The foreign affairs and defence debate on the Queen's Speech provides an opportunity for the House to review the totality of our foreign policy. I will turn to wider matters shortly, but the House would expect me to begin my speech with the summit at Nice which we concluded at 5 o'clock this morning, so it is still fresh in my mind.
Judging from the questions put to the Prime Minister, I anticipate that Opposition Members will want me to discuss what has happened with majority voting, but, before I do so, I shall deal with an issue that they sadly neglected in asking questions of the Prime Minister. Indeed, I did not hear a single Opposition Member congratulate the Prime Minister on the fact that we have returned from the European Council with more votes for Britain in the Council of Ministers. That was never achieved in the handbag-swinging era of European diplomacy that they pursued.
Before the European Council, Britain had double the votes of Belgium; we now have two-and-a-half times its votes. We had two-and-a-half times the votes of Sweden; we now have three times its votes. We had three times the votes of Denmark; we now have four times its votes—and we have done all that while keeping parity with the four larger countries.
I do not honestly know why Opposition Members do not welcome the fact that Britain is now stronger in Europe. I thought that they always complained that we were pushed around in Europe. Surely they would welcome above all else the fact that we now have more strength in Europe than we had before. It may be that during their period in office, with every successive enlargement, Britain's share of the vote shrank. This will be the first time that Britain has been able to look forward to enlargement knowing that its share of the vote has gone up and will remain constant when 27 countries have become members.
The hon. Gentleman is flatly wrong. It is impossible for us to have got greater multiple of other people's votes and for our percentage to have declined. On the ratio of our share of votes to our share of population, at the end of 27 countries' becoming members of the European Union, that ratio will be identical to what it is now, despite the addition of 12 countries. For every year between now and then our share of that ratio will be higher than it is now. This is the first time since Britain joined the European Community that our vote has gone up. Of course, that will mean that when we take majority votes, our votes will count for a lot. Even so, we set out in advance—[Interruption.] I really do not know why the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) has difficulty following that proposition; it is an elementary piece of arithmetic that should be within the grasp of those on the Opposition Front Bench. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we set out in advance the red lines where we would not accept majority voting because the issues are so central to the characteristic of a member state.
We would not accept majority voting on tax or social security matters. For weeks, the media have promised that we were bound to be turned over on tax and social security because we were isolated, and the Opposition were praying that we would be turned over. When I arrived at the airport this morning, I was given a transcript of the interview of the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) on "Today" this morning. In it, he dismissed the fact that we had retained unanimity on taxation and social security on the ground that it was never under threat. Jim Naughtie asked:
So all the sceptics who … jumped up and down and said our veto on tax and Social Security are at risk
were wrong? The right hon. Gentleman replied:
I don't know who you're talking about.
The right hon. Gentleman could wander into the Library to look up all the speeches listed under the heading "Maude, F." He will find a speech that he made on 8 July in which he warned of old-fashioned ideological battles in front of us, including those on the
plans for more tax harmonisation by abolishing the veto at Nice.
He should not now pretend that Conservative Members did not warn that the veto was at risk or that we would give it away. I fully understand why, when they discovered that the Government had done what they warned we would not do, they gave up their line of attack. There was no point continuing with it. However, the right hon. Gentleman should not pretend that he did not say what he did, or claim that he did not warn that the Government would do something that we have not done.
Does the Foreign Secretary remember saying that the veto was non-negotiable? Is it not a bit rich for him to come back and claim a great negotiating triumph for something that was not a matter of negotiation, but simply a matter of decision?
The right hon. Gentleman is correct in that we have been clear, consistent and firm on this issue ever since we published our White Paper in February. However, if he really imagines that everyone else at Nice sat down and looked at the words of Robin Cook and decided, "Well, we had better not talk about that," he does not understand how the European Union works. For the record, let me tell him and the House that when we went to see President Chirac and Lionel Jospin at the famous bilaterals in the course of Friday night, the only issue on which President Chirac wanted to press us was giving up our veto on tax.
If there is any more doubt about the fact that the veto was negotiated and discussed at the Nice meeting, the right hon. Gentleman should examine the words of the Swedish Prime Minister who said that the Prime Minister of Britain had put up—I use the Swedish Prime Minister's word—a "brilliant" case for retaining unanimity on tax matters.
I confess to the House that we were isolated on the issue of social security. All other 14 nation states were willing to move to majority voting at least on aspects of social security. We stood alone, but we held our line and we have come back with no majority voting on those issues on which we set out our red lines.
Perhaps I was unusually hopeful, but I was encouraged to read the editorial in The Sun on Saturday after our success on defence. The Sun said that if we retained our veto on tax and social security, the Prime Minister was on course for a hugely successful summit. I should perhaps not have been surprised to find this morning that The Sun did not measure the summit's outcome by its own benchmark, but, once it has had time to reflect on the fact that our red lines remain intact, I look forward to a more glowing editorial in tomorrow's newspaper, congratulating us on a hugely successful summit. I do not expect the right hon. Member for Horsham to say that when he speaks.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I would not expect the right hon. Member for Horsham to give us such a glowing tribute as The Sun gave us the other day. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is an intelligent man and that he is mildly embarrassed by the fact that he has to speak for a Conservative party that will not say anything good about Europe. However, I hope that he will not try to repeat the words of the Leader of the Opposition, who said an hour ago that the steps to majority voting in the Nice treaty represent a major step towards a superstate.
Let us put this into perspective. As a result of the Nice summit, majority voting has been introduced on more than 20 articles. Seven of them do not apply to Britain because they are matters for the Schengen countries, to which we do not belong. Five of them concern appointments to the Court of Auditors and the Committee of the Regions and appointments of other officials. Frankly, I think there is enormous merit in having majority voting on the appointment of officials. Unanimity on every appointment means that we end up with the lowest common denominator—the person who does not offend any of the 27 countries in the room. We would prefer appointments to be made on merit even if one or two countries in the room wanted someone with their own particular view.
In addition, a paragraph provides majority voting on the pensions of court officials and the Secretary-General. That will not bring the white cliffs of Dover crumbling down. If the right hon. Member for Horsham proposes to roam the country during the general election campaign warning that majority voting on the pensions of officials of the European Union is a major step towards a superstate, the electorate will regard him as having lost his marbles. That is not a matter on which we need to fear the introduction of the trappings of a superstate. After all, why should we not have majority voting on appointment of the list of members of the Committee of the Regions? We still have our national prerogative of nominating people to it and we do not necessarily want other countries to block our appointments by introducing their veto.
There are some issues of substance on which we have moved to majority voting. We sought to do that because it is in Britain's national interest to get rid of other countries' vetoes. I mentioned some of those in the debate that we had on the Floor of the House in preparation for Nice. I said that we wanted majority voting on the financial management of the budget so that we could get rid of the Spanish and Portuguese veto on tougher management. We secured that at Nice. I said that we wanted majority voting on external trade policy so that we could get rid of the French veto on protection. We secured that at Nice. I also said that we wanted to get majority voting on the rules and procedures of the European Court of Justice so that we could get faster, firmer decisions. We secured that at Nice, and reformed the rules of procedure of the other courts of the European Union as well.
It is true that we introduced majority voting on a new statute relating to the funding of European political parties. I note that the Conservative party is going to declare itself against that measure, but, before it does, it should be aware that the EU has introduced a separate legal base for such funding because the Court of Auditors recommended it as a way of achieving greater transparency in the use of Community resources in the European Parliament. I would hope that the Opposition would also welcome a recommendation by the Court of the Auditors.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, the proposal was fully supported—indeed, requested—by the European People's Party group, which includes every European sister party of the Conservative party. I was rather taken aback by the reaction of the Conservatives to a reference to the EPP. As I understand it, they are not too keen to be associated with their sister parties in the EPP—no wonder they have difficulty with the EU when they cannot even integrate with their own sister political parties in Europe.
We have made major gains in those matters on which we wanted to achieve reform and progress by getting rid of other countries' vetoes that stand in the way. The biggest gain of all is that we have cleared the way for enlargement. We have reformed decision making in the Council of Ministers and reformed the size of the Commission. It will not increase when the first half dozen new members join, but will remain at broadly its present size for most of the decade. In addition, we have set a cap on the size of the European Parliament. We have taken the essential institutional steps that will enable Europe to function with nearly double the current membership.
The Opposition have expressed some doubt about whether that is necessary for enlargement. It is vital for enlargement, because at Amsterdam we agreed to the protocol which set out that enlargement cannot take place until the institutional reforms are put in place. The treaty to which we agreed in the small hours of this morning is one that specifically states that the conditions for enlargement have now been met. That is important to Britain because, otherwise, other countries might have delayed enlargement.
We stand to gain from enlargement. It is in our national interest that the EU should become bigger, that the single market should become larger, that, together, we should have more strength in trade negotiations and that there should be greater stability in central Europe, which will accompany enlargement. Enlargement is also important to the candidate countries, which regard it as the best way to guarantee that they will share our freedoms, and the only way to increase their trade and investment. EU enlargement is the reunion of Europe: when the Berlin wall came down, it was the end of the division of Europe into two systems of politics, but only through membership of the EU can we end the division of Europe by two standards of prosperity.
Has the Foreign Secretary not considered that the applicant countries are far less interested in the internal deepening of the Brussels structure than in what is to happen to the common agricultural policy? How can he claim that we are seriously looking forward to enlargement unless that problem has at least begun to be tackled?
The Opposition have dragged that red herring through our every discussion on the Nice treaty. I do not know whether they persist in doing so because they cannot quite grasp the point, or because they have a deliberate desire to mislead, but let me try to reason with the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) who was once a Front-Bench spokesman on foreign affairs and should therefore have some knowledge of the subject.
The agriculture policy changes that are needed are not treaty amendments; they are not something that can be pursued through amendment to a treaty—they are policy reforms. We achieved policy reforms in Berlin—granted, it was not as much as we wanted to achieve—but I hope that the Opposition will reflect on the reason for that: when the Agriculture Council met and proposed policy changes, it went further than we went at Berlin because the Agriculture Council makes its decision by majority voting, whereas the European Council makes its decision by unanimity, and France therefore had a veto on some of the policy reforms that we wanted. I hope that the Opposition will reflect on that point before they oppose more majority voting.
None the less, we made some progress at Berlin. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, the effect of the package drawn up there is to reduce the average British food bill by £64 a year. It is important that the Opposition understand that, at Berlin, we agreed that we had created sufficient room in the current financial perspective for enlargement to go ahead. Every time the Opposition question whether there has been enough change in the common agricultural policy to provide that financial room, they feed ammunition to those in Europe who want to delay, oppose and obstruct enlargement, so I hope that they will now stop doing so.
The hon. Member for Windsor claims to speak for the candidate countries. All those countries were represented in Nice. They all came to a meeting of the European conference on Thursday morning, at which they all spoke, and every single one urged us to proceed with the treaty of Nice and to reach agreement on it. I did a press conference at lunch time that day with three of my colleagues from central Europe: the Foreign Ministers of Hungary and for Estonia and the deputy Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic. All three had two clear messages: first, they wanted the Nice meeting to reach agreement on the treaty; and secondly, they wanted national Parliaments to ratify that treaty.
An hour ago, we heard the Leader of the Opposition say that the Conservatives will not ratify the treaty if they are elected—although I am bound to say that I believe neither the commitment nor the eventuality. However, it is clear that the Conservative party is moving out of contact with any of the parties that describe themselves as Conservative either in Europe or in the candidate countries, and with any of the Governments of the candidate countries of central and eastern Europe. The Tories appear to demonstrate more and more the truth of the view that was expressed by Chris Patten, who once was a member of the Conservative Government, that their anti-European case is increasingly about the little green men who live under the bed. Even given that eccentricity, I cannot believe that Conservatives are setting themselves up to be the only political force in Europe that wants to delay enlargement. If that is their position, I warn them that it will not be the electoral jackpot that they claim it will. On the contrary, it will become an albatross around their neck.
I thought that the Conservatives might have learned something from their wild and extravagant attack three weeks ago on European security arrangements. After all the publicity that they had given to European security arrangements, they discovered that they had convinced the public that they rather liked the idea of greater security in Europe. In three successive opinion polls, the public gave the European security initiative an average majority of 15 per cent. over the views expressed by Conservative Members. If they want to fight the next general election on saying no to the treaty of enlargement, I predict that they will suffer the same rejection by the public.
Will the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that the Danish people, despite their Government being fully in favour of all the arrangements at Nice, decisively rejected movement towards a single currency, and with it, therefore, the concept of European integration? Will he accept also that under the surface in many applicant countries—I acknowledge that their leadership, their elite and their establishment have changed their laws to comply with the acquis communautaire, sometimes against a great deal of resistance—there is a serious degree of uncertainty, as in Poland and the Czech Republic, about where they are going, based largely on a lack of information but also on the apprehension that they are being taken into the sort of Europe that they do not want?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having pointed out that the Danish Government gave their people a referendum on the single currency. That is something that the Conservatives do not propose to do if they ever get into government. I warn the hon. Gentleman against tempting to speak more authoritatively for the peoples of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia than the Governments of those countries.
Yes, those countries have carried out difficult and challenging reforms. The changes were often painful and politically difficult, but they made the effort to get themselves ready for membership of the European Union. They will not comprehend it if Conservative Members refuse to go along with reforms of the EU that are necessary for that membership. If Conservative Members intend to persist with an approach that can only delay enlargement, I believe that they will find that what Lord Brittan has said today is absolutely right. They will score a major own goal both for the Conservative party in Britain and for Britain in Europe.
Suppose that the Foreign Secretary were wrong both about the commitment and the eventuality and, as a result, the treaty of Nice was not ratified. What does the right hon. Gentleman think the consequences would be for the market economies and the democratic values that the applicant countries have espoused?
During Thursday, two separate leaders from central Europe warned that if they did not receive the encouragement that they need from adoption of an agreement at Nice, they saw within their own countries the rise of extremist nationalist forces. We should remember that those forces within applicant countries that are looking outwards and stand for freedom, democracy and market liberalisation are those that have committed themselves to making a success of their application to Europe. If Europe were to delay negotiations, that would be a major victory for the forces of nationalism and chauvinism.
To conclude on Europe—
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Earlier the Prime Minister mentioned the importance of subsidiarity, although as we know, it was not even on the agenda at Nice. Why does the Foreign Secretary not have the guts to admit that the subsidiarity and proportionality protocol of the treaty of Amsterdam, which he championed at the time, has been utterly unsuccessful in stemming the tide of European directives and regulations impacting on this country, such that 3,000 further regulations have been introduced since its passage? If the right hon. Gentleman disagrees, would he care to name three regulations adversely affecting this country's interest that have since been repealed?
None immediately springs to mind, which proves the success of the protocol in preventing them from being introduced.
I believe that I can make the hon. Gentleman happy. It is a challenging task, but I shall try. He will be delighted to hear that in the declaration that we adopted yesterday in Nice, looking forward to the future debate on the evolution of the European Union, there is a specific commitment—indeed, it is the first commitment—that that debate will consider limiting the competencies of the European Union and respecting the principle of subsidiarity. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman is unhappy about how far we have gone—[Interruption]—I assume that he will welcome the chance that we can make further progress as a result of what we agreed at Nice.
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
To conclude the passage on Europe, we have come back from Nice with more votes than Britain has ever secured before. That follows on from our previous record: we came back from Amsterdam with the legal basis for border controls, which Opposition Members never secured when they were in office. It follows on from Berlin, when we came back with a better deal on structural funds than Opposition Members ever secured.
If, at the next election, the Opposition want to fight on the contrast between our performance at European summits, we will be delighted to take them on. If Europe is the greatest contrast between their record and our achievements, there are many other contrasts too—for example, the Balkans.
British foreign policy on the former Yugoslavia throughout the early 1990s was a failure. It was a national humiliation in Bosnia, where we sent British troops as part of an inadequate protection force which could protect neither itself nor the victims of the ethnic cleansing that it was meant to prevent. The 8,000 victims of Srebrenica lie heavily on the conscience of all countries in the protection force that failed to prevent their massacre.
Some hon. Members argued that our action in Kosovo would make Milosevic and his policies stronger within Serbia. In the past three months, Milosevic has gone out of office. Although he still struts as leader of a party, in the last poll that party was down to a diminishing 5 per cent. of public support. What would have strengthened Milosevic would have been for us to allow him to empty Kosovo of its people and claim victory for the Serbs. If we had permitted that, Milosevic would still be in office in Belgrade, and almost a million Kosovo refugees would still be in refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania.
My only regret is that the previous Government wasted those years in Bosnia by failing to stop ethnic cleansing then. If they had shown the same resolve then, Milosevic might have gone long ago, before this year.
After our debate two weeks ago, I went to Zagreb to attend a conference with the countries of the western Balkans. For the first time, the democratic representatives of a modern Serbia sat round the same table with us as the representatives of Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia. For the first time, Serbia announced that it would establish diplomatic relations with Bosnia as a separate, single, sovereign state.
I particularly welcomed the commitment by the new Yugoslav Foreign Minister to open an office in Belgrade for the war crimes tribunal. Since we came to office, we have stepped up our support for the war crimes tribunal. We have built it an extra courtroom and, uniquely, supplied it with our intelligence support. We helped it with a witness protection scheme and, in the past three years, Britain has been involved in most of the arrests carried out for the tribunal. One of the officials whom I met at The Hague last year said that it was possible to date the change of Government in Britain by the change in support for the tribunal. We have followed through our commitment to making sure that war criminals are pursued, with a commitment in the Queen's Speech to introduce a Bill to give effect to the treaty on the International Criminal Court.
That has been one of the Government's priorities. The British delegation to the Rome conference played a leading part in the negotiations on the treaty that set up the court. The British delegation insisted that the definition of war crimes should embrace both wars between states and internal conflicts, such as that in Bosnia. The British delegation pressed for the inclusion of crimes of sexual violence, such as the use of mass rape as an instrument of ethnic cleansing. The British delegation proposed that the court should have the power to order those who are found guilty to pay reparation to their victims.
On the International Criminal Court, I was greatly impressed by the logistics set up by the Scottish Crown service when I visited Camp Zeist. It would be a great pity if, once the Lockerbie trial is over, that place were destroyed, as it is a facility for an International Criminal Court. Will my right hon. Friend make urgent inquiries into whether it can be kept in place?
My hon. Friend has already been good enough to tell me of his favourable impression of arrangements for the staff there, and I shall convey that to those involved in Camp Zeist. The International Criminal Court could be sited in the Netherlands. Certainly, the Netherlands' co-operation with us in arranging for a Scottish court to meet under Scottish jurisdiction in the territory of the Netherlands to carry out the Lockerbie trial has immensely enhanced the status of the Netherlands as a natural seat of international justice.
Obviously, I can reflect on what my hon. Friend has said and discuss it with my opposite number, the Netherlands Foreign Minister. However, that particular site was created under a specific, narrow agreement. We will need to look carefully at whether the local authorities and the national Government are willing to consider its remaining in permanent use.
When will the definitive Bill be published, bearing in mind the fact that we have had a draft Bill for four or five months? Will the published Bill take into account the representations that have been made by Amnesty International, especially in relation to the silence of the draft UK Bill on the subject of Heads of Government and heads of state? By contrast, the Rome statute explicitly gives no hiding place, sanctuary or amnesty for Heads of Government or state. What will be the arrangements in the Bill, and will we be able to get it on the statute book before a major election?
On the question of immunity, we published the Bill in draft so that Members of Parliament and non-governmental organisations could comment on it before we commenced debate in the House. I am aware of those anxieties and I hope that we will be able to satisfy them when we debate the Bill. However, I am pleased to say that the Bill will be published on Friday and will shortly be introduced in another place.
The other place has to have something to debate while we continue with other Bills. It is important that we make as good speed as we can, and this is a good way of getting on with the matter, so that we can meet the wish of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock to see the measure on the statute book as soon as possible.
Time may well be short in this Session, and it is a key interest that we should be among the first 60 to ratify. Will my right hon. Friend confirm whether there has been any indication from the Opposition that, albeit with proper scrutiny, they will seek to facilitate the passage of the Bill?
Will my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock allow me to reply? My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East drew attention to an important reason why we are keen to get on and ratify the treaty. After the Rome conference, I said that, having played a leading part in negotiating that treaty, we wished to be among the first to ratify. We wanted especially to be among the first 60 to do so. That number is significant because the treaty comes into legal force when 60 have ratified it, and I am pleased to say that we are now well on course to being among that first 60. That is important for us because of our commitment to human rights and humanitarian law, but also for our national interest, as it gives us an opportunity to shape the court, to choose the bench and to ensure that it gets off to a credible, realistic and well-founded start. I have heard a question asked of Opposition Members in that respect; they, too, will have heard it—I am sure that when the right hon. Member for Horsham rises, he will confirm that the Opposition will co-operate in ensuring that the Bill receives a swift passage.
It is better to promote the observance of humanitarian law in the first place through dialogue and diplomatic pressure. That is why the Government have pursued a policy of constructive engagement by seeking dialogue wherever we can, even with difficult countries. The latest example is the decision that I announced during the Recess to open diplomatic relations with North Korea. We believe that that is a valuable way in which Britain can support the courageous steps towards rapprochement between South Korea and North Korea. The more windows to the world that we open up in the wall of isolation around North Korea, the better our chance of getting it to accept its obligations to its neighbours and the world.
That follows from previous cases in which progress through dialogue has enabled us to restore ambassadors. In Iran, we were able to appoint an ambassador after securing a commitment by its Government not to take action on carrying out the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. In Libya, we were able to appoint an ambassador after securing the surrender of the two suspects now on trial for the Lockerbie bombing and a response to the killing of WPC Fletcher. As a result, Britain will have ambassadors to 80 million people in three countries where it had none when the Government came to office. I do not underrate our serious and continuing concerns about the conduct of some of those Governments, but we are better able to express them where we have an embassy to pursue them.
Neither should contact be left only to ambassadors or Foreign Ministers.
My right hon. Friend is speaking of difficult countries. As he knows, the International Criminal Court will not take retrospective action. What progress is the United Kingdom making at the United Nations in establishing an international tribunal on Iraq, to ensure that Iraqi war criminals can be tried—something that will never happen at the International Criminal Court?
I am aware of the vigour with which my hon. Friend has pursued the appalling humanitarian record of Saddam Hussein, and I commend her for it. I assure her that we want him to stand trial for his crimes, but we currently have no consensus at the United Nations for proceeding with the necessary resolution. However, the case that she raises is a powerful reason for proceeding to set up an International Criminal Court, so that such matters are decided not merely by ad hoc decision of the Security Council, but by an independent prosecutor working to a permanent court.
I was saying that contact should not be left only to ambassadors and Foreign Ministers. Public diplomacy also has a vital role. There is no better vehicle for public diplomacy than the BBC World Service, which reaches a bigger audience than any other nation's foreign broadcasting. It provides unique access to the truth for people who are denied it by their own Governments. During Milosevic's last desperate attempts to suppress an independent media, the BBC World Service defied the ban by re-broadcasting from neighbouring countries.
I am glad that Opposition Members supported me on that, because there is a stark contrast between this Government and our predecessors. In office, the Conservatives cut the budget of the World Service, while we have invested in it. The two spending rounds under the current Government have provided substantially more resources to the World Service. The first spending round enabled it to increase its audience to reach more than 150 million listeners. This year's spending round will enable it to expand access through modern technology. It will develop its online service and expand its FM transmission to 135 capital cities.
The BBC World Service is an immense asset to Britain. It gets us respect around the world for our values of freedom and of expression. It gets us gratitude from victims of oppression, who often go on to be leaders of their country—for example, Nelson Mandela, for whom the BBC World Service was the only link with the outside world during years of imprisonment. The Conservatives were prepared to run down that tremendous national asset, in which we are now investing. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham says, "Rubbish." When her party was in office, it carried through swingeing cuts to the BBC World Service. Indeed, it has taken the past three years for it to get back to where it was before the Conservatives cut it in the first place.
Public diplomacy also means that we must provide an efficient and polite service to the millions of people who come into contact with our posts abroad. I want to comment on the staff of the Foreign Office and the people whom they serve, such as the millions from the Indian subcontinent who every year apply for visas to visit relatives or friends in Britain.
The visa service, which we inherited, to foreigners in parts of the subcontinent fell well below any service that would be acceptable from a domestic Department dealing with British citizens. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), has addressed that problem with energy over the past year. We have still not achieved the standard that we want and that the public deserve, but I congratulate my hon. Friend on the substantial progress we have made. For instance, in Islamabad, we have cut the waiting list for a settlement visa for elderly relatives from 10 weeks to three, and, for spouses, from 30 weeks to 18.
We also want to respond to the concern of many people in Britain that their relatives in the subcontinent have to make long and expensive overland journeys to the nearest visa office. I am delighted to announce to the House that, during this Session, we hope to reach agreement with the host Governments to open new visa offices in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. That will be welcome both to those Governments and to the many hon. Members who represent communities from those areas. Those communities are an important part of the diversity of Britain, which is an asset to our foreign relations. In a multi-polar world, it can be a strength for Britain to show the rest of the world the modern character of a multi-ethnic Britain. I am therefore pleased to tell the House that we now have in the Foreign Office 50 per cent. more staff from ethnic communities than at the time of the previous election. The more staff we have from our ethnic communities, the better able we will be to serve those communities.
This year, Britain was the first western country to send a consular delegation to the Haj in Mecca. [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham finds that funny. That service was much appreciated by the many pilgrims from Britain who went on the Haj and it fulfils the Foreign Office's commitment that we are there to serve people from all the communities of Britain. One such community, which is thriving here in London, is the Sierra Leonean community. I know how much Sierra Leoneans support the action that we have taken to provide for the safety of their relatives and friends in Freetown, just as I know how much that has been welcomed by those residents of Freetown.
For the past 30 days, Sierra Leone has enjoyed an agreed ceasefire. I shall be frank with the House: we remain to be convinced of the rebels' commitment to the terms of the agreement signed last month. In any extension of the ceasefire, we will look for evidence of the handing over of weapons and of the surrender of the territory that they promised. Nevertheless, there have been no attacks by the rebels during the past 30 days, which have been free of the rebel violence that has marred the dry seasons for the past decade.
There would have been no ceasefire if it had not been for the commitment that Britain has shown in Sierra Leone. The other week, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who is a member of the Conservative defence team, demanded a deadline for British withdrawal from Sierra Leone. I can think of nothing that the rebels would more want us to give them. They could then settle down in their jungle hideouts and wait until the deadline came around and we went away. The hon. Gentleman might want to reflect on the fact that his demand for a British withdrawal was faithfully echoed by the rebels, who made the same demand in the ceasefire negotiations.
We will withdraw when we have completed our task of equipping Sierra Leone with a trained army that is capable of defending that country's democracy and protecting it from rebel atrocities. We intend to complete that task partly out of simple human decency. The most harrowing experience I had in the past Session was my visit to the amputees camp outside Freetown, where I saw 2,000 victims who had had at least one limb lopped off by the rebels. Many of them were children; some were infants who had been unable to crawl before they had lost their arms. Everywhere I looked, I saw stumps held out to me in a plea for safety and justice. I defy any hon. Member to go to that camp and talk to those victims about setting a deadline for British withdrawal.
We will also complete the task because it is important to our standing in the world. Britain is one of only five permanent members of the Security Council. It is important to our standing at the United Nations that we support the UN's largest peacekeeping operation. Britain is a leading member of the Commonwealth, and our standing in the Commonwealth would be diminished if we left one of its most vulnerable members in the lurch. Our standing in those bodies is important to Britain. If we want to make a difference in the world, we cannot do so in isolation. We can do so only by setting the agenda in the unique range of international bodies in which Britain has an influence.
I agree with my right hon. Friend, especially about the importance of supporting the United Nations. Why cannot our forces in Sierra Leone operate under the auspices of the United Nations?
I assure my hon. Friend that British officers serve with the UN mission in Sierra Leone. Indeed, we have the chief of staff to the head of the UN forces there. Our troops in Sierra Leone are mostly engaged in something that the UN force is not mandated to do, which is to train an army for the Government of Sierra Leone. I do not believe that we would assist Sierra Leone by entering into an arrangement with the UN that would not enable us to fulfil that unique, valuable and welcome mission.
Before the Secretary of State leaves the subject of Sierra Leone, I should like to draw his attention to the fact that we have still not had a Bill on arms control, although it is nearly five years since the Scott report. I was a great admirer of the right hon. Gentleman for a long time after the Scott report. When we get the draft Bill that is mentioned so briefly in the Queen's Speech, will it include arms brokers and a register of arms brokers? Will it ensure that brokers have to apply for a licence for each transaction that they effect?
I am sorry if the hon. Lady was disappointed by the brief reference in the Queen's Speech, but all Bills get only a brief reference. I am glad that she welcomes our commitment to publishing a draft Bill. I assure her that it will tackle the issue of brokering. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who will introduce that Bill, said in his speech last September that we will go further than was indicated in the White Paper. I am sure that the hon. Lady will want to support us when we produce the draft Bill.
Since we last met for a debate other than on European affairs, the Conservative party has published a new international policy statement. I read that statement: it did not take me long. One of the reasons why it did not take me long was that it does not mention a single one of the many international organisations to which I have referred. There is not a word on the UN or the G8, and only a reference in the margin to the Commonwealth. It is the first time in history that a party has tried to produce a foreign policy while solving the problem of not having to work with foreigners.
Before the right hon. Gentleman goes on to the comedy in which he is about to indulge himself, could he clarify a matter for the House of Commons? In the excellent annual report on human rights published by his Department, mention is quite correctly made of Iraq and Palestine, yet for some unknown reason Israel is left out of the list. Would he examine why that is so, and perhaps let me know?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning what he describes as our "excellent" human rights report. I am glad that it has been welcomed. I shall happily inquire whether it might be appropriate to refer to events in Israel in a future edition of the report, but as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the events that are most in his mind have happened since the publication of the current edition.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not regard the comments that I am about to make as comedy. I think they are more tragic than comic. What depresses me most about the policy statements of Opposition Members, and their general approach to foreign affairs, is how little confidence they have in Britain. Their vision of Britain in the world is one of a timid, frightened little thing staying at home with the door locked, clutching a comfort blanket of vetoes in case a foreigner asks a question. It is a Britain with no leadership to offer the international community—a Britain surreptitiously sliding—
I am fascinated by that question. I thought that the hon. Gentleman had been to his own party's conference, and approved the document put before it.
As I was saying, the Conservatives' vision is one of a Britain surreptitiously sliding towards the exit door of the European Community. [HON. MEMBERS: "Show us the document."] I am fascinated by the fact that Opposition Front Benchers are asking me to show them a document that they presented to the Conservative party conference. It is final proof that even they do not know their own policies.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with simply making a passing reference, and—as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) said—making a lot of jokes. Will he now show us the document to which he referred?
My hon. Friend has come up with an excellent solution. We should do a service to the Conservative party, and send all Opposition Front Benchers copies of the policy document that they presented to their party conference. [HON. MEMBERS: "It does not exist."] It does indeed exist. It is called "Believing in Britain".
The Britain in which we believe is one in which the British people are a confident people. We believe in a nation that deserves leadership, not isolation, in the world—a nation that is proud of its values of freedom, decency and justice; a nation that is not afraid of things, and not afraid of negotiating in Europe, because it knows that it will win in those negotiations.
If the election does occur during the current Session, those are the international relations that we will confidently offer the people of Britain—a Britain that is a leading partner in Europe, and a force for good for Europe.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I must tell the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a limit of 15 minutes on all Back-Bench speeches.
This is a wide-ranging debate on the foreign affairs and defence matters in the Queen's Speech. I regret to say that I think that the Foreign Secretary has done the office he holds no credit with the contemptible speech that he has just delivered.
The Bill to ratify the United Kingdom's signature to the International Criminal Court treaty is, as far as we can see, the only Foreign Office Bill in the Queen's Speech, and I shall comment on it shortly. Interestingly, no Bill is planned to ratify the Nice treaty; I shall comment on that shortly as well.
The plain truth is that the Foreign Secretary is a liability—a liability to the Government and a liability to his country. I do not mind his being a liability to the Government, but I do mind his being a liability to my country.
In what can only be regarded as a proper reflection on his colleagues' view of the right hon. Gentleman's diplomatic abilities, responsibility for just about all the most sensitive issues of foreign policy has been removed. Responsibilities relating to Europe, the middle east, the relationship with Russia and the relationship with the United States have all been transferred from the Foreign Office to Downing street. Our relations with the middle east and north Africa—and, apparently, with South America—are now run by the man, estimable no doubt, who made his name managing Alvin Stardust. That is not a traditional prerequisite for good diplomacy, but it is clearly a major advance on the Foreign Secretary.
In Europe, too, the Chancellor has bludgeoned his way into excluding the Foreign Secretary from involvement in possibly the single most important political decision of our time: whether this country should scrap the pound and join the euro.
Responsibility for the remainder of European policy is being given to a senior official in the Cabinet Office, who is reporting to the Prime Minister. It is hardly surprising. Every time the Minister for Europe, now happily departed from his seat, opens his mouth, support for the single currency falls away.
Eight years ago, the man who is now Minister for Europe signed an early-day motion congratulating Denmark on rejecting the Maastricht treaty. Today, the Foreign Secretary is busy reinforcing his reputation as the man who has been wrong on just about every major foreign policy issue since he entered Parliament. He was against nuclear weapons, proudly sporting his Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament badge. He was wrong. He was violently against our membership of the European Union. He was wrong again. One U-turn might charitably be called a Damascene conversion, but it is dizzying to follow his intellectual odyssey in the past quarter of a century, which has taken him from the wildest ramblings of extreme Europhobia to his current mania for all things European, whatever the cost, whatever the risk.
The Foreign Secretary should enjoy his time at Chevening while he can. I am not the first to note that the brevity of the Queen's Speech points to an early election, which the right hon. Gentleman must view with all the enthusiasm of a Turkey cock looking forward to Christmas. One thing on which everyone is agreed, with the possible—only the possible—exception of the Foreign Secretary, is that whatever the result of the election—[Interruption.] Whatever the result, there will be one certain consequence: the next incumbent at the Foreign Office will not be the current Foreign Secretary. His removal will be greeted with huge delight by anyone wanting to take pride in how his country is represented abroad, by the Foreign Office itself and by all our partners and allies, who find themselves constantly astonished by his ineptitude, arrogance and lack of finesse. [Interruption.]
I will come to Nice and the European Union later, but too many times we have seen posturing in Britain, but pushover abroad. In relation to Zimbabwe, an important matter where we have serious responsibilities, one seasoned observer put it accurately enough. [Interruption.]
One seasoned observer of the Government's stance on Zimbabwe put it accurately. He said that the Government appeared to be "insufficiently assertive". Who was that? It was the Prime Minister, and he was right. The Government did appear and have continued to appear insufficiently assertive; they have not asserted themselves at all.
When it comes to the crunch, we see dithering. In Zimbabwe, there is a food crisis, a fuel crisis, inflation is roaring at 60 per cent. and people are being beaten and murdered for their beliefs. What are the Government doing about that long-running outrage? Apart from introducing a belated arms ban, they have willingly continued to give Mr. Mugabe too much room for manoeuvre. What country would ban arms sales to Zimbabwe, but the week after permit the Zimbabwean chief of air staff to come to Farnborough? It is this Foreign Secretary's Britain. The right hon. Gentleman continues to justify a policy of supine inactivity.
There is a case for saying that attacking Mr. Mugabe directly might be counter-productive—there would a risk of allowing him, however improbably, to present himself as a persecuted martyr—but targeting his cronies, the coterie surrounding him who sustain him in power, could make a difference. It is time to show that this country, which should have a powerful voice in the world, holds those people responsible for the unfolding tragedy in Zimbabwe.
We have proposed the freezing of the assets of those cronies, the imposition of travel bans on them and the threat of investigations into their involvement in crimes against humanity. After all, several of them were precisely the people involved in the loathsome Matabeleland massacres in the early 1980s. Does the Foreign Secretary finally agree that measures now to identify and to single out the people benefiting from Mr. Mugabe's refusal to accept the verdict of the ballot box are the only way to avert an unfolding catastrophe in that country?
The Foreign Secretary talked about Sierra Leone.
I shall make some progress—[Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary spoke for almost an hour. I am conscious that the debate started late, and that many Back Benchers wish to speak. I shall therefore make some progress. I do not want to take quite as long as the Foreign Secretary did.
We hugely congratulate Britain's armed forces on what they have done in Sierra Leone—they have, as we would expect, comported themselves with courage and great effectiveness. However, I ask the Foreign Secretary whether it might not have been better to allow the legitimate Government of Sierra Leone to take the action that they thought right to defeat the rebels? As that option involved the possible use of private military companies—which, in the Foreign Secretary's old, dogmatic and outdated view of the world, are the invention of the devil—he vetoed it.
Would not such action have been a better answer? Is the Foreign Secretary not prepared at least to contemplate the possibility that it might have been a better answer than a huge United Nations force in Sierra Leone? That force has been thought, by common consent, to have been extraordinarily ineffective.
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that it would be out of court and impossible in any circumstances for the Government to consider the possibility that a sovereign and legitimate Government might take the choice to avail themselves of expertise to uphold their legitimate Government against rebels? Let us face it: what has been substituted for that possibility is a huge United Nations force that has grown and grown. By common consent, that force has been extraordinarily ineffective. Is the Foreign Secretary at least prepared to accept the possibility that there might be a different way of dealing with the matter?
Is the Foreign Secretary denying that, when the subsequent Lomé peace accord was reached, he absolutely insisted that he veto any further use of private military companies? Is he denying that?
I can do more than deny that. Britain was not a party to the Lomé agreement—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman objects. We were not a party to the agreement, which was negotiated by the countries of the region. It was authorised and witnessed by others. We were not a party to it; nor did we seek to intervene. The right hon. Gentleman is ducking the fact that the ban on mercenaries began under the previous Government, not the current one.
Is the Foreign Secretary really saying that no Foreign Office officials were present when Lomé was negotiated? Will he accept that Foreign Office officials were present, taking an active part in those negotiations? Is he really saying—this is quite important; I urge him to think about it—that Britain did not intervene in those negotiations? Will he answer that? Is he saying that there was no intervention at all?
It is a well-known matter of record that an observer was present—[Interruption.] That observer was not a party to the negotiations. The right hon. Gentleman has to answer this question. If he really thinks that mercenaries are the answer, why in 1996 did the previous Government, whom he supported, allow the Sierra Leone Government to sign up to Abidjan? May we have an answer to that?
I think that what we have seen is a Foreign Secretary wriggling. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to contemplate the possibility that what has happened in Sierra Leone has been a continuing saga of ineffective intervention, and that there might be a better way of doing things. Cannot he concede that there might be a better way of doing things in future?
As has rightly been said, this part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech raises some fundamental questions. We discussed the Legg report on the Foreign Office's conduct in relation to Sierra Leone. Although I am operating from recollection, and there is always the risk of that being faulty, I do not recall those who were speaking for Conservative Members making the point that the Government should have agreed to the use of mercenaries.
Again, we hear a refusal to accept that there might be a different way of doing things. Are we so hide-bound by previous thinking that we cannot contemplate a legitimate, sovereign Government being able to avail themselves legitimately of whatever resources they need to uphold their power? That seems a dubious proposition.
In what was perhaps the Foreign Secretary's last intervention on Russian matters before No.10 took over the conduct of that relationship, he told the British press in Russia that he would talk tough to Mr. Putin about Russia's record on Chechnya and about fundamental freedoms of speech and the media. It was revealing that the Russian press told a quite different story, reporting that the Foreign Secretary had not given President Putin the dressing down that they had expected. The same Russian media now appear to be enjoying a running joke. They say that they have been hoping for 50 years that NATO would fall apart, and that they are now delighted to discover that it is doing so—led by the European Union.
The image and the reality are also miles apart in relation to international development, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), the shadow Secretary of State for International Development, mentioned earlier. The fact that this morning's White Paper was given to the press but not to Parliament is yet another indication of a Government who are frightened to allow serious scrutiny of policies that do not stand up to a second look. There is no sign in the White Paper of any plan to reform the multilateral organisations, which continue, by common agreement, to under-perform, and no sign of the long-promised legislation to fight corruption. That marks another failure to deliver, despite the spin and the rhetoric.
In spite of the Secretary of State for International Development's description of the European Union as
the worst agency in the world, the most inefficient, the least poverty-focused, the slowest, flinging money around for political gestures rather than promoting real development—
those were her words, not mine—there was no sign of that problem on the agenda at Nice, nor was it raised in the White Paper. Lacking in vision, and failing to find the
leading international role that Britain might have, the White Paper is further evidence that the Government cannot back up rhetoric with action.
We shall not oppose the Bill on the International Criminal Court. We shall support it in principle. I question how much of a priority the matter has been for the Foreign Secretary, despite his fine words today. Despite previous opportunities to introduce the measure, it is now being introduced in what looks increasingly likely to be a truncated Session.
How could anyone be against an institution intended to bring to justice those who have committed crimes against humanity? The question is how effective the court will be in accomplishing that. The danger is that this will simply become gesture politics, giving an impression of action and building more layers of higher institutions. The court's effectiveness will be questionable if the United States and China continue not to sign up to it.
There is a case for saying that the court would not address the problem of arresting war criminals and obtaining evidence against them. There has, after all, been no problem in finding a tribunal in which to bring such people to justice. The problems lie in arresting them and getting evidence, and those problems will continue. Proponents of the International Criminal Court say that it will save money, but there is no guarantee that that will happen. Steven Kay, a Queen's Counsel with experience in the field—[Interruption.] I am not against the court, but we are not going to rubber-stamp the proposal. It is an important measure, which we shall subject to proper scrutiny. The Minister for the Armed Forces might think that the House is to be used as a rubber stamp for legislation that might be ill thought out. If so, he has another thing coming.
Steven Kay, a QC with real experience in the field, has said that the International Criminal Court is in danger of being just a cosmetic exercise. It will be the job of the House, in scrutinising the Bill, to ensure that it is not.
No. That is about as fatuous an intervention as one might expect from the hon. Gentleman. A moment's reflection will show him that he is completely wrong on almost every count. I said that we, as a sovereign nation, ought to admit that it might sometimes be appropriate for a sovereign, legitimate Government to avail themselves of legitimate resources to support themselves in power, and that that might be the most humane way to proceed. If the hon. Gentleman is going to set his mind rigidly against any such possibility, let him say so. I should be surprised if he did.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that an independent Committee of the House, with a majority of Labour Members, reached exactly the same conclusion as the one that he is now putting before the House—that in certain circumstances, faced with certain threats and under properly organised conditions, mercenary forces might have a contribution to make? Let us also remember that, although they constitute a slight distortion of the normal national forces, a significant part of the French contribution in the Gulf war was provided by members of the foreign legion.
My right hon. Friend has a degree of experience and knowledge of these matters that outweighs the entirety of that on the Labour Benches. The House would do well to weigh his words carefully.
Like the Foreign Secretary, I warmly welcome the recent changes in Serbia. We all hope that stability, security for all, freedom and democracy will shortly be widespread and established. Great delicacy is needed in proceeding in the Balkans. I ask the Foreign Secretary to accept my view, based on an admittedly brief visit to the region recently, that, despite all the difficulties involved, anything less than independence and nationhood for Montenegro and Kosovo will prove unacceptable. Expectations have been raised extremely high, and if they are frustrated there will be a serious problem.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have come back from Nice crowing over the success of their red lines, which, as we now know, turn out to be red herrings. We have repeatedly said that this was a bogus victory in a battle that need not have been fought at all. These issues were meant to be non-negotiable; they were a matter for decision. The Prime Minister just had to say no. However, his actions have enabled him to stage this vacuous victory in a bogus battle to distract attention from the 23—or perhaps 39, according to some Government officials—other areas in which it is proposed that the veto Should be given up.
No, I want to make some progress.
The Government have failed to provide any leadership in Europe. Where was their plan for real reform that would have begun to create the modern, flexible multi-system European Union that would genuinely speed up enlargement? Where were the calls to reform the common agricultural policy, the common fisheries policy or development aid, which the Secretary of State for International Development has described as a disaster? Where were the calls for the kind of European Union that the mainstream majority of the public want—the kind of Europe that might make enlargement a reality rather than a pipe dream? Almost everything agreed at Nice takes the European Union further down the one-way street towards deeper integration and more centralisation.
Why did the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister support the charter of fundamental rights if they were not prepared to proclaim it, let alone include it in the treaty? If the charter is so good, why does not the Prime Minister's signature adorn it? If the Government did not want their fingerprints on it, why did not they stamp on it in the first place? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, according to the initial programme, the charter was due to be proclaimed solemnly but, at the last minute, Great Britain and Denmark expressed their opposition to that way of proceeding? Does the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that that is an admission that the charter, in its previous form, would have had legal force and that he had to take last-minute evasive action to prevent it from becoming binding? Will the Foreign Secretary finally accept what the European Commission has stated as a matter of simple fact—not a proposal, wish, hope or desire—and is supported by the weight of legal opinion—that even as a document outside the treaty, this will be "mandatory"?
A few days ago, United States Defence Secretary Cohen must have decided that it was close enough to the end of his term of office for him to afford to be a little more candid than his office usually allowed. His speech, which warned of the danger of NATO becoming a "relic of the past"—his words, not mine—if a separate European army were created, was a landmark. It pulled the carpet out from under the feet of Ministers, who have been desperately trying to belittle our well-grounded concern that the proposal was not good for this country and not good for NATO. Their response was very interesting. There was no evidence of an elevated foreign policy working in Britain's best interest. Instead, we saw evasion, subterfuge and camouflage—the tactics of Ministers practising a terrified deception when the spotlight of informed scrutiny came to rest on their plans.
Perhaps now, in the final days of the Foreign Secretary's term of office, he will find a little of the same candour and admit how badly wrong the Prime Minister's ill-judged venture on European defence has been. Why cannot the Foreign Secretary simply give his
full support in resisting any defence competence for the European Union, which is not where Britain should look for its security interests?—[Official Report, 12 March 1996; Vol. 273, c. 789.]
That is what he said only four years ago.
The reality is that on the European army the Government have been left high and dry. They accused us of scaremongering and of claiming to know America's interests better than America does when we criticised the effect that a competing European army would have on NATO. It then transpired that the United States Administration had precisely the same reservations as us about the type of force proposed and its autonomy from NATO.
Why did the Foreign Secretary misrepresent American opinion in this way? Had he simply not talked to Secretary Cohen? Or had he talked to him and then deliberately misrepresented his view? Why does the right hon. Gentleman continue to misrepresent what has been decided? Secretary Cohen said that the European Union will erode NATO and United States security ties with Europe if it insists on separate operational planning for its new rapid reaction force. That is clear, straightforward and explicit.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary say that all those concerns have been met. Secretary Cohen does not think so. He might have read the document that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister signed, which is very explicit on the key matter of whether the European Union has separate autonomous planning capability. It says that to enable the European Union fully to assume its responsibilities, the European Council—the very Council that the Foreign Secretary attended, although he may have been dozing off at the time—has decided to establish the following permanent political—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen say that this is fatuous. They might not understand it but their Ministers have just signed up to it, and they are misrepresenting it to the House and the country. It is our job to make sure that the country knows what has been signed, so I will carry on and say what these Ministers have signed up to.
The document says that the Council will set up the following permanent political and military bodies, which have been made ready to start their work—the Political and Security Committee, the Military Committee of the European Union and the Military Staff of the European Union. It says that the strength of the resources needed for the operation of such bodies, in particular the Military Staff, will have to be increased without delay. That sounds to me like an autonomous, separate, European Union Military Staff planning capability.
The annexe to the document shows what is meant in detail. It says that the entire chain of command must remain under the political control and strategic direction of the European Union throughout the operation, after consultation between the two organisations. At least consultation has been included—I will give them that.
The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have agreed to the setting up of a separate, autonomous European Union military capability—precisely what the United States Administration say will leave NATO as a relic of the past. Why cannot the Foreign Secretary admit that he has done that? The time will certainly come when he has to admit that he was wrong about this, just as he has had to admit that he was wrong about nuclear arms in the 1980s and the European Union in the 1970s. Would it not save time if he just did it now?
Finally, the Foreign Secretary has spent the past few days trying to embed the artificial idea that enlargement depends on extending qualified majority voting, thereby eradicating the veto in yet more areas. The briefest look at what has been agreed shows what bogus logic that is.
The Government cannot make up their mind what their case is. They say that many of the matters are very trivial, but if they are, why on earth do they make such a big difference to enlargement? Why is it necessary to have these matters decided for enlargement to take place?
This summit had nothing to do with what is needed to allow enlargement to take place. All the extensions of QMV—some major, some minor—go in one direction only, towards further integration. It is time that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister gave up their charade, and admitted that their central undeniable agenda is to push ahead with European integration and that their declared interest in enlargement is a passing excuse to do so.
There is an alternative to the party that accuses everyone else of extremism. The Conservative party's faith in Britain shines through everything that it does. Having a Foreign Secretary who does not believe in Britain is a bit like finding out that the Archbishop of Canterbury is an agnostic. Conservatives understand Britain's assets in the world. Unlike the Government, we are determined that Britain should not underplay its hand through ignorance or embarrassment. We are frank about what this country can achieve and where our intervention would only hinder.
This country can achieve a great deal more. The quickest look at our asset set reveals so many opportunities to shape the world we live in—through the European Union, NATO, the Commonwealth, by our economic strength and investment interests, which are global and multilateral, not just in Europe. We have opportunities around the table at the G8 and as a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations. English is fast becoming the world's common language and London is the pre-eminent international financial centre of the world. Britain is genuinely capable of being at the crossroads of the world's economy.
What about our history, which the Government are so embarrassed about, because it all happened before day zero—1 May 1997? That history and heritage have given this country friendship and good will around the world, enabling us to play a part with global reach, yet the Government just do not begin to understand that. In the middle east, for example, we have a particular role, supplementing what America can do because we are a confidant of Israel and of so many of the Arab states.
Throughout the world, we can be a glowing example of what a confident, democratic, independent, self-governing and free-thinking nation can achieve, yet the Government are still stuck in the mindset of the management of decline. They have a defeatist, depressing, minimalist view of what Britain can achieve. This weekend at Nice, the investment of time in promoting image over action showed this fundamentally defeatist and demoralised approach at work. We have seen the slow, gradual cession of more and more policy vetoes described as a victory.
This Government and this Foreign Secretary do not believe in Britain. After the election, they will be replaced by those who do.
I am pleased to support all that was said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. If he does not mind, I shall leave to one side Europe and the other matters with which he dealt; we have heard enough about them already this evening.
I shall talk about another aspect of our foreign policy—the role that this Parliament can play in helping to bring democracy to the world, based on our shared values. Britain's foreign policy continues to play an influential role on the international scene. Practical support for democratic reform has been successfully carried out on our behalf—on behalf of all the parties in Parliament—by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, an organisation that I have the privilege of chairing.
In a world where the quest for civil liberties and human rights has yet to be fulfilled, the foundation has encouraged openness and civic participation in the political process. In order to provide a timely and effective response to those needs, the WFD closely monitors and analyses developments in areas where democratic deficit has caused turmoil and hardship. I shall share with the House some of the thoughts, experience and expertise of the WFD in that vital aspect of our foreign policy.
The year 2000 may prove to be a turning point in the politics of the Balkans. After 10 years of war and political turmoil, there are positive signs that that exhausted and embattled region is moving towards peace and democratic rule. Political changes in Croatia and Bosnia, accompanied by the departure of the wartime leaders, Tudjman and Izetbegovic, and the recent spectacular toppling of the Milosevic regime in Serbia have created opportunities for genuine progress in democratic development.
The WFD has played an active role in supporting forces for change, including political parties, independent media and civic groups. In Bosnia, in collaboration with the British political parties, we have intensified the training programmes for a new generation of politicians—aimed at developing a fairer and more effective distribution of power locally and nationally.
The Serbian political opposition, non-governmental organisations and independent media received significant support from the WFD in their civic protest action and their "get out the vote" campaign. Over the years, we targeted assistance to a wide range of local activists, youth groups, political campaigners and print and broadcast media. In the run-up to the September elections, several of our partner organisations were constantly harassed by the authorities because of their work. The WFD is one of a small group of international organisations that have provided consistent support for the front-line groups whose foresight and courage led to the success of the bloodless uprising.
We must not forget that in the Balkans peace and democracy are fragile. For example, in the recent Romanian elections, a right-wing nationalist party won 21 per cent. of the seats in the Parliament, reflecting the rise of xenophobic nationalism in that country.
The dangers of backsliding are real and enormous challenges lie ahead. Further support is needed to pave the way for constitutional reform in Serbia and to negotiate solutions on the status of Montenegro and Kosovo. We shall make a priority of working in partnership with Serbian political parties and NGOs in order to build and strengthen democratic institutions. We continue to work with political parties in Kosovo to encourage political and civic engagement, and the practice of value-based politics. As Croatia prepares to join European institutions, the WFD supports activities to strengthen the system of accountability and compliance with international standards in key areas of Government activity.
It is clear that simultaneous democratic and economic development in all countries is a necessity in order to achieve stability and prosperity in that region. In addition to support for individual countries, the WFD will continue to encourage cross-border activity and exchange through joint projects aimed at improving transparency, fair treatment of minorities and greater respect for civil liberties.
In 2000, we saw momentous changes in Russia, with the arrival of President Putin in the Kremlin. However, democracy in that country faces significant challenges. The Parliament is still in transition; its upper house is due to undergo fundamental changes, while in the lower house the parties are moving slowly towards consolidation into larger and more viable entities. Outside Parliament, the formerly strong trend towards autonomy in many of the regions is being curbed—raising questions as to the ability of the more advanced areas to act as standard-bearers for democratisation.
At grassroots, there continues to be a worrying degree of apathy about, or ignorance of, basic rights and participatory democracy. That is both a cause and a consequence of the failure of democratic institutions higher up really to get going. The WFD is trying to address some of the problems with a wide range of projects considering both grassroots and national issues.
In other republics of the former Soviet Union, progress towards a semblance of democracy is either lagging some way behind that in Russia or, in some places, has completely stalled. However, there are many common problems. We are funding voter education programmes and training for local councils in both Georgia and Azerbaijan. We are supporting the media in countries where they are often prevented from reporting freely; we are trying to assist Azerbaijani journalists to receive training about the legal environment in which they work. In Ukraine, we are helping journalists constantly to assess political bias in state-owned and independent media in order that they can combat it.
Deliberate discrimination against women is exacerbated by the fact that they are the worst sufferers from the economic reverses in those former Soviet countries. The WFD supports groups in the Caucasus, central Asia and the Slav republics which are trying to educate women about their rights and training them better to defend those rights.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I too am a governor of the WFD, under his excellent chairmanship; I warmly acknowledge the support of the Foreign Office for the foundation's important work. If I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope to raise this subject later: in the context of conversations that we have held at the WFD, does it surprise the hon. Gentleman that, last week, the British Council closed its office in Minsk—in one of the countries about which we are most concerned? So far, I have been unable to discover why we are leaving the last tyranny in Europe—perhaps I shall find out later in the debate.
In Africa, UK political parties continue to increase the assistance that they provide to sister parties. The Labour party in particular sought to support more parties on the continent than ever before. The Liberal Democrats continued their programme of work with the CUF in Zanzibar, while the Conservative party supported sister parties through the African Dialogue Group. All three parties working together provided crucial help for the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe—with obvious results: for the first time since independence, the country has a viable opposition party within Parliament.
Elsewhere, the WFD worked alongside wider UK initiatives to assist Sierra Leone's efforts on the road to peace, stability and democracy; we are part-funding a British military assistance and training team project on democratic control of the security forces; providing funding for vital equipment for the only radio station outside Freetown; and supporting two other peace-building programmes. In Nigeria, the WFD has continued to support a range of projects aimed at building democracy in the most populous African state.
In other parts of the world, the foundation supported visits to the UK by members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and supported human rights monitoring projects in Palestine. In Israel, we worked alongside NGOs which were working for reconciliation between Arab and Jewish Israelis. In Egypt, the foundation supported training for women candidates in the run-up to elections, and the development of civil society. Elsewhere in the middle east, the WFD has been involved in Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen.
In south-east Asia, the foundation has supported the US-based human rights group in China, the Human Rights Monitor based in central Hong Kong, the Tibet Information Network, Voice of Tibet radio, the API foundation in Indonesia and the East Timor International Support Centre. Support for those organisations reveals just some of ways in which we have sought to spread the benefits that we enjoy in this country to countries emerging from troubled pasts. On behalf of the foundation, I thank the Foreign Secretary for the support that we have been given by all Foreign Office departments and all its stations abroad.
In conclusion, I shall spend a couple of minutes dealing with the middle east. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did not refer to it because of other issues. I hope that other hon. Members will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and say a few things about that region. If there is one message that the House should send out tonight, it is that the killing must stop. We should all be united about that; it is the one thing that all hon. Members should try to ensure. I should like to make my contribution by reminding the Israeli Government, who now have no Prime Minister and are moving into an uncertain period, that the only real times of peace and security that Israel has enjoyed have occurred when it has worked within international law and agreed to resolve its differences with the other middle east countries—its neighbours—by accepting that international law forms the bedrock of such agreements.
I remind the House that the original Camp David accord required Israel to withdraw completely from the Egyptian territory that it occupied after 1967. When Egypt and Israel failed to reach agreement on withdrawing from Taba, they referred the issue to the international court. Two years later, Israel accepted the court's decision that Taba belonged to Egypt, withdrew and peace—perhaps not the warmth of peace that many would have preferred—has existed ever since.
The other occasion when Israel accepted international law was when it withdrew completely from every inch of Lebanon. Clearly, subsequent events have not proved as successful as the agreement with Egypt. However, we need to remind the Israeli Government that forces whose agenda is not that of the Lebanese Government can exploit the fact that the Israelis continue to hold Lebanese citizens in jail and over-fly Lebanon without the consent of the Lebanese Government.
Does my hon. Friend accept that although Israel has adhered to the United Nations resolution and withdrawn from Lebanon, Hezbollah has been permitted to be present on that border, using weapons from Iran, yet the United Nations refuses to take any action? Does he think that that is compatible with a genuine seeking of peace by Israel's neighbours?
I made the point that Israel still unfortunately holds in its jails Lebanese citizens, some of whom were seized in Lebanon and taken to Israel. That sore allows those forces inside Lebanon to take their actions. If Israel started to use international law and stayed within it, there would be a possibility of lasting peace in the area.
It is clear that I shall not have as much time as I should like, but I recommend to my colleagues the report of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who visited the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel, Egypt and Jordan between 8 and 16 November. Mary Robinson's report is well worth reading because of the many issues that it raises. It contains a fairly balanced outline of how the problem might be resolved and points a finger at some of the difficulties that have arisen because Israel and the Palestinians have not used international law. Although appearing to make progress, they have held negotiations in which the imbalance that exists between Israel and the Palestinian negotiators has failed to be recognised.
Despite all the good words and brave stances of successive Israeli Prime Ministers—excluding Prime Minister Netanyahu—the fact is that Israeli Governments have never treated the Palestinians as equals in negotiations. Unless and until they do, the problem cannot possibly be resolved; nor can it be resolved if the Israelis still seek to deny the Palestinian refugees' right to return. They said that they would allow some refugees to return, but they accepted no moral or legal obligation to do so. That will not convince the Palestinian refugees—among whom the latest outbreak of violence started—that the Israeli Government are seriously determined to address the problems that they face. Equally, the use of lethal force against a mostly unarmed Palestinian civilian population is not only excessive, but cannot show good will on the part of a power that admits in the report that it is using only 2 per cent.—
The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) has made a very powerful case in an effort to persuade those who may be listening of the urgent need to restore peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. When he takes a stand on the requirement for both parties to observe the principles of international law, he adopts an unexceptionable position. I agree substantially with much of his speech. In particular, I should like to deal with one point that he made—that relating to the proportionate use of force, to use my own phrase.
Some Palestinians are armed, but they do not have helicopter gunships or the sophisticated equipment that Israel has at its disposal. Israel probably has the most modern army in the middle east. Therefore, in legitimately dealing with the response that it is entitled to make under international law, it has a strong moral obligation to ensure that it does not abuse its superior position in terms of arms and equipment.
This debate is about foreign affairs and defence, hut, so far, defence has featured only to the extent that it has formed part of our consideration of the events that took place at Nice over the weekend. I should like to raise two defence issues, the first of which is that of defence medical services, which now show that we are paying a heavy price for the ill-advised decisions of the Conservative Government under what came to be called "Front Line First". As a consequence, defence medical services, which are responsible for serving the Army, Navy and Air Force, have only 24 per cent. of the anaesthetists, 29 per cent. of the orthopaedic surgeons and 13 per cent. of the accident and emergency consultants that they require. Only 65 per cent. of the establishment of volunteer reservists is fully recruited. Therefore, circumstances could arise in which a choice by the depended United Kingdom whether to deploy forces not on availability, capability or the political considerations involved but on whether we could put in the field adequate medical support. The sooner that is put right the better, and the Government have responsibility for that. I have some sympathy for the position in which they find themselves, but urgent action is required to ensure that the sorts of things that have been discussed in the debate could be achieved with the necessary medical support that our forces are entitled to expect.
The second defence issue that I want to raise is that of the Chinook crash that took place on the Mull of Kintyre. I have already raised that topic on several occasions. I do not intend to rehearse all that I have said before, but there have been two significant developments recently, the first of which is the report of the Public Accounts Committee. I shall return to that in a moment. The second was a report in The Herald last Friday which appeared under the byline of Mr. Ian Bruce, who is known to be a responsible and well-informed journalist. He says that he has information, based on a communication from a former serving officer, that the destination of the helicopter may have been not Inverness but Machrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre, and that the pilots were instructed to fly low to avoid radar and to maintain security because of the nature of the passengers on board. If that were true, it would put quite a different complexion on the accident. If it were true, some of us would want the attitude publicly demonstrated by the Government to be revisited.
Like those of many others, my doubts remain unanswered because of the attitude taken by the Ministry of Defence to the crash. As we now know, the Public Accounts Committee has similar doubts. The terms of its report were robust and I hope that I will not cause too much offence to those on the Treasury Bench if I say that the initial Government response was hasty, ill considered and inadequate. I hope that they will do better when they make a formal response to the PAC report. The families of the pilots deserve better, and the issue will not go away. The anxiety felt on both sides of the House and in the other place is clearly not diminishing with the passage of time.
We are engaged in a debate on the Gracious Speech, and that inevitably raises questions about what is included and what is left out. I welcome unequivocally the commitment to the ratification of the statute of the International Criminal Court. Liberal Democrats will do everything in our power to assist the speedy passage of the relevant Bill. In response to the sensible programme of consultation on which the Government have embarked, we have already submitted suggested improvements. Although we have no guarantee that they will all be accepted, they have been received with a certain amount of sympathy and we have been asked to give further and better particulars in at least one instance. Such an approach to legislation is fundamental on a topic that should command the support of the whole House.
One issue causes me concern, and it was referred to in passing by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude).
I thank the Liberal Democrats for their responses on the International Criminal Court Bill. We have taken close note of their contributions, and I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be encouraged by that. I contrast their approach with that of the Conservative party, which made absolutely no response to the Bill. Forty-five consultations were received, but the Conservatives had nothing to say about it.
Those facts speak for themselves. However, before we get too carried away with our expressions of co-operation and good will, may I remind the Minister that, because the Bill will start in the House of Lords, our secret weapons are my noble Friends Lord Goodhart and Lord Lester? The Minister may find that they have quite a lot to say about the Bill in the other place, and mercenaries like myself in this House will unhesitatingly draw upon their contributions.
I was about to refer to my concern about the United States apparent unwillingness to ratify the treaty unless US service personnel are exempt from its jurisdiction. There have been reports that the United Kingdom Government have been reluctant to make common cause with other European Union members to bring pressure to bear on the US. I hope that this evening or at a later stage the Government will be able to reassure those in the House who wish to co-operate with them that they will do all in their power to persuade the United States that it is in its interests, as well as in the interests of the effectiveness of the court, that it should be a fully subscribing party to the treaty.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) suggested, there is some disappointment among Liberal Democrats that no definite place has been found for a Bill to implement the recommendations of the Scott report, which was published nearly five years ago. It is worth recalling—the Foreign Secretary will have little difficulty doing so—that Scott said that a comprehensive review of Government powers over arms exports was long overdue. In describing the current statutory provisions, he said that they were
based on wartime emergency legislation lacking the provisions for parliamentary supervision and control that would be expected and are requisite in a modern parliamentary democracy.
When the Labour party was in opposition, it and the current Foreign Secretary justifiably profited politically from Conservative embarrassment on what I still describe as the scandal of the supply of arms-related equipment to Iraq. I hope that it is not too onerous an obligation, but the Government do have a moral obligation to put matters right at the first opportunity.
I understand that there will be a draft Bill, but we have some questions about it. Will it set out to regulate arms brokers to a sufficient extent? Will there be consideration of the extra-territorial jurisdiction which is part of the Chemical Weapons Act 1996? Will the Bill deal with the questions of licensed production of arms abroad and their supply between foreign countries? Such production could be used to escape the consequences of what would otherwise be an illegal transaction, and it might be argued that the United Kingdom has no jurisdiction over that.
On arms exports, I have no hesitation in asserting that transparency, scrutiny and accountability are not the enemies of good government; they should be its allies. Even this Government have been embarrassed by arms exports. Good intentions do not bring immunity from embarrassment, as East Timor, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe have demonstrated. Sir Richard Scott said that the present arrangements were
totalitarian in concept and effect.
Such arrangements are inconsistent with a foreign policy with an ethical dimension, and there should be no room for constructive engagement in arms exports to countries that breach human rights.
Another more explicit absence—if there can be such a thing—from the Gracious Speech is a reference to national missile defence and the Government's attitude towards that. I have previously argued in the House that the United States determination to proceed with NMD rests on a flawed assessment of threat. Rogue states and deeply unpleasant regimes exist, but we and the United States should ask ourselves whether those states are so lacking in comprehension that they would threaten to use or actually use weapons of mass of destruction against the overwhelming nuclear superiority of the United States.
Does the United States really expect the United Kingdom and its allies in Europe to believe that, once it has established a limited missile defence to protect it from what are now described as "states of concern", domestic pressure would not grow in the United States for that cover to be expanded to embrace the larger missile capabilities of other nuclear weapons powers?
We have already debated European defence and the apocalyptic consequences that some attribute to that, but it is perfectly reasonable to point out that NMD has the potential to damage relations within NATO, to weaken the cohesion of the alliance and to divide Europe from the United States. It will undermine the principle of deterrence on which a fragile strategic balance has been built, and it will change the basis on which nuclear strategy has been built for the past 30 years.
In its most recent report on weapons of mass destruction, the Foreign Affairs Committee rightly argued that
it is incumbent on the Government, as one of the five nuclear weapons states and a close ally of the United States, to make an early public statement on its analysis of NMD's likely impact on strategic stability and its assessment of whether this would be in the overall security interests of this country.
We look in vain in the Gracious Speech or elsewhere for any clear sign of the Government's attitude. I repeat a charge that I have made before to the Secretary of State for Defence: it is disingenuous to suggest that, because no request has been made, no attitude has to be struck. As I have asked at least once before, what is the nuclear planning policy division of the Ministry of Defence doing if it is not taking some account of the potential consequences of the deployment of NMD? If the United States Supreme Court reaches an acceptable decision today, a request may be made very soon, although neither of those matters can be guaranteed. However, a request could certainly be made long before next May, which is the period that most of us reckon the Gracious Speech has been designed to cover. We are entitled to know what the Government's attitude will be when such a request is made.
For 10 years, Liberal Democrats have consistently supported United Kingdom Governments on their policies on Iraq. Indeed, just the other day I was reading a book— I shall leave its title and author clothed in anonymity—that reminded me that the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) rang me on the night when British forces went into battle on the ground. If I did not thank him for his courtesy then, I should like to do so today. We have supported Conservative and Labour Governments and the United Nations sanctions regime, but we believe that, after 10 years, we owe it to ourselves and the people of Iraq to review that policy.
What have sanctions produced? Certainly not the results that we predicted. Ordinary Iraqi people have been driven into poverty, malnutrition and ignominy. Saddam Hussein has not been brought to heel. He exploits the sanctions and uses them as an excuse. They are his justification for the brutality and privations that he imposes on his people. One does not have to go far in the middle east to find much anxiety and the belief that the people of Iraq have suffered enough. That is evident in the Arab capitals. In this case, the Iraqi people are the oppressed, not the oppressors. The same people who suffer from the brutal dictatorship of Saddam's regime are those worst hit by sanctions, and the elite—perhaps, as ever—are left untouched.
Our policy towards Iraq is of necessity—of containment—supported by credible military threat. Let me make this clear: if there were a military threat to Kuwait or a surrounding country, I would have little hesitation in supporting the threat or, if it came to it, the use of military means to contain it. However, the sanctions regime is being steadily eroded, in some cases aided and abetted by members of the Security Council. Its authority, and that of the United Nations, will be irretrievably damaged if the sanctions regime simply withers away.
We can maintain the policy of containment by maintaining an embargo on military and dual-use goods, but is it not time for the United Kingdom to take the initiative at the United Nations to lift non-military sanctions? They contribute nothing to the policy of containment and make no difference to Saddam or his brutality, but they damage the lives of ordinary Iraqis and hand him a gratuitous propaganda advantage. It is time they went.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has twice suggested that we should take issue with the United States on the issues of the International Criminal Court and national missile defence. He confirms the worst fears of the official Opposition about the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party having a secret agenda and seems to look forward to having a battle with the United States on those important issues, but he has not said a word about the attitude of France in the Gulf and towards Iraq. Had the French been a little more supportive of our sanctions policy in the middle east, Saddam Hussein might have decided before now to accept the United Nations resolutions.
I confess that there is no secret anti-American agreement between the Foreign Secretary and myself. Indeed, I regard myself as something of an Atlanticist, not least because I was educated partly in the United States. However, the fact that we are close allies of the United States should not inhibit us from commenting and criticising in justifiable circumstances.
I notice no such inhibition on the part of Members of Congress, some of whom find it necessary to legislate in the most draconian terms on trade matters that have a direct consequence on people in our constituencies, not least that of my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood). The jobs of many workers in the woollen industry in his constituency have been at risk during the past 18 months because of the ludicrous notion that a dispute about bananas is best dealt with by targeting the cashmere-producing factories of the borders of Scotland.
When it comes to the United States, robust and mature disagreement is much more likely to be part of a profitable relationship than the notion that we cannot open our mouths for the fear of upsetting it. [Interruption.] I am reminded of the French. I have said that the sanctions regime is being eroded, and that process is being aided and abetted by members of the Security Council. I wish they would not do that, but it is a fact of life. When we deal with European defence, I will say a thing or two about my attitude towards the French.
I had the good fortune to accompany the Secretary of State for Defence on his visit to Sierra Leone in July. Like others, I was deeply impressed by the quality of the British presence there. However, the Foreign Secretary knows that we share a belief in the need for more effective and stronger United Nations peacekeeping. I have seen little evidence—either when I was there or since, especially now that the Indian and Jordanian battalions may be withdrawn—to suggest that, as far as the UN presence in Sierra Leone is concerned, we are able to bet on a winner. My anxiety is that if the UN operation in Sierra Leone fails, the long-term consequences for the credibility of UN peacekeeping will be severe. That is why, to echo a point made in an intervention by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen), who is a member of the Defence Committee, I wish that the Government would reconsider whether a United Kingdom battalion could become part of the UN peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone.
On Europe, I am sorry that the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Horsham, is not here. He gave the impression of an intelligent man making a case in which he does not believe. If he really thinks that there is an operation by stealth to drag the UK further into the morass of an integrated Europe, he is clearly reading the wrong newspapers. One can hardly open a newspaper without seeing—some would argue—more than adequate reflection of the views that he and his hon. Friends hold. When he says that, as Foreign Secretary, he would refuse to sign the treaty of Nice, I simply do not believe him. When he says that he will oppose ratification, I suspect that he might, but I doubt whether his heart or head will be in it. He also says that the Conservative party would hold a referendum on the treaty of Nice—that would be a first, because there has never been a referendum at its instigation.
It would tell us a great deal about the journey that the Conservative party has travelled since the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) took the country into Europe if it feels compelled to hold a referendum on the treaty of Nice as we understand it. Where are the issues that are of such fundamental constitutional importance? The Prime Minister was quick to explain that the pensions of those who are employed in the European Court of Justice are important, but they are hardly so earth shattering that they require a referendum. How would we approach people on their doorsteps? We would have to say, "It is essential to have a referendum on the treaty of Nice because it is dealing with things like the pensions of the people who work for the European Court of Justice." All that is self-evident when one puts the questions in that form, which convinces me that the right hon. Member for Horsham is an intelligent man who is required to make a case in which he does not believe.
The Government succeeded in preserving the veto on tax and social security and they increased their voting power, but I do not regard those as great triumphs. They are no more than was to be expected. Nice did not deal properly with the size of the Commission. It is only 18 months since the House was up in arms about the inadequacies of the Commission, its arrogance, the failure of control and lack of scrutiny, so it seems somewhat curious to have no proposals to make in respect of the size of the Commission and the way in which it will work. That is a criticism addressed not only to our Government but to other Governments as well.
As the shadow Foreign Secretary said, there was nothing in the Queen's Speech about the common agricultural policy. It is true that, in that respect, policy reforms are enough—we do not need a referendum or to go knocking on the doors of the people of the United Kingdom asking whether they will support a referendum to change the common agricultural policy; but if reforms are sufficient, we have to ask where is the motivation to bring about the changes that are essential if the CAP is to survive the accession of Poland, to name but one country.
Why was no more robust and rigorous a view taken of the number of Members of the European Parliament? I believe strongly that there are too many Members both of this Parliament and of the European Parliament. If we embark on an open-ended commitment to increase the number of MEPs, we risk creating a European Parliament that is far too inflated to handle its responsibilities. In addition, there is in the minds of those on the doorstep a question about the cost. It is a great pity that Nice did not produce a far more robust attitude toward the size of the Parliament.
There is to be an intergovernmental conference in 2004. That should be supported because I believe it is essential to determine and define the roles and responsibilities at all levels of government and in all the institutions of the European Union. The most fascinating aspect of the German-Italian document is that it raises in a concrete manner the matter of subsidiarity. Where does it come from? Not from the federal Government, but from the devolved governments of the Länder, which are rightly concerned that responsibilities that belong to them should not be taken over by Brussels. We must remember that we in this country now have devolved government—devolved to a greater extent to Scotland than to Wales, but also devolved to London—so it is not impossible to imagine the separate organs of government in the United Kingdom displaying similar anxiety. The proposals for an IGC in 2004 are for subsidiarity. We should ensure that we play a prominent and effective part in that IGC.
I believe that we should have a constitution for Europe and that a declaration of fundamental rights should form part of that constitution, once it has been created and the roles defined. I am always surprised by the anxiety displayed by the Conservatives about the use of the word "constitution", so I looked around for institutions and organisations that might be considered parallel, and I found one with which they might be familiar. It has an elected leader, a foreign policy, a defence policy and a constitution—it is called the Conservative party. It is certainly not a superstate and there are those who would say that it is no superpower, but to entertain the notion that having a constitution, foreign and defence policies and even an elected leader will transform the European Union—which, as the Prime Minister said and as was clearly demonstrated at Nice, comprises increasingly independent nation states—is to look for shadows and drum up fears that are unjustified by reality.
That is a matter for argument. In the first place, it probably would be, but part of the process of creating the constitution would be to define the role of the ECJ, and that might be done in such a way as to ensure that issues of a clearly domestic nature, rather than an international nature, would be dealt with by domestic jurisdictions, not by the ECJ. However, that is exactly the sort of argument in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman, myself and others should engage in 2004.
On the question of European defence, it is worth reminding ourselves of what Secretary of State Cohen said. He said:
If there is openness, transparency and a non-competitive relationship the United States would remain committed.
He then said:
If there was an element of using the—
force structure in a way simply to set up a competing structure … then NATO could become a relic.
I agree fundamentally, completely and comprehensively with both those statements, but we know that, after Nice, collective defence remains the responsibility of NATO. The article 5 response—an attack on one is an attack on all—remains the responsibility of NATO. Incidentally, it is worth asking against whom we think article 5 response might most immediately be required. There can hardly have been a time in the history of western Europe when the likelihood has been as remote as it is now of an attack of the sort that would trigger an article 5 response.
Europe will operate only when NATO chooses not to do so. I wish that that was to be enshrined in a formal protocol, but I have already put that argument to Ministers, so far without success. Activities are to be confined to the Petersberg tasks—peacekeeping, humanitarian intervention and crisis management—and the decision to deploy is to remain a matter for sovereign Parliaments. Like the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I think that Parliament should have some say when this country deploys, for a long time, substantial forces.
I am grateful for that sedentary corroboration.
The verdict on Nice is best left to those representatives of the candidate countries who have pronounced upon it. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the deal that paves the way for EU enlargement was a
significant step towards the goal of European unity
and the Polish Prime Minister said:
The results of the summit are exceptionally good for us.
Those countries, some of which lived under the jackboot of Nazism only to fall straight under the jackboot of communism, have at last had the opportunity to ensure that the market economies that they have tried with some difficulty to establish and the democratic principles that they have sought to espouse are reinforced by membership of the European Union, which, in its own way, is as successful an institution as NATO has been. It is our privilege to be members of both, and that is why we should be open and receptive to those who want to join either.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), because he is an expert in the field. He was too coy to mention that there are currently more Liberal Democrats than Conservatives in the Chamber.
I do not wholly concur with right hon. and learned Gentleman's views on Iraq, but I agree with him on national missile defence. It is clear that the danger perceived by the Russian Federation is that, although it is currently limited, the radar installations that would be necessary for NMD could be upgraded speedily and could unbalance the carefully devised arms control procedures that are now in place. I also agree that the leaders of the main applicant countries which broke free from communism 10 years ago have given us a vision of their new attachment to European political and security structures. In that context, they welcome the results of the Nice treaty. Having heard the chorus of approval from the applicant countries, from those whose democratic institutions are now firm and whom we want to encourage much further along that path, how can Opposition Front-Bench Members say in the House that they would block the Nice treaty, which is answering the dreams and aspirations of those countries? What would be the response of those in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland if they knew that the main Opposition party in this place were playing petty politics and destroying the aspirations which they have shown so clearly?
What pygmy views do Conservatives have if they think that somehow they will block the treaty, in spite of the clearly expressed approval of the applicant countries' leaders? I ask Conservatives sincerely to reconsider that silliness. If they wish to be taken seriously in politics, they should listen to those who are directly concerned, the leaders of the countries of central Europe. They should not rather patronisingly believe that they know their interests better than they know them themselves.
I disagree fundamentally with the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude). I heard him this morning on "Today" claiming that the Conservative party would lead the European Union in a different direction. Having heard that, I pose a little question: if it were to lead, would it be prepared to look over its shoulder to see how many people it was leading? Who would be following its course among the other 14 members of the EU, among the applicant countries, or among the sister parties in the EU with which it sometimes claims to be allied? The Conservative party would not be leading. It would be isolated and the United Kingdom would be marginalised, as we were in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the right hon. Member for Horsham, who now rails against qualified majority voting, signed the treaty of Maastricht. That makes him slightly vulnerable when now he rails against that loss of sovereignty and tries to link himself with the North American-owned press in the UK, which was dying in Nice to claim that there was treachery and a stab in the back for our people. It may find it rather difficult now to make that claim.
On any criteria, we had a real success at Nice. We gained our negative objectives in terms of the veto. We gained also our positive criteria in paving the way for enlargement, which Conservative Members claim to want in principle but clearly do not want in practice, given their foolish pledge to stop, if they could, the ratification of the Nice treaty by the House.
Perhaps I should turn now to the Queen's Speech. I agree with the right hon. Member for Horsham that it is not a long one. Indeed, only five short paragraphs are devoted to foreign affairs. There is one short paragraph on renewing legislation on the armed forces, and that comes routinely every five years. If one is planning for a general election in May, there is little time between now and then to change the world by means of new foreign policy objectives.
There is one major omission in the Queen's Speech, and that concerns the question mark over whether time will be found to introduce legislation to control arms trafficking and brokering. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife has made all the points that I would wish to make. I merely say that it is important that Safer World and other non-governmental organisations that are active in this area have broadly welcomed the Government's initiative. A draft Bill has been promised and will shortly be published. I look forward to the Green Paper on mercenaries and regret that the scheduled publication date of November 2000 has been missed. The recommendation was made in the second report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on Sierra Leone, in the Session 1998–99.
As co-chairman of the all-party Norway group, I am delighted that there will be a state visit to Norway. I know that Her Majesty will be warmly welcomed by the people of Norway. We have left our turbulent past with the Scandinavians behind us. At one time, the Vikings sailed into the Thames—hence the nursery rhyme
London bridge is falling down".
There are now excellent bilateral relations at a popular level in football, at a parliamentary level and at a constituency level. There is a Norwegian church in my constituency. My grandfather, a new Viking, sailed into my constituency and married a local girl.
To return to the Nice treaty, I agree with what has been said about the failure to achieve substantial reform of the common agricultural policy. However, it is true that the Berlin Council allowed financial headroom for enlargement. In its third report on enlargement, in 1998–1999, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs recommended that the applicant states have a more formal role in consulting on future EU policies at both ministerial and official levels. I am pleased that at least some progress has been made. There are ministerial meetings on the common foreign and security policy three or four times a year. I hope that that will be the reality; we do not want a minimalist approach, with little more than a photo call, which is what happened at Nice. Delays and a failure to consult can only increase the number of doubters in applicant countries.
The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs recommended also that in the accession negotiations we should not seek to exacerbate divisions between countries. We welcome the degree of co-operation between the Helsinki six and the Luxembourg six. We are pleased that the Visegrad four are now co-operating and that there is more co-operation, for example, between Poland and Ukraine, in trying to prevent yet a further barrier being erected in Europe.
It has been asked why dates were not set for enlargement at Nice. It is expected that at the Gothenburg Council in June next year the Swedish presidency, which is enthusiastic about enlargement, will be able to set dates.
I am pleased also that there will be a new intergovernmental conference in 2004, with a new move to define powers so that ours is not a European Union of the elites. I hope that there will be a serious attempt, now that possibly the high water mark of the integrationists has been reached, to link national Governments in a clear way to what is going on in the EU. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made proposals to that end in his Warsaw speech. Perhaps as a kite-flying exercise, he put forward the idea of a second chamber. That needs to be taken seriously. In the interim, and before a new intergovernmental conference meets and conclusions are reached, we need to consider how we can bind national parliaments more effectively to the EU. I have said enough about the Nice treaty. Clearly it is a signal triumph for the Government to have a clear statement that NATO is the foundation of our defence and security.
I am pleased that the Queen's Speech states that a White Paper will be published on globalisation. So speedily has that promise been realised that the White Paper was published today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. After the shame of the slashing of aid between 1979 and 1997—whereas in 1979, 0.52 per cent. of gross national product was devoted to development aid, by 1997 that had fallen to 0.26 per cent, which is a shame on this country—I am glad that we are pledged to increase development aid, and that, after the scandal of the Pergau dam, we have also pledged to untie the aid that we give.
I end on the International Criminal Court. That was the subject of a pledge made by the Government in November 1999 in the debate on the Address. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary promised that the Bill would be published in draft. That Bill was published in August this year. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs made it clear that our priority was for the legislation to be voted on as soon as possible.
I am sure that we are all delighted that the Bill is included in the Gracious Speech, but time is short. I appeal to the Conservative Opposition to ensure that it is given a fair wind, and that there is no silly politicking during that time by those on the Front Bench or by certain mavericks on the Conservative Benches. There will be temptations in the brief time that is left if there is to be an election in May.
Certainly, there must be proper scrutiny, as the Bill is highly technical and needs a certain legal expertise. It must take account of links with Scotland, and so on. However, it represents a key national interest, and I hope that the support from the Conservative Benches will not be, as the right hon. Member for Horsham said, just agreement in principle, followed by a series of reasons as to why there are problems in the Bill. I hope that there will be full-hearted support for the Bill, in the knowledge that it is, indeed, in the national interest.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. May I make it clear that we support the principles of the International Criminal Court but that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) said, we believe that the proposed legislation needs examination in detail? We will not simply rubber-stamp it. That should not be demanded of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.
I agree thus far. I appeal to the Opposition only to ensure that they do not fall into the temptation of engaging unnecessary time wasting and in calling it proper scrutiny.
I propose to limit my remarks to the European security and defence policy.
The Gracious Speech contained references to NATO that were designed to be reassuring. We had more of them from the Prime Minister, and from the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. However, the history of reassurances on this subject from the Government is not encouraging.
When the House debated defence on 1 November, the Secretary of State for Defence said:
The Americans understand that we are strengthening NATO; we are not weakening it.—[Official Report, 1 November 2000; Vol. 355, c. 733.]
As the month progressed, the right hon. Gentleman's protestations became ever more strident. Some of the most assertive of his assurances were set out in last Thursday's Daily Mail.
On 19 November, the Secretary of State told John Humphrys on "On the Record":
There is absolutely no division of opinion in NATO or elsewhere.
The next day the right hon. Gentleman told the Daily Express:
The US is hugely supportive of the initiative.
On 22 November he told the House:
Not a single senior figure in the US Administration is opposed to the proposals.—[Official Report, 22 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 312.]
On 23 November he told The Times:
William Cohen was unequivocal in his support for the EU proposals.
The Secretary of State for Defence was not alone in making those assertions. The Foreign Secretary told the House on 23 November:
The American President, the American Defence Secretary and the American Secretary of State have all warmly endorsed the European security initiative.—[Official Report, 23 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 455.]
The Prime Minister said in Moscow on 21 November:
NATO has already given its blessing to this.
When the Daily Mail and other newspapers suggested that his plans could threaten NATO, he said:
Even by the standards of some parts of our anti-European media some of the coverage in those newspapers is fundamentally dishonest.
Some of those statements were made in the House. Of course I cannot and I do not accuse the Secretaries of State or the Prime Minister of misleading the House. I do, however, accuse them of misleading the country.
It must have come as a rude shock to the Government when the United States Defence Secretary finally made public on 5 December what we all know so many of his colleagues had been thinking and saying in private.
A few moments ago, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) briefly quoted the US Defence Secretary. His quotation was very far from complete. Mr. Cohen said:
There are a series of unanswered questions about the Rapid Reaction Force … about European defence spending … about who would command the force. If these factors are not taken into account NATO could become a relic of the past. Separate planning … would undermine the very aims of NATO. The one thing I do not want to see is a weakening of the transatlantic link.
In the Government's view, was the US Defence Secretary being fundamentally dishonest?
Of course, none of this deterred President Chirac, who confirmed last Thursday that he wanted to see a European defence force independent of NATO. No one should be surprised by that. An independent European defence force has long been a French objective—independent, that is, of NATO. The French are consistent in their objectives, though extremely opportunist in their tactics.
When President Chirac declares himself 100 per cent. content with the outcome of the negotiations in Nice, we should all be concerned. Of course, the Government of the United Kingdom—the Ministers whose assurances proved so hollow last month—proclaim that they, too, are satisfied. How are we to judge? We can judge only by examining the text.
The text of annexe VII, which deals with these matters, has only just become available. I shall not recite it all, but it is worth examining the very last subparagraph of the document. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham
(Mr. Maude) quoted the first sentence of that last subparagraph, but I think that the whole of it—it is only three sentences—is worthy of repetition. It states that
the entire chain of command must remain under the political control and strategic direction of the EU throughout the operation, after consultation between the two organisations. In that framework the operation commander will report on the conduct of the operation to EU bodies only. NATO will be informed of developments in the situation by the appropriate bodies, in particular the PSC—
the Political and Security Committee—
and the Chairman of the Military Committee.
There we have it. NATO will be informed.
I am trying to understand what the problem is with the quotation that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just read out. If a situation arises in which NATO does not want to get involved and the rapid reaction force gets involved, of cours e that force should report to the EU on what is happening. That will not drive a wedge between NATO and the EU. NATO will have had an opportunity to get involved; will have decided that it does not want to get involved and will have handed the operation over to the European rapid reaction force, which should report to the EU. That is quite straightforward.
The matter would not be straightforward, even if it were as the hon. Gentleman described. As the Defence Secretary acknowledged in the House just a few weeks ago, there is no reason whatever why all that cannot be done within NATO, as a European pillar of NATO. However, the hon. Gentleman was fundamentally wrong in the assumption that underlay his question. I do not blame him, as the Prime Minister made the same mistake, if mistake it was, twice during his answers to questions this afternoon.
The documents do not refer to NATO choosing not to be engaged. There is not a word about that. On one occasion, the Prime Minister said that the EU would act alone if NATO chose not to be engaged. On another occasion he said that if NATO does not want to get engaged, the EU would act alone. However, he read accurately when he read from the presidency report the following words:
where NATO as a whole is not engaged.
The thrust of the presidency report and annexe VII can be interpreted in only one way. According to those documents, the EU—not NATO—will decide whether or not NATO is to be engaged. There is no question of NATO having the option to decide or having the choice. There is not a word to that effect in the documents, which represent the text to which the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have put their signatures. With a stroke of the pen, they have put at risk the greatest peacetime alliance that the world has ever seen. Little wonder that, when asked to comment on the agreement, the United States Defence Secretary refused to add to the statement that he made last Tuesday. Silence has never been more eloquent.
How did we get into this mess? It all springs from the vanity of the Prime Minister, his desire to play a leading role in Europe and his notorious weakness for trying to appear to be all things to all men. I do not think that the Prime Minister wants to put our Atlantic alliance at risk. I believe that he simply thought that he could get away with telling the French one thing and the Americans another. The Prime Minister displayed that weakness this afternoon when he spoke—as I have already said—about NATO choosing not to be engaged and then read from a document that said something different.
This afternoon, the Prime Minister constantly emphasised the fact that Governments of member states will decide whether to commit their forces under the scope of the initiative. He seemed to regard that as an absolute safeguard. It may well be that Governments will decide whether to commit their forces. However, the Military Committee, as well as the Political and Security Committee—which will be separate from NATO, but which will duplicate what it does—are to be set up now. The mischief will therefore be done long before any country has to decide whether to commit forces under the initiative.
The Prime Minister said that, without this step, European countries would not increase their spending on defence and would not enhance their defence capability. As I said this afternoon, and as Conservative Members have always believed, it is important that European defence capability be enhanced. Of course it is important that European countries should spend more on defence. However, that can and should be done within NATO. There is not the slightest bit of evidence to suggest, as the Prime Minister did this afternoon, that that would not happen without the new initiative. Indeed, the initiative would never have taken place if the Prime Minister and the UK Government had not done a complete U-turn on their position in 1996—my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham referred to it this afternoon—and their position after the treaty of Amsterdam, when they told the House that an initiative of the kind to which they have now signed up would be the wrong way forward.
Without the UK contribution, European defence would be meaningless. There is no other country, with the possible and partial exception of France, capable of making a significant military contribution. Without UK agreement, the initiative would never have taken place. If the Prime Minister and the UK Government had adhered to the view that they expressed in 1997, we might have seen the necessary and welcome development of a European pillar of NATO. That should be happening, but I fear that it is not.
This episode will be seen as one of the greatest acts of folly ever perpetrated by a Government of our country. The sooner these ministerial pygmies are dismissed from office, the sooner we can turn back from this catastrophically wrong turning. If we do not, the consequences may be incalculable.
May I start by thanking the people of Preston, Walton-le-Dale and Bamber Bridge who placed their trust in me by sending me to the House. Those areas were well served by my predecessor, Audrey Wise, who battled for many years on issues such as health, unemployment, housing and immigration. It is an honour to follow in her footsteps in such a wonderful town.
I have represented Preston in a different place across the water. Preston is at the centre of my former central Lancashire European constituency and is the town where I live. It is a fine town with the fastest-growing university in the land and world-beating aerospace and technology companies. The town centre combines old and modern and, of course, there are down-to-earth Lancashire folk. Preston is outward-looking and its prosperity is largely dependent on the sale of aircraft around the world. It is a town full of people with the skills to produce world-beating European fighter aircraft, with plans for newer and even better aircraft on the drawing board. It is a town with a rich ethnic and religious diversity, with people all living together in s harmony. Preston values European industrial and defence co-operation because it used to build military aircraft in the previous century to defend Britain from our European neighbours. In recent years, it has built aircraft jointly with our European neighbours.
In looking forward to the new century, it is important to look briefly at where we have come from. I should like to quote Winston Churchill, who summed up the sentiments behind closer ties between European nations when he said:
This noble continent, comprising … the fairest and the most cultivated regions of the earth … is the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science of both ancient and modern times. If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and glory which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy.
Clearly, Churchill's party does not hold that view today.
Good European connections very often start at local level with twinning agreements between towns such as Preston, Recklinghausen and Almelo. That sort of co-operation is helping to create a stronger, more unified Europe that is built from the bottom up by the people, as well as from the top down by the politicians—and may I take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on reaching an historic agreement in Nice?
Throughout history, cultural divergences and differences have provided Europe with a richness of culture unrivalled in the world. However, they have also led to some of the bitterest conflicts known to man. One need only look at a map of Europe to see where the lines of conflict have been drawn over the centuries. A determination among the leaders and people of Europe that battle lines must never again be drawn between Germany, France and Britain led to the commitment to develop cultural and historical ties between nations. However, the commitment to European co-operation and understanding between different nationalities had to go far beyond the local level, and has done so. Governments are now well aware that collective initiatives are far more effective than individual ones. It was on the basis of that belief that the European Community was founded. Although many at first doubted the ideas behind the European Union, now, almost 40 years after its creation, there can be little doubt that it has been an overwhelming success.
Since 1957, the European Union has grown stronger year by year. Not only have new member states joined the original six, so that the European Union now comprises 15 member states, but, as we have seen in Nice, Europe is increasingly expanding its vision eastward to encompass the countries of central and eastern Europe. However, the European Union beyond 2000 will not just be a Europe with increased membership: its policies have also grown considerably in the years since its founding. Withdrawal from Europe is now virtually an impossible option. Whether loose talk about reserve powers to end Britain's commitment to the EU treaties is a rejection of any possibility or is based on the discredited notion of joining the North American Free Trade Agreement, such messages undermine British interests.
Three million jobs depend on our trade with the European Union. Massive advances have been made in social and environmental legislation. A Tory recipe for the isolation of Britain in an era of globalisation is folly. It is unnecessary because the European Union does not pose a threat on health, education, defence, welfare or tax. Indeed, the EU's involvement in all those matters has been of great benefit to Britain.
The myth is still being peddled that an anonymous bureaucracy in Brussels takes decisions on European legislation, not the elected representatives of national member Governments and directly elected European parliamentarians.
Europe and the world beyond 2000 will be places where communications bind together disparate and diverse cultures, languages and traditions. The boundaries that have existed for centuries will be swept away, because the economic, social and political forces that are developing will make them irrelevant. That is not to say that we will lose our language, culture or traditions, but merely that we will have the benefit, knowledge and understanding of others. People can still have a hotpot on a cold evening and fish and chips on a Friday, in spite of European integration.
As MEP Nobel peace prize winner, my good and hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), would say, we must not see diversity as a threat. It is an opportunity for understanding, and respect for it is a prerequisite for peace. When we consider the war in the Balkans and the ethnic cleansing that occurred on a mass scale, we are reminded of the horrors of the second world war. Murder, torture and rape are the weapons of evil, and are being perpetrated on people because they are different. Difference should be treasured and cherished. What sort of a world would it be if we were all the same?
As we move beyond 2000, I am convinced that the war in the Balkans and other conflicts around the world are the last vestiges of nationalism. They are nationalism gasping for its last breath. That is happening—it might seem strange for me to say this as a socialist—because internationalism is being driven by international capitalism. To be successful, internationalism needs rules, laws and order—a new international order that is different from that which prevailed in the previous century through the cold war. It also needs peace and co-operation. That is not to say that this new century will be without war; it will not. However, as someone who believes that the power of good will conquer evil, I believe that in this new century, Europe and the world generally will have won another battle against evil.
May I start by warmly congratulating the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) on jumping his first parliamentary fence with such confidence, feeling and knowledge? He came to the House to replace Audrey Wise, who was a formidable champion and spokesman for the causes that she favoured and advocated with such strength and fortitude. I am sure that he will prove to be a successful Member of Parliament in her place, following her sad loss. His constituents will be fortified by the knowledge that he gained in another career. I have no doubt that we will hear a great deal more from him, to the great advantage of the House of Commons.
I want also to pay another warm tribute. As this a foreign affairs and defence debate, I pay tribute to our armed forces and—this applies especially at this time of year—to the families of our service men and women, wherever they are. The nation owes a huge debt to them, as, time after time, they have to pick up the pieces of overstretch, as well as dealing with great difficulties and often terrible disasters. They also regularly have to come to terms with the many penalties of long and unwelcome separations. By keeping the home fires burning, they provide a signal and largely unrecognised service, as do wonderful organisations such as the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Families Association, which does so much to help and support service families.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will understand—I hope that other hon. Members will also do so—the furore about the new defence arrangements, which rouse such strong feelings in this country. Apart from the strategic importance of getting it right, the people of Great Britain are truly and rightly proud of their armed forces and the way in which they carry out their duties, often in the most difficult circumstances and sometimes in very dangerous conditions. We are all living in a period of revolution: social, technological and political. That is extremely uncomfortable, as it destabilises people. In this extraordinary period of turbulence, the armed forces have maintained high credibility and a unity of purpose and performance. They will survive and prosper whatever the Government do to them, as they are imaginative, courageous, adaptable, flexible and not afraid to use new ideas. In their standard of personal conduct and sense of duty and cohesion, they are an institution that is wholly unique in this land and a priceless and golden asset for the vigorous promotion of our national interest throughout the world.
It will not, however, surprise you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I want to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) in saying a few words about the Gracious Speech with particular regard to NATO. I should like to start with what I hope is a truism. Our small armed forces—indeed, they are too small for all that is asked of them—vastly exceed in quality and operational ability those of any other European state. The French, who are the best of the rest, may just have a deployable force of British size and capability in about 10 years' time, but certainly not before.
Thus do we see that the efforts of the previous Conservative Government to improve the capability of our European partners were vital. It is a massive untruth promoted by the Government' s propaganda factory to say that the Tories are anything other than wholly in favour of enhanced, improved and greater European defence co-operation and capability. The Minister for the Armed Forces can sit with an inane grin on his face, but it remains the case that, for three and half years, a massive amount of work was done by the previous Government in that very field. It was done under the aegis of NATO, however, and not some foolish, half-arsed idea—I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker—to split NATO asunder.
We already have a good rapid reaction force in NATO: the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps, for which a specialist military doctrine was developed on the basis of the joint rapid deployment force concept. The corps was intended to deal with all crises, up to and including war fighting, and included the use of American assets and logistics, and, most important, intelligence. What can the new paper creation do that the ARRC cannot do much better already? I repeat that Conservative Members are wholly in favour of increased defence co-operation, but not at any price. What is required, in truth, is a vast improvement in capability, greater firepower and larger European defence budgets. However, there is absolutely no sign or evidence that that is happening.
What is proposed is, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said, dangerous, for it has created the one thing that is most fatal in all military matters—a climate of uncertainty. As we warned, that could well damage NATO and the Atlantic alliance. All military operations, at whatever level, depend on absolute clarity of the chain of command and on simplicity of orders and mission. It is insane to have a separate EU planning establishment, Military staff and Military Committee. They are all bound to grow, which will certainly cause confusion.
I do not question the Atlanticist credentials of the Prime Minister, but, in his vanity and naivety, although he believes that he can trump the French, he is quite wrong. As my right hon. and learned Friend so pointedly and correctly said, the French have worked for years to undermine and dilute the American influence in Europe. Indeed, General de Gaulle vetoed Britain's entry into the European Union precisely because she was too big, too powerful and too linked militarily to the Americans. What has been decided, whatever the spin of the Minister for the Armed Forces, will weaken the bonds that bind NATO to Europe.
I do not think the Prime Minister understands that there are, in military matters, no substitutes for victory. Wars are not won by scruffy compromises on defence at EU summits or by the assigning of underfunded, undermanned forces to a largely paper-created concept. I want the development to take place wholly under the NATO umbrella, but the Prime Minister has seen to that—he has begun fundamentally to undermine the most successful defensive military alliance the world has ever seen, and his actions will have led to the weakening of the Atlantic alliance, with possibly grave military consequences.
I am, in truth, staggered at the failure of the Government and their Back-Bench poodles not to see the dangers of the EU defence proposal. In this case, the Opposition have an absolute duty to warn that the arrangements will not work. We must see to it, when we come to power, that we radically put them back on the right track.
I just do not understand how the Prime Minister cannot see how France has achieved her greatest ambition: to saddle the European Union with a separate and politically powerful, and certainly divisive, military planning capacity, against which the American Defence Secretary so powerfully spoke out last week.
We Europeans live in an arc of danger, even in this cosy little socialist world into which we have been dragged. It begins with the countries of the former Soviet Union, passes through the Balkans—where we have a continuing and formidable commitment—stretches east to the troubled Caucasus, passes through the middle east and stretches along the north shores of Africa to the Atlantic. Those areas, which are crucial to Europe's interests, suffer from a range of violence and turbulence and the constant threat of trouble. It is imperative, therefore, that the partnership between Europe and America gets this right; the current proposal is not the right way to do so.
I want to say a few words in conclusion about our diplomatic service. Man for man and woman for woman, they are, in my judgment, the best in the world. They and their families are faithful, energetic, loyal and resourceful, and they are very good at what they do. We are exceedingly lucky to have such a fine diplomatic service, and I salute it as Christmas approaches.
I of course welcome those parts of the treaty of Nice that will lead to the enlargement of the European Union, but only those parts that genuinely will do so. I detect across continental Europe a profound feeling that the existing and sometimes unwise transfers of sovereignty have reached popular limits. We do, indeed, need a fundamental rethink of the way in which that union works. However, I hope that the Commission and Governments will press ahead with producing a defining treaty which sets out clearly those tasks that need tackling on a European basis and those that should be left to nations. Popular opinion across Europe now demands a proper settlement of those matters. Only by doing so will we do away with the sullen mood of understandable scepticism across Europe, which is so souring this very important debate.
I am fed up with my party being characterised as anti-European. On our side of the House, we understand, as these great and profound changes in the geometry of Europe take place, that it is not in the interests of Britain for a substantial group of continental countries to move ahead without us into any major sphere of policy if there is any possibility that in that sphere they will, without our participation, create a situation that will have a deep influence on our lives. The thrust of British foreign policy in recent centuries has always been to prevent that. An enlarged European Union will certainly need such flexibility. The ideas promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) and many others in my party, about how to create a flexible, outward-looking, enlightened and vigorous Europe, can be signed up to by our whole nation.
My hon. Friend is a former Member of the European Parliament.
Audrey Wise always spoke her mind. She was independent and she held her views passionately. We miss her, but I take great pleasure in welcoming my hon. Friend. I am sure that his stay here will be very long.
I want to discuss the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the continuing tragic loss of life. It might be appropriate to preface my remarks with one or two brief observations. I support an Israeli state—but without, of course, the occupied territories of 1967 onwards. I have supported the existence of Israel since it came into being in 1948.
In speaking against what I consider to be the excessive response of the Israeli armed forces and many of the injustices that many Palestinians face, I distance myself, as much as possible, from the anti-Jewish hate merchants and preachers, a few of whom, unfortunately, can even be found in this country. Such poison as they preach is no different from that preached by the fascist and Nazi thugs whose anti-semitism led to the holocaust.
The events of the past few months—certainly the past 10 weeks—in the conflict have caused much loss of life and intense suffering on both sides, especially among the Palestinians. It should go without saying that the mob barbaric lynching of the two Israeli soldiers was a horrifying act. It does not take a great deal of imagination to appreciate how the scene that we all saw on television—the mutilation of the bodies after the horrifying murder—went down in Israel. It created a feeling of insecurity and a sense that perhaps, in the end, the only aim was to drive the Israelis into the sea.
The response of the Israeli armed forces, including that against minors involved in stone throwing and other actions, led to many deaths among Palestinians. We saw on numerous occasions on television the terrible, tragic death of a boy. He desperately clung to his father, but to no avail—he was killed.
There must be few hon. Members who do not believe that excessive force has been used by the Israelis, and that there has been too much indifference to loss of life. Nor should there be any doubt about the fact that what occurred during that period has increased the deepest resentment and anger that Palestinians on the west bank feel towards Israel. I shall discuss that feeling in more detail in a moment, but the terror and rejectionist groups—the very people who are opposed to any settlement with Israel whatever, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad—must feel pleased about what has happened. They must feel that they have fertile groups to recruit. If there is an analogy, it must be with the IRA after Bloody Sunday. What has happened has played into the hands of the terrorist groups, who do not want any Israeli state.
Apart from the daily violence, the Israeli authorities should be concerned about the feelings of almost all Palestinians on the west bank, in east Jerusalem and in Gaza. They look on themselves as an oppressed, occupied people. They feel humiliated by the manner in which they are treated by the Israelis; they think that they are seen as inferior. On top of all those feelings of injustice, they have to put up with mass unemployment and a lack of essential basic needs, including an inadequate water supply. The number of job losses has been tremendous since the Oslo accord in 1993.
Much of the unemployment on the west bank has been due to the closure policies adopted by Israel. It has been extremely difficult for Palestinians to cross back and forth into Israel for work. We know that Israel is concerned about its security—about the suicide bombers. Any country, including Israel, has a right to use whatever means it can to defend itself. I do not deny the Israelis that right, because I believe that Israel has a legitimate right to exist, which is accepted by virtually all countries, including quite a number in the middle east. The collective punishment of Palestinians and their denial of work, however, is not only wrong in itself but plays into the hands of the terror groups.
Israeli settlements have continued to be built in the occupied territories. That has been encouraged. There should be a willingness to find ways of withdrawing completely from the territories won in 1967, but since the Oslo accord settlements have continued to be built, encouraged by the Israeli Government through tax refunds and reductions in the price of water and electricity. The settlements are in defiance of international condemnation, of which Israelis take no notice. Who settles in these places? Are they people fleeing from persecution or who face repression, as in the Soviet Union until the end of that state in 1991? Not at all. They tend to be Americans. That is fair enough, but I am not aware that there is acute anti-semitism in the United States. Moreover, having gone to live in the occupied territories and built the settlements, they deny that the Palestinians have any right to their land. They find it difficult to use the word Palestinian, and use "Arab" instead. They refer to that territory as Judaea and Samaria. They say that it has been given to them by God: it is in the Bible. Palestinians experience understandable feelings of injustice when they see the settlements going up.
I have always acknowledged that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex. It is easy for those who see the problem in a simple light and advocate a simple solution, be it a denial of the Palestinian right to statehood or a belief that there should be no state of Israel. A possible solution, of course, is to have two states, which I think the international community recognises: Israel without the occupied territories and a Palestinian state. Such a Palestinian state must be truly independent: it cannot be a statelet or a place where the Israelis can decide at any given time whether to grant favours or not.
Israel has genuine security needs, especially if we bear in mind what happened in 1967 and 1973. If there is to be a Palestinian state, it must be a genuine state with genuine independence. What the Palestinians make of that state—whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship—depends on them. I obviously hope that it will be a democracy, much like the one that exists in Israel, but it must be a viable state.
I have already said that Israel has as much right to exist as any other state. It has a right to defend itself, but it must recognise the injustice that the Palestinians have suffered. An important consideration for Israeli security is the need to find a political solution for the Palestinians. They should be able to live in an independent, viable state, including the west bank and the Gaza strip. As for Jerusalem, there must be a solution that recognises the three important religions, not just one.
That burning feeling of injustice and the deep-seated political and economic grievances of the Palestinians need to be addressed first and foremost by Israel, but they need to be addressed by the international community as well. We all have an obligation to try to find a just solution in the middle east between Israel and the Palestinians. I have made this contribution because, as someone who has always supported the Israeli state, I feel that I must make clear my concern and dismay at what has been happening not just in the past 10 weeks but since the occupied territories were taken by Israel.
I welcome the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) and congratulate him on his contribution. I am sure that he will prove to be a worthy successor to the late, much missed Audrey Wise.
I agree with every word that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said. It is unusual for me to do so, but I fully endorse what he so eloquently said about the plight of the Palestinians.
I should like to speak about the so-called Europe of the regions—the new regionalism in Europe. Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, strongly believes that the European Union should properly reflect all the various regions and smaller countries of Europe if it is to succeed. There was no real Welsh representation in the recent Nice conference. In line with the principle of devolution, we believe that it is necessary to have that stronger regional representation.
Plaid Cymru MEPs recently signed the declaration of Brussels, which recognises the historic nations within Europe that do not have representation. The declaration states that the amendments made to the treaties should specifically include recognition of, and respect for, the political and legislative powers of member states' internal political units in their relations with EU institutions.
On 13 April this year, the European Parliament voted on the report of the constitutional committee on proposals for the intergovernmental conference. It voted against the report because its aim was to strengthen further the position of the biggest and most powerful member states, seemingly at the expense of the smaller countries. The only reference to an increased role for the political and legislative powers of the member states' internal political units was in the amendments of the European Parliament, which, sadly, were not adopted.
Even those of us who believe in the EU project must admit that there is a serious democratic deficit in Europe. If we fail to respond to that, the charges of rule by distant Brussels bureaucrats will continue to increase in resonance, and perhaps even threaten the future of European integration.
In response, I want to stress the importance of involving the regional level of government so as to close the gap between the EU and the citizens of Europe. That is one way of creating a European Union that is democratic and effective and has credibility among the people of Europe.
As the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said, the Prime Minister, in a recent speech in Warsaw, expressed his support for a second chamber. Although my party agrees with the principle, I am a bit worried about the shape that the Prime Minister envisages. I fear that it will provide another opportunity for the larger member states to dominate decision making in Europe. We want a democratised European Union with a two-chamber Parliament; we would like one chamber to be directly elected, as happens at present, and a second chamber to be composed, possibly, of delegates from the nations and historic regions. The existing Committee of the Regions could form, as it were, an embryo.
A way must be found of ensuring that the voice of Wales, and that of Scotland, are consulted and heard before the United Kingdom finally decides its negotiating line in advance of major EU summits. There is concern in Wales about the lack of input on offer to the Assembly—the failure to invite it to become engaged in the process. The Assembly's views should have been sought before important meetings such as the one in Nice, because important issues of direct relevance to Wales were discussed.
We need to enhance the Assembly's powers to scrutinise European legislation—as part of the reform of its procedures—in order to monitor legislation and policy developments that are likely to affect Wales. It is essential for the Assembly to be aware of the latest developments, and to have an opportunity to engage with the UK Government when they prepare their negotiation line. Regional authorities as a whole have an insufficient input in decision making.
The declaration of Brussels, which I mentioned earlier, says:
States must examine their own constitutions and government practices to eliminate any surviving elements of cultural repression inherited from an imperialistic past.
The Minister may laugh, but those are not my words; they are the words of the declaration.
On Wednesday, in the Queen's Speech, the Government stated their commitment to making devolution work, and continuing the process of decentralising government. There was, however, no sign of that in the speech—apart from an interesting phrase demonstrating that, apparently, the Queen sees devolution as a process, not a one-off event. At this point, let me say that the Queen's Speech was lacking in provisions for Wales—although I unreservedly welcome the appointment of a children's commissioner, which I suggested as long ago as 1993.
That legislation is important, because it shows what the Assembly can do in presenting innovative solutions to Welsh problems. We asked the Government to continue the process of devolution, in order to create a true Europe of the regions in which Wales, along with other countries and regions of the United Kingdom, will be able to have her say. We make the obvious point that, if that is to be achieved, more powers should be devolved to the Assembly: we are thinking of, for instance, responsibility for the railways and the creation of a public transport authority for Wales. Responsibility for policing and fire services have already been devolved in Scotland, as have primary-legislation and tax-varying powers. I do not know why Wales is not yet on a par with Scotland; perhaps we shall find out one day.
This week's IGC was about preparation for EU enlargement, which is a very important topic in Wales. We have recently been granted objective 1 funding, which I hope will bring us much-needed aid, but the entry of a number of poorer countries—which I welcome, of course—raises questions about the future structure of regional aid in the EU. The current tranche of European grants might be the last available for the regeneration of the Welsh economy. It is therefore a disgrace that Wales has still not received her due from European structural funds. According to the Government's own figures, the estimated shortfall in relation to the money that Wales was entitled to receive in full from European structural funds during the three-year period of the comprehensive spending review and the funds allocated in the settlement is £628 million. It is possible to arrive at that figure by stripping out the European funds allocation of £421 million, and the match funding total of £207 million that must come out of the Barnett block. Following the deduction of those amounts, it is clear that the normal block grant for Wales will increase by 7.3 per cent., compared with an increase of 8 per cent. for the United Kingdom as a whole. For Wales to enjoy the same percentage increase in public spending as the UK as a whole and to take full advantage of objective 1 and other EU funds, the CSR allocation to Wales would have had to be £628 million higher over the next three years.
Nevertheless, the Gracious Speech showed that good progress was being made in international matters. My party unreservedly welcomes the ratification of the International Criminal Court treaty, for instance, although I want to know whether it will apply to visiting heads of state. I also welcome the intention of regulating arms exports, although it is a little overdue. As was said earlier, some four years have elapsed since Sir Richard Scott's report on arms to Iraq. The Bill is still in draft form, but I hope that it will be published soon so that we can make strides.
Mention has been made of a White Paper showing the forces of globalisation at work, and their impact on poorer peoples. I hope it will include consideration of the Tobin tax. We need a consistent method of transferring technology and funding to poor countries. Over the past decade, the environment, debt, financial instability and the growing gap between rich and poor have become global problems requiring global solutions. In Okinawa, the G8 could have decided to back the proposals outlined by Nobel prize-winning economist James Tobin for a small international tax on financial speculation, and the use of the money to fund debt relief. The amount would be huge: international currency speculation currently amounts to about $1.5 trillion a day, and a small tax of, say, 0.25 per cent. could raise as much as $250 billion per annum. I hope that we shall adopt the Tobin tax in the not too distant future. Some Governments say that it would not be practical, but others disagree. As I have said, Tobin is a Nobel prize winner who is highly regarded, and other advisers to many Governments favour the tax, considering it to be a steady, consistent way of dealing with the ever-present problems of world poverty.
The Foreign Secretary said that Government had an interest in human rights and humanitarian law. In the light of their ethical foreign policy, I must ask why the Government are so supportive of Turkey, given its disgraceful human rights record in relation to the Kurdish people. The Kurds have recently received some attention from the international community, and there is now a big push for Turkey to join the European Union. It has already joined NATO, and it is supposed to be an important border country for Europe, but why is it thought ethical and proper for the British taxpayer to stump up £220 million to sponsor the Ilisu dam project? Is that really ethical and proper, given that 20,000 or even 60,000 Kurds will be displaced? In my respectful submission, there will be no room for Turkey in the European Union until it treats the Kurds properly.
In the same vein, let me refer briefly to the problems of Sri Lanka. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), recently returned from Sri Lanka, and I hope he has been able to make further representations on behalf of the Tamil people.
At the end of the day, if an ethical policy really is an ethical policy, it should be applied to protect vulnerable minorities, and when its application is not necessarily politically expedient.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). I support the case for a Tobin tax on international speculation.
Today's debate concentrates on defence and foreign policy issues for the year ahead, of which the EU is a major one. The Prime Minister made a statement today about the Nice summit and if that summit is anything to go by, the state of the EU is anything but super. I have always favoured a far more open, transparent and democratic EU, and a far less bureaucratic, secretive and wasteful one. That is ever more essential with the enlargement of the Community, rightly, in the next few years.
I support the European rapid reaction force proposal, under which 60,000 troops could be deployed swiftly and sustained in the field for a year. I am not in favour of duplication, so I am happy for that force to be within the overall NATO structure. The row about its independence seems largely to be about semantics. If its administration occupies a separate office, even if that is at NATO headquarters, the European force could still be termed independent. Its predecessor, the Western European Union, had separate offices, so it is no big thing for the ERRF to have them.
Apparently, the United States in NATO will have the power of veto over any ERRF action, which will be a massive restraint on the force's operations. I hope that all the EU participants in the ERRF will also have the power of veto and that there will be consensus before any military action takes place. I would not want the force to go into military action on a whim, just to see if it works. For example, there could be a war in a year or two between Morocco and Algeria over the western Sahara. That would be a case for EU diplomacy, not military involvement.
I suspect that the previous Conservative Government would have gone down the road of setting up the ERRF, because the lesson of Kosovo was that there should be improved European defence capability. If there were no ERRF, Conservative policies would presumably mean vastly higher defence costs for UK taxpayers so as to try to achieve that capability on our own—that is strange from a party that is committed to millions of pounds of public spending cuts. Alternatively, those policies might have led to a reduced defence capability on our part and that of our European allies.
Although I support the Government's policy on the ERRF, I do not support their policy on Iraq. I am on record in the recent Select Committee on Defence report on Iraqi no-fly zones as stating that it is not a moral or humanitarian policy. It is highly doubtful whether there is any legal basis for the sanctions and military action. We are increasingly isolated, because the policy has been rejected by France, Russia and China, among others. It is misdirected, because the people of Iraq, especially the most vulnerable, are disproportionately the main victims. The infant mortality rate is excessively high as a result of that no-fly policy, which also places our armed forces and our pilots unnecessarily at risk.
These days, a measure of a country's "normality" in the global economy is foreign direct investment. That is seen as a crucial measure in central and eastern Europe. Why did not the United States and the UK concentrate just on foreign direct investment in Iraq, instead of on the callous anti-people, generalised economic sanctions that have been applied? The import of ambulances, medicines and goods necessary for the basic public health infrastructure have all been blocked at the UN SCR 661 committee. What UK representatives have done on the committee has been shrouded in secrecy. Over the next year, I urge an end to the people-bashing, people-killing economic sanctions imposed on Iraq as soon as possible.
On Sierra Leone, Oxfam's briefing to hon. Members says:
Oxfam believes that the time has come for Britain to commit itself to UNAMSIL—
the United Nations mission in Sierra Leone—
bring its forces under UN command and play a lead role within the peacekeeping mission—an internationally approved and accountable force—rather than be drawn further into an open-ended and unaccountable role.
I agree with those representations. Again, UK policy, objectives and likely length of stay in Sierra Leone seem to be shrouded in secrecy. The Defence Committee receives private briefings, but there are no public ones.
I have two worries about the policy. First, it could be tied to the United States's unfinished business with Liberia. The UK could be a conduit for that conflict and could get embroiled in it. Secondly, it is a form of imperialism along the lines of a sphere of influence, as the French had in Rwanda. The French Government gave their support to a genocidal Government right up to their fall. No other country felt able to persuade them to change their policy as Rwanda was deemed to be theirs. Sierra Leone is not ours.
I agree that there is a job to be done. Again, Oxfam said that there is a
danger of cross-border attacks exporting instability from Sierra Leone and Liberia into neighbouring Guinea and Ivory Coast, with severe humanitarian consequences.
It is a humanitarian and law-and-order job, but it should be done by the UN. That would be a far more legitimate course of action. If our forces are involved, which I do not object to, they should be under the auspices of the UN and do the job properly as a UN mission.
I welcome the proposed ratification of the statute of the International Criminal Court. I note the representations of Amnesty International, which states:
Jurisdiction of domestic courts is limited to crimes committed on UK territory or by a UK national. It would be preferable to provide the courts with universal jurisdiction, as is the case with a range of other crimes.
The provisions … should apply equally to all persons regardless of their official capacity.
Otherwise there could be difficult, lengthy and costly challenges to the surrender of individuals to the ICC.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, not the Attorney General should be responsible for the commencement of criminal proceedings, otherwise it leaves the government vulnerable to the charge that political considerations are interfering.
I note that the United States has not given its support to the ICC. Despite that, I call on the international community that has signed up to it to show courage and to try at that court any US citizen who has perpetrated war crimes, perhaps acting as a mercenary, despite possible US objection. US citizenship cannot be allowed to be a haven for terrorists and war criminals. At the very least, those individuals should know that they risk capture and prosecution if they travel outside the US.
Time is short so I should like to discuss defence spending. I have already said that I support the ERRF and I would support spending to ensure that it operates properly. I also want indiscriminate weaponry such as cluster bombs to be outlawed and to be replaced by precision-guided weaponry, so I would support money being spent on that, but not on prestige projects. I note, for example, that virtually all the major projects are overspent by a considerable sum. Such projects should be entered into only with great caution and then only if there is an overwhelming case for them.
I do not think that UK taxpayers should subsidise, even at second hand, the US national missile defence system. The US may waste its money on it, but we should not be fooled any more by so-called better burden sharing—which the US will call for—which would amount to us subsidising its system. The case is not proven for any generalised increase in defence spending.
In the next four years the US could well be a wild card. It would be appropriate and proper if, rather than adopting the policy of recent years of supporting every US foreign policy, the Government maintained a little distance and expressed some independent views.
The policy of our trying to act as a bridge between the US and Europe could become hugely discredited. In relation to global warming, that has already happened according to some quarters. What bridge can we hope to create in relation to nuclear weapons proliferation or violation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty? Such an attempt would be a bridge too far.
I very much agree with the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) about the situation that is developing in Sierra Leone, where the British nation and the House seem to be getting themselves into a difficulty that it will be very hard to get out of. We seem again to be engaging in becoming a colonial power in Sierra Leone, without the authority of an international organisation such as the United Nations to justify the degree of intervention to which we have committed ourselves. It is a very serious and difficult problem.
I had planned, in what is probably my last speech in a debate on the Address, to soliloquise a bit on honesty in politics and in journalism, and on how honesty influences the decisions made in this House and in this nation. However, a speech that does justice to such heavyweight subjects would be so long that, it will have to wait for another occasion. I should like instead to talk a little about events in Nice and the future of the European Union.
I should like to deal with a couple of specific matters: the lack of democracy in the European Union decision-making process; and a development—which seems to have hidden itself from Ministers, including the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary—that reveals the real purpose of developing an independent European defence force. The development also reveals the same type of sleight of hand that has characterised European Union debates since we first applied to join it.
I have the good fortune to be reading the excellent book by Lord Shore. Although I do not share his views on the European Union, in his book he deals with the way in which Britain and the European Union have been constantly misled about the true intentions of the treaty of Rome—which are to form a supernational state. Such a state has to have an army, and what has been agreed at Nice is to create the army that goes with such a state. An army and common foreign and defence policy are all part and parcel of the powers that any state must have if it is to be a true state.
Even today's debate has really only obscured the fact that the purpose of the tensions at least in France, on which Germany has given in, is to create a defence force that will be under the authority and control of the European Union. The article cited by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) seems to prove that the army would be under EU control and that NATO would only be consulted on it.
Lord Shore has made various points on the creation of the European Union, and he gives seven reasons why we should not be in the EU. I do not share that view. Nevertheless, the first reason he cites is that we are very different from the continental Europeans.
Secondly, the people of Britain do not want a European identity, but identify more readily with the English-speaking world and the Commonwealth.
Thirdly, there have been transfers of responsibility, but no democratic accountability. I should like to return to that point.
Fourthly—as I think that any hon. Member who has served on the European Scrutiny Committee will realise—even now, there are no limits on European encroachment on our national affairs, including defence and foreign affairs.
Fifthly, the European Union needs a new treaty to repatriate powers. If the intergovernmental conference that is proposed for 2004 is to consider limitations and subsidiarity—as it is called in European talk—of the Commission's and Union's powers, I would very much welcome it. However, we shall have to work extremely hard to ensure that that conference is not diverted or distorted to create a supernational state—which I do not believe the British people either want or understand. I believe that the British people would revolt against such a state, and that, if the EU attempted to create one, the whole structure of the Union would disintegrate, to the very serious disbenefit of every country in Europe.
We cannot suppress differences in culture and in language between our countries. We should be proud of those differences, but maintain a union that has been joined only for specific reasons that are good for Europe. Those powers should not be used by the union if they can be best exercised in national states.
Sixthly, I agree with Lord Shore that we cannot resist the pressure for self-government. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) has just said that he believes that Wales should have even more power. Power could be devolved in such a manner, but we are acting in a totally contradictory fashion. We cannot deny the people of Europe the accountability and democracy to which they have become accustomed, particularly in the United Kingdom.
Seventhly, Lord Shore suggests—it is a very good idea—that we should return to the United Nations with an overall, worldwide economic and financial council, to counteract the malign effects of globalisation—with which I should also like to deal briefly later in my speech.
Lord Shore demonstrates the way in which the countries of Europe are being misled by referring specifically to new Labour's 1997 party manifesto. He concludes that there is a fundamental dishonesty in new Labour's overall approach to the single currency and to the European Union. The manifesto states:
Our vision of Europe is of an alliance of independent nations choosing to co-operate to achieve the goals they cannot achieve alone.
Lord Shore says, however, that such an alliance is fundamentally not what the new Labour party is proposing. If any proof of that proposition were needed, the Nice and Amsterdam treaties provide it. The words that Lord Shore quoted from the Labour manifesto were chosen to deceive, as the authors knew that the electors to whom the manifesto was addressed did not and do not want to lose their birthright of democracy and self-government.
I believe that the European Union should be talking about democracy and accountability, and that those matters should have been on the agenda at Nice. They need to be on the agenda at any future IGC. I also believe that the Prime Minister is right to consider the possibility of a second chamber—a senate—of the European Parliament. I believe that members of such a body should be Members of this place and of other national Parliaments, so that national parliamentary interests and national interests are safeguarded, supported and explained to the British people and to the people of Europe's other nation states. I think that such a change will require a very serious adjustment.
I think that we cannot go along with what has happened at Nice—which is to refuse the Germans proper representation and proper democratic rights by not allowing them a greater vote than that of any other nation. After all, Germany is 20 per cent. larger than France or Britain. The Germans should be given their proper status and we should recognise the fact that their country is so much larger. The fact that France will be inferior to Germany is not a matter that should concern it, having wished for the kind of Europe that it has devoted all its efforts to creating.
Sleight of hand and dishonesty pervade our national life. In my constituency, for example, the Government said that the health service would receive more money. Our local hospital has not yet received any further money. In fact, it has been burdened with a £29 million debt from past mistakes made by the health authority. Education is to receive a huge amount of extra money, but no extra money appeared in the schools in my constituency until recently, when they received the small handout given directly to schools. There has been no improvement, despite the constant sleight of hand of the leaders of our nation.
The White Paper on overseas development that was published today was very welcome. Incidentally, it was in the Vote Office at 1 o'clock this afternoon, when it had already been released by the Secretary of State for International Development to the press at a great gathering earlier this morning. It is extraordinary that we should permit a statement of this importance to be made outside the House.
The Secretary of State for International Development is right to address globalisation. I agree with chapter 1, paragraph 19 of the White Paper:
Managed wisely, the new wealth being created by globalisation creates the opportunity to lift millions of the world's poorest people out of their poverty. Managed badly and it could lead to their further marginalisation and impoverishment. Neither outcome is predetermined; it depends on the policy choices adopted by governments, international institutions, the private sector and civil society.
I hope that all hon. Members will support that hugely important statement. Making certain that the one in five people who live in abject poverty—that is, on less than a dollar a day—are considered, and their views, ideas and needs addressed, is the only way to bring about proper peace in the world and moral justice for people in that appalling condition. We should welcome the proposals in the White Paper and work assiduously on them for the future.
Last night, I should have attended a service at All Saints parish church in Ilkley in my constituency, at the invitation of the Wharfedale Amnesty International group, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations human rights declaration. I could not attend but, owing to my interest in the people and politics of Kashmir, I looked up a recent Amnesty report entitled "India, a trail of unlawful killings in Jammu and Kashmir". On page 7, it states:
Shabir Ahmed Shah who since the beginning of his political life in 1968 advocated the right to self-determination of Kashmiris, spent some 22 years of his life in jail, about half of this in preventive detention—
The grounds for Shabir Ahmed Shah's various detention orders include calling for strikes, issuing leaflets calling for Kashmir's independence and boycotting India's independence day. These are non-violent activities involving the peaceful expression of his views. He was arrested again just a year ago simply for celebrating the anniversary of the UN human rights declaration. I and many of my Kashmiri constituents would warmly welcome a comment from the Minister on the current situation in Kashmir.
The rest of my chat tonight will be about the reasons why I could not attend the service last night. That was due to difficulties on the railways, yet again. If I do not mention my anxieties about the railways now, I may not be able to do so for some time. I apologise to the House for straying from the subjects on which we should be concentrating, but this is a matter close to my heart and I would like to talk about these difficulties.
Last night, I caught the 5.5 pm train from Leeds to London King's Cross. We ground to a halt between Retford and Newark, and were stuck there for nearly an hour. We were initially told that there was an object on the line ahead. Then we were told that there was a power failure in the overhead cabling, which would involve one-way working. The next information was that we would need a pilot from Railtrack. We eventually completed our journey at 10.10 pm, having taken more than five hours to travel from Leeds to King's Cross.
I give the details of my journey, not because it was unusually awful but because members of the travelling public and railway men and women are having to endure these conditions day in, day out. There was thankfully no tragedy; no one was hurt or killed. However, to put my journey into context, I will quote from early-day motion 1189 on railway safety which I, with the support of 67 right hon. and hon. Members, tabled on 28 November. I resubmitted it today. It states:
That this House condemns the ill-conceived privatisation of British Railways by the previous Tory Government which, despite massive injections of tax-payers' money, has led directly to the present and continuing crisis suffered by rail workers and rail-users alike; regrets that many are reverting to car use with its adverse impact on the environment and consequent increases in death and injury; and calls on the Government to restore confidence in the rail network—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although I am enjoying this interesting debate, and I know that one can talk about matters other than defence and foreign affairs, do such matters not have to be related to the Queen's Speech? Is the hon. Lady perhaps relating this story to a royal train journey?
Order. I think that I was showing the hon. Lady slightly more tolerance than the hon. Gentleman was in hoping that she will refer to the Queen's Speech at some point. However, the choice of topic is entirely hers.
I checked with Mr. Deputy Speaker and the Clerk before I started this diatribe. As I was saying, the early-day motion
calls on the Government to restore confidence in the rail network by returning Railtrack to public ownership and accountability with a clear onus to monitor track maintenance and renewal alongside a culture of safety and reliability as opposed to the present regime which places profitability before all else.
Many of us campaigned vigorously to stop rail privatisation by the previous Government. Commenting on the "Today" programme on 20 October, the Opposition spokesperson said of that legislation:
Mistakes were certainly made in the privatisation process. The system was made into too many different companies.
Unfortunately, we have moved gradually away from bringing the rail network back into some form of public ownership. However, I am delighted that the Queen's Speech mentions that a report by Lord Cullen is due which will look into all forms of transport safety, including railways, air and road traffic.
The Strategic Rail Authority, as stated in the Transport Act 2000, may be capable of sorting out the mess that exists today. I only hope that it does not take too long to improve matters, as there is an enormous adverse impact on too many lives. Businesses in west Yorkshire have achieved so much in the past few years in competing with London firms. Part of this success has derived from their ability to be at least as good as City firms, as well as undercutting them because of the lower overheads of living and working away from the south-east hothouse. We are seeing a planned economy working well to spread the rich pickings to areas that the previous Government barely knew existed.
Much of that success has depended on the ability of businesses in the north having the facility to meet clients and potential clients in the capital and return to their base in a day. This is now rarely possible. If the present crisis continues, there could be a long-term price to pay not only in respect of the well-being of northern businesses but in terms of quality of life throughout the country. Men and women frequently have two or three fewer hours a day to spend with their family. Should Ministers believe that I am exaggerating, they should take a ride on one of our overcrowded Northern Spirit trains that ply between my constituency and Leeds along the Airedale and Wharfedale lines. I could spend hours quoting the experiences of my constituents.
Bringing Railtrack back into public ownership would not, in itself, be a panacea for our rail network. Many of the faults lie with the train operating companies, but if the situation does not improve in weeks rather than months—bearing in mind the fact that the Hatfield crash was on 17 October—surely the millions of pounds going from the Treasury to the rail industry should buy back parts of that industry for the taxpayers of the United Kingdom, instead of simply going in subsidies, reduced by profits to shareholders.
I was very interested in the experiences of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) regarding the rail network, but I thought that she was not sufficiently critical of the Government. They are now in their fourth winter and have had a great deal of time to develop new policies for the rail network, if they chose to do so.
I was more interested in the hon. Lady's comments on human rights. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) let the cat out of the bag when he used the once golden phrase "ethical foreign policy". I can understand why the Foreign Secretary gave up using that rhetoric once he realised what a foolish hostage to fortune he had given, but that does not mean that the Government's policy should apparently discard the larger picture.
The House will know that I speak as one of the governors of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy—a most valuable organisation, described in some detail by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). Against that background, I have several specific questions and hope that the Government can provide answers on a particular foreign affairs issue that is intimately linked to other matters discussed today, and is highly indicative of the Government's overall foreign policy—their current view on affairs in Belarus. That follows directly from the debate of the hour—that on enlargement of the EU.
When I travel, as a governor of the WFD, from one former communist bloc country to another and observe the extraordinary efforts being made to jump through the EU's hoops, I wonder how sincere EU Governments are in their stated desire for enlargement. Of course, the applicant countries want to join and will do whatever it takes—even at extraordinary cost to themselves—but that does not mean that they believe everything they are told. They do not believe—and have not done so for years—the ever-shifting date of accession that has been suggested to them. They may not want to do what they are required to do, but the imperative to join the safety of western European organisations is great.
We are told that Nice was all about enlargement. Despite the Foreign Secretary's remarks earlier—about some technical nonsense—if the EU was serious about enlargement, one would have expected the common agricultural policy to have been raised at Nice. Politicians in Poland, for example, will not believe a word of the EU enlargement rhetoric until they see that the CAP is being overhauled.
We can be forgiven for thinking that, despite the proclaimed desire to enlarge the EU, Nice was more about something else: deepening and tightening the existing structures—a process that will make enlargement more difficult. Should that surprise us? It does not surprise me. After all, throughout western Europe, there are Governments made up of centre-left parties that, in the past, were wrong about all the important decisions that brought the cold war to an end. The left are on the wrong track again today.
For me and my hon. Friends, enlargement is in large part unfinished business dating back to the liberation of central and eastern Europe. Not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable for countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and the Baltic states to join the EU, but now it seems obvious—even to those who never thought it possible or desirable. Many other countries are also well within reach, but further progress will be made only when our Government and their centre-left allies in the EU raise their eyes from the artificial horizon that they have set themselves.
If in the past we had refused the first hurdle, there would be no free Poland. If we refuse the next jump, we condemn millions of people in eastern Europe to a future just as bleak as their past. That brings me to Belarus. With the fall of Milosevic in Belgrade, President Lukashenko in Minsk wears an unenviable mantle as Europe's most despotic and tyrannical leader.
I had the good fortune to be able to raise the subject of Belarus in an Adjournment debate a few months ago. I outlined how Belarus is still a long way behind the countries that border it—visiting Minsk is like going back 10 or 15 years. The atmosphere is one of oppression and fear. Amnesty International recently reported on the gross abuse of human rights that is still widely practised in Belarus. October's so-called parliamentary election was manifestly fixed by the president in the most arbitrary fashion.
In October, the United States Government dismissed the outcome of Lukashenko's elections in Belarus and said that they would continue to recognise the Parliament that the president dissolved four years ago. The State Department made it clear that it regarded the recent elections as neither free nor fair. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has said that the minimum requirement for holding free and fair elections was not met. What is the British Government's view?
I have with me a detailed report of violations of electoral legislation that took place during the preparations for and the holding of the elections to the Chamber of Representatives. It is a most revealing and shocking document. It seems clear that, even in the terms set by Lukashenko, his election failed to reach the turnout required by his constitution. Even in his own terms, the election has no legitimacy. What is the British Government's view?
In July, I warned the Government that the preparations for the elections fell far short of an acceptable norm on at least four counts. First, Belarus has no fully powered, properly functioning Parliament set within an understood division of power. President Lukashenko rules by decree. Secondly, electoral legislation needs thorough reform. Thirdly, there is still no guaranteed, real and regular access to the state-run electronic media. Fourthly and most important, there has been no effective or visible change in the political atmosphere. In other words, there is no end to political repression.
I remind the House that Amnesty International has detailed information on detentions, disappearances and the forcible breaking up of demonstrations. That still goes on today. About 50 people were detained and beaten during a recent demonstration of youth organisations. In the face of that repression, the democratic forces of Belarus remain remarkably united in their determination to stand up to Lukashenko. His attempts to drive a wedge between them have failed. Together the united democratic opposition is preparing for next year's presidential elections. It intends to support a single candidate and co-ordinate a broad-based campaign. What more can we ask of brave people, inside and outside the political process, trying to bring their nation to a state of freedom that we take for granted in our part of the world?
I have recently visited the British ambassador in Minsk and have nothing but praise for the way in which he and his staff go about their business. However, I must tell the House of a most alarming development in overall British representation in Belarus. If hon. Members visit the British Council's web page and find their way to the Belarus page, they will find this terse statement:
We regret that the British Council office in Belarus closed on 1 December 2000.
If, at the end of the debate, those on the Treasury Bench directly address only one point that I am making, it should be this: why at this moment of all times has the British Council pulled out of Minsk?
To add insult to injury, the British Council web page goes on to tell its readers that information on various British international, academic, arts, youth, education projects can be found at, and general inquiries on Belarus can be made to, the British Council in Moscow. Does the Foreign Secretary have any idea how that will be viewed by democrats in Minsk? Are we trying to tell them something? Are we trying to tell them that we are falling in with Lukashenko's plan to reunite Belarus to mother Russia?
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who takes a great interest in such matters, raised a further concern during the debate on Belarus that I recently initiated. He told us that he was visiting Krakow in Poland two years ago when the treaty was signed between Lukashenko and the President of the Russian Federation. He said:
Although there was great alarm in that region … about the dangerous implications for security and co-operation in Europe, there was not a peep about it in the western press.
We are fiddling while Rome burns.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 18 July 2000; Vol. 354, c. 28WH.]
I agree with him; we are doing nothing while the position in Belarus daily grows worse. We are watching Lukashenko selling off his country in the hope of being given the job of Russian governor in Belarus. While we are preparing to welcome Poland into the European Union, we do not seem to be aware of the implications of having Belarus as the new border. Is it the Government's intention to regard Belarus as a buffer state, the internal position of which is of no concern? I can tell the Government that that is not the view taken in Poland or the Baltic states, our soon to be most welcome EU partners.
I want also to refer to the position of the OSCE in Belarus. In recent days, Lukashenko has made it clear that he may soon close the OSCE's office in Minsk. Along with that there has been a dirty propaganda war against the mission and its head, Hans-Georg Wiek. In response to that, the United States State Department has already said it believes that the OSCE needs to be in Belarus. What is the British Government's position on that?
With his threat to the OSCE and so much else in his behaviour, Lukashenko is testing us, and Moscow is watching how we respond. Will we let Lukashenko get away with it again? Britain needs to pay as much attention now to what is going on as a Conservative Government did in similar but broader circumstances in the 1990s.
We cannot shelter behind a cosy belief that Lukashenko's rhetoric is empty and vague. His record tells us that he will match extreme words with extreme action. We need to let him and Moscow be in no doubt where we stand, or we will later have to face the consequences. Having come so far in bringing liberty to central and eastern Europe, we must keep going forward, not start rolling back. We should be adding to our representation in Minsk, not pulling out.
Let me conclude by repeating the two vital questions for the Government that I hope I have raised in my speech. First, what is the Government's view on the current position in Belarus, the recent elections, the recent repression of human rights and on the threat to the OSCE? Secondly, can the Government now offer an explanation of why the British Council has closed in Minsk? The suffering people of Belarus need a voice on the international stage and we should be helping to give it.
I apologise to colleagues for not being here for the whole debate. Unfortunately, one plans a bit in advance, and I was chairing a showing of a film on Saddam Hussein. It is an interesting film and it was the first time that it has been shown in this country. It depicts him with an intimacy that has probably not been seen before. I wish that more colleagues had been able to see it.
I obviously want to talk about Iraq, because I chair a committee that aims to bring about an international tribunal to try the crimes of the Iraqi regime. They were described by Mr. van der Stoel, who retired last week after 10 years monitoring human rights in Iraq, as the worst crimes that have been committed since the end of the second world war. Anybody who has followed the details of what happens in Iraq cannot but agree with that.
The organisation that I chair has collected evidence about those who have allegedly committed war crimes, including leading members of the regime. However, I am afraid that many leaders from throughout the world have paid lip service to the aim of bringing war criminals to justice. The fact is that many war criminals are still at large in many countries, including our own, and it takes a long time to bring them to justice. We have just produced evidence, which our legal experts say cannot be faulted, against five leading members of the Iraqi regime. That evidence has been presented to the Attorney-General, and we are waiting to hear what he intends to do. We hope that this country will want to mount a prosecution that will lead to the indictment of some of the leading members of the regime.
We have also produced evidence in the Netherlands, which we have passed on to the chief prosecutor there. We are calling for it to prosecute those war criminals for their crimes. Such prosecutions will test the political will of European countries. If prosecutors were so minded, they could initiate prosecutions and indict leading members of the regime. An indictment can confine people to their countries, as we saw with Milosevic, and, hopefully, bring about their trial and condemnation. We will discover in the next few weeks whether this country will lead the way in that, as I hope it will.
On prior scrutiny of the arms trade, one of the main criticisms of the Scott report concerned ministerial accountability. If, as stated in the Queen's Speech, legislation will significantly
improve the transparency of export controls,
it must also provide for a system of prior parliamentary scrutiny of export licence applications. It worries me that on 8 December the Government rejected recommendations for such a system, made by the quadripartite Select Committee, of which I am a member, in its report on further accountability. It believed that such a system would enhance ministerial accountability and introduce a vital element of prevention to the arms export licensing regime. Similar models operate in Sweden and the United States without damaging the defence industry, the licensing system or bilateral relations. Why would a system of prior parliamentary scrutiny compromise political and commercial confidentiality in the UK but not in the US or Sweden? I hope that I am wrong and that our recommendation is included in the Bill.
Members of the four cross-party Select Committees that form the quadripartite Committee have vastly diverse political opinions. However, they unanimously concluded that
the authority to export arms is of a different degree of sensitivity to other types of ministerial casework … There can be few decisions of greater potential impact on the conduct of foreign relations and on the lives of many people overseas than decisions as to whether to permit weapons made in this country to be put in the hands of overseas governments and their forces.
The Committee unanimously decided that by extending its present remit to cover scrutiny of licences at the application stage, such accountability could be achieved without posing a threat to commercial confidentiality or
the competitiveness of British companies. Scott will be very disappointed if that suggestion is not implemented. The quadripartite Committee approached matters gingerly at first because of the diversity of opinion, but as it worked on through the year, it was gratifying to find consensus emerging.
Two other countries concern me. The first is Indonesia and the areas of East Timor, West Timor, Aceh and West Papua. I had the privilege of observing last year's referendum in East Timor and I witnessed consequences of which we had warned before it took place. We had called for the militia to be disarmed, but the referendum went ahead without that, which was a bad error on the part of all the countries involved in organising the referendum. Many refugees remain in West Timor—people who would return to East Timor if not for the intimidation they would face from the Indonesian militia still active there. I spoke to the President of Indonesia when I was there last month: I asked him when he was going to disarm the militia, what he was going to do about the continuing human rights abuses, and about various other matters relating to human rights. I believe that since he came into power things have changed for the better in Indonesia, but there is a long way still to go.
Current events in Aceh, where many people have been killed and, I am sorry to say, British-supplied arms are being used, provide an example of what I was talking about earlier. If there had been prior scrutiny of arms being sold to that country, I do not believe that Parliament would have agreed to the sale. Members of the United States Congress have not agreed to the sale of arms to Indonesia and the US embargo remains in place. It has been interesting to see at first hand the US system in operation. If such a system can work in that country, with all its commercial interests, there is no earthly reason why it could not operate in this country as well.
The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) spoke about the European Union's decision to monitor human rights in applicant countries, and we would all support that, especially in respect of an applicant country such as Turkey, which already has its feet on the first couple of rungs on the ladder. As Amnesty International has frequently pointed out, the practice of torture remains widespread in Turkey. That organisation has written to the Heads of Government of the 15 EU nation states attending the Nice summit to raise its concerns.
The treatment of the Kurds in Turkey is wholly unacceptable. Anyone who has visited the site of the Ilisu dam, as I did in July, will know that it is proposed to shift 75,000 people without consultation, without discussing where they are to go, and without asking how they feel about being pushed out of their houses. Other human rights abuses are occurring in that area, directed particularly against the Kurds. Most EU countries would agree that if Turkey is to become a member of the EU, that must end; and we have a responsibility to press the issue vigorously while Turkey has its feet on the rungs of the EU ladder.
I should have liked to talk about many other countries, but in this canter around the course, I have mentioned the ones that cause me most concern. I am also concerned about parliamentarians in many countries throughout the world who do not have our privileges and cannot take it for granted that they will be able to speak as we in this Chamber are speaking today. Members of Parliament elected in Burma have been put in prison or under house arrest, or have been tortured. In Malaysia, Members of Parliament have been imprisoned on spurious charges arising under the Sedition Act 1948, which we British left as a legacy to Malaysia and other former colonies. The position of parliamentarians throughout the world is a matter that is vigorously pursued by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and its committee on human rights, but it is incumbent on us all to raise issues affecting our fellow Members of Parliament as often as we can.
I shall raise a few issues and explore them briefly, as I know that other Members wish to speak. I join the hon. Members for Windsor (Mr. Trend) and for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) in paying tribute to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. It is an excellent organisation, and I have seen at first hand how well it works. I echo the praise given by the Foreign Secretary to members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff, and not only those based overseas whom we see regularly when we travel abroad as Members. The staff in the UK should be praised also.
Since I was elected, I have on two separate occasions, both in relation to Chechnya, seen at first hand how FCO staff play a real and important role. First, two of my constituents, Jon James and Camilla Carr, were held hostage. They were released with a great deal of support and encouragement from FCO staff. Later, almost two years ago to the day, one of my constituents, Peter Kennedy, two other Britons and a New Zealander were tragically beheaded in Chechnya. I saw again how well FCO staff worked.
One feature of that tragedy emerged which I think the FCO has not yet taken fully on board, and that is the role of its advice. It was clear that the FCO was giving advice to British people that they should not travel to Chechnya. In the discussions that took place with Granger Telecom and British Telecom, that advice was made clear to the companies. However, it was not passed on to employees. In a future Gracious Speech, I should like to see a proposal for a requirement to be placed upon companies that if they are sending their staff overseas to countries where they should not go on the basis of clear Foreign Office advice, they and any subcontractors whom they employ should be given that advice in full.
I have been told that had Peter Kennedy realised that he should not be going to Chechnya, and had he been given the advice of the Foreign Office not to go, he would not have gone. In those circumstances, his life would certainly have been saved.
We have discussed the applicant states at Nice. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). It is important that the applicant states believe that they have a real chance of being accepted into the European Union. When I hear Conservative Members attacking the EU, I want to say, "Look, if it is such an awful organisation, why are so many countries and so many people queueing up to join it?" It has been a success and we must ensure that as many states as possible join it.
Last week, I was in Lithuania, a country which I first visited in 1995. It has made enormous strides, as have the other Baltic states, in trying to become members of the EU. The Baltic states have changed their economies and they are well on the way. We need to show and give them encouragement so that they understand that at some stage they will gain access to the EU. If we do not adopt that approach, we risk their regression into right-wing nationalism and xenophobia. Those attitudes are never too far away in countries of the Baltic states and of central and eastern Europe.
I shall underline what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said about the European rapid reaction force. The Liberal Democrats are very much the Atlanticist party. My right hon. and learned Friend said that he had studied in the United States. The leader of my party, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), also studied there. We shall do nothing and support no policy that drives a wedge between the EU and NATO. NATO must remain the cornerstone of our defence. We shall ensure that a European rapid reaction force does not prejudice NATO if the United Kingdom plays a leading role. If we do not, there is the danger that a wedge will be driven in. Bill Cohen was right to refer to it, but with a strong British presence, the rapid reaction force will be a force for good.
I support the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who paid tribute to our armed forces. They are the most excellent in the world, but they need the right kit. The Government have started by introducing some important projects. We hope that by means of smart procurement we shall see the death of some of the faulty procurement legacies of the Conservative Government.
We hope that the proposed new aircraft carriers will go ahead. I was honoured recently, with the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), to visit the USS George Washington. I saw at first hand the power and capability of a real aircraft carrier. We should work towards having two carriers, although smaller, with that capability. There is also the importance of the type 45 destroyer fleet. However, it must be properly procured. There must be equal and fair procurement as between BAE Systems and Vosper Thornycroft. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) has been pressing the Government on that matter.
I shall focus my remarks on a narrow aspect of the treaty of Nice—the declaratory effect of the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union. I raise the matter because it is at the heart of the debate that the House should be having—a debate about the primacy of the House and the prospect of powers being siphoned off to unelected judges in the European Court of Justice in a way that is undemocratic and unaccountable.
What most concerns me is the Government's lack of clarity on the charter of fundamental rights. They say that it has no binding legal effect of any kind. I am not inclined to believe Ministers who, before the election, said that they were in love with the pound, and in October 1997 decided that they were in principle in favour of abolishing the pound. I am not disposed to listen to Ministers who told us one thing two weeks ago about NATO's view on the rapid reaction force, whereas two weeks down the road, the heroic efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) have exposed the duplicity and muddle of Ministers with regard to the Euro army, for that is what it is. Nor am I disposed to believe a Prime Minister who vows that he does not believe in any kind of superstate, but speaks of his desire for Europe to be a superpower.
On the declaratory effect of the charter of fundamental rights, we have only to examine the relevant law. The charter will not have direct effect such that the European Court of Justice can alter existing directives and EU laws, but it will be binding to the extent that the court can interpret existing laws. It is clear to eminent jurists among the Opposition and on the Government side in another place that by an interpretation of existing law, the European Court of Justice can, in effect, create new rights.
When we consider the application of the charter as set out in article 51(1) of the latest draft, it is clear that the charter addresses the powers of the institutions and bodies of the Union with due regard to the principle of subsidiarity. Those of us who have bothered to look at the effect of the protocol on subsidiarity adopted as part of the Amsterdam treaty know full well that subsidiarity is an utterly meaningless, empty and hollow concept in respect of preserving the powers of nation states and allowing nation states to do what they can do best, in order to avoid decision-making by EU supranational bodies.
Let us examine some examples of the effect that the adoption of the charter in its declaratory mode will have on the subjects of this country. In the working time directive, for example, there are two derogations. The directive can be amended by individuals agreeing to work more than the maximum number of hours, and there are exclusions from the directive.
Those derogations are at present lawful in this country. It is clear that under the terms of article 31 of the charter of fundamental rights, it would be up to a British Government to justify those exceptions to the European Court of Justice. If the judges in the ECJ were not persuaded, they could strike them down.
It is worrying that articles 34 and 35 of the charter, which relate to social security and health, give blanket rights of an unspecified nature for universal social security and health provision. In Euro-jargon, article 34(3) talks about the minimum level of social security and housing benefit needed
in order to secure a decent existence for persons lacking sufficient resources.
Jurists who know a bit about the subject are asking whether that would affect the ability of Her Majesty's Government to have special provisions for benefits for asylum seekers. At the moment, voucher systems are in place, but would they fall foul of a European Court of Justice determination? What about workfare and the Government's ability to say that benefits are dependent on certain onerous conditions, including the desire and ability to work in exchange for benefits.
Those are clear examples of ways in which the interpretation of the articles by the European Court of Justice could, in both effect and practice, limit the ability of this sovereign House and the Government to make the law in this country. Those are only two examples of existing provisions, but what about laws and regulations that are not yet in place? I shall turn to the most topical subject for many in the House—laws and regulations on reproduction, human embryology and stem cell research.
Article 3(1) of the charter is headed "Integrity of the person" and makes clear references to what can be done in relation to
making the human body or its parts a source of financial gain
and in relation to
the reproductive cloning of human beings.
Those are delicate, sensitive areas that throw up complicated scientific and ethical issues. In my judgment, they have nothing at all to do with the EU and should not be the subject of EU competence or, in another sense, interference. They should, pre-eminently, be a matter for member states of the EU to determine in their own sovereign Parliaments and courts. Frankly, I am appalled at the prospect that the charter may be used further down the road in the ways that I have described on health, social security provision and human embryology research. Beyond peradventure, those are all matters for sovereign, independent legislatures of the kind that we have in this country.
The lack of the clarity of the Government's position on the charter at Nice gives me more concern than anything in the Nice treaty. I urge members of the Government to explain in words of one syllable why the declaratory statement made at the end of last week at Nice will not have the effects that I have described and will not have binding effect on the courts or the legislature of this country.
Like the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), I wish to apologise for not being here for the whole evening, partly because I have been entertaining a guest from Austria, Mr. Rudolph Kampel. I make that point because I do not want the Foreign Secretary to think that any of my remarks are Euro-phobic in any way—heaven forbid.
Today, the Prime Minister said that the idea of an independent standing army is nonsense. He also said that the idea of military planning being undertaken independently by the European Union without co-operation with NATO is nonsense. Finally, he boasted that we had secured our objectives in Europe during the past few days. He did so with particular regard to co-operation with NATO.
The Prime Minister quoted from the presidential report in an interesting manner, as he included some statements and excluded others. It is worth repeating an important phrase that appears close to the end of the report's annexe on the standing arrangements for consultation and co-operation between the EU and NATO. The Prime Minister chose not to read it out. The annexe states:
The entire chain of command must remain under the political control and strategic direction of the EU throughout the operation.
Should we be surprised that Bill Cohen showed alarm and felt that the rapid reaction force would act independently of NATO?
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), who spoke briefly, for which I am grateful, posed an interesting question. He asked why other countries would wish to join the European Union if it was so bad. I think that he cited Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and some other Visegrad countries. The reason why they are so keen to join and why we have our doubts is that Britain and Germany mainly pay for the European Union. Of course, the countries that want to join will mainly benefit from the European Union.
For that reason, hon. Members have every right to be alarmed that the common agricultural policy was not discussed. It is by far the biggest drain on European Union funds. Let us be clear: if the European Union is to expand, it cannot survive with the existing common agricultural policy. No country, not even a European Union superstate, can afford the CAP if the eastern European countries are absorbed. I believe that the European Union should absorb those countries. Indeed, it was the policy of the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), to broaden rather than deepen the European Union. Those fundamental changes must be made.
In the few minutes that remain, I should like to deal with two issues that concern my constituency. In the most Gracious Speech, the Queen said:
My Government will introduce legislation to modernise and improve law enforcement by, for example, tackling disorderly conduct.
Such conduct has been called yob culture, and I do not believe that any hon. Member would object to dealing with that.
Peter Gammon, president of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, said:
I think that yob culture is endemic and we need strong measures and mechanisms to deal with it. We have to improve the quality of life for people, remove the fear of crime. Part of this is brought about by yobbish behaviour and minor crime but we need to use these measures to rebuild the fabric of our community.
That is all well and good, but, as Ministers know, a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers added:
We need to make sure that when the Bills come forward they are workable. I refer in particular to the practicality of curfews.
Spin is not enough; there must be substance. For that, there must be enough police officers on the ground for proper enforcement. PC David Stockport, secretary of the North Yorkshire branch of the Police Federation, said:
It cannot keep going on like this.
He was referring to the cut in police officer numbers. He went on to say:
It is becoming impossible for police officers to cope. We have huge problems with lack of back-up. You may be in Whitby and the nearest support is in Scarborough. We are getting to the stage where it is putting us in danger.
I contacted the chief constable of Staffordshire, Mr. John Giffard, who gave me some interesting figures.
I do not wish to suggest that my constituents in Lichfield are yobbish, but we are blessed with a wide variety of public houses, and on Friday and Saturday nights, things get a little boisterous. As a consequence, police will have to be available to enforce the yob culture legislation, if it is enacted before Parliament is dissolved.
How many police officers do we have in Lichfield on a Friday or Saturday night? Just three or four policemen, backed up, if we are lucky, by maybe four or five special constables. What about the large metropolitan area of Stoke-on-Trent? There is one sergeant, maybe four police constables and 10 special constables, although, apparently, 20 or 30 are available if they are required to deal with a special event or riot. Of course, police officers can be drafted in from other areas in an emergency.
Under this Government, there has been a huge cut in the number of police officers. In Staffordshire, there was a drop of 68.1 men in one year alone, and in the west midlands, more than 126 officers have been lost. In the three years since the Government came to power, Staffordshire has lost 250 police officers and civilians, and gained, from the Government's extra funding, a mere 90. That is a net loss of 160 police officers from Staffordshire's small force.
It is worth contrasting the present situation with the record of the Conservative party. If I do not do that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you can bet your bottom dollar that those on the Government Front Bench will, so I will get my word in first. Under the Conservative Government between March 1979 and 1997, the force's total strength increased by 15,400, from 109,653 to 125,051, an increase of 14 per cent. Under Labour, between March 1997 and September 1999, the total force's strength fell by 2,001 from 125,051 to 123,050, a decrease of 1.6 per cent. Once again, a great deal of spin is involved—we hear about legislation to deal with yobbish culture—but, sadly, there is no delivery. Without police officers on the ground, we will not witness law enforcement in this country.
The Government were also elected on a promise of better health care. In Lichfield, Victoria hospital is under threat because of the abolition of fundholding practices. Despite the fact that 15,149 Lichfieldians signed a petition to save the hospital and its services, there is every reason to believe that the maternity unit in the hospital will be disbanded, that the dialysis unit in the hospital will be closed and that the minor injuries unit in the hospital will be disbanded, if not the hospital itself.
A very expensive, and what is called an informal, consultation document has been produced. The health authority said that the document's findings were not what it wished to hear, namely, that people wanted to keep the maternity unit in Lichfield. Surprise, surprise—the local health authority is now being urged by the Department of Health to produce yet another consultation document, which may take three, four or five months to complete. That is purely a cynical act—the authority wants to delay the closure of the maternity and dialysis units and of other services in Lichfield until after the general election.
That is happening across the land, not just in Lichfield. Actions taken by the Government show yet again that they are all spin, no substance and no delivery. Until the Government are prepared to put their money where their mouth is, to provide more police officers, more nurses and doctors and to fight our corner in Europe, they will continue to fail the people of this country.
I shall start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) on his first appearance in the House. I pay him the courtesy of agreeing with my hon. Friends that he made a good speech. It was an excellent start to his political career. We crossed swords during his election, but I give him the benefit of the doubt on his first speech in the House and I welcome him on behalf of the Conservative party.
As there is limited time available for my response to the debate, which was in two halves, I shall mention only those who commented on defence matters. If they will forgive me, I shall leave the remarks of those who spoke purely about foreign affairs or other matters to another time.
My hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) and for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) spoke about defence. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford made some pertinent points about Sierra Leone. Although I disagree with the comments of my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen), I welcome him to his permanent place in defence debates. I did not agree with what he said on defence, but he said it rather well.
The two speeches of note on that subject from this side of the House were from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who both made powerful contributions in the short time available about the effect on NATO of what the Government have agreed and exactly where that takes us.
I pay tribute to our troops and their families. We have come to expect the highest levels of professionalism from our forces—perhaps we should not, but we do. They have shown that professionalism time and again. Whether or not we agree with Government decisions, or whether in opposition Labour agreed with the previous Government, the truth is that when our forces are called on to act to implement Government policy they do so with the utmost efficiency and professionalism. We are deeply proud of what they do. We are also proud of the families who support them and worry about them when they are away. All too seldom do we hear comments about their sacrifice and their sense of duty. Much is asked of them, and they give a lot. It is worth while recognising what they do.
I also want to mention quickly one or two areas on which we will not be able to go into detail given the short time available, but which we have dealt with in two recent debates. I am sure that the Minister will recognise that when he winds up the debate.
The Minister will shortly bring the quinquennial Bill to the House for its Second Reading. We are disappointed that the three services discipline Acts have not been put together. I understand why that is difficult, but it is high time that we got on with it. The Government would have had our full support to make that work.
I welcome the proposals for the Ministry of Defence police, which the Minister had the courtesy to let me see today. Others will be welcome during the passage of the legislation. However, I give the Minister notice that the big issue that we shall want to debate is the move down the politically correct road, which will damage the ethos of our armed forces. The Government have incorporated the European convention on human rights in legislation, but included no caveat to protect our armed forces from what may become intrusive legislation via the courts. We will want to know how they intend to deal with that, because it could be damaging.
In the run-up to the next election, the Government will have to return to the issue of overstretch and the current problem of a shortage of fast-jet pilots, among other forces. I gather that only 18 combat-ready Sea Harrier pilots are available, which is a serious indictment of the Government. We shall return to that issue again and again, as well as to the problems of forces families and the homes that they have been unable to live in because of their state.
Sadly, I was not present to hear the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), but I understand that he mentioned an important facet of overstretch and of the reason for the haemorrhaging of middle and senior-ranking and non-commissioned officers from the forces. He rightly referred to medical services, which were a problem under the previous Government and are still a serious problem now. The Minister has dealt with the matter in part, but is it not time for us all radically to rethink our approach to medical problems relating to families and service men? My colleagues and I would be happy to engage in a serious debate about that.
European defence is the key issue that the Government presented to us today, following the Nice treaty. Two serious questions need to be answered. First, will the proposal—will what the Government have signed—duplicate the structures, dilute NATO and eventually decouple the United States from the defence and the alliance of western Europe? We think—I believe—that that will happen.
The Prime Minister cannot now complain that he ignored all this because it was not a problem until the last few days before Nice, when the Americans suddenly discovered it. That is not the case. The Prime Minister knows that all along—from St. Malo through Cologne to Helsinki, and even Nice—the whole issue of the autonomy of the structure was critical, and he agreed at every turn with every statement that was written about the force being autonomous. There was never any question of its being anything else.
Last week, when Mr. Cohen, the American Defence Secretary, made it clear publicly that the Americans had deep concerns, the Prime Minister pretended that it was the first time he had heard of this, and that suddenly he was in a face-off with the French presidency. What utter nonsense. He knows very well, as does the Foreign Secretary, that Mr. Cohen has made that absolutely clear to the Government privately, endlessly, over the past two years, since St. Malo at the start of all this.
Nothing was a surprise to the Government a week ago, and they were not in a spat with the French just at the last moment. It is realistic to say that the Government knew all along. In his recent meeting with President Chirac, the Prime Minister said that they were at one and saw "eye to eye" on European defence matters. That was before the Americans, apparently, warned him publicly. That gave the game away and revealed that the Government were in reality very keen on all the proposals.
There is plenty of evidence that the Government's assertion that they have managed to insert NATO's right of refusal in the document is nonsense. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe made that absolutely clear. The cornerstone of the force's being part of NATO is that NATO should be able to decide who will operate, but nowhere does that exist in the documents that the Government have signed. There is only a vague and general statement about circumstances where NATO as a whole is not engaged.
The Government know very well that NATO as a whole is rarely engaged. The reality is that there will be caucusing among EU members before they go into NATO meetings, and it will end up with the United States versus the EU members of NATO. That is hardly a way to balance the alliance, but the Foreign Secretary and the rest of the Government—and particularly the Prime Minister—have left us to pick up the pieces.
Then there is the concept of operations being conducted without NATO assets. It is a fact that the EU will make the judgment on that, without any question. It was made clear in the annexe to the presidency conclusions on security, which states:
In the event of an EU operation calling for NATO assets and capabilities, the following procedure … will be established … once the EU has chosen a strategic option … on a proposal from the EUMC.
The EUMC is the European Union Military Committee. That is the reality, as is what was signed at Nice. The EU makes the decision, not NATO—and certainly not the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister.
There is also a wonderful admission in the document about the chain of command. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe pointed out, the end of the document makes it clear how the arrangement will work:
the entire chain of command must remain under the political control and strategic direction of the EU throughout the operation … NATO will be informed of developments in the situation.
There we have it. There is not one formal link between any of those EU defence institutions and NATO. All we have is a clear indication of who will hold the decision-making power; it certainly is not NATO.
What the Prime Minister said—that the right hon. Gentleman had managed to hold the line against the vicious French or the other Europeans who were hellbent on driving America out of Europe—was nonsense. As I have said, the right hon. Gentleman had agreed from St. Malo onwards about all those arrangements. He said that it was a "victory for common sense." I look only at what the others are saying. Interviews and comments from the German Government in the Süddeutsche Zeitung are clear. They say that
the very initiators of the force, both bashfully saw to it that the real step by the Europeans towards more integration was concealed.
The two to whom they were referring are President Chirac and the Prime Minister. That is the reality. In France, President Chirac said after the signing of the agreement, which he was happy to sign:
as regards its preparation and implementation,
the force must
be independent of SHAPE: co-ordinated, but independent.
Therefore, President Chirac has no doubts about what was signed. It appears that the Prime Minister is in some form of denial. We have a series of duplicate structures: a Political and Security Committee, a Military Committee of the EU, the Military Staff of the EU and strategic planning—duplicate structures and a weakening of NATO.
The Government say that those structures and all that was agreed are not about anything important; they are about only some small-level delivery of Petersberg tasks. That was a question that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex got on to powerfully. We know that the Government are running to the election and that, now they have signed the agreement, they have gone into a process of denial, but will the Foreign Secretary please explain: if this is only about low-level Petersberg tasks, why do we need 100 naval ships on call, 400 combat aircraft and between 60,000 and 100,000 men? It is absurd to think of that as aid to the civil power. The Government are dumping all that on its head; they want to ignore the reality for those who want to break up NATO. That is the route that they are taking because that is the force to which they have signed up.
Given that the first conclusion is that what the French say about the matter, not what our Prime Minister says, and what other leaders are saying in Europe is correct, there must be a bigger scheme on offer. We saw it from the newspaper Die Welt before the Nice summit. It said clearly, referring to the German Government, that the whole scale of operation was way beyond Europe—it is the Caucasus, the middle east and north Africa. It is straightforward. They know that. They believe it and that is what they believe the Prime Minister has agreed.
Only today, the chief of staff to the French armed forces, Jean Pierre Kelch, said in Le Monde that
the EU's field of responsibility is far greater than that of NATO.
Everyone else knows what the Prime Minister has signed. All he does is come back and deny it. We know what Secretary Cohen said. He would not deny that what he said still stood after the Nice treaty. Everyone knows that the Government have signed up to that.
The question for all of us is this: why did the Prime Minister ever embark on that policy? I am reminded that both he and the Foreign Secretary said time and again that they opposed it. Only in 1997, the Foreign Secretary said:
The European Union will not now be a defence organisation.—[Official Report, 12 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 911.]
I remember that he grovelled to the previous Foreign Secretary in 1996 when he said that
he will have our full support in resisting any defence competence for the European Union.—[Official Report, 12 March 1996; Vol. 273, c. 789.]
There it is: a Foreign Secretary who says one thing one day and does another thing another.
The reality, as we know, is that the Government have given way on the issue. They have entered into an alliance with others who would change and break NATO, and have done so for one petty political reason: they were left out of the single currency. As they feared that the single currency would go ahead and they would lose influence in Europe, they signed up with the French to a process delivering Britain's defence forces outside NATO. The Foreign Secretary knows that, as do the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary, who is not in the Chamber. That is the reality.
I have travelled from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe to NATO and elsewhere, and all the ambassadors—not only the British ones—say the same—that enhancing European military capability and co-operation should and could have been done within NATO. The only reason why it has not been done is that the Government joined the French, who would not rejoin the military wing of NATO, thereby opening the door to current developments.
I tell the Foreign Secretary—who is hiding his head—[Interruption.] Yes, he is hiding his head. He has agreed to proposals that will break NATO and decouple the United States from European defence. All he has to remember is that, at the next general election, the Opposition will take great pleasure in taking a stake marked "Euro-army" and driving it through the heart of this little beast called new Labour, driving them from government.
As Ronald Reagan would have said, "There he goes again."
It is a great privilege for me to draw to a close this foreign affairs and defence debate on the first Loyal Address of the millennium. First, however, I should apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who is away on an extremely important Government visit to India.
I also welcome our colleague, my hon. Friend the new Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), whom I knew when he was a Member of the European Parliament. He was an extremely effective representative. I know that not only will he be an extremely effective Member for Preston, but, from his speech, in years to come, he will make very Effective contributions to the House's debates.
Over the course of the day, we have discussed Britain's place in the world, key to which is certainly our position in Europe. The Government are determined to be at the centre of the debate on the future of Europe, as that is the only way in which we shall be able to play a part in shaping the outcome and ensure that our national interest is fully taken into account. That is the only way in which we shall be able to ensure that others do not make the important decisions for us.
As the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, it is my responsibility—indeed, my pleasure and privilege—to oversee the work of our armed forces and the part that they play in maintaining Britain's place and reputation on the international stage. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), like me, knows what a superb job I have in government.
I join the hon. Members for Mid-Sussex and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) in their tributes to the work done daily, and even as we speak, around the world by our armed forces. I also pay tribute to their families, who bear much of the strain even in normal circumstances, but particularly at this time of year.
I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in paying tribute to the work that our forces do around the world. Time and again—most recently in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Mozambique and Sierra Leone—they have shown that they can make a real and positive difference to people's lives. It is possible to make such a difference because our forces, and those who serve in them, are second to none.
The reform and modernisation programme which we are well on the way to implementing following the strategic defence review will make our forces even better placed to act. A massive programme of investment is under way to improve their ability to deploy rapidly and effectively to crises and to make a decisive difference when they arrive. In the past few months, for example, we have announced the provision of new strategic lift for our forces. We are leasing the C17 and then procuring the A400M in a £4 billion airlift package. We are also acquiring roll-on, roll-off ferries and new logistics ships—another £1.25 billion of investment in our forces.
All of that is being funded from a defence budget which, for the first time since the mid-1980s, is enjoying a sustained real-terms increase. In the next three years, we are providing, even after inflation, £1.25 billion of new money for defence. That reinforces the Government's commitment to our forces, and it also shows that we are very serious about defence.
I am not sure what the Tory party is serious about these days, and I am no better informed following the speech made by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude). However, as a close observer of—and active participant in—the internal battles of the Labour party in the 1980s, I recognise many of the symptoms that accompanied the Militant takeover of our party. I counsel Conservative Members to read the book on that period, because they would do well to relate it to their own experience.
The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said something that was familiar to everyone who remembers those days, when he spoke of a sell-out over everything. I remember the Militant Tendency's view that every deal that anyone ever made was a sell-out. That is the ideology—the mindset—that drives parties to destruction, along with the rejection of history. It is very difficult to raise any issue relating to the previous Government, because it appears that no Conservative Member ever had any connection with that body. They all wish to consign that Government to another period of history. The deselection of Members of Parliament has even been proposed.
I can tell Conservative Members from hard experience that all those factors make a great formula for staying in opposition. One would think that they would have read the book, skipped the gory bits, and tried to reach the conclusion. However, they seem intent on working their way through it.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, whose jokes are not quite up to it, could deal with a serious point. Under the new arrangements for European defence, in the event of the European Union deciding that it wished to go ahead with one of the Petersberg tasks, from whom would the rules of engagement emanate? What would be the role of the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe in such a mission?
I shall come on to the European issue. However, I fully understand that the hon. Gentleman, as part of the reasonable tendency in the Conservative party, must grieve at the state of his party and recognise exactly how accurate my description of it was. When I have dealt with European defence, we shall see whether I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question to his satisfaction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) talked about the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and I pay tribute to his chairmanship of that body.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) spoke of the speculation in parts of the Scottish media about the direction that the Chinook was taking. We have no evidence to support that speculation. Furthermore, irrespective of destination, nothing gainsays the need to maintain safe flying rules. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also welcomed the Bill on the International Criminal Court, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen). I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his offer of help to expedite that legislation, and hope that such help will come from all parts of the House, including from those on the Conservative Front Bench.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) spoke movingly about the situation in Israel. He always speaks with depth and from the heart on that issue, and I am sure that my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take on board his comments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) spoke on Kashmir, and is a strong advocate of that cause. Her comments will also have been widely noted.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) spoke about the regional level of government. He will remember that the Prime Minister said in Warsaw that we have to see what the people of Europe are looking for in terms of government in the EU and be prepared to respond to that. The hon. Gentleman also referred to Turkey and Sri Lanka, but his contribution was slightly marred by its lack of any condemnation of the terrorism taking place in those countries.
The issue that has dominated much of the debate, and the media, over recent weeks is our plans for improving Europe's defence capability. A good deal of what has been said has been misleading and I welcome this opportunity to set the record straight, especially in view of some of the near conspiracy theories that have come from the Opposition. That is not a new development; nor is the move to improve Europe's defence capability. It is a direct consequence of the treaty of Maastricht and of the NATO conferences at Berlin and Washington.
The hon. Gentleman has not answered the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). Will he recognise that he and his right hon. Friends did not even vote for Maastricht?
Probably the hon. Gentleman did not either. He is once again trying to deny his party's history. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise other matters, I have to deal with them, otherwise he will say that I have not given an answer. He refers to Maastricht, which is exactly the point that I am making. His party, when in government, put Maastricht through the House. He rightly points out that we voted against it. I am not entirely sure of his logic, but he is demonstrating the continuity on this issue that exists between Governments of both parties.
We have ensured that the organisation which provides our security adapts to changing circumstances. That is not a damaging development, because a stronger Europe means a stronger NATO. A stronger Europe will be able to act as a force for good in the world.
The United Kingdom has played a leading role in this debate, ever since the Prime Minister called for fresh thinking in autumn 1998. We have shaped its course; we have ensured that it is focused on what really matters—the strength of European capability.
The headline goal agreed at Helsinki last December was the result, and the pledges made at last month's capability conference were the responses of the member states.
A lot has been made of Secretary Cohen's comments. He says that we need to establish a co-operative, collaborative mechanism as far as the European security and defence policy and NATO are concerned. As long as there is openness, transparency and a non-competitive relationship, the United States will remain committed. We have that.
Defence Secretary Cohen also said that Operation Allied Force in Kosovo revealed huge disparities in the military capabilities of NATO members. It showed that significant new investment was necessary to improve NATO's ability. He said that the European Union's proposals to develop a 60,000-man rapid reaction force will allow Europe to deal swiftly and effectively with local challenges to security when NATO itself is not engaged militarily.
The European Union will be working with NATO's military planning capabilities. [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is so resistant to the idea of working with allies. In NATO, we regularly work with allies. There is a tendency among those on the Opposition Benches not to want to work with any other country. They do not want to work with Europe—they did not even want to work with Australia over East Timor. Australia has been our ally for decades, coming to our aid any time, yet the Tories gave it the brush off.
Let us deal with the reality. This is a move to enhance NATO's military capability, working with NATO. At the Birmingham NATO informal conference, Secretary Cohen indicated the support of the United States for this initiative. Then, last week, he rightly identified problems which, if they arose, would create difficulties. Equally, he indicated that the United States supports the European security and defence policy.
Conservative Members may wish to take the hermit approach of bewailing the state of the world. The Government, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are working with other countries to enhance NATO's capabilities. That is the future of defence, and that is why the Conservative party will stay in the past.