabilities when necessary. What was set out at St. Malo was the need for Europe to make its voice heard in world affairs while contributing to the vitality of a modernised Atlantic alliance.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me how in particular the structure that he describes will be different from the already extremely efficient and effective structure of the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps, which has done very well on the past two occasions it has been called upon?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I can deal with that when I deal with the institutional matters in a moment.

The Kosovo campaign brought home to us clearly the limits of our existing capability. Our airmen performed with their customary skill and bravery. But the United States provided most of the aircraft and flew most of the missions. On the ground, too, while more than 40 per cent. of the force that first entered Kosovo was British, Europe as a whole was hard pressed to deploy a force amounting to only about 2 per cent. of the 2.5 million troops theoretically available on paper. A number of hon. Members have emphasised that point.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

In a moment.

We have found that, with all too few exceptions, Europe's armed forces are still structured to meet the predictable requirements of the cold war rather than the complex challenges of the next century. They are hampered by their reliance on national fixed infrastructure, when their forces need instead to be sustainable for long periods in a range of different theatres of operations. In short, they need to be more flexible. It was clear to us even before Kosovo that fundamental change was necessary. We needed to enhance our capability to decide, and enhance our capability to act. Our ambition is that the European nations should be able to make foreign and security policy decisions underpinned by credible military capability, and that they should be able to take control of European crisis management operations. To do this, we need new machinery that supports competent defence decision making inside the European Union.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

The British Army went to war, supposedly, to stop ethnic cleansing. How is it that, as we understand it, 40,000 NATO troops are palpably unable to stop the most brutal ethnic cleansing of the Serbs and the destruction of 70 of their monasteries? Is it true, as I previously asked, that only the Irish Guards do night patrol?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I am sorry, but I do not recognise the picture portrayed by my hon. Friend. I was in Kosovo in August and I have examined, for example, the crime rates and particularly the murder rates, which have been steadily falling since that time. The murder rate in Kosovo and particularly in Pristina is lower than in certain European capitals, so I do not recognise the picture that my hon. Friend describes.

I return to the structures for decision making and defence in the European Union. At Berlin in 1996, the North Atlantic Council said that European allies should make a more coherent and effective contribution to the mission and activities of the Alliance as an expression of our shared responsibilities; to act themselves as required and reinforce the trans-Atlantic partnership. The alliance further endorsed the concept, and the need to strengthen Europe's contribution, at the Washington summit in April this year.

We have heard a great deal of what I can describe only as alarmist nonsense from the Opposition on the subject of European defence. If they are right that the European security and defence identity threatens the very existence of NATO, why did all 19 members of NATO, including the United States, sign a statement at the Washington summit welcoming it?

If the European security and defence identity threatens the very existence of NATO, why did the US deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, say in his speech at Chatham house on 7 October that the US is for ESDI. It's in our interest for Europe to be able to deal effectively with challenges for European security"? I was grateful for what was described as the fair reading of that speech by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife. I have tried hard to put on it the construction for which the hon. Member for Stratford-onAvon (Mr. Maples) and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) argued, but so far the phrase the US is for ESDI defies any interpretation other than the obvious one.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

As I pointed out to the Secretary of State earlier, the speech that Mr. Talbott made drew a distinction between what had been said at Washington and what was said at Cologne. Cologne came after Washington, and what Strobe Talbott said in his speech was that the signals that came out from St. Malo and the signals that came out from Cologne were different from the signals that came out from Washington and Berlin. Why does the Secretary of State fail to recognise that glaring concern, which is deeply felt on both sides of the Atlantic?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Because senior representatives of the United States Administration continue to make fairly basic statements, such as The US is for ESDI". It was the previous Conservative Government who signed up to the idea of a European security and defence identity—[Interruption.] That was at Berlin in 1996.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We cannot have hon. Gentlemen shouting across the Chamber. It has been a quiet night up till now, so let us continue to have one.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

No prizes for guessing who was Defence Secretary at the time.

Hon. Members have kept shouting from a sedentary position that that refers to NATO, not the EU. They should remember what they signed up to in the Maastricht treaty. They called for the framing of a common defence policy in the context of the European Union. Right hon. and hon. Members who were part of the Government who signed up for that should remember what they were doing.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

If what the Secretary of State says was so critical to the formation of policy subsequently, why did the Prime Minister come back from Amsterdam crowing about the fact that he had stopped the plans to wind the Western European Union into the European Union, only to allow that to happen at Cologne?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

We clearly recognised the need for Europe to play a more effective part even before the full lessons of Kosovo had been learned. We accepted and have continued to argue for a proposal that the Conservative Government set out when they agreed to frame European defence policy in the context of the European Union.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman tells me to do my homework, but the policy is established in a European Union treaty, which the previous Government signed. I am sorry to have to make my point so comprehensively, but if the Conservative party opposes the European Union having an autonomous defence capability, why did Chris Patten, the former Conservative party chairman, say in a submission to the European Parliament: What we need are credible military forces that can be brought together quickly and in a flexible manner which would allow the European Union to initiate autonomous operations while avoiding duplication of effort within NATO"? The Cologne European Council in June began the process of building necessary structures in the European Union. We shall take further steps at the Helsinki European Council in December. Last week, Defence Ministers from European Union member states met for the first time alongside Foreign Ministers in the European Union's General Affairs Council to discuss plans for European defence arrangements. We are beginning to establish the defence culture that will be needed to allow Europe to fulfil its security and defence responsibilities.

It is not simply a matter of organisational structures, however. As my predecessor was rightly fond of pointing out, it is not much good deploying a wiring diagram in a crisis. It is important that we should have at our disposal forces of the right quality and in the right quantity. Much of the responsibility for reform lies with individual nations. However, the United Kingdom and Italy have launched an initiative, which will result in establishing concrete performance goals for improved and strengthened Europe-wide and national defence capabilities.

Again, we look for progress at Helsinki. We want member states to commit themselves to deploying forces in sufficient numbers, with the right skills and equipment, in time to make a difference and to sustain them in theatre until their job is done.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery Conservative, East Devon

The Secretary of State makes a great point of saying that the Americans are happy about what is happening. However, only last week in Amsterdam, 12 Members of Congress from both the Republican and Democrat parties made it clear that they were worried about their role if Western European Union became part of the European Union. Lord Robertson spoke and made it clear that many worries had to be tackled when dealing with the seven nations that are not part of the European Union. What are the Government doing about that?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

The United States is a vigorous democracy. I do not pretend that the right hon. Gentleman will not find Members of Congress who have doubts and anxieties. A wide range of opinions is expressed on the Hill in Washington. Sadly, some of those opinions are stirred up by the scaremongering of the shadow Secretary of State for Defence. Nevertheless, the United States Administration have made it clear that they support ESDI. I have quoted the views of a senior member of that Administration.

In a national context, we have also continued to improve the way in which our forces work with each other. We have formed a joint helicopter command and a new air assault brigade; we have established the joint nuclear, biological and chemical defence regiment, and set up a joint doctrine centre. Those are key steps in implementing the strategic defence review.

Of course, the SDR was not just about the purely operational front. It also aimed to bring about a step change in the way in which we organise ourselves, and in the efficiency with which we acquire and support equipment. To that end, we have launched the new Defence Procurement Agency and set up a new logistics organisation.

In addition, we are committed in Bosnia and the Gulf, as well as in Kosovo, East Timor and elsewhere. I make no apologies for British forces being committed in that way. There is crucial work to be done to safeguard our interests, and to make the world a safer place. We must be involved in that work. We should be proud that we are able to do that. We cannot stand idly by in the face of the appalling behaviour of Slobodan Milosovic and Saddam Hussein.

I commend to the House the excellent work of the Indict campaign led by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), about which she spoke so well.

Those Conservative Members who suggested that we are overcommitted and have been involved in too many operations must answer a simple question: which operation or operations should we have refused? Until they can answer that basic question, they cannot complain about our levels of commitment. Our armed forces have responded magnificently to all that we have asked of them. We might have preferred to ask less, but we have had no choice about being involved. Our armed forces recognise that, and it is unfortunate that too many Opposition Members fail to do the same.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I am not sure whether that last remark was meant to be offensive to the House and those of us who care very much about the armed forces. The right hon. Gentleman has to understand that the armed forces always will respond magnificently to any charge and request made of them, but the House, some of us who have knowledge of the armed forces, some of us who have served in the armed forces and some of us who have friends who are still serving know that we are on the edge of a precipice. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has only recently taken over this tough responsibility, but the armed forces will not be able to respond—or they will respond in an untrained, ill-equipped, inadequate manner and we will put people in harm's way because they will not be able to cope with the challenges that they face—unless he shows that he understands how difficult the problem of overstretch is.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I was about to deal with overstretch. I certainly was not being offensive to the right hon. Gentleman, but Conservative Members have questioned the commitments in which the British armed forces are engaged. Unless those Members—I am not referring to him—can say which commitments we should not be involved with, they are simply making a rhetorical flourish and are hardly deserving of concern.

I have consistently acknowledged that overstretch is a problem—I listened carefully to the speeches of the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames)—which is why the Government are prepared to take the tough decisions needed to reduce those commitments. We do not need lectures on overstretch from a party that left the Army 5,000 under strength in the first place and cut the defence budget by a third when in power. We are addressing overstretch by reducing deployed force levels wherever we can, consistent with security and our international obligations. In Bosnia, our force levels will go down from more than 4,000 now to about 3,300 by the end of the year. In Kosovo, we have recently announced changes that will bring home more than 1,000 people over the next few months, and we have reduced our force levels in the Gulf from a peak of 3,000 to 1,200.

All those measures are significant in respect of returning our men and women to more stable patterns of service and family life, and I entirely agree with the warm tribute paid by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex to the tremendous contribution made by service families; but I again counter the scaremongering by the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith): the refurbishment of service homes will go ahead. We have looked hard at the conditions of service of those who are deployed and have introduced a number of significant improvements, including a fourfold increase in the time for telephoning home and better arrangements for leave on return from operations. All that will help to reduce the demands on our people and the stresses and strains that they face.

There has been some misleading talk lately about the nature of overstretch. Recruiting to all three services is satisfactory and that to Army is at its highest level for nine years. It was sometimes said that it was difficult to recruit to the armed forces when the economy was doing well, but we now have a healthy economy as well as healthy service recruiting. That can only be because people's image of our activities is, quite rightly, attractive and positive. At the same time, rates of retention, particularly in the Army, have been disappointing. The armed forces, by comparison with other careers, rely on people serving for comparatively brief periods, so there must always be a throughput. However, more people are leaving earlier than we would wish. We are already addressing that issue and are beginning to see signs of improvement.

There has been much misleading talk also about our reserve forces. We are absolutely committed to having high-quality reserves that are useful and used. The point is not what size the reserves are on paper, as so many Conservative Members seem to believe, but the punch that they can deliver and our ability and willingness to deploy them in support of our operational objectives. We have seen reservists playing a full role in former Yugoslavia, where up to 10 per cent. of our deployed forces are from the reserves. We have improved our call-out arrangements and are looking hard at deployability. In that, as in all other matters, we will be judged on our ability to deliver operational capability where it is needed. The reserves will play a big part in that.

Conservative Members say that they want to return the Territorial Army to its former role; in other words, they want to take the TA backwards, not forwards. They want to restore the old role of the TA in defending the United Kingdom against a Soviet invasion. We want to give the TA a new, much more significant role as a fully integrated part of the regular Army, in Bosnia, in Kosovo or elsewhere.

In regard to numbers, the Conservative party says that it wants to restore the TA to its pre-SDR establishment. Even the Conservative Government did not do that: just as they left the regular Army undermanned, they left the TA undermanned.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I will not give way.

I have mentioned a range of deployments. It is important for us not to forget that we are deployed here in the United Kingdom as well. We still have 15,000 troops in Northern Ireland, and I am confident that the House will join me in paying tribute to their work.

Earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a statement to the House about political progress in Northern Ireland, and I join him in wishing the process well. As he said, the security situation in the Province has been transformed since the Good Friday agreement. We will, of course, watch developments closely, but our forces will remain at the level required to preserve the peace, and to support the civil powers in maintaining law and order.

So far, I have described our participation in operations. We are always able and willing to act with great force when that is necessary, as we have shown again this year; but across the world the wide-ranging abilities and experience of the armed forces are being put to good use to promote security and stability in other ways.

We are actively engaged in helping to restructure armed forces around the world in ways that allow them to play their full part as a component of a democratic society. That is what we mean by defence diplomacy. We are well placed to do that work: the professionalism of our people is rightly held in the highest regard. Our work will complement the excellent work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, described by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross).

We are expanding our outreach programme of bilateral co-operation and assistance. For example, following the return to civilian rule in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, we are actively engaged—along with the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development—in reforming the security communities in both countries. In the United Kingdom, we launched a defence diplomacy scholarship scheme last month to help overseas officers and officials to develop the skills needed to lead and operate democratically accountable armed forces.

This is an enormously exciting time to be involved in such activities. The revitalisation of international organisations, and the greater willingness of many countries to play a part, mean that when crises occur the international community can act swiftly and decisively to halt aggression, to maintain or restore peace or to deal with human suffering. We are fully engaged not just in participation in such operations, but in developing the institutional framework that will ensure that we never return to global confrontation.

Let me make clear what a privilege it is to work alongside the men and women of the armed forces, and the men and women who support them. I know that the whole House will join me in recording its appreciation of their skill and courage, their talents and abilities and the support given to them by their families. As we look to the future, they are our greatest asset.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Pope.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.