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Foreign and Security Policy

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:53 pm on 25th April 2001.

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Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown Liberal Democrat, Yeovil 7:23 pm, 25th April 2001

I beg to move, That this House believes that in environmental, foreign affairs and security policies only a collective and multilateral approach will now succeed; regrets the unilateral decision of the United States to refuse to adopt the Kyoto Protocol and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to use every effort to persuade the United States government to reverse that decision; asserts the universality of human rights and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to recognise that respect for human rights should be at the centre of a foreign policy with an ethical dimension; and reaffirms its support for a reformed, fully-funded United Nations equipped to respond swiftly to oppression and the systematic abuse of human rights. To be frank, I move the motion with a little sadness. That is not, of course, because there is any deficiency in the motion, which was drafted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), and is therefore perfect in every detail. It is because I suspect that this is the last time that I shall have the privilege of moving a motion on behalf of my party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I agree with that, but it was not said before today.

Nearly 100 years ago, Lord Curzon was speaking on foreign affairs. He was Viceroy of India then, and said: Frontiers are the razor's edge on which hang suspended the issue of war or peace and the life of nations. He was speaking, what was, for his time, no more than the truth. He was speaking at the end of a century that took the rather new idea of the nation state and raised it to sophistication and at the beginning of a century when it became the engine of two of the most destructive wars in human history. The nation state that he was talking about was the arbiter of all things. There was nothing in international affairs except nation states. If a country was not a nation state, it was nothing. Nation states and their sovereign institutions were sovereign and not subject to interference from anywhere else. Their governments proposed and disposed; their parliaments were sovereign and did not have to acknowledge anybody else. Such parliaments were the means by which we governed ourselves, by which we ensured our common wealth and by which we established our identity. Nation states meeting in solemn conclave with other nation states drew up treaties, established borders and disposed the order of the world.

So it was, but so it no longer is. Things have changed fundamentally in our world in ways that I believe that we in the House and people in other nation state parliaments are reluctant to acknowledge. Nevertheless, such changes are facts of our lives. It was no more than 80 years after Lord Curzon uttered those words when, in 1992 or 1993, the United Nations calculated that there were about 87 conflicts throughout the world, of which only two were between nation states and about borders. All the rest were within the borders of nation states or across them, and concerned conflicts among tribes, ethnicities, religions and communities. Lest it be thought that I am talking about some far-flung corner of the world more primitive than our own, let us remember that one of those 87 conflicts was in Northern Ireland.

Things have changed fundamentally. The position of the nation state as the single monopoly that proposes and disposes all and whose institutions are all-governing and entirely sovereign is no more. That monopolistic position has been eroded by two of what I think, internationally, are the greatest events of our age. They are the migration of power from the nation state up to global institutions and into the hands of the global players, and the atomisation of its power down to the communities that make it up and into the hands of individual citizens.

I shall give the House a small illustration. In September 1998, I was in the little villages of Suva Reka, near Pristina, when they were being bombarded, shelled, looted and burned by the main battle units of the Yugoslav army. I will not bore the House with the details, which are probably reasonably well known. However, two little things caught my eye. It was a sort of paradigm that illuminated a much larger event. Every Albanian village had a graveyard—there were too many of them—with freshly dug graves, and every Albanian house, be it extremely poor, had a satellite dish.

I noticed amidst the mayhem and misery that while all the graveyards pointed, according to Muslim tradition, towards Mecca, all the satellite dishes pointed towards Murdoch. I fell to wondering which of those two facts would more greatly influence the lives of the people round whom the war was raging. The answer was that Murdoch would affect their lives more than Mecca. I was seeing the globalisation of influence. Power was being handed up to the global players, to whose operations frontiers and borders are irrelevant. They are unconstrained by any of the institutions that we have created and beyond any code of practice. They operate at least amorally if not immorally. I do not say that they operate immorally but they operate outside any moral code. If that is the case, in due course some of them will, if they have not already, operate amorally.

Power is in the hands of satellite broadcasters, transnational corporations, commodity traders and currency speculators who can influence economies and destabilise regimes even as powerful as our own, as remember with pain from black Wednesday. International problems accompany the globalisation of international power. That includes good things and bad things. We cannot tackle drugs or international crime unless we are prepared to do it internationally. Power has migrated from the institutions of nation states into the hands of global players. Problems have migrated there, too. More and more in the world today, it is not the power of this nation or that but the interrelationship between them that matters. It is our interdependence that is the most important factor. The institutions that we create to manage global events will determine whether we live in peace and prosperity. We must work together, across borders, because we can no longer resolve inside borders the problems from which our citizens suffer. In short, we must learn to pool our sovereignty.

That is something that we in the House, especially those on the Conservative Benches, fail to understand. The Conservatives believe that pooled sovereignty is somehow diminished sovereignty. That is astonishing. Have not the Conservatives been telling us for 50 years how important NATO is? That was the first revelation of the need to pool our sovereignty. What more fundamental sovereignty does a nation have than the sovereignty to defend itself? Straight after the last war, we realised that unless we pooled our sovereignty in defence, we could not assure the defence of our own country and the security of its citizens.

I fancy that that is happening elsewhere, too. We cannot create a secure economy unless we are prepared to operate in a global marketplace on a larger scale than we currently do. We cannot secure a safe environment—pollution is no respecter of borders—unless we learn to work with our neighbours. I expect that that will be true of the pound, as well.

There is an argument according to which we will lose our sovereignty if we enter the euro. The opposite is the case. If the British pound, relatively small, is positioned mentally somewhere in mid-Atlantic between the most powerful currency in the world, the dollar, and the second most powerful currency in the world, the euro, we will have all the sovereignty of a cork bobbing along in the wake of two ocean liners.

We will have to work with others, even on defence. We have discovered—a revelation of the 1980s and 1990s—that even collective security is not sufficient. We must have common security. In the era of weapons of mass destruction, our destiny rests with not going to war, for winning a war by using mass destruction would destroy ourselves. The great statement of John Donne: No man is an Island … any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind has been elevated from a poet's vision to an imperative of international affairs. It is the only means by which we can survive.

One such means is the creation not just of global institutions, but of regional institutions—supranational institutions at a regional level. It was not the intention of the founding fathers of the European Union, but by chance we have created in Europe what is effectively the world's first operating international test-bed for supranational institutions. It is not insignificant that the rest of the world is following our lead, nor that the rest of the world is regionalising, too. We have seen it in the summit of the Americas recently in Quebec, we have seen it in the North American Free Trade Area and inevitably we will see it in the Pacific region.

Europe is our region, and we must be part of that. Why? Not because one must believe in some transcendental vision of European unity, or because one is impressed by the great mechanisms that we have created to govern Europe, but for the simple and practical reason that it is only by working with our colleagues in the European Union that we can deliver for our citizens in this country the things that we want them to have: security, a safe and clean environment, a context in which to operate our industry, and a framework for a stable currency, which is a pressing need. That is not to excuse in any way the failures of democracy or the excessive bureaucratisation of the European Union. Of course it is a flawed institution. This place is a flawed institution, God knows. That is not a reason for abolishing it, but for reforming it. That is what we must do.

Let me be clear. We are living in a rather febrile period before a general election, so I am aware that my words might be taken out of context. Heavens above, that such a thing should happen! I am absolutely not saying that the nation state will disappear. It will remain the most important context for our identity and for our governance. I am merely saying that we must consider a re-assembly—a redistribution—of power.

Some of the power that we used to hold uniquely to ourselves must be distributed upwards to global institutions, because that delivers what we want for our citizens, and some must be distributed downwards to devolved institutions. The latter point is as true for Britain as it is for Macedonia. The devolution of power to local communities will be the most important matter.

I come to the second point—not globalisation, but atomisation. We have seen power passed down to individual citizens in our society, who trade in the global marketplace, oblivious of borders, who use the internet, and who are capable, sometimes frighteningly, of suddenly coagulating together in ways that are not recommended by Governments and frighten them to death. We saw that in the fuel protests. We saw it, probably, at Diana's funeral. We saw it in the Danish referendum.

One of the things that we have discovered, and of which we should be aware, as it has a profound implication for foreign affairs, is that the old idea of a singular identity springing out of the unitary nation state has gone. The last time that we heard it expressed was in Norman Tebbit' s cricket test. [Interruption.] The foreign land speech is another example, as the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) says.

People are discovering other identities for themselves, apart from that of the nation state. They are finding common cause with their community, their religious group, their ethnic group. When that happens, the motivations that are unleashed are not always good. Incidentally, that applies not just to other nations or to Albanians living in Macedonia. It applies to me, too.

Almost two decades ago, when I first entered the House, if I had been asked who I was, I would probably have said that I was British, and that would have been sufficient. If I am asked today who I am, I have to give a rather different answer. I am Irish by extraction, and proud of that fact. I am west country by love and choice. That is where my constituency is. I am British, of course, but I am also European. Unless I can express my identity in that more complex way, I cannot describe the space in which I want to live and, above all, in which I want my children to live.

Here is the point. If we force upon people the unitary identities of their nation states, the result is blood, almost always. If we force the Catholic to say in Belfast that he cannot have an attachment to the island of Ireland and be Catholic and British at the same time, we will have blood on our streets, and we have. If we force the Muslim in Sarajevo to choose between his Yugoslavian and his Muslim identity, there will be shells in his city and in Srebrenica in his neighbouring communities.

The world is no longer as Curzon saw it. In the 18th century, the apogee of the nation state, there were only two conditions: nation statehood or nothingness. The world today is much more complex. I sat down in the margins of a Balkan conference recently with our ex-ambassador in Belgrade and for fun, doodling, we came up with the new institutions that we had to deal with. Of course, there were states, but there were also what we called non-internationally recognised state-like entities, or NIRSLES. There are lots of them about. Kosovo is state-like, but it is not internationally recognised, and we have to deal with it. The Palestinians and the Albanian community in the Balkans are further examples.

Then there are partially internationally recognised state-like entities, or PIRSLES. Taiwan is partially internationally recognised and clearly a state. There are also internationally recognised non-state-like entities. Bosnia is internationally recognised and we declare it a state. but it is manifestly not: it is two states. I make the point not just for levity, but to show the complexity of the matters with which we must deal. Using the language of the 18th century and speaking of states or non-states, as we still do, and not altering our way of thinking means that we cannot resolve some of the problems that confront us.

I apologise to the House, but at this stage I am extremely pessimistic. The theory is that at the end of the cold war, having avoided global destruction, we live in safer and more secure times. I do not believe that to be the case. I think that we live in times of almost terrifying dissolution and change. The old institutions are breaking down. The old structures no longer apply. I fear that for the next two or three decades, the world will be very unstable, full of conflict and very frightening.

The words that echo in my head are those in A. E. Housman's great prophetic poem, written before the first world war, in which he said: On the idle hill of summer,Lazy with the flow of streams,Far I hear the steady drummerDrumming like a sound in dreams.Far and near and low and louderOn the roads of earth go by,Dear to friends and food for powder,Soldiers marching, all to die. I am very worried about an era that may be characterised by the death of creeds—what great creeds are there today? I fear that it may be characterised also by the dissolution, incapacity and disconnection of institutions that do not seem to work any longer.

So, what do we have to do? Fundamentally, we have to change our way of thinking. We must break ourselves out of the language and conventional thinking of the old nation state. We must start thinking in more different ways. That is not new. Many times in our history, power has broken out of the institutions that we created to ensure accountability. It happened in Magna Carta, in Cromwell's time and when the Reform Act of 1832 took effect. We, too, are in a period in which we must create new institutions capable of dealing with power in the places to which it has migrated. That means one thing: accepting the globalisation of power and creating the instruments for global Governments of one sort or another.

I ask hon. Members to note that I do not refer to a global government, or to some parliament of the United Nations, although it has a part to play. We need to create all sorts of multilateral and international institutions to begin to cope with the problems that confront us. For example, it is unreasonable that we should ask the World Trade Organisation, which was created and formed to deal with trade, to deal also with environmental problems. We need to create a parallel institution that is capable of thinking about how it preserves the world's environment.

My next conclusion is that the power of individual, unilateral action by states will diminish, however powerful they are. Increasingly, what matters will be the effectiveness and powers of the multilateral institutions that we create, which should be capable of dealing with the world's problems.

I think also that regional organisations will increasingly develop. Incidentally, I think that one of the effects will be the counteraction of the move towards free trade. As regional organisations grow, there will be a strong tendency towards the re-erection of tariff barriers. That must be resisted. The point is, however, that in terms of supranational regional organisations, ours is Europe. It is essential that we play our part in that.

If someone asked me what Europe must do in the next two decades to keep secure, I would answer that it had two primary foreign policy aims. The first is to maintain the Atlantic relationship through a period of great change and enormous tension, and the second is to assure the survival and ascendancy of democracy and the free-market system in the Russian Federation. We in Europe can do neither of those things unless we get our act together and work in a more co-ordinated fashion.

I believe that the Atlantic relationship will come under very severe pressure as the areas of interest, in terms of the euro on the one hand and of the dollar on the other, inevitably come into competition. As we get our act together, the handling of that relationship will require great skill and subtlety. I believe that the reform of NATO is crucial, as is the creation of what we were talking about as long ago as Kennedy and Kissinger—a twin-pillar NATO in which Europe and the United States work as equal partners. For instance, that is why it is our essential that we get our act together in a European common defence force.

Of course, all that is difficult and we will not necessarily have a smooth path, but it is, to my mind, more certain that the Atlantic relationship will be threatened if we in Europe do not begin to bear the burden of our own defence and cope with our own problems in our backyard. If we continue to call in the United States every time we have a problem and ask it to risk its treasure and the blood of its young citizens to solve Europe's problems on its borders in places such as the Balkans, we may be sure that the Atlantic relationship will sunder, and it will deserve to do so.

I believe that there will be an opportunity at some future time for us to think even more widely. One of the most significant problems in our world today is the instability that is created by currency speculation. We cannot recreate the Bretton Woods agreement, but is it impossible for us to consider establishing at a future stage some relationship between the euro and the dollar? Such a relationship could not only copper-fasten the political relationship that remains the axis of assuring effective preservation of western values in the world; it could also provide some stability against speculation, thus creating twin currencies that might act as the most effective trading currencies in the world and dampen the instabilities that are created by currency speculation. However, that is probably something for a long time in the future.

I have two other points, the first of which is about Europe itself. I think that we cannot go on living in a never-never land and having a free ride; we pretend that we can be an economic giant, as we are with respect to the euro, but remain a political pygmy that is incapable of getting its act together. That is an impossible position. The euro gives us an area of influence, things to protect and views to proselytise and propose. We will have to invest. Europe's current problem is that it has created a very tight economic institution—the euro—that is set within a very weak political institution. We will have to strengthen the political institutions of Europe. For instance, we will have to protect power around our borders to be able to secure them.

We will also have to adopt what we have failed to adopt in the Balkans so far: a co-ordinated regional European approach. We cannot go on dealing with Balkan nations piecemeal. When we dealt with Croatia, we thought that we had solved the problem, but in so doing, we blew up Bosnia. We solved Bosnia in Dayton, but forgot Kosovo. When we finished in Kosovo, we forgot to set it within a regional framework in the southern Balkans, and—lo and behold—Macedonia is now at the edge of war. We in Europe must have a co-ordinated Balkans policy that applies to the region and recognises that it is not the individual nations that matter in the Balkans, but the interconnection between them.

My last point is that I think that we will discover in the very near future that the security of nations—even medium-sized ones such as ours—cannot be secured except within a framework of international law that is clear and understandable, and which is policed and enforced. Let us not get too worried about our pace in assembling that framework. Frankly, we have not done terribly well, but no body of law springs from a single pen or technical textbook. Law is created by practice and precedent. We have slowly and untidily invented new rules for international intervention. We saw them in Kurdistan and Kosovo. We have invented new ways of going about things.

I can tell the House that when I returned from my trip of September 1998, which I mentioned earlier, I went to see the Prime Minister. I said that I thought that we must use air power immediately, and that if we did not do so, Milosevic would seek to clear out Kosovo completely. Of course, that was the terrifying Operation Horseshoe that we saw later. The Prime Minister said that in the absence of a Security Council resolution, which we would not get, we had not yet assembled a case under articles 1 and 5 of the UN charter to proceed legally with such a proposal. I think that he was right. We had to wait until the humanitarian situation got worse, which it did in due course, before we intervened. However, the fact that we did it legally under articles 1 and 5 makes it easier to do in future. We have created a precedent for international law. Part of that has to be an international court that is capable of dealing with war crimes tribunals. It is essential that we establish such an institution.

The day after I had been shelled by the Serb units, I went up to the Dulje heights and spoke to some of the Serb artillery commanders. At that stage, they were more frightened of an indictment from The Hague than of bombs from NATO aircraft. If we had used such means then, it might have been the only way in which we could have constrained their actions. That same day, when I went to see President Milosevic, I gave him a bag of the cherries that I had collected from his citizens who were living in the forest and who had lived on nothing else for six weeks. However, I also took him a copy of the Geneva convention with marks against the paragraphs in respect of which I believed that his forces—and him, as he had now been informed of it—had specifically contravened international law, for which he would subsequently be indictable, as indeed he was. That is an essential component of the international institutions that we must create not only to ensure justice after crimes have been committed but to act as a means of restraining the worst activities of those who, in due course, would probably fear the international court in The Hague more than the use of arms.

All has changed except our way of thinking and the language that we use to try to resolve our problems. At a time of huge instability, great tension and strong dissolution, the only way in which to create a secure, peaceful and prosperous world for the future is to establish multilateral instruments that are capable of achieving it.

Curzon's days are gone, and I prefer to use a text by Gladstone. I suppose that I can say that he was my great predecessor as party leader, although that is slightly self-aggrandising. During the second Midlothian campaign, when he was seeking to be Prime Minister, at a time when British forces were invading Afghanistan, he spoke the following remarkable words: Do not forget that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan, amongst the winter snows, is no less inviolate in the eye of Almighty God than can be your own. Do not forget that he who made you brothers in the same flesh and blood, bound you by the laws of universal love and that love is not limited to the shores of this island, but passes across the whole surface of the earth, encompassing the greatest along with the meanest in its unmeasured scope."— a statement of moral principle for his time, and, I suspect, a code of survival for ours.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 7:51 pm, 25th April 2001

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: believes that the United Kingdom's national interests are best served by addressing the challenges of the modem world in constructive partnership with other countries and international organisations; further believes that human rights and protection of the environment are important global issues which are central to Her Majesty's Government's foreign policy; and welcomes the Government's full support for the work of the United Nations and initiatives to improve UN peacekeeping and the effectiveness of the Security Council. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) made a fine, extremely thoughtful speech. However, it is worth placing on record as a comment on the state of modern British politics the fact that not one Tory Back Bencher was present before the welcome arrival one minute ago of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). At 7 pm, that is no accident. If the boycott was meant as an insult, the right hon. Member for Yeovil is entitled to take it as a compliment. If it was intended to demonstrate the modern Tory party's discipline, it showed only its puerility.

Excellent co-operation on foreign policy has been established between the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, and it can be established on many other subjects. I refer in particular to the close working relationship, which the right hon. Gentleman was involved in establishing, and which has continued between my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). The work of the Cabinet joint consultative committee on the United Nations and on Europe attests to the success of the relationship.

There will always be differences between parties; that is the point of political debate, but there can be agreement and co-operation and values can be held in common, especially on the great international issues to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. If, to some extent, we have broken a mould of sniping and one-upmanship, we have contributed to a new path built on consensus. That is good for politics in this country and for Britain's place in Europe and the world. When we speak with one voice on international issues, our message is heard louder and clearer. The key to that success has been readiness to listen and to pool ideas and expertise. I commend that approach, at least to the saner spirits in the Tory party.

I am pleased to acknowledge the contribution to that process of the right hon. Member for Yeovil. His knowledge of the Balkans, which was reflected in his speech, and his commitment to the cause of peace and democracy have been and will continue to be a national asset. He was one of the first in this country to speak out on the horrors of ethnic cleansing and to argue for a more robust United Kingdom policy.

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was in Kosovo. Today, he was in Montenegro. I know he would wish to join me in paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Yeovil, who has visited both places so many times and to such good effect in the last troubled decade.

We have now got the consensus out of the way. I stress that speaking with one voice on international issues does not mean that we can neglect differences when they occur. However slight they may be, they lead to disagreements that are expressed through the normal procedures of the House. In any debate it is therefore important to be clear about the terms that we use and to capture the full complexity of the issues. We do not agree that only a collective and multilateral approach will now succeed", as the Liberal Democrat motion states. Sometimes, a country may need to argue its case in the face of collective opposition. The important point on such occasions is that the issues are approached in the spirit of constructive partnership with other countries and international organisations. That is the true hallmark of the Government's approach to the important global issues of our time.

Before I consider some of the subjects that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, I want to update hon. Members about developments in Zimbabwe. We have received reports tonight from our high commission in Harare of serious disturbances that are aimed at foreign business interests. Several European-owned firms have been invaded by so-called war veterans who claim that they are acting on behalf of the ruling ZANU-PF party. Money has been extorted from the businesses, and staff have been detained and beaten by the veterans. The police have not intervened, and that is a worrying development in circumstances that we all find deeply disturbing.

Our high commissioner in Harare expressed his strong concern to the Zimbabwe authorities this afternoon and is liaising closely with the local British community. I stress that we have received no reports of serious injuries to UK nationals. We shall continue to monitor events closely and we will advise UK nationals to contact the high commission if they need further guidance. I shall consider the further action that we should take tomorrow morning as circumstances become clearer. I believed that it was my responsibility to advise the House of those developments as early as possible.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Liberal Democrat, North East Fife

I am sure that the House is grateful to the Minister for the information that he has provided. A direct consequence of the events that he described may be that people who live in Zimbabwe feel compelled to try to come to the United Kingdom. I hope that the Government will adopt a generous attitude towards anyone who seeks asylum from Zimbabwe.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comments will be noted in many quarters. I do not want to raise the temperature or inflame difficult circumstances. The advice that I gave British nationals to contact the high commission if they require further information and guidance is appropriate at this stage.

Let me revert to the Balkans, one of the major themes of the speech of the right hon. Member for Yeovil. He knows, as we do, the scale of the challenges that face the people of south-east Europe. He also knows how much has been achieved by them and by the international community in reconstructing their society since NATO intervention, which was justified by the need to prevent an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe, stopped ethnic cleansing in its tracks two years ago.

Milosevic thought that he could get away with wiping the Kosovar Albanians off the map; he was wrong. The Government and many who supported our actions determined from the outset that we would not tolerate further ethnic cleansing. Britain stood firm against the Kosovo death squads, and the west stood firm with us. We halted the tide of hatred and helped turn it back so that public anger eventually consumed Milosevic himself.

Under United Nations protection, and with our help, the people of Kosovo have repaired much of the physical damage. Repairing the damage to society will take imagination and painstaking efforts to break out of the destructive cycle of ethnic violence. However, the prospects are much brighter than they were four years ago for Kosovo and for the whole region. The key now is for Kosovo's Albanians and Serbs to disown extremism and revenge and to start to re-engage with each other to build a better society. The elections there later this year will be an important step along that path.

Today, all five states that emerged from the former Yugoslavia have elected democratic, moderate leaders. There is a realistic prospect of the region becoming, with much hard work, a normal part of Europe. That would not have been possible if we had allowed Slobodan Milosevic to claim a place in history as the victor of Kosovo. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made plain in Belgrade earlier this month, today we extend the hand of friendship and assistance to Yugoslavia, and that must be a two-way partnership. The people of Yugoslavia must, in turn, help the international community. We shall have unfinished business until Milosevic has stood trial in The Hague. We welcome the fact that there is now talk of charging him in Belgrade with his crimes against the Serb people. They will quickly come to realise that Milosevic was not a great Serb nationalist but a great enemy of the Serb people.

However, a trial in Belgrade cannot replace the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's obligation to hand Milosevic over to The Hague tribunal, and I hope that the Serb people will come to see, as increasing numbers of them are doing, that it is in their own interests for that to happen, so that he can also face trial for crimes against the other peoples of the region. It was right to stop Milosevic in his tracks, and if we had not done so he would probably still be in power. There are lessons to be learned from that reality that should not easily be forgotten if similar situations should arise in future.

One of the lessons of the Balkans war, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, is that the world needs a permanent mechanism for securing justice against dictators and war criminals. Britain has put that lesson into effect by becoming a leading advocate of the International Criminal Court. The tragic paradox of the last century was that those who murdered one person were more likely to be brought to justice than those who plotted the genocide of millions. We all have a responsibility to make sure that the world does not provide an opening for another Milosevic.

That is why the Government have brought the International Criminal Court Bill before this Parliament. I hope that the overwhelming support for the court among the nations of the world, and the bipartisan support in the House for the principle, will be matched by support for the Bill in the House. There is no point in supporting it in principle and obstructing it in practice. Swift passage of the Bill would allow Britain to be among the first 60 countries to ratify the treaty and thereby bring the court into existence. The Bill will be one of the most enduring legacies of this parliamentary term. It will be by no means the only one.

My aim is to make our commitment to upholding global values irreversible. I know that that aspiration is shared by both our parties. Never again should it be possible for a British Government to argue that human rights are none of their business. Crimes against humanity are the business of all humanity. We should not listen to the argument that upholding human rights is sometimes in conflict with our interests. There should be consensus that it is never in British interests to turn a blind eye to human rights abuse. I have just come back from Bahrain, where I had a robust discussion on human rights issues. Governments who are democratically accountable will be more reliable partners for peace, and Governments who respect freedom of expression will be more honest as trading partners. Countries that accept the rule of law at home are more likely to accept their international obligations against organised crime and weapons of mass destruction.

Nowadays, every nation state is as interdependent as it is independent. The fact of globalisation is beginning to dominate our domestic politics as much as it does our international relationships. Old definitions and dividing lines are being reassessed. A more revealing measure of political outlook is how people react to the new global reality of interdependence. The progressive political forces will be those that are cosmopolitan, outward-looking and comfortable building international partnerships, and that respect people of different ethnic identities. They will offer solutions that recognise that national security requires international alliances, and that domestic prosperity requires the dynamic pursuit of external economic co-operation.

Those progressive forces will consist of those people who welcome foreign contact as enriching, not threatening. I strongly endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about multiple identity, the need for all of us to embrace it and, even more important, for all our children to embrace it comfortably. No one should try to pin people down to being one thing or another: all of us in the Chamber, in our society and throughout the world are many things and should be proud to be so.

The reactionary political forces will be those who are isolationist and inward-looking, and who feel more comfortable clinging to the comfort blanket of a false idyllic past. They want to build barriers between Britain and the rest of the world at a time when Britain needs bridges, not barriers. They offer isolation when Britain needs to play a leading role in the world.

Few issues are higher up the international agenda today than climate change. I can assure the House that the Government remain committed to tackling climate change through constructive engagement with the international community. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister strongly supported the Kyoto protocol in New York last week. We have also raised the issue directly with the United States: my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has raised it with Secretary of State Powell, and we shall continue to raise it with our US counterparts. Through engagement and detailed discussion with all parties, including, of course, the US Government, we shall make progress on this key issue. Working with the international community, rather than against it, is the way forward. That clearly demonstrates that protection of the environment is at the centre of the Government's policies.

Britain must also be fully engaged in the work of the United Nations. No task is more important or urgent than maximising the effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping. The Labour and Liberal Democrat parties spoke with one voice on this subject in the recommendations that the United Kingdom put forward at last autumn's millennium summit in New York. There have been more peacekeeping operations in the past decade than in the previous four. Increasingly, conflict within, not between, states is changing the environment in which our peacekeepers operate. Ambassador Brahimi's report has shown us the way to address this new environment. I particularly echo his call for more robust rules of engagement. Carrying out mandates impartially must not imply remaining neutral between good and evil, and UN peacekeepers who witness violence against civilians should be mandated to halt it.

If our peacekeepers are to act with determination, we must equip them with the capacity to do so. UN missions need a headquarters unit capable of rapid deployment within a few weeks, not months, of a Security Council resolution. Each of us must develop a number of troops who are trained in the principles and practice of peacekeeping, and be prepared to deploy them rapidly and effectively. That is why Britain has proposed that there should be a staff college for UN peacekeeping. We have offered to act as the host country for such a resource, if that would be welcome to other members.

Reform of the United Nations must begin with reform of the Security Council itself. We need a more modern and representative Security Council: a body that represents the world of the 21st century, not that of the middle of the 20th. However, it is not only in the composition of the Security Council that we must seek reform. The Security Council must be more willing to engage across the full conflict prevention agenda. It must engage with all the relevant players at all stages. We need to mainstream conflict prevention in the work of the UN Security Council and the whole UN system.

Our permanent membership of the Security Council reflects our historic weight in world affairs, but it also confers grave responsibilities. We must use our position to tip the balance against tyranny and oppression. That is why, for instance, we shall continue to work in the United Nations towards a solution to the problem of conflict diamonds. There is an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall tomorrow on that important issue. Following a UK initiative, we are now on the verge of a world certification scheme, which will ensure that rough diamonds cannot be traded from countries in conflict unless they are validated by the legitimate Government.

Equally important is our work on small arms and light weapons. The self-loading rifle is today's real weapon of mass destruction. The Government have been, and will remain, in the forefront of international efforts to curb the spread of such arms to non-state actors and rebel groups. We have put forward the suggestion of an international arms surrender fund to support the collection and destruction of surplus arms in return for development aid. We will not opt out of our international responsibilities, nor will we surrender our national interests within the United Nations or within the European Union.

Our vision of Europe is one that we share with many Liberal Democrats. The Government have transformed British relations with the European Union. One has only to look back a few years to the chaos and the damage that was done to this country by the attitudes and the prejudices of the previous Government. We intend to stay engaged: we want a successful European Union because it is the only way to deliver the prosperity, quality of life and personal security that our people demand.

The Tories say that the Nice treaty, with its provisions for EU enlargement, is bad news. It might be bad news for the Conservative party, but it is not bad news for the people of Britain, who will see a stronger Britain in a wider Europe. It is not bad news for the people of the rest of the European Union, who will share the benefits of the reunification of Europe, or for the people of the applicant countries, who know that accession to the EU is now in sight. By standing up for Britain at Nice, the Government stood up for stability and prosperity across our whole continent.

We fully recognise that the EU raises vital issues that affect us all. That is why the Government have been at the heart of the debate on the future of Europe, but we need a healthy and mature debate. We need to get beyond sterile arguments that look for ways to turn the clock back. It is time to stop fighting the battles of yesteryear, and time for Britain to play a full part in shaping the future of Europe. This Government are equipped to lead Britain into a confident future in Europe and in the world.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk 8:10 pm, 25th April 2001

I welcome the opportunity to debate the issues raised in the motion, and to examine differences in approaches to the way in which the world is currently developing. We have a new Administration in Washington, continuing tragic violence in the middle east, tensions in the Balkans, and a China that is becoming more assertive; so there is much on which to reflect. First, however, let me use this opportunity to acknowledge, freely and warmly, the way in which the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) has sought over many years to highlight important foreign policy issues in the House as a distinguished parliamentarian and party leader. I also take the opportunity, personally, to wish him well in the future.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman explain his party's motive for boycotting the right hon. Gentleman's valedictory speech?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

There was certainly no boycott. I think it rather churlish of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs to make such an unfortunate and inappropriate remark.

The complexities of globalisation demand multilateral approaches today, but nations and networks, not greater integrated Government structures, make that possible. A new world of nations and networks is replacing the old world of blocs and hierarchies. That is one reason why the Conservative party formed a commission on the Commonwealth to examine ways in which that often overlooked and undervalued organisation could be of real benefit to its members in the future.

In this new world, the bedrock of stability, security and prosperity is the self-governing nation state, which enables societies to understand their roots and character in a way that integrated supranational constructs and multilateral organisations simply never can. Constantly resorting to higher and higher levels of supranational government, as the Liberal Democrats' ideas incessantly do, reflects a fundamental lack of confidence in Britain as an important player in the world, and—that elusive democratic deficit again—a fundamental reluctance to ensure that accountable forms of government, our best option in times of rapid change, remain to the fore. Those views, regrettably, are powerfully echoed by the Government.

Given our range of assets across the world and our influence through our language and culture. Britain has a role to play, not as a pale shadow of the United States, or simply as a component of European foreign policy, but as a strong and independent force for good in the world. A unique British role is particularly possible in the context of the Kyoto protocol, but, given the Deputy Prime Minister's apparent keenness to express anti-American sentiments, it is a role that this Government cannot fulfil. No wonder the right hon. Gentleman found himself sidelined during his recent trip to Washington. We too will be sidelined, as a country, if we adopt the right hon. Gentleman's course. Sabre-rattling by the Government will certainly not style the problem. We will achieve a solution by agreement, not confrontation.

Of course the United States' decision was regrettable. Conservative Members support action to tackle climate change and implement the Kyoto protocol. That is why the next Conservative Government will act as a bridge between the United States and Europe in climate change negotiations, rather than simply encouraging animosity towards the United States.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), the shadow Foreign Secretary, returned from Washington only this morning. He had meetings with the Vice-President, the national security adviser and the deputy Secretaries for Defence and at the State Department. A view was confirmed that many are happy to promote—a view of the United States becoming simply isolationist. That view is utterly misplaced. In reality, in the new Administration we have an ally whose outlook extends throughout the world, and it is in our interest that that position remain. We must do nothing to jeopardise it.

With our allies across the Atlantic and across the channel, we have the basis for collective action in foreign policy, in maintaining our security and in tackling environmental concerns that know no geographical bounds. A multilateral organisation like NATO is the bedrock of our security. However, as the right hon. Member for Yeovil will know, NATO's decisions are not made on the basis of majority voting

For 50 years the Atlantic partnership has been one of the most powerful forces for good in the world, but today I believe that it is at risk. Why do both the Government and the Liberal Democrats favour a European Union defence structure which in practice will be separate from NATO. and will risk weakening the Atlantic alliance? Is it not the case that a tried and tested multilateral arrangement is being bypassed by a developing European Union foreign and defence policy—a move that is supported not only by the proponents of the motion, but by the Government?

What the Americans really want, acid are not materially getting, is greater burden-sharing. Multilateral co-operation must be flexible to succeed; by contrast, co-operation based on doing everything together at the same speed is a recipe for failure. Truly multilateral organisations such as NATO have achieved that successfully. Attempts to create an EU foreign policy response through political integration, absorbing the views of individual members, produces policies that no one will follow, and which are easy prey to other states that are willing to play off one EU member against the other.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Liberal Democrat, North East Fife

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I do not agree with the proposition that he has just described—but can he explain why that proposition is so unacceptable, given that it was signed up to by the Conservative Government whom he supported at the time of the Maastricht treaty?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

Let me put the right hon. and learned Gentleman straight. We are totally in favour, and have always been in favour, of pan-European defence co-operation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that to be absolutely true, and it was agreed in the talks at Petersberg. What is being proposed today is entirely different; the right hon. and learned Gentleman, of all people, knows that.

We have seen the inertia that I have described again this year—the playing off of EU countries against each other. Britain again failed to register the deep concern that exists among many people in this country about human rights in China. That is not to say that either the EU—or, more broadly, the UN—does not have a significant role to play in establishing international co-operation leading to firm action, but it should do that by doing less, and doing it substantially better. The aim of those organisations should be to muster international consensus, but not at the expense of national democracies' ability to act independently. Both, however, need substantial reform if they are to achieve that.

Beyond the EU, the UN is and will remain the focal point of attempts to co-ordinate international action to deal with global issues—but the majority of today's disputes are internal. The UN has become more actively engaged in peacekeeping roles in the last decade than it was during the entire cold war.

We are clear that it is now more important than ever that the UN be realistic about what it can achieve. It needs to focus its efforts on fulfilling the responsibilities it already has, rather than constantly taking on new tasks. The UN Security Council will remain the central pillar for international co-operation to secure peace and security.

The composition of the Security Council is the source of some controversy today, but the criteria for membership remain clear. It should comprise those countries that are most willing and able to contribute to international security, and membership should not be seen as being related to the size of a country's economy, land mass or simple position on the earth's surface, in an age when distance matters less and less. We Conservatives believe that the UK and France, for example, should continue to be members in their own right. We, the next Conservative Government, will consider proposals for new members to join the Security Council, but we will not support the idea that the EU should have its own seat.

We will work to reform the UN. The aim will be to ensure that it has a clearly defined role that it is able to perform effectively, and that its work is co-ordinated with organisations in the regions concerned.

Mr. Lembit Öpik:

I do not need to patronise the hon. Gentleman with a resumé of the history of the Baltic states, but not much in what he has said so far gives me much assurance that under his plan, were the Baltic states to be threatened by an aggressive Russia, they would be protected in the way that they believe they would be by a common European defence strategy. What assurance can he give to countries such as the Baltic states, which have a potential danger next door, that the Conservatives have a strategy anywhere near as effective as we believe the European defence strategy could be?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

The Baltic states will of course be strengthened by their membership of the EU, and I hope that that will happen sooner rather than later. Their defence and security will be embraced by the European family of nations and, under the umbrella of NATO, everything is possible. Need I point out to the hon. Gentleman that if we disengage from NATO and possibly cause the Americans to withdraw substantially from Europe—which is the threat—the Baltic states' situation could be considerably worse?

I turn to the issue of human rights. Many areas of the world, such as China, Burma and Iraq, suffer oppression, and our position remains clear. James Mawdsley, the courageous and defiant human rights activist imprisoned in Burma, recently joined the Conservative party because of the clarity of our stance on such issues. On Iraq, we have been clear about the damage that Saddam Hussein continues to do to his country's people by refusing to adhere to the UN resolutions. In the meantime, the Government have rowed back and forth from their initial promise of an ethical foreign policy.

Labour's ethics have been bizarre to witness—a mixture of inconsistency, leading to an aggressive approach to Sierra Leone but a shockingly inadequate response to Zimbabwe, and condemnation of Yugoslavia but barely a murmur about Russian atrocities in Chechnya. We read this morning that, with the election approaching, the Foreign Secretary has been spinning his intention to continue with his so-called ethical foreign policy. I remain unconvinced that he will be around to pursue it.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

If the Government have got their ethical foreign policy so wrong, why did Lord Justice Scott, who did so much to unearth the scandal of arms to Iraq, recently say that he was "amazed" by the difference in the transparency of the position under this Government compared with the previous Government?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will deal in a moment with some of the problems that the ethical foreign policy has caused.

Where are the ethics in the lack of firm action on Zimbabwe? I might add that I share the shock and horror at the Minister's announcement about what is happening in Harare this evening. It is truly tragic for that country.

Was not it the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), a former Minister of State at the Foreign Office, who described the phrase "ethical dimension" as a hook on which we found ourselves"? It appears that the Government talk about ethics at election time and in practice try to distance themselves from the word the rest of the time.

The Government's behaviour contrasts markedly with the succession of Governments who did not posture about ethics but succeeded in helping to spread freedom, law and democracy across the globe, including twice in the previous century fighting for all of Europe against tyranny and, most recently, helping to liberate millions of our fellow Europeans from the iron hand of communism. It is a proud record.

As my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary has made clear, we believe that Britain can be at the centre of the new network world. We will use that position to serve British interests; we will do so honourably, and we will use Britain's strength in the world for peace and stability.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I seem to detect some weasel words from the hon. Gentleman. Was he by any chance attributing victory in two world wars and the events at the end of the cold war on a party basis? He seemed to making a contrast in terms of party. Will he clarify that?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I should be happy to. I am sorry that the Minister is so sensitive, as I said nothing of the kind. I cannot understand why he should rise out of the waters like some sort of fish. I do not know his track record in the 1980s with a regard to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or anything else, but perhaps he is sensitive about that. My only point was that Britain played an enormously important role, of which every person in the country can be hugely proud. We helped to liberate Europe not only from Nazism, but from the subsequent horrors of communism. That is something of which we can be extremely proud.

Nowhere could the failure of the ethical dimension be clearer than in Zimbabwe. Months ago, the Prime Minister described the Government as being "insufficiently assertive" about what was happening there, but the dithering continued Even Lord Goldsmith, the Prime Minister's special representative, has joined in the criticism of what is happening in Zimbabwe. I repeat that this evening's news makes the matter even worse.

Finally, it was agreed that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group might send a group of observers to assess the scale of the problem in Zimbabwe, but what has happened to them? When will the group travel to Zimbabwe? The way in which Britain has allowed months of violence to escalate is shameful.

The Foreign Secretary has always reverted to a standard practice in the past: tackling Mugabe head on, he says, will only worsen the problem. When will the Government stop dithering about the dreadful disregard for human rights in Zimbabwe? The escalation in violence has had a destabilising effect on the whole of southern Africa. Zimbabwe is exactly the place where a multilateral policy that involves the Commonwealth—but especially Britain and South Africa—could work if there were a positive attempt to achieve that.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

I have been reflecting on what the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) said about Milosevic. He said that Serbians were more concerned about the Hague than about being shelled. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the time has arrived when Governments should start indicting Mugabe for some of the heinous crimes that he has committed? The Minister may have given the regrettable impression that the Government are more concerned about British nationals suffering damage in Zimbabwe, even though Zimbabwean citizens have been deprived of their civil rights and terrorised when they tried to carry on democratic politics. Is it not time for action to be taken?

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I have great sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said. The situation in Zimbabwe is horrific. I genuinely believe that the Government, who have an important role to play in Zimbabwe, have conducted themselves in a pusillanimous manner that has merely aggravated the situation. I am absolutely clear about that.

As I have said before, there may well be advantage at times in co-operating comprehensively on foreign policy issues with our friends and allies. However, the hollowness of the common European Union foreign policy was recently made evident when two of our European partners received Mugabe—a huge personal boost to him. There was no justification for the French Government's action in that regard, and I remain appalled at the pusillanimous reaction of the Foreign Secretary to the way in which the red carpet was rolled out in Paris.

I have visited the middle east on a number of occasions in the past few months. Britain's absence from the task of moving forward the peace process was repeatedly commented on to me by people from all sides. Specific mention was made of the Prime Minister's special envoy. However well intentioned it was, and whatever initial benefits it may have brought, the special envoy's role has turned into an embarrassment for our superb representatives in the region and for our country's credibility.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that he has made a pretty shabby attack on someone who is serving this country well? As a Minister who travels widely in that region, I have never heard those sentiments expressed by our representatives, who work closely with the Prime Minister's special envoy when he is in the region. If the hon. Gentleman can do no better than attack someone who is working at the invitation of the Prime Minister in a role that is vital to our diplomatic efforts, it is, again, a pretty poor show on the part of the Tory party.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

The Minister is carving out for himself a character of defensiveness. Whatever the special envoy's personal characteristics—and I made no negative observations in that respect—he has no accountability and no role in the negotiating process. If he would care to spend a little time talking to our diplomats in the region and understanding more of what is going on, he should do so, and then he would understand the situation better. I had better not say any more.

We support greater multilateralism of the kind represented by the United Nations, NATO, the Commonwealth and the intergovernmental processes of the European Union. However, that is not the same as the loss of an independent voice in foreign affairs. We have much to give the world and we must not believe that somehow our influence will be enhanced if we lose that independent voice. That is defeatist, counter-productive and unworthy of a country which, through its unique historical ties and current reach in the modern world, has so much to offer.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 8:31 pm, 25th April 2001

It is a privilege to take part in this debate initiated by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) who, in his valedictory dispatch, raised our sights in many key areas. I repeat my assertion that it is sad, given the respect throughout the House for the right hon. Gentleman, that Conservative Members have chosen not to attend this debate. If the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) does not believe me, I invite him to turn around and see the empty Benches behind him. That is an insult to the right hon. Gentleman and an insult to the House and our consensual traditions.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil made an excellent speech. I found nothing in it to criticise save, perhaps, that in his description of the trend in globalisation, he may have exaggerated the extent of that trend. Overall, I thought that it was a magnificent speech of which he and the House can be proud.

I was a little puzzled when the hon. Member for West Suffolk said that the United Kingdom's role was not to be a pale shadow of the United States. I contrasted that with the immediate response of the Leader of the Opposition when the United States talked of siting at Fylingdales the national missile defence station and the indication that whatever the Americans asked for, the Conservatives would give—a sort of blank cheque.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

If the Americans ask for additional facilities at Fylingdales, would the right hon. Gentleman oppose them?

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

I know that there is a debate in the United States about the nature of the missile system that they want. Some missile systems—a boost phase system, for example—would not need to rely on Fylingdales. It is absurd to give a response in advance of any defined request.

I found equally puzzling the hon. Gentleman's remarks that the United States wants greater burden sharing by its European allies. That is precisely the effect of the European security and defence policy, which has triggered greater defence expenditure by a number of our allies.

I shall briefly examine the Government's record from two angles: first, the burdensome question of how others see us; and secondly, my assessment of the Government's record—a stocktaking exercise after four years. How are we seen abroad? I have been fortunate enough to travel abroad both as Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and as leader of our delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I have had many opportunities to discuss with colleagues in other Parliaments their perception of the British Government's record.

I can say, without hesitation, that, at present, the British Government are seen positively. There has been a sea change in our attitude to Europe, which has been warmly welcomed. It is seen that we now play a constructive role and that we are no longer at the margins of foreign policy.

Praise has come, too, from wider afield. For example, Mr. Dhanapala, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs at the UN, commented on the UK Government's role in disarmament and non-proliferation: Britain's leadership … has been impressive indeed. He commended the UK for leading by example.

Obviously, I do not have time to reel off all the comments that I have heard, but the Government's commitment to ensure that Britain is at the centre of international decision making and is a force for good in the world has certainly been noticed by friends and critics alike. We have used our many valuable assets constructively—especially our diplomatic service and our armed forces, which are both centres of excellence.

My general assessment is that Britain is now once again seen as a leading player on the international stage. We still maintain a strong relationship with the United States. The extent to which the US will move towards a more unilateralist policy remains to be seen—there was an interesting article in yesterday's Financial Times on that theme. However, the abrupt dismissal by the US of its commitments under the Kyoto protocol, its position on national missile defence and its actions in respect of Russia and Vietnam do not give cause for optimism.

The British Government have played a leading role in galvanising action in key areas such as Kosovo, Sierra Leone and East Timor.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown Liberal Democrat, Yeovil

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generous words earlier and apologise for interrupting what must, inevitably, be a short speech. He touched on the United States and mentioned several points of concern. However, there are several encouraging things—the handling of the Israeli problem and of the banana issue, and, more recently, the delicate and subtle handling of the problems in China. We ought to cut the US Administration a little slack before deciding about them. Is it not always the case that American Presidents will often express isolationist rhetoric on the campaign trail, but not in practice when they come to government? I have a suspicion that the current US Administration are much more subtle in many of their international actions than we are sometimes encouraged to believe.

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

Most of my examples were of events that occurred well after the end of the campaign trail; the decisions were made in government. However, I wholly concur with the right hon. Gentleman. We must see how things work out in practice. However, there are none the less some concerns.

Human rights were a large theme in the remarks of the hon. Member for West Suffolk. In 1997, the new Labour Government pledged to make human rights central to their foreign policy. That pledge has been much derided. The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph are prone to printing easy headlines such as, "And they call it an ethical foreign policy!"

We may hear the phrase "an ethical dimension" rather less nowadays, but human rights are no less central. We continue to make concrete achievements. I can make only headline points, given the time constraints. Our influence was crucial in setting up the International Criminal Court, in developing the European Union code of conduct on arms sales and in making progress on debt relief for the world's poorest countries.

During the past four years, there has been much of which we can be proud. We launched the global programme to challenge torture. We led the international campaign against trade in conflict diamonds. Our support for the war crimes tribunal on former Yugoslavia is well known. UK forces have arrested more indicted Bosnian war criminals than those of any other country.

At home, there have clearly been changes, such as the substantially expanded human rights policy department, the newly created human rights project fund and the way in which non-governmental organisations have been brought in from the cold by public diplomacy and are now part of the discussions and debate in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and in posts abroad. We have ratified the protocol of the European Court of Human Rights, banning capital punishment in Britain, and we have lobbied foreign Governments on it.

The Opposition are pursuing a dangerous strategy, which puts Britain's interests at stake, by flirting with the idea of leaving the European Union and with the concept of joining the North American Free Trade Area. For example, by refusing to ratify the treaty of Nice, they would block EU enlargement, creating instability in eastern and central Europe and, indeed, making enemies for Britain in several countries in that region. It is sad that neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the shadow Ministers are able to say anything positive about the EU. Surely there must be something positive in our region and in the new organisation in which we play such a large part. If the hon. Member for West Suffolk can point to any positive statement, I shall sit down immediately.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to intervene. I should be very happy to send him a great number of speeches on the subject by the shadow Foreign Secretary. I am disappointed that he thinks that we are somehow anti-European simply because we do not believe that the process of political integration with the EU is right ultimately for the continuation and success of the EU, which is the view of the majority of the British people. That could not be further from the truth.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me; he can think of nothing, off hand, that his party has said that is positive about the EU. I shall sit down if he can do so.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I have repeatedly said that we welcome the advantages of the EU—such as those involving the single market, that environment and the intense co-operation on policing, drugs and other matters—as well as the role that the Community has undoubtedly played in preserving peace in Europe since the war. We have referred to those issues time and again, so I do not understand where the right hon. Gentleman is coming from.

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

That is a minimalist agenda, beyond which we and our European partners went many decades ago. It is clear that the only way to have influence is to remain at the heart of discussions. Diplomats who served in the United Kingdom delegation to Brussels in the 1980s told me, rather graphically, how we were marginalised and had our interests adversely affected during that time.

Of course there have been some shortcomings in Government policy. Indeed, the Foreign Affairs Committee has been the source of several well-founded criticisms. We say things as we see them in respect of Gibraltar, Zimbabwe, the delay in tightening arms supply to Indonesia and a number of administrative failures involving Sierra Leone. Again, we acknowledge serious failings relating to arms exports and control, but the Quadripartite Committee has done a most valuable job. In its memorandum of December last year, Saferworld said: The UK Government's annual report … currently stands as the most transparent report published by any European country, and offers a potential template for best practice throughout the EU". We have also banned landmines.

On the basis of the Delphic saying, "Know thyself', my conclusion is that we should identify our strategic goals and the best instruments with which we seek to achieve them. This month, in its departmental report, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office clearly set out those strategic goals under the headings, "Security", "Prosperity", "Quality of life" and "Mutual respect". A collective approach is set out very clearly in the motion. Indeed, I could take exception to nothing in the motion.

Gone are the days when we could achieve such goals—or even some of them—on our own. Perhaps the Falklands conflict in the early 1980s and the transition in Hong Kong will be seen by historians as the last examples of the independent policy for which the hon. Member for West Suffolk has such romantic and obsolete hankerings.

Now our goals can be achieved only by making a difference within our alliances and by building coalitions, as we did so successfully at the Nice summit. History and geography have given us a unique global reach through a unique series of alliances—NATO, the European Union, the Security Council of the United Nations, G8 and the Commonwealth. In my judgment, the Government have fully recognised that there is no future in pretending to our electorate that nationalist unilateralist solutions are possible. Self-delusion is the worst delusion.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip 8:45 pm, 25th April 2001

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution and to speak in the same debate as my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown). I know that his speech will be studied in years to come because his predictions have the rather depressing habit of coming true.

I shall concentrate my remarks on the unilateral decision by the United States to reject the Kyoto protocol, and I shall explain why only a multilateral response to the threat of climate change will do. A multilateral response is clearly what the current US President's father wanted when he was in the Oval office. He might not have had in mind the world environment organisation at which my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil hinted, but, under George Bush senior, the United States signed the United Nations framework convention on climate change. It states that developed countries should take the lead in combating climate change. There is nothing in it about developing countries having to take the lead.

I hope that George Bush junior and his advisers are considering a multilateral approach. They have been granted an extra few months in which to define their position and I hope that they will adopt a multilateral approach before the COP 6—sixth conference of the parties—talks resume. If they are not considering such an approach, they had better invest in a better server in the White house, because the "flood Bush" e-mails will continue to arrive. I understand that the server has crashed five times already under the weight of those e-mails and it risks being down permanently if Brush persists with his recipe for American excess and global meltdown.

The United Kingdom's good faith and credibility in relation to climate change and the reduction of CO2 emissions would be further enhanced were the Government to do what my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) suggested yesterday. They should allow the Climate Change Bill, which has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), to proceed. It would put on a statutory basis the Labour party's 1997 manifesto commitment of a 20 per cent. reduction in emissions. I cannot think of a better way of ensuring multilateral action than the UK taking unilateral action to reduce its CO2 emissions by an even more significant amount than the legal commitments that have been made and by demonstrating that that is good for business as well as for the environment.

The Deputy Prime Minister's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury was distinctly ungracious and I hope that we shall hear a more considered response from the Minister tonight. What emphatically will not assist in the process of securing multilateral action on climate change are ill-informed statements by Ministers. Other Members will have seen the comments by Peter Ewins, the chief executive of the Meteorological Office, who told The Times about a week ago that ministers' remarks about climate change were often so wrong that they made his scientists wince. The report continued: He criticised in particular claims by Mr. Prescott … that last November's floods had been caused by global warming. Mr. Ewins said that such statements were not supported by science and that it was impossible to say that such weather incidents were caused directly by climate change. I hope that Ministers will avoid making such statements because they can be used by the US to justify its lack of action on the important issue of climate change.

Few people can doubt that climate change is a major threat to mankind; fewer still can doubt that it will require a multilateral approach to tackle that menace. Unfortunately, one of those people is the President of the most powerful nation on earth. It is down to the United Kingdom and our European partners to ensure that he comes to his senses.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow 8:50 pm, 25th April 2001

It is pleasure to speak in the debate that was initiated by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown), who made an excellent speech. Despite the differences between our political parties—sometimes reinforced by the tactics of the Liberal Democrats[Interruption.] I am going to be generous, so hon. Members should let me finish. Despite those differences, I was reminded of how much common ground there is between us. On the right hon. Gentleman's historical legacy as leader of the third political party, one of his major contributions has been to reposition the Liberal Democrats between the Labour party and the Conservative party. In the longer run, that can only be good for politics. It does not mean that we need pacts or have to merge, merely that where we have a common interest, we should say so.

I agreed with what the right hon. Gentleman said about globalisation needing global solutions. That does not mean rejecting the nation state, but we have to recognise its limitations. We must take account of the fact that a decision taken in a moment in Detroit or Tokyo can cost tens of thousands of jobs in this country. The idea that we can face up to that global challenge within the confines of the nation state is not a sustainable argument.

I also agreed with the right hon. Gentleman about national identity. We all have different identities, and as the regions and localities of the world develop, those identities change. On Europe, an opinion poll finding that often strikes me is that those people who believe that Britain was a once great nation now in decline, have a completely negative attitude towards Britain's position in the European Union; yet those who believe that Britain was a once great nation now on its way back, have a wholly positive attitude. We need to have confidence in our national identity. That is especially true of the English. I do not detect among the Scots, Welsh and the Irish the same uncertainty and reticence, and that affects their attitudes towards Europe. The right hon. Gentleman has made an extremely positive contribution.

I want to focus on the recent decision by the President of the United States to repudiate the Kyoto protocol, which is of enormous concern. I was struck by the comments of the UK's chief scientific adviser during the Kyoto talks, who said: Even if Co2 emissions were cut by 60 per cent. over the next few years and let us remember that the Kyoto protocol does not sign us up to anything like a 60 per cent. reduction— sea levels would continue to rise for centuries. That is the challenge that we face and it explains why I am so worried about the decision taken by the US President and his Administration.

Members of all political parties can learn significant lessons from the events of the past few weeks. I fear that the first lesson is what those events tell us about the early stance of the new Bush Administration. Their actions during their first 14 weeks in office are cause for concern. Despite significant public opposition, especially within the United States, they are pushing ahead with the proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic national wildlife refuge. There is also a proposal to renege on the supposedly binding agreement that was signed at Kyoto. In addition, there are concerns about decisions beyond the environmental agenda. Given that that is the case after 14 weeks, one might ask whatever happened to "compassionate conservatism", which was the slogan used by the Republican candidate in the run-up to the presidential election. We in this country can learn from that. Many people in the United States are reflecting on what has happened and learning from the intervention of the fundamentalist Greens and Ralph Nader in the presidential election which led directly to the results that we have seen on Kyoto and much else.

There are those who argued that there was no difference between the candidates for the election in America, and in that respect the past 14 weeks have at least taught us an object lesson. The American people have made their choice and I do not criticise it, but there is a lesson for those in this country who claim that there is no difference between this Government and a Conservative Government. Whether those people are in the Socialist Alliance, fundamentalist Green campaigns or the Liberal Democrats, they should reflect on that.

It is enormously instructive to observe what the situation in the United States tells us about the modern-day Conservative party and its stance on national self-interest. Whenever we debate Europe and there is any suggestion of the pooling of sovereignty to achieve a greater end for the nation, the Conservative party accuses us of selling out our national interest. However, when the United States acts in a way that contradicts or attacks our national interest, the Conservatives are at best silent and on most occasions seem almost to acquiesce in the subjugation of our national interest to that of the United States. We hardly hear a squeak from them. We heard from the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), who said that he regretted the decision by the United States. He then launched into a ritualistic and wholly unjustified attack on the Deputy Prime Minister. If the Conservative party is serious about these issues, it needs to make a better response.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

The hon. Gentleman made an assertion about the Conservative party's attitude to the United States, saying that we appear to be essentially hostile to anything to do with the European Union but that we offer no criticism of the United States. Can he give a recent example of that? I am sure that the whole House will be pleased to hear from him.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

The whole debate on national missile defence is an example. There is a series of unanswered questions about that proposal and there are genuine concerns that the initiative on its own could lead to an escalation of the arms race. The sensible response is the one that has been made by the Government, who have said that we should wait and see what proposals the United States Administration make and then make a judgment. That is not the response of the Leader of the Opposition or of the Conservative party, which has said that whatever the details are, we should sign up to the initiative. That does not serve the British national interest. The Conservative party's stance on the United States contrasts greatly with its attitude to Europe.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Conservative, West Suffolk

I must correct the hon. Gentleman on this point. National missile defence may or may not go ahead and be successful, but the Americans propose to proceed with it. All that we have said, quite responsibly, is that we want to participate in discussions during the evolution of the policy and that we should not be expected to pay for it. That is sensibly in the interests of the British people and indeed all of Europe.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

When the matter first became public debate I heard the Leader of the Opposition say that the Government should sign up now and support the proposal. That starkly underlines the way in which the Conservative party undermines the British national interest with its simplistic attitude to a matter that requires sensitive, detailed debate.

There is obvious disagreement about Kyoto and the stance adopted by the American Administration which is felt throughout the advanced world and certainly in Europe and on these Benches, but George Bush is the elected President of the United States, which will continue to be a good friend and ally of this country. We have many common interests and we need to work with the Americans to achieve change on these issues. There are positive grounds for optimism. Recent polling evidence in the United States after the Bush Administration's decision shows that 77 per cent. of people want stronger environmental action Some centrist Republicans are even beginning to realise that the stance taken will not serve their interests as they approach the forthcoming congressional elections.

We must use our position in the special relationship to be a candid friend to the United States and the American President. We must convince the Administration that their stance on the issue is wrong; I believe that there are grounds for optimism. To echo the comments of the right hon. Member for Yeovil, I am convinced more than ever that, in tackling that kind of issue, the country's needs and interests are served by our being at the heart of the European Union, not apart from it, as the Conservative party wish.

The idea that the only remaining global superpower will respond to one national Government, whoever they are, simply does not bear scrutiny. There is a much better chance that it will be forced to respond to the combined might and pressure of European Union Governments working together. That is the lesson to be learned; whether on this issue or on the World Trade Organisation talks, unless we are at the table with the Europeans, in the longer run we will not even be in the room for international debate and negotiation. We should draw that lesson from the debate.

I know that two other Members wish to take part in our debate, so I turn finally to the United Nations, which has been the major initiative of the past century to achieve multilateral and collectivist solutions. However, anyone who looks at the current structure of the UN knows that it is in significant need of reform. In many senses, it is the main forum for tackling human rights abuses throughout the world yet, too often, it does not fulfil that task.

The conflict in Kosovo taught us more clearly than anything that, when we are taking justifiable action in defence of human rights, the UN does not always provide the best help and support because of its decision-making structure and the right of veto held by permanent members of the Security Council. If we are to proceed with the work of the UN and if it is to provide solutions, it must be subject to fundamental reform and rationalisation and the right of veto held by permanent members of the Security Council should be curtailed; otherwise, the UN will simply be reduced to the lowest common denominator because necessary action in support of human rights will always offend one or other member of the Security Council.

This has been a positive and interesting debate, which underlines the extent to which we need both international and multilateral solutions.

Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Liberal Democrat, Winchester 9:03 pm, 25th April 2001

I, too, think that the debate has been positive. Briefly, in my remarks, I want to look back and make an assessment of the Government's progress on their ethical foreign policy and on human rights issues.

From the start, may I say that Liberal Democrat Members welcomed strongly the statement of the Foreign Secretary in 1997 that there would be a change in foreign policy, with the ethical element at its heart. From our perspective that was welcome and a fine contrast to some activities in the 18 previous years. However, we believe strongly that those words are easy and need to be followed by fine actions. We recognise good action on Jubilee 2000 and the abolition of land mines, but a number of major holes remain in the Government's ethical foreign policy.

By far the biggest hole is the Government's failure to introduce legislation on arms exports. The right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) referred to that and cross-party Select Committees have criticised the Government. Five years after the Scott report, it is disgraceful that no such legislation has been introduced in any Queen's Speech in this Parliament, let alone passed. Of course, we welcome the fact that, in recent months, the Government have said they will introduce a draft export control Bill, and that, in the past two or three years, they have changed elements of legislation in relation to arms exports. It is good that the Government are producing an annual report on export licences, and we welcome that. However, on reading the detail, it is difficult to judge the use to which some arms are being put. There is little detail about end use. For example, the entry for the Channel Islands sets out the purchase of stun grenades, rifles and other firearms. Anyone would think that the Channel Islands are preparing to go to war, but the real detail is that these items were purchased for a museum. That illustrates the nonsense of not having more information in the annual report. Nevertheless, its publication is welcome.

I am pleased also that the Government have made it clear that they want to tackle the work of brokers. However, there are difficulties in determining how to deal with British brokers who are operating from foreign countries. We need to know more about how the Government propose to tackle that issue.

The greatest failure of the draft legislation that we have seen so far is not to put in place a system of pre-scrutiny of arms exports. If there is to be a genuine attempt to have an ethical foreign policy, that must start by allowing a cross-party group of Members to engage in pre-scrutiny to assess where arms are going.

I understand that there are some concerns about the delay that pre-scrutiny might cause within the system. There are business men in my constituency who share these concerns. When they have been trying to export goods, they have been frustrated at times by long delays. However, I do not think that pre-scrutiny would cause delay. The vast number of products and goods that are being exported would not be required to go through such a system. It may be that only about 10 or 12 would. The process, which is already very delayed, would not be held up much more by allowing a cross-party group of Members to engage in pre-scrutiny.

The second argument to be advanced is that pre-scrutiny would cause competition difficulties. It is said that if we were to open up the process, commercially sensitive contracts would be open for all to examine. It is suggested that other companies that perhaps were not aware that contracts were up for bidding would suddenly start to get in on the bidding process. Again, I think that that is a bogus argument against pre-scrutiny. It is not as if a Committee of Members will put up a big notice saying, "These contracts are out for bidding." If we trust Members, as we do now, to scrutinise MI5 and MI6—our intelligence services—surely we can trust them in the same way to examine arms exports.

If I were a Minister, I would want a "get out of jail card"—an insurance policy. What more effective insurance policy could one have as a Minister than knowing that a decision that might have to be taken in private had been endorsed by a cross-party group of Members in advance? That is one of the most compelling arguments. It would assure a Minister that his lonely decision has already been considered by a number of Members and approved. That system is good enough for the United States, which has overcome the possible difficulties. It is good enough also for Sweden.

Cross-party groups and the Quadripartite Committee and others all recommend the system as the way forward. I was pleased to hear that in a Select Committee this afternoon the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said that he still has an open mind on the matter. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.

If we are to have proper practice in place, there must be proper end-use monitoring. There is a concern that if we are exporting arms, it is extremely difficult to track down where they end up. I accept that it will be a difficult system to implement, given that monitoring will be difficult. However, having pre-scrutiny in place would surely allow pressure groups and others, via Members, to highlight some of the potential concerns about how end misuse could take place.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am pleased with what my hon. Friend is saying about the need for pre-scrutiny of arms sales. Will he accept from me, as someone who served in the early days on the Quadripartite Committee, that that Committee has moved a long way from the point at which it started in agreeing the present position? If a disparate group of Members can do that, I am sure that the Government can make the same journey.

Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Liberal Democrat, Winchester

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. If four respected groups have come together in that way, there is still the opportunity for the Government to listen to the concerns that have been expressed. I hope that the Government will indicate that the issue is still open for discussion.

One reason why we need to have a system of pre-scrutiny in place is what has been taking place in Indonesia. For those of us who are interested in human rights issues it seems a fine example of why we need to have proper arms export controls in place. One of the most disappointing things that the Government did was to continue with the contracts to supply Hawk jets to Indonesia. There were ample opportunities to review those contracts, and it was disappointing that the Foreign Office allowed them to stand. It is difficult to prove that Hawk jets have been used in human rights violations; equally, it is hard to prove that they have not been so used. We know, for example, that water cannon have been used in Jakarta against students protesting there. A pre-scrutiny panel would not have allowed such arms sales to Indonesia to continue.

I shall touch briefly on a couple of other issues on which I would welcome the Minister's comments. This morning I met the Reverend Jackie Maraputi, who is a representative on human rights issues of the Protestant Church in the Moluccas. The Minister will know of the extremely difficult situation in that region over the past 12 months. The good news that Reverend Maraputi told me was that the Protestants and some of the Muslims are working closely together for reconciliation, and there is real hope that some of the difficulties in the region will be overcome as a result of that effort. Those difficulties have led to almost 8,000 deaths in the past two years.

The most encouraging thing that the reverend told me was that some of the more extreme Muslim militant leaders have decided to take part in that process. What support can the British Government or the British Council offer to help to fund that process? He made it clear that the problems can be solved without outside interference, but that funding and support from the British Council would be extremely helpful.

The bad news was that some of the human rights violations continue. The forced religious conversions are still taking place. There are appalling cases of the forced circumcision of children as young as six. People are forced to change their names and married couples are forced to undertake a different marriage service to change their religion. All that, I am told, sometimes takes place with the Indonesian army watching and, on occasion, handing out medicine to those who have undergone forced circumcision. It would be helpful if the Minister would indicate whether he is prepared to put pressure on the United Nations or the European Union for the independent monitoring of events on some of the Indonesian islands.

Finally, in relation to Indonesia, there is concern about the situation of those who are trying to avoid such atrocities. There are estimated to be about 2,000 refugees in the islands of Seram, Dura and North Molucca. They are hiding in the jungle, and they need aid and food. Will the Minister confirm that the best way of achieving that would be to put pressure on the Indonesian Government to get food and vital medicine into the jungle? Again, we need monitoring to establish the extent of the problem.

In conclusion, I do not suggest that the problems in Indonesia are a direct result of the arms that we are providing. However, we want the Government to be more active in the region. The example of Indonesia demonstrates the need for proper arms control to be in place. None of us can say that a jet, a cannon or other military equipment has not been used in the Indonesian region in a way that we would find repulsive. I hope that if the Government are given the chance to govern again, they will quickly introduce legislation on arms exports. That remains a serious hole in the ethical foreign policy which we on the Literal Democrat Benches support.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 9:13 pm, 25th April 2001

I want to thank the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown), before he leaves, for selecting the subject for debate tonight and particularly for his excellent rendition of Housman's poems. As I grew up in Shropshire, almost under the shroud of Housman, I fully appreciated their spirit. His prophetic utterances about the dangers of the first world war turned out to be entirely true. It is time that we heard more poetry in the House. A great deal can be learned from it, and it is better than the prose that we usually hear.

My next point is not intended as a criticism of the right hon. Gentleman, but the debate is in danger of becoming a self-satisfied discussion about what the rich northern world thinks about its place in the globe. In reality, we are one country in a world where, appallingly, a quarter of the population lives at starvation level and many have life expectancies that would mean that virtually every hon. Member present would be long dead. Life expectancy is constantly falling in many of the poorest countries. It is now down to less than 40 years in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa. We live in a world in which the basic human rights of many people in respect of the ordinary ability to live—never mind of political expression—are completely lacking. We must do an awful lot better in this century than we managed to do in previous ones.

I want to draw attention to three points. I do not want to speak at great length about the generality, but I think that the theme of our debate must be world peace, world social justice and environmental sustainability, and the need seriously to support international organisations that can achieve those aims. I refer especially to the possibility of ensuring that the UN's role in the world is much enhanced, rather than diminished. We should debate those issues more often. Indeed, I think that our procedures would be improved if there were a more effective way of monitoring what we actually do at the United Nations. For example, we could establish a Select Committee on United Nations affairs or ensure that we receive a report back about what goes on at the UN. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights is just completing its work, but I do not suppose that we will hear one word about it in the Chamber, other than the few mentions that it will receive tonight. However, what is currently occurring in Geneva is crucial and it deserves much greater publicity than it has so far received.

As I said, I want to refer only to thee issues, as I know that other hon. Members want to speak. The first directly concerns the United Nations and the Security Council, which is meeting tomorrow morning. At the meeting, it will receive a report from the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, on the situation in the western Sahara. The western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1974, but despite year after year of agreements, pledges and arguments about the voters' role, there has been no referendum, and the fundamental right of the people of the western Sahara to vote on their future in a free and fair referendum has not been recognised. I understand that the Secretary-General will not specify a date by which the referendum should occur in tomorrow's report, but will instead ask for an extension of the MINURSO—the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara—mandate until the end of June, to enable him and other officials to continue progress on the possibilities of devolving power into the western Sahara from Morocco.

Over the years, I have initiated a number of debates on the western Sahara, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Ms Kingham), and I know that that is not what the people of the area have been campaigning for and demanding all these years. They want the right to vote on their self-determination. I am sorry to say that, if we merely keep imposing delays, hot war fighting will break out again, whatever the oratorical abilities of the leaders of Polisario or any other group. I do not want that and I do not advocate it. I want a peaceful solution, but I believe that the right to a referendum should be sacrosanct, and I hope that the British representative at tomorrow's Security Council meeting will make that point.

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

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the cause of the people of western Sahara and their right to a referendum have not been helped by the British Government's recent decision to allow the repair of gun parts and arms? I understand that the work was carried out against the will of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was overruled by the Department of Trade and Industry. Does he agree that that was a very false move?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I am glad that the hon. Lady intervened; she made a point that I was going to make anyway. I agree that if we want to achieve a peaceful solution to what is, for want of a better term, a post-colonial conflict, it is not sensible for us to allow the refurbished arms to go to Morocco. We know that there is no external threat to Morocco from anybody and that the weapons can be used only in an internal conflict—it will be internal in terms of the current political arrangements—against the people of western Sahara.

I hope that the Minister will assure us that it remains the British Government's position to support a referendum in which the people of western Sahara can vote freely on whether to be part of Morocco or to follow their own independent path.

The people of East Timor had that right. As one who observed the referendum in East Timor, I know that when a referendum takes place, United Nations officials have to attend—they did wonderful work in East Timor—but some security system must be put in place immediately afterwards. The carnage in East Timor after the referendum was horrific to witness.

This afternoon, I attended a briefing for Members of Parliament by a lawyer who represented LAW, the Palestinian legal rights group. The picture that she painted of the conflict in the middle east, the attacks in the Palestinian territory and the heavy weaponry that Israel deploys was horrific. I hope that the British Government will renew their criticisms of Israel's actions in the occupied territories and help to bring about some serious developments that will lead to a long-term peace process. The more the helicopter gunships go in and the more bombardments, random arrests and killings that occur, the more the chances for long-term peace diminish. They are diminishing by the day. The rest of the world must engage in upholding the rights of people to a peaceful existence.

Many UN resolutions have been passed to support the right of the Palestinian people to have a safe, secure place in which to live. Israeli forces have breached them often. Despite the supposedly even-handed approach and way in which the media report the conflict, the victims of the current conflict in Israel and Palestine are predominantly the poor and Palestinian civilians.

The LAW briefing stated: Between 28 September 2000 and 17 April 2001 390 Palestinian civilians have been killed and over 12,000 injured by Israeli soldiers and settlers. 73 Jewish Israelis have been killed and about 400 injured. About 84 per cent. of those Palestinians killed and 99.5 per cent. of those injured have been civilians who are not members of the Palestinian National Security forces. Any death is to be regretted and deplored, but the conflict is hardly even handed. Using helicopter gunships against a civilian population is an outrage anywhere in the world at any time. We should deplore that and try to encourage a peace process in the middle east.

My last point concerns the huge issue of national missile defence and the role of President Bush, who was not elected but somehow achieved office. We live in one world where 36,000 nuclear weapons are available. The Bush Administration are hellbent on developing a national missile defence system that was initially devised by Ronald Reagan and the defence companies. Defence contractors are doing well; they are making billions of pounds from Government contracts. The four main defence contractors in the United States receive a fast rate of return for the $34 million that they spend on lobbying on Capitol Hill and the $3.7 million that they contributed to Congress members' election campaigns last year.

The danger for the rest of the world is enormous. The incident involving the spy plane and the rising tension between China and the United States showed the dangers. We hear the rhetoric of right-wing think tanks in the USA that casts China as the enemy and claims that developing national missile defence will somehow protect the US for all time from any events elsewhere in the world. That is crazy and extremely dangerous. Going ahead would require rewriting if not tearing up the anti-ballistic missile treaty. Countries worked hard for that treaty and it constituted an important step forward. It would also require tearing up the treaty that provides for space to be a weapon-free zone, and would at least undermine the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

While many European countries have said that they oppose national missile defence and would not be prepared to grant facilities for it, most other countries in the world are terrified at the very idea of national missile defence, the nuclearisation of space and all that goes with it. I would hope, therefore, that instead of waiting for the US to make an application to us, this country would join in and say that we, too, are not prepared to grant facilities for, or be supportive of, the national missile defence proposals put forward by the United States.

If we want to live in a world that tackles environmental destruction and pollution, poverty, human rights abuses and the small wars that are going on with terrible consequences all round the globe, how on earth does national missile defence fit into that, other than to stuff full of gold the companies that have already been manufacturing weapons of mass destruction for a long time and to encourage the redevelopment of a nuclear arms race between Russia, China and the United States that can only be dangerous and damaging to the rest of the world?

I would have hoped that in this century we would have learned some of the lessons of the wars of the previous century, so that we could say no to this system and encourage others to say no to it. We should put all the pressure that we can on the US Administration to abandon this mad system and instead use that skill and technology to do something good for this planet rather than something bad and dangerous.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North 9:26 pm, 25th April 2001

I know that time is pressing, so I shall be as brief as I possibly can.

First, I want to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) for his excellent introductory speech and particularly for his comments on the complexity of identity in the modern world. I found his somewhat apocalyptic vision of the years ahead disconcerting, although I share some aspects of it.

It was also encouraging, during the early part of the debate, to see the Liberal Democrat section of the Opposition Benches full while the Conservative part was virtually empty. For those of us who have, from time to time, anticipated the possibility of a realignment of British politics whereby the Liberal Democrats would become the official Opposition, those moments were encouraging.

I want to associate myself completely with all the comments made by my hon. Friends, and to pick up particularly on the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). In the course of the debate, there have been several references to the American position on the Kyoto protocol and the American attitude towards national missile defence. I do not think that the link between those two United States policy positions has been noted. It is not arbitrary that the Americans have become so intransigent over Kyoto, or that they have become so obsessed by national missile defence.

A scenario is emerging wherein the United States has decided that it is prepared, as the 21st century moves on, to do everything possible to maintain its current position as the world's only superpower. It sees the main threat to that coming from economic development in China, and I feel that the justification given for the national missile defence system—that it is somehow a system to protect the United States against casual, irrational attacks by a small number of rogue states—is absolutely ludicrous.

If any of those alleged rogue states wished to attack the United States, they could easily do so with a nuclear bomb in a suitcase, or by the importation of the foot and mouth disease virus. That would be far more effective than trying to launch a full-scale nuclear attack. The national missile defence system seems, therefore, to be a pretext for the Americans' developing vision of the future, in which, some time in the second decade of this century, they will be prepared to fight—and intend to win—a nuclear war with China to maintain their economic supremacy.

The importance of President Bush's recently announced opposition to the Kyoto protocol is that the Americans are prepared to continue the exploitation of fossil fuels, and are determined to maintain their control over the majority of the world's oil reserves to fuel their economy to maintain their supremacy.

I want yet again to flag up—as have other Members—the crucial importance of exercising our Government's influence to persuade the United States to see sense and finally agree to an international system for a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions; of the need to develop renewable technologies; and that the continuing use of fossil fuels will not necessarily enable economic supremacy to be maintained. In fact, as the years go by, it is likely to be the countries with high-level skills and manufacturing capacity in renewable technologies that develop economic competence and supremacy.

I hope that our Government will do that, but I hope that at the same time they will use their influence, if not to oppose national missile defence directly, then to delay, prevaricate, cajole and even to try to persuade the United States to consider alternatives to the existing proposals.

I think that the general view in the House is that our Government should resist national missile defence and the Americans' position on the Kyoto protocol. However, we cannot adopt that stance alone. That returns me to the starting point and the main theme of the debate: in the modern world, multilateral action is the only basis for foreign policy.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Liberal Democrat, North East Fife 9:31 pm, 25th April 2001

This has been an extremely thoughtful debate, featuring well-argued contributions from all quarters.

It would be wrong of me not to begin by thanking those on the Front Benches—the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), and the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring)—for the generous tributes that they paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). They paid tribute not just to my right hon. Friend's sparkling contribution this evening, but to his contribution over a long period—but especially while he was leader of the Liberal Democrats—to a number of important foreign policy issues. I know that my right hon. Friend is very grateful for their generosity.

The Minister of State had to indulge in some pretty close textual analysis to find a justification for the Government's amendment, as opposed to the motion. As the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) pointed out, they are so close that, by kicking over the traces for once in his ministerial life—he did it often enough in his political life before becoming a Minister—the Minister might just be able to find himself in the same Lobby as us.

As I said, this has been a thoughtful occasion, and no one has been more thoughtful on these matters than my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil. This evening, we witnessed a remarkable demonstration of his insight and eloquence; but before moving on to some of the issues that were raised in the debate, let me remind the House that, in terms of foreign policy, my right hon. Friend has not only displayed insight and eloquence but, on occasion, shown rare courage.

That has not always been popular in the House. I remember, for instance, the time when my right hon. Friend rose to say that all Hong Kong residents should have passports that might entitle them to come and live in the United Kingdom. I can tell those who were not present that that was not exactly a popular thing to say. I also remember my right hon. Friend's insistence that our party should support Lady Thatcher—an increasingly unpopular Prime Minister in her own party and in the country—when it came to the issue of whether the Government should back the effort to expel Iraq from Kuwait.

I remember, too, my right hon. Friend's insistence—in the face of some pretty formidable arguments and quite a lot of heavy flak from the leader of the Labour party, the then right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East—that our party should support a Government who were deeply embattled over the Maastricht treaty, at a time when the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was confronted with extraordinary disloyalty from certain Back Benchers, some of whom appear to have experienced a renaissance on the Front Bench of today's Conservative party.

I remember, too, my right hon. Friend arguing knowledgeably and passionately— and not always achieving great popularity in the House—for early intervention in the Balkans. He also exposed the illusion of safe havens in an exchange of correspondence with the then Prime Minister that was best described as incendiary.

We Liberal Democrats will miss my right hon. Friend, but the House will also be the poorer. Those who have been the particular losers this evening are those Conservatives who have found themselves—no doubt under the heavy pressure of engagements and other responsibilities—compelled to stay away. It may be that they are out looking for other recruits such as Mr. James Mawdsley, to bring them into the bosom of the Conservative party. When the hon. Member for West Suffolk described the recruitment of Mr. Mawdsley, I was reminded that in the 18th century the Duchess of Gordon used to encourage recruits into her husband's regiment by the presentation of a shilling and the offer of a kiss. I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) fulfils that function in today's Conservative party.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk mentioned Europe, but I remind him that the Maastricht treaty talked not of a common defence policy but of a common foreign and security policy. It also envisaged something called a "common defence", which would be a united defence. That treaty was driven through the House on a three-line Whip by the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was, no doubt, a supporter.

The hon. Gentleman taxed us with a lack of confidence about Europe. As someone who has lived all his life in a country with a single currency but two separate legal systems, I have never had any discomfort in asserting my Scottishness. Nor would I have any anxiety about asserting my Britishness in a European Union with a single currency of which the UK was a member. It is hardly likely either that the German or French characters will be dissipated or irretrievably damaged so as to make them invisible through being members of the single European currency. If any party lacks confidence about Europe, it is today's Conservative party, which has travelled a long way since the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), with great courage, insisted that the UK should join what was then the Common Market.

The Minister was kind enough to refer to the fact that, last year, before the millennium summit, the Foreign Secretary and I sought to produce a joint position on the United Nations. I am sure that in recent weeks other hon. Members have experienced newspapers ringing them up and asking them to summarise in 40 words the achievement of which they are most proud. That is a somewhat precious question, and I have consistently failed to return the newspapers' calls. However, if I was forced under the thumbscrew to reply, I would admit to being most proud of that joint document that the Foreign Secretary and I produced. As the Minister generously pointed out, it formed a substantial part of the British Government's submission at the millennium summit and, in my humble and perhaps overly self-congratulatory opinion, made a sensible and reasoned contribution to the debate about the future of the United Nations.

We must have a United Nations that has a collective capacity to prevent gross and persistent abuses of human rights. The UN is an imperfect institution of course, but it is the only truly global institution. It has universal membership, and that gives it a unique legitimacy. Of course, the imperfections must be remedied. The structure of the Security Council must be reformed, as must the nature of the funding. It simply is not right that the richest country on earth should be most in arrears with its contributions. The UN must also enjoy the support of those countries with real military capability. Part of the problem in Sierra Leone was not the number but the quality of the forces offered to the United Nations. That is why a stalemate continues in that country, with the British training of the Sierra Leone army and the UN insufficiently capable of performing its responsibility in the proposed long-term effort to return the whole country to democratic rule.

It is also right, as the Minister said, that the rules of engagement for the United Nations must be drawn in terms that are sufficiently robust to ensure that we do not have to stand by and watch the horror of Srebrenica unfold again. In my judgment, that name will reverberate down the years, marking a place where the United Nations, for all its idealism and the high-flown rhetoric attached to it, failed.

For the people who suffered most there, even the mention of Srebrenica and the recollection of what it involved induce a shudder. Apart from those whose husbands, sons and brothers were the victims, their numbers include the Dutch peacekeepers who were forced to stand by. Their calls for air strikes to try and prevent the massacre that took place went unanswered. That was a bad day for the United Nations, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that such a day never occurs again.

Human rights must lie at the heart of foreign policy. Human rights and personal freedom should not be the prerogative of the well-off, the well-governed or the well-connected. The motion recognises the universality of human rights. I venture to suggest that that must be the keystone of a foreign policy with an ethical dimension—indeed, the United Nations declaration of human rights is described as a declaration of universal rights.

However, it is not enough simply to acknowledge the existence of those rights. We have a duty to implement them as well. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is not in his place at the moment, but he made a series of penetrating observations about the position of the Palestinians.

I yield to no one in my determination to ensure that the people of Israel have the right to live in peace in the country that they now occupy, but that right cannot be considered to be mutually inconsistent with the human rights of the Palestinian people. The House need only consider the weapons ranged on either side of the argument—Apache helicopter gunships and tanks on the one side, and Kalashnikovs and rockets on the other. There is no doubt where the balance of military advantage lies. If we are serious about human rights, we should be arguing the case for the right of the people of Israel to live where they do, and for the human right of the Palestinians not to be treated as they have been treated recently.

A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake), spoke about the consequences of the unwillingness of the United States to accept the Kyoto protocol. The hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) put that unwillingness in the context of apparently unilateral action on the part of the United States.

I recognise that a number of the things that have been done in recent times by the United States have given more than an impression of a determination to press ahead unilaterally, but they do not all date from the installation of the new Bush Administration. The Clinton Administration declined to support the International Criminal Court until their very final days. That was only done to embarrass the incoming President, not for reasons of the proposal's substance or the particular merits that it might enjoy. It was the Clinton Administration who felt compelled to proceed with the tests for national missile defence, and who were part of the dispute about bananas and the access of British goods to United States markets that involved cashmere workers in the Scottish borders.

The feeling that the United States is acting unilaterally does not arise solely from the deeds of the new Bush Administration. I share some of the anxieties in that regard that have been expressed in the debate, but we must understand that a degree of rhetoric has been involved, in the presidential campaign and in the Administration's first 100 days. In the past week or so, there have been some signs that, with the increasing influence of Secretary of State Colin Powell, the United States' policy may be less unilateral than we feared. For example, its intervention with regard to the invasion of Israeli troops, described by Colin Powell as disproportionate, resulted in Mr. Sharon immediately giving the order that the tanks should be withdrawn.

With regard to China, some of the exhortations and advice offered from Capitol Hill were enough to turn one's hair white. Mr. Bush resisted some of the more extreme recommendations from the Republican party.

The dispute about bananas has rumbled on for three, four or five years. The Minister, who had a great deal to do with the issue in a previous existence, understands its complexity. Yet that dispute has been settled.

In Taiwan, there was every suggestion that, as a reaction to the seizure of the American spy plane, the Bush Administration might, on a tit-for-tat basis, offer the Taiwanese Government the Aegis-equipped destroyers. No such offer has been made. These may be straws in the wind but they cause us to approach the issue of unilateral action on the part of the United States with a little more caution.

On national missile defence, close observers say that there has been a change in temperature in recent weeks. I do not know how it will turn out; my party has made its position clear. However, I suggest that there is every prospect that the American Government might be able to strike a deal with that great deal-maker Mr. Putin. It is not difficult to envisage the basis of some agreement to allow the amendment to the anti-ballistic missile treaty—the provision of more money, as was given under the Nunn-Lugar scheme, for dealing with the detritus of nuclear weapons, a reduction in strategic nuclear warheads, a share in technology and, finally—something that may be more difficult for some to accept—an undertaking that the United States would not press for any further expansion of NATO up to the borders of Russia. It is not impossible to envisage a bargain along those lines. That may do with regard to Russia but it leaves out the attitudes of China, which are clearly of great significance in determining whether the perceived advantage of national missile defence is justified by what would undoubtedly be some disadvantages.

The Foreign Secretary, who very courteously advised me that he would be unable to be present because he was speaking at the Lord Mayor's banquet, may just be getting to his feet to talk about foreign policy. I earnestly hope that the words "ethical dimension" will pass his lips. When he made that declaration, approximately four years ago, it enjoyed the universal support and acclaim of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself. Since then, it is fair to say, on an entirely objective basis, that there has been some rowing back. Words such as "constructive" or even "critical engagement" have been thrown about more often. It is not inconsistent to be constructively engaged with a country while ensuring that one's policies towards that country display an ethical dimension.

We have been most disappointed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) said most eloquently a moment ago, in relation to arms exports. There is no doubt that there was considerable embarrassment in some parts of the Government that the first act of the incoming Labour Government four years ago was not to cancel arms sales to Indonesia, then under a rather different Government. Such a cancellation would have been entirely legitimate; it could not have resulted in any legal consequences. Arms exports are part of foreign policy, which is part of the Executive prerogative. In my judgment—a legal as much as a political judgment—a decision to discontinue arms exports for foreign policy reasons cannot be attacked. There was great disappointment that the Government did not do that. We hope that the Government will learn from the disappointments that they have caused and the embarrassments that have been suffered in some Departments.

Finally, let me turn to the principle of collective action which lies behind the motion. Foreign affairs are regulated, as we know, by treaties and by conventions. However, they are also regulated by our membership of the European Union, the United Nations, the Commonwealth, NATO and the G8—whether by treaty provision, by the terms of a convention or by the obligations, expressed or implied, imposed on us by membership of those organisations. Foreign policy is conducted in accordance with those obligations. It is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil properly pointed out, an issue of pooled sovereignty. However, to achieve influence over the global economy, climate change and threats to peaceful co-existence, we need to enhance, improve and increase those partnerships.

I venture to suggest that we should no longer talk of great powers, but of great partnerships. If we do not take the collective approach that the motion and many speakers in the debate have urged, we risk the recreation of the competitive system of the 19th century, which spawned the disasters of the 20th. In the 21st century, we should surely learn the lessons of the past 100 years.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 9:51 pm, 25th April 2001

With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I shall wind up the debate.

I agree with the right hon. and earned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) that the debate has been good and thoughtful. It has proved one thing beyond doubt: a Tory boycott greatly enhances the quality of debate in the Chamber. I can say with absolute confidence that less nonsense has been spoken from the Tory Back Benches tonight than on any occasion since 1997—long may that continue.

On a much more serious note, I have been asked by several Members whether there is any further news from Zimbabwe this evening. We contacted the high commission in Harare at 9.15 and there is nothing further to report. However, as I told the House earlier, we shall take stock in the morning and we hall of course keep hon. Members informed.

I shall try to cover some of the issues raised during the debate. Obviously, I shall write to hon. Members on other matters. We discussed Indonesia, the western Sahara and many other topics of real and detailed concern to hon. Members. I undertake to write to hon. Members on those subjects that I cannot cover.

I have some good news for my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who referred to the importance of the meetings in Geneva this week of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. I fully agree with my hon. Friend's comments on the significance of those meetings. I am delighted to inform the House that earlier today, in Geneva, we and our EU partners secured the adoption by consensus of a draft resolution on torture. As a result the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, has been renewed for a further three years. In achieving that, we had to fight off repeated attempts from some countries to weaken that mandate and, indeed, to criticise the UN special rapporteur for his work. The steps that are being taken are incremental, but I contend that they are taking us in the right direction, with Britain in the vanguard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) and other hon. Members asked about our position on Kyoto. The UK's position on climate change is to be publicly committed to achieving our Kyoto targets. We do not think that there is a need for a specific climate change Bill, because the programme announced in November 2000 will reduce greenhouse emissions far beyond the Kyoto targets of 12.5 per cent. According to those criteria, they will be 23 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010. We shall continue to hold a dialogue with the United States on its position, but there is no doubt about our position; it is support for achieving the Kyoto targets.

I shall use the few minutes left for my speech mainly to discuss ethical foreign policy—three words that should certainly cross the lips of anyone who speaks on behalf of the United Kingdom on foreign affairs. We should proceed with some humility; there are few absolutes in these matters and we should all recognise that, whatever we do, sometimes we make errors and misjudgments. However, the two criteria that matter are, first, motives and, secondly, the knowledge that progress is being made. On both those counts, I believe that the Government, especially the Foreign Secretary, have been true to the ethical objectives that we set ourselves in 1997. Frankly, I am not greatly interested in the views of the Tory party, in relation to which a decent period of silence on those matters should be measured in decades rather than mere years.

I welcome the judgment of Amnesty International, which said: The balance sheet —of the Labour Government in office— shows a record of real achievement. It is a long time since Amnesty said that about a British Government. I value Lord Scott's view, as quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), who made an observation about the remarkable change that he can see, compared with the grubby and reckless scandals on which he reported just a few years ago under another Administration.

The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) asked me to comment on the arms export Bill. The export control Bill will be a major measure. It is not as though nothing has happened in the past four years, but if we introduce something as major as an export control Bill, there must be consultation. If we aim to streamline existing procedures, some of which date back to the second world war and, in addition, introduce new provisions in complex matters, such as trafficking and brokering, it is important to allow adequate time for consultation. It is equally important that the past four years should not have been a hiatus during which nothing happened.

From my own relatively recent experience in dealing with such applications, I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House about the thoroughness, care and depth with which each application in researched and about the way in which we who ultimately have to make the decisions treat them and try to get the balance right in each case. The Government remain committed to introducing such a Bill as soon as possible.

On the specific point about prior scrutiny by the Committee, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it remains under consideration, subject to those complex issues, including those that he mentioned, such as commercial confidentiality and the timely processing of export licence applications. The motive comes from the two criteria that I mentioned earlier. First, the motivation must be right. Secondly, progress is being made in that direction. Again, to compare the position now with that four years ago is to compare day with night. Perhaps that is the reason why the Conservative Back Benches are silent and empty. People's memories go back more than four years.

On the ethical foreign policy, we have a good story to tell, and across the world since 1997, the United Kingdom has set the agenda as a force for good. If we consider issues that were stale and hopeless and about which people despaired of progress being made, such as the Lockerbie trial, the Salman Rushdie fatwa, the Balkans and the role of Milosevic, East Timor, Sierra Leone and so on, the United Kingdom has been in the vanguard of ethical policies. Perhaps things are imperfect. We make no claims of perfection, but the policy is certainly ethical and progressive. We have taken a stand in defence of the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Iraq and on conflict diamonds.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The hon. Gentleman shouts that from a sedentary position, but he has nothing much to say about anything. What about the Tory party's record in southern Africa over a very long time? Again, the Conservative party's record calls for a long silence.

Our efforts to establish the International Criminal Court and our anti-torture campaign; our leadership against the death penalty, which I referred to earlier; our action against landmines; and the different regime on arms sales and the consultation on the Bill that I have mentioned should all be considered. Not everything has been done, but there have been debt initiatives and changes have taken place in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where there are more women and more people from ethnic minorities and more exchanges with non-governmental organisations and businesses. All that is covered by the term "ethical foreign policy". When we eventually ask the country to give us a mandate, it will be on the basis that we have demonstrated that this Government have acted honourably and ethically.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes, 40, Noes 291.

Division No. 196][10 pm
AYES
Allan, RichardKeetch, Paul
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyKirkwood, Archy
Baker, NormanLivsey, Richard
Beggs, RoyLlwyd, Elfyn
Beith, Rt Hon A JMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Brake, TomMoore, Michael
Brand, Dr PeterOaten, Mark
Breed, ColinÖpik, Lembit
Burnett, JohnRendel, David
Burstow, PaulRusssell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Chidgey, DavidThomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Cotter, BrianTonge, Dr Jenny
Davey, Edward (Kingston)Tyler, Paul
Fearn, RonnieWallace, Rt Hon James
George, Andrew (St Ives)Webb, Steve
Gidley, SandraWillis, Phil
Harris, Dr Evan
Harvey, NickTellers for the Ayes:
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Mr. Andrew Stunell and
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Sir Robert Smith.
NOES
Ainger, NickClark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Alexander, Douglas
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E)Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryClarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Atherton, Ms CandyClarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Atkins, CharlotteClelland, David
Austin, JohnClwyd, Ann
Bailey, AdrianCoaker, Vernon
Barnes, HarryCoffey, Ms Ann
Barron, KevinCohen, Harry
Battle, JohnColeman, Iain
Bayley, HughColman, Tony
Beard, NigelConnarty, Michael
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Begg, Miss AnneCorston, Jean
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Cousins, Jim
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)Crausby, David
Bennett, Andrew FCummings, John
Benton, JoeCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bermingham, GeraldCurtis—Thomas, Mrs Claire
Berry, RogerDarling, Rt Hon Alistair
Best, HaroldDarvill, Keith
Betts, CliveDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Blears, Ms HazelDavidson, Ian
Blizzard, BobDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulDawson, Hilton
Borrow, DavidDenham, Rt Hon John
Bradley, Rt Hon Keith (Withington)Dismore, Andrew
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Dobbin, Jim
Bradshaw, BenDobson, Rt Hon Frank
Brinton, Mrs HelenDonohoe, Brian H
Browne, DesmondDoran, Frank
Buck, Ms KarenDowd, Jim
Burden, RichardDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Burgon, ColinEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Byers, Rt Hon StephenEagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Caborn, Rt Hon RichardEdwards, Huw
Campbell—Savours, DaleEfford, Clive
Casale, RogerEnnis, Jeff
Caton, MartinField, Rt Hon Frank
Cawsey, IanFisher, Mark
Chaytor, DavidFitzpatrick, Jim
Clapham, MichaelFlynn, Paul
Follett, BarbaraKidney, David
Foster, Rt Hon DerekKilfoyle, Peter
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Gerrard, NeilLawrence, Mrs Jackie
Gibson, Dr IanLaxton, Bob
Gilroy, Mrs LindaLepper, David
Godman, Dr Norman ALeslie, Christopher
Godsiff, RogerLevitt, Tom
Goggins, PaulLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Golding, Mrs LlinLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gordon, Mrs EileenLiddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Linton, Martin
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Lock, David
Grogan, JohnMcAvoy, Thomas
Gunnell, JohnMcCabe, Steve
Hain, PeterMcCrea, Dr William
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)McDonagh, Siobhain
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)McFall, John
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hanson, DavidMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMackinlay, Andrew
Healey, JohnMacShane, Denis
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)Mactaggart, Fiona
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)McWalter, Tony
Hendrick, MarkMcWilliam, John
Hepburn, StephenMahon, Mrs Alice
Heppell, JohnMallaber, Judy
Hesford, StephenMandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hill, KeithMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hinchliffe, DavidMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hodge, Ms MargaretMartlew, Eric
Hood, JimmyMaxton, John
Hoon, Rt Hon GeoffreyMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hope, PhilMichael, Rt Hon Alun
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Howells, Dr KimMiller, Andrew
Hoyle, LindsayMitchell, Austin
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)Moffatt, Laura
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Humble, Mrs JoanMorris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr BrianMudie, George
Illsley, EricMullin, Chris
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jamieson, DavidMurphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Jenkins, BrianNaysmith, Dr Doug
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)Olner, Bill
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)O'Neill, Martin
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Organ, Mrs Diana
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms TessaPickthall, Colin
Joyce, EricPike, Peter L
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPlaskitt, James
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Pond, Chris
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Pope, Greg
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Pound, Stephen
Khabra, Piara SPowell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Stevenson, George
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Prosser, GwynStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Quinn, LawrieStringer, Graham
Rammell, BillStuart, Ms Gisela
Rapson, SydTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Raynsford, Rt Hon Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)Temple—Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)Timms, Stephen
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTipping, Paddy
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffTodd, Mark
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Touhig, Don
Rowlands, TedTrickett, Jon
Roy FrankTruswell, Paul
Ruane ChrisTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Ruddock JoanTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Ryan, Ms JoanTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Salter, MartinTynan, Bill
Savidge, MalcolmWard, Ms Claire
Sawford, PhilWareing, Robert N
Shaw, JonathanWatts, David
Shipley, Ms DebraWicks, Malcolm
Shipley, Ms DebraWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, DennisWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wilson Brian
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Winnick, David
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Woodward, Shaun
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Woolas, Phil
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Worthington, Tony
Soley, CliveWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Southworth, Ms HelenWright, Tony (Cannock)
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms RachelTellers for the Noes:
Starkey, Dr PhyllisMr. Ian Pearson and
Steinberg, GerryMr. Graham Allen.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House believes that the United Kingdom's national interests are best served by addressing the challenges of the modern world in constructive partnership with other countries and international organisations; further believes that human rights and protection of the environment are important global issues which are central to Her Majesty's Government's foreign policy; and welcomes the Government's full support for the work of the United Nations and initiatives to improve UN peacekeeping and the effectiveness of the Security Council.