I am delighted to introduce this annual debate on the Gracious Speech, not least as the amendment tabled by the Leader of the Opposition does not mention foreign affairs or, indeed, any queries or questions about or condemnations of the Government's foreign affairs policy. I look forward to a debate that I can only assume will be more akin to a senior common room discussion than what sometimes passes for debate in the House of Commons. I hope that the House will understand that no discourtesy is intended when I leave the Chamber to spend two hours before the Foreign Affairs Committee later this afternoon, which means that I will not be able to hear all the speeches.
Every year seems like an important year in foreign policy, but 2009 promises what I think will be a unique combination of dangers and opportunities. The dangers are a global economic crisis, an unremitting terrorist threat, a closing window of opportunity to bring a two-state solution to the middle east, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and, in Africa, crises in Somalia, Sudan, Congo and Zimbabwe. It would be a mistake, however, to become so mired in challenges that we overlook the opportunities—not least a new US Administration who are committed to joint action on shared priorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, on climate change and global warming, and on nuclear non-proliferation and international institutional reform.
Five foreign policy priorities will guide the Government's work. In all of them, we depend on the bravery, intelligence and dedication of soldiers, diplomats and aid workers. Many are at risk, and 305 members of our armed forces have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are truly in their debt and that of their families for their patriotism, their public service and their internationalism.
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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way so early in his speech. He talks about soldiers, diplomats and aid workers, but there is concern among Opposition Members that there is not enough co-ordination between those three elements, particularly at ministerial level. The Secretary of State will be aware that this year has been the bloodiest ever in Afghanistan; in August there were 46 fatalities. There is a concern that we do not know who is in charge of Government strategy when it comes to Afghanistan. Is it the Prime Minister, is it the Foreign Secretary, is it the Secretary of State for International Development or is it the Secretary of State for Defence? It is time that that one person who is in charge of the overall strategy, which I understand is about to change, came here on a regular basis to give us a proper update.
It is, of course, the Prime Minister who is in overall charge— [Interruption.] It is the Prime Minister. I would never stand at this Dispatch Box and say that it is impossible for the Government to improve their co-ordination, especially in such a difficult area, but having visited Afghanistan, the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that on the ground, military forces, diplomats and aid workers are working very closely together. The biggest credit for that goes to them, but it does not happen by accident. For example, the new combined civil-military operation in Helmand, which I visited last month, is a demonstration of the commitment on the three Departments going together. It is also a demonstration of what we mean by a comprehensive approach, because they are working on the security, on the politics and the economics, and they are doing so with the Afghan forces, including Afghans elected to Government positions. As I said, I would never claim that there was no room for improvement, which is why the Prime Minister said last week that it is important to review our strategy, but I honestly say to the hon. Gentleman that levels of co-ordination are unmatched in the experience of people who have worked for a long time in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development.
It is held to account by asking all of us about it, which Opposition Members quite rightly do. We are all accountable for it and we will all answer for it. If the stabilisation unit answered to only one Secretary of State, I would be here explaining why the other Secretaries of State were not also responsible for its efforts. Mr. Ellwood asked for co-ordination, and that is what we are trying to give him.
Let me talk at the outset about counter-terrorism, because the terrifying events in Mumbai a fortnight ago were a reminder that global interconnectedness brings not just shared economic risk, but shared security risk. People of all races and religions were targeted; British nationals were held captive; Indian communities in the UK were worried about family members' safety. After the attacks, we dispatched a consular rapid deployment team to assist British nationals. We will continue to work with the Indian police and law enforcement agencies to investigate the crime and better secure that important country for the future.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most chilling aspects of the terrorist attack was that the terrorists specifically sought out Jews in order to attack them? Does he agree that that needs to be condemned, particularly by people of Christian, Islamic and other religions?
I certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the herding of staff and their family members from the Jewish centre in Mumbai into the heart of that centre and their killing was a completely atrocious event. I share with him the view that it is important that, whatever our religion, we condemn the killing of people of other religions. At the NATO Mediterranean meeting last week, it was striking to hear the French Foreign Minister explain to Arab colleagues that the two French people killed in Mumbai were both Muslim. That brought home to people the fact that at one level these were random attacks that killed people of all religions, as well as the fact that the targeting of the Jewish centre was particularly chilling. I of course share the right hon. Gentleman's condemnation of it.
Our first focus in the battle against extremism remains Afghanistan and Pakistan. The federally administered tribal areas and the border region are a crucible of insecurity and instability. President-elect Obama has identified the region as a top priority when he assumes office on
Given that there is much talk of increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan, which I visited two weeks ago, what realistic hope is there of some of our coalition partners other than America putting forward troops, particularly on the front line, and not just relying on the US and the UK?
I will certainly come on to that, but it is good news that the French and Germans have increased their numbers. It is also striking that the Polish Government have promised to increase their numbers as well. It is certainly an issue that we need to address, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree, particularly as he has been to Afghanistan, that the greatest source of increasing numbers of troops will in the end come from Afghanistan itself. That is why the training and mentoring that I am about to mention are particularly important.
In Afghanistan, foreign troops will continue to be needed to provide the space for diplomatic and civilian efforts and to face down the insurgency. Of 50,000 NATO troops on the ground, 8,100 are British forces, making us the second largest military contributor. If we want to build Afghanistan's capacity to defend itself, which is after all why we are there, we need to focus on the training and mentoring of the Afghan national army. We have already helped to train about 65,000 members of the Afghan army. Whenever I have been to Afghanistan, it has struck me that the greatest testimony to those troops comes from our own forces who talk about going on patrol with Afghan forces and about the trust they have in them. As I said, we have already helped to train 65,000 members of the Afghan army, and over the next few years the plan is to double that figure. On the Pakistan side of the border, which I will try to emphasise on each of the four points I want to make about our strategy, we have also supported military-to-military contacts.
The second priority is to uphold the rule of law on both sides of the border. That is, by any estimate, more difficult than training the Afghan national army. Anyone who has been to Afghanistan will know that the problems in the police force outstrip even those on the army side. A strong police force and an independent judiciary, accepted by the population, are critical to building confidence in non-violent means of redress and in the Government themselves. We are supplying mentors to the EU police mission in Afghanistan who train police in criminal investigation skills. One important priority is to improve co-ordination between the European force there and the NATO attempts, under the district policing plan, to improve the quality of training, to ensure that police are trained for the challenges they will face in Afghanistan, which are at the very tough end of what policing is about.
It is also worth saying that we are working with the Government in Islamabad to extend the rule of law in Pakistan's tribal belt. One striking feature of the Pakistan army's efforts in the Bajaur area over the past three or four months is hearing it talk about the co-ordination with the international security assistance force on the other side of the border. That is the sort of joint operation that we need to see.
The important thing to say is that big changes are going on within the Pakistani armed forces, led by the new Chief of Army Staff, General Kayani, whom I met in Islamabad two weeks ago. The hon. Gentleman will know that there is a new head of the ISI, General Pasha. The appropriate thing to say is that reform is obviously needed in that institution. We strongly want to support that reform. It is also strongly supported by the civilian Government. It is vital that, with a new civilian Government in Islamabad, it is clear to their population and to the international community that they have control over all aspects of the state machine in Pakistan, because otherwise people will lose faith in democratic government.
On the civilian Government, is the Secretary of State having discussions with American colleagues about the use of a lot of the American aid that goes into Pakistan, which is also meant to go into the tribal areas, to ensure that it is used for rebuilding infrastructure?
Yes; my hon. Friend raises an important point, not least in the light of the Biden-Lugar Bill, sponsored by the now Vice President-elect in his previous capacity as a Senator, which proposed a tripling of American aid to Pakistan. We all know that it is not just spending aid money, but how it is spent and what it is spent on, that is vital. Certainly, an important part of our discussions will be on what is needed in Pakistan, which is, after all, a country where the military budget of its Government is three, four or five times that of the education budget—and that is before the military spending from the US is included, which totalled about $10 billion or $11 billion over the past six years. There needs to be a fundamental shift.
A serious discussion is taking place in America about it recognising India as a preferred partner, as opposed to Pakistan. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a mistake for the President-elect to consider that, because we should be supporting the delicate democracy in Pakistan?
My hon. Friend is right that it is important that the United States has good relations with both India and Pakistan. The civil nuclear deal that has been agreed between India and the United States brings India within the remit of the International Atomic Energy Agency for the first time. Given the proliferation that has occurred though the A. Q. Khan network, there are particular sensitivities and difficulties about the relationship between the US and Pakistan on the nuclear file, but asserting the need for both Pakistan and India to have good relations with America—and they need to be comprehensive, not just military—is an important part of discussions.
A third part of the drive in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the need for a clear political strategy for supporting democratic leadership in both countries. Next year and 2010 will be critical for Afghanistan, with presidential elections and then parliamentary elections planned. We need to help the Government to register voters and to provide security so that people are free to cast their votes. We will continue to support the Government in Pakistan and work to cement the democratic transition in these very difficult times, not least with the multilateral Friends of Democratic Pakistan group, first convened in September.
The fourth and final aspect is development assistance to ensure that citizens on both sides of the border have access to basic services and opportunities for education and employment, because underdevelopment and lack of opportunity provide fertile ground for extremism. We have committed about £190 million to Afghanistan for 2008-09, and are doubling our assistance to Pakistan, which by 2011 will be the UK's second largest aid programme after India, the Indian aid programme obviously declining as Indian economic wealth grows.
Today is the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, and there is arguably no greater threat to human rights than conflict. The European continent has had the longest period of continuous peace since Roman times. However, while 2008 saw conflict averted in the Balkans, conflict returned to the Caucasus. In 2009 we need to learn the lessons: continued pre-emptive deployment of military and civilian missions in the western Balkans, combined with systematic political outreach to all the countries of the western Balkans, using the lure of European Union membership to help drive internal reform; and hard-headed engagement with Russia, standing up for the independence, sovereignty and democracy of newly independent nations on Russia's borders, while also engaging Russia on issues of mutual interest.
Further afield, there is, unfortunately, hot conflict festering. Next year needs to be a decisive year in the Arab-Israeli conflict. I fear that unless it is, the prospect of a two-state solution will slip away. As I said in our debate yesterday, 2008 has seen close Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, a new Israel-Syria dialogue, and a fragile ceasefire in Gaza, but settlement activity is undermining the viability of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. Meanwhile, the increased fragmentation and disunity of the Palestinians threatens to make it harder for them to implement, if not agree, a deal. When people visit and talk to ordinary citizens on both sides, as many of us have done, it is clear that they are losing faith in the peace process.
Will the Secretary of State use this opportunity to condemn the Israeli blockade of Gaza—the denial of food, water, energy and medical supplies to people there—the devastation that it is causing to people's lives, and the bitterness that it is creating? Does he not think that Israel must be held responsible for what is collective punishment?
I am happy to repeat what I have made clear on many occasions, both publicly and privately with the Israeli Government, which is that the delivery of food, medicine and energy into the Gaza strip is essential to remedy what is a disastrous humanitarian situation. Equally, it is important to say that the rocket attacks that continue to come out of Gaza are the other side of the coin. They fuel the argument that when Israel vacates land, that land is then used to attack Israel. The misery of the Palestinians and the insecurity of Israelis are two sides of the same coin, and there are responsibilities on both sides.
It is increasingly apparent to me that the only solution in the middle east is a genuinely comprehensive solution—what I call a 23-state solution that ties in not just Israel and Palestine, but all the countries of the Arab League, building on the Arab peace initiative of 2002. The logic is simple. Only a comprehensive solution offers Israel what it really craves—stability and security in the region—and only with Arab political support will the Palestinians be willing and able to do a deal.
The Government will work hard towards a comprehensive solution over the coming year. It will mean working closely with Israel—always a beacon of democracy in the region, it is worth remembering—in the run-up to elections in February and beyond. It will also mean further concerted work with the Palestinian Authority on security and economic development. It will mean more systematic engagement with the Arab world, including Syria, which faces big choices in 2009, but has a big opportunity to contribute to regional stability. It will also mean active, high-level engagement with the new US Administration and EU partners. All these things we are committed to do.
In Iraq, 2009 will also be a year of elections. In January, Iraqis will go to the polls to elect new provincial councils. Later in the year, they will vote for a new national Government. We will continue to work to help the Iraqi Government build their capacity in the security sector, working with the Iraqi security forces and police. As the Prime Minister has said, we expect a fundamental change in our mission in Iraq in the first half of 2009 as we complete the tasks set out in his statement to the House in July: the training of the Iraqi 14th Division in Basra, transferring Basra airport to Iraqi control, pushing forward economic development, and providing the necessary support for the provincial elections to be held in January next year. That fundamental change will mean a shift from a military focus on Basra to a whole-Iraq approach that centres on close co-operation with the Iraqi people across the spectrum of politics, economics, human rights, culture and trade.
Given that both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have said that there will be a fundamental change in the British mission in Iraq, is it not now time to announce an inquiry into the Iraq war?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we do support an inquiry into the origins of the Iraq war, when our troops are safely home. An hour and a half ago, very unfortunately, Members in all parts of the House had to come together to mourn the loss of a British soldier last Thursday. That shows the continuing danger that our troops face. It is important for us to have the inquiry, but it is also important for us to have the inquiry when our troops are safely home, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is our intention.
On a recent visit to Iraq, a number of us observed the pride taken by those serving on our behalf in the work that they were doing in rebuilding the area surrounding Basra and training the security forces and army. They made very clear their belief that they had an important job to do, and that they were doing that important job and doing it proudly. They also made it clear that they did not want to see their work undone by a political decision to pull them out quickly before it had been completed. May we have a an assurance that the foundations that have been laid will be built upon before any quick decision is made?
Yes. Let me say, in the nicest possible way, that many Members do not feel that we have been quick, or over-hasty, in making a decision to withdraw our troops from Iraq. I think that we have shown considerable commitment to ensuring that, in the hon. Gentleman's words, the job is properly done.
I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman was in Basra he had a chance to hear about the progress of the 14th Division. He will have observed not just the professionalism of our own people, but the fact that we are building up a professional force that is able to guard the security of Iraq. I am grateful for the kind and appropriate words that he used about the work of our own forces.
Someone just mentioned translators, but that is not the information for which the hon. Gentleman has asked. I am happy to put on record, in the Library of the House, the facts about the locally engaged staff whom we have helped with financial aid in Iraq and with resettlement in the United Kingdom. Those facts are quite contrary to some of the sensationalist newspaper reporting, and I urge Members to look at the details that I am placing in the Library before making allegations about our treatment of locally engaged staff.
As for the 4 million refugees who are in surrounding countries, I do not accept that it is our record that is abysmal. Along with the Iraqi Government, we are committed to the efforts being made to build an Iraq that is safe for all its people. I know that the Iraqi Government want the Iraqi refugees to return as soon as possible, and I know the views of the countries in which they are now. I discussed the issue when I was in Syria, where there are nearly 1 million refugees. I think it important for us to work for a safe Iraq that can welcome back its people.
May I return the Foreign Secretary to the issue of an inquiry into the war? He will know that my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague has already cited historical precedents, pointing out that inquiries have taken place while our troops have been in the field. Why does the Foreign Secretary think it was appropriate for the United States Congress to undertake a thorough review and inquiry, but it is not appropriate for us to do the same?
The Foreign Secretary has restated the position that the inquiry should take place when our troops have withdrawn. Is he seriously saying it must take place after the last man is out? I thought that the intention was to leave a few hundred there on a long-term basis even after we had withdrawn battlegroups next year. Surely we are not going to wait until the very end of that process.
No, we are not. We are not going to hide behind the idea that the last troop must have come home. We have always made it clear that our commitment is in respect of combat troops, and we intend to honour that commitment.
I am sure that all Members will share our concern about the situation in the eastern Congo. In November, the United Kingdom co-sponsored a United Nations Security Council resolution to reinforce the UN mission, MONUC, with an additional 3,000 troops. Those troops are desperately needed to try to maintain the ceasefire and allow aid agencies to address the humanitarian situation, and we will aim for rapid deployment.
I am certain that the best way in which the international community can help to provide security in the east is through an enlarged UN force. However, on Monday the General Affairs and External Relations Council asked Javier Solana rapidly to prepare options for EU assistance in the eastern DRC, including the option of European military contributions to MONUC, at the request of the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban-ki Moon.
The Foreign Secretary visited the DRC at the beginning of November with his French counterpart. He is aware that the United Kingdom currently provides one of the European Union battlegroups, which is deployable at 15 days' notice. In the intervening period, MONUC has received no assistance. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us in what circumstances a battlegroup would ever be deployed by the European Union?
The circumstances are obvious. A battlegroup will be deployed when that is the most appropriate response to the problem that exists. It should be remembered that we backed the UN resolution calling for an extra 3,000 troops, with, I believe, support from Members in all parts of the House. We think that, for all the arguments about a single command and control structure, MONUC should be the first port of call for extra troops. We should increase the size of MONUC, and that is what we are trying to do. Today, as it happens, I had a productive meeting with the Nigerian Foreign Minister to discuss the ability of a range of countries to support extra troops for MONUC, and we intend to ensure that that happens. However, the Secretary-General of the UN has asked the EU to examine its options, and that is what we will do.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that the European battlegroup should be deployed when that is the best option, and when it is feasible.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way to me a second time. Can he make it clear, first, that any troops sent from anywhere to the Congo will be under the direct command and control of MONUC and within its orbit, and secondly that their deployment will be accompanied by a robust, active and effective peace negotiation and peace process so that we are not sucked into a war about resources in which neighbouring countries become involved?
The troops would not be under UN authority if they consisted of an EU battlegroup. That does not mean that there are no circumstances in which the EU could deploy—after all, Operation Artemis deployed in 2003, although in rather different circumstances—but if an EU battlegroup goes to the Congo, it will not be a UN force. It will operate in parallel with other forces.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary. He has told us that on Monday Ministers instructed Javier Solana to respond to the UN Secretary-General's request for more troops from the European Union. Will he say a little more about those instructions? Did the Ministers ask Javier Solana to respond positively—to say that the European Union would send more troops—or was the intention to explore options in the interim, presumably with member states? What is Javier Solana actually going to do?
He is going to respond to the UN Secretary-General's request for a bridging EU force, and examine its feasibility and desirability.
Yesterday the hon. Gentleman referred to a large number of countries which, at the European General Affairs and External Relations Council, had said that something must be done in the name of Europe. Let me gently say to him that none of the countries that said that something must be done were willing to put their own troops into the mix to help to get it done. I think that that demonstrates that Javier Solana has quite a difficult job to do in addressing both the feasibility and the desirability of a force. However, he is acting in good faith, and we will certainly support him. I imagine that the issue will be discussed tomorrow night at the European Foreign Ministers' dinner, or at least in the margins of it, and I shall be happy to report to the House on the progress that Javier Solana is making.
Let me now respond to the point made by my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn about the political process. Any troops must accompany a viable political process, which is why we are supporting former Nigerian President Obasanjo's mediation between the rebels in the National Congress for the Defence of the People and the Government of the DRC. Relations between the Rwandan and DRC Governments have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks, since the visit with French Foreign Minister Kouchner, and they have agreed a joint plan to tackle the FDLR—the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda—militias, but we will need to maintain the political pressure if real progress is to be made.
Political process along both axes of the conflict in Sudan is vital, too. We will continue to support the United Nations-African Union mediation over Darfur, as well as full implementation of the north-south comprehensive peace agreement. In both the DRC and Sudan, our humanitarian spend is one measure of our political commitment. We are Sudan's second largest bilateral donor, and during 2009-10 total DFID spending in the DRC will rise to £100 million.
In Zimbabwe, we are already the second biggest bilateral donor, along with the US. The cholera epidemic has now precipitated a state of national emergency and we are stepping up our humanitarian response to help to alleviate the appalling suffering, but the long-term future depends on political change. There is unanimity across the House on the cause of Zimbabwe's descent into ruin: the Government of Robert Mugabe. There was unanimity last July when the Government urged the UN Security Council to apply direct pressure on the regime. I hope there can be unanimity today in honest explanation to the British public of the following points: that there can be no solution in Zimbabwe without the engagement of neighbouring African countries; that we should remain committed to offering our support for a broad-based Government reflecting the March election results; and that the UN is an appropriate forum to discuss this issue, because there is no way Zimbabwe can be considered an "internal affair". I also hope there will be unanimity that we must reiterate time and again our commitment to, and preparation to help, the people of Zimbabwe with thorough-going economic, social and political support when they have a Government who can credibly advance their interests rather than abuse them.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the only external non-violent action that would force non-violent change in Zimbabwe would be if the South African and Mozambique Governments agreed on an oil embargo and the prevention of electricity imports to Zimbabwe? Does he also agree that if South Africa refuses to take such action, the situation in Zimbabwe has now reached the stage where under the international community's overwhelming responsibility—the responsibility to protect, which is now part of UN doctrine—it would be appropriate for consideration to be given on humanitarian grounds to deploying a military force if necessary, under UN approval and if possible with the approval of the AU, to ensure the end of the suffering? The situation of the Zimbabwean people is deteriorating, and without such action it could continue to deteriorate for many months to come.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises important and difficult issues that deserve a serious response. We have thought a lot about the fuel issue, but the sad truth is that the last people who would be affected by a fuel blockade would be Robert Mugabe and his cronies. Therefore, we have to think very carefully before recommending a course of action that would mean—I use the following word advisedly—death for people who are dependent even on the minuscule supplies that are reaching medical centres and other places in Zimbabwe. I say that while in no way denunciating the right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion or implying any lack of humanity in it, because the current situation is completely inhumane, but I am very wary of our playing God by condemning some people who are dependent—literally for their lives—on fuel supplies by saying fuel should not be supplied.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right in his broader point about South Africa. South Africa is suffering the most grievous damage as a result of the descent into chaos in Zimbabwe. It is suffering from between 3 million and 4 million refugees and now six cases of cholera. It is in South Africa that the greatest power lies.
The precedents in respect of military action are not auspicious, and I think that that discussion should be left for the moment.
Following on from what the Foreign Secretary has just said, does he accept that the situation in Zimbabwe has not arisen overnight, but that it has been developing over a long period? One of the reasons why there is such cynicism about the international community's reaction to Zimbabwe is that there is always a lot of rhetoric but there is not any action. If we are to release the people of Zimbabwe from the oppressive tyranny under which they have suffered for so long, at some point the international community will have to take the sort of action my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind is talking about, and this Government should have the boldness to suggest it.
The commitment to action not just words was best exemplified when we went to the UN Security Council last July. It was tough enough to get a meeting. It may seem incredible in this House that it is hard to get a UNSC meeting to discuss Zimbabwe, but there was strong opposition to having a meeting on the grounds that this was the "internal affairs" of a sovereign country. We then proposed, and pushed to a vote, a tough global sanctions resolution on members of that regime. It was vetoed twice, by two countries. I do not say that in order in any way to suggest that we should not have gone to a vote; I think it is right that we went to a vote—I think it is right that countries had to stand up and be counted on the position they were willing to take. We were willing to do this, but Mr. Ancram is talking about much graver measures than sanctions on individual members of the regime, and I say to him that two countries vetoed that resolution last July. It gives me no pleasure at all to say that we were right in our warnings that Mugabe would defy the mediation process that was created. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the credibility of the international community depends on taking action in cases such as this, but the action was not allowed by the rules of the international community, and we must all take that on board.
I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary for the work he has done on this issue over a long period. He seemed to disregard the views of Sir Malcolm Rifkind about a boycott and closing off the borders to petrol and diesel. Does he not agree with the President of Botswana, who said in this very place that he felt that would be an extremely good idea and it would bring about the end of the Mugabe regime within a week?
I pay tribute in return to my hon. Friend, who has done extraordinary work on this issue over a long period. I hope it was not felt that in my answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman there was any sense of disregarding or denunciating the suggestion, because it was made in good faith and it is a serious suggestion—and whether we should advocate it is, of course, discussed. What I tried to explain in my reply to the right hon. and learned Gentleman was the genuine dilemma we face.
We see a situation of crushing inhumanity—of death and destruction on a completely needless scale—and we face an option that is put forward perfectly legitimately that would, by any estimate, add to that death and destruction in the name of a change in the regime. The reason why we have so far come out against that policy is that the death and destruction it would impose would impact last on the members of the regime and first on the most vulnerable members of Zimbabwean society. That is in no way to disregard this suggestion, and I hope it did not seem that my response was dismissive. As I have said, it deserves a serious response, but in seeking to tackle the cause of the current death and destruction we all have to weigh up whether or not we are ourselves willing to cause death and destruction to completely innocent people. That is something we have not been willing to do, both in respect of the fuel issue and the trade issue, which also raises difficult questions.
I wish to make one other point on this topic. I think we all believe that Morgan Tsvangirai won a presidential and parliamentary victory in the elections, and at no stage has he advocated this policy. That is an important point to remember when we think about what is the right thing to do in these circumstances. At no stage has he advocated that, either publicly or privately.
I am very grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way again. It is undoubtedly the case that some innocent people would die if there were an oil and electricity embargo, but that argument would have much more force if there were not already tens of thousands of people dying, and that number is likely to multiply if this policy of inaction by the international community—I am not criticising the British Government; I am talking about the international community—were to continue.
I would be the last person to argue for what is in effect regime change for a political objective, but we are dealing with an overwhelming humanitarian objective. I recall the extraordinary paradox that it was the Vietnamese who got rid of Pol Pot when they intervened in Cambodia and ended that ghastly regime. I suggest that, with the authority of the UN and the AU, a similar objective could be achieved in Zimbabwe, with minimum loss of life and to the enormous relief of the people of Zimbabwe as a whole.
I take seriously the experience with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman speaks. What I say to him is that we could not get a majority for sanctions on individual members of the regime —[Interruption.] I assure hon. Members that it remains pretty difficult to do so. We could not go beyond that. He raises a point about death and destruction, saying that some people would die if there was a fuel blockade and that the process would be short. I do not think that one can guarantee that. We are talking about life and death decisions involving potentially tens of thousands of people. He is right to say that mass slaughter—mass death—is going on at the moment, but a blockade would certainly hasten that. I repeat that the regime would be the last to bear the burden of any such blockade.
I have tried the House's patience for a long time and I have tried to be generous in answering questions, so I think I should finish my speech and then allow others to speak. I want to cover the root causes of conflict. Our work on tackling those must be backed up by counter-proliferation treaties and restrictions to curb the fatal flow of weapons. That is why I was in Oslo last week to sign the convention on cluster munitions—over the course of 2009, we will encourage other countries to sign it too. We will also endeavour to accelerate work towards an arms trade treaty.
The most lethal and immediate proliferation challenge is the nuclear one. This Government have made it clear that they are committed to a world without nuclear weapons, as per our non-proliferation treaty responsibilities. US President-elect Obama has done the same, so we will work with the US and other allies to bring the comprehensive test ban treaty into force, thereby banning all nuclear weapons test explosions. Early US ratification would do much to encourage the few states remaining outside to follow suit. We will also work together to push forward multilateral negotiations on a treaty to end the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, thus helping to make reductions irreversible, and to secure renewed agreement among all NPT states that tougher prevention measures are needed to tackle proliferation in the future.
That brings me to the issue of Iran, which will be one of the most difficult issues in 2009. Iran continues to increase its enrichment programme in the face of repeated International Atomic Energy Agency requests for more access and information, and in defiance of five UN Security Council resolutions. The threat is real—we are talking about a matter of years, not decades—and in 2009 it will continue to grow with every day that passes, as Iran continues to enrich and to increase its capacity to enrich, so we need urgently to make diplomacy work. That means a more vigorous pursuit of our dual-track approach: the pressure of sanctions coupled with the promise of engagement and reintegration if Tehran co-operates with the UN Security Council and the IAEA. If Iran continues to ignore the UN Security Council and disregards the requests of the IAEA, it will face increasingly tough sanctions and worsening diplomatic isolation. The alternative is for it to accept the E3 plus 3's generous offer of June this year, which would give Iran financial and technological assistance to develop its civilian nuclear capacity—that is what it claims to want—and a range of other benefits. We will lead the effort to make its choice clear, through national measures and with our partners in the EU and UN.
As our June offer made clear, we are not opposed to Iran or other countries having access to civilian nuclear capacity, as long as there is absolute confidence that there is no leakage into a nuclear weapons programme. Far from being opposed, we see civilian nuclear technology as a crucial part of the answer to climate change and energy insecurity, but we need to manage the risks that this technology might be diverted for more malign purposes.
In the past three years, climate change has become a foreign policy issue discussed annually in these debates. Today, I have time to say only that although a high-growth global economy is essential, it is only half the story. The Government's goal is a high-growth, low-carbon global economy. We cannot afford to defer energy efficiency and the drive for low-carbon fuels, because the short-term and long-term case for acting now is compelling.
Equally, amid the financial crisis we must not lose sight of the millennium development goals. Some $17.5 billion was committed at the high-level event at the UN General Assembly this September. The UK remains on track to meet our Gleneagles commitments, but too many of our partners are not. In addition, there is a growing risk that donations will fall away, despite the fact that the poorest countries, whether resource rich or resource poor, are often hit hardest by global shocks. We need to keep leading by example.
In order to deliver on this broad and ambitious agenda, we will need to work with partners and allies, and to mobilise collective action through international and multilateral institutions; I have already mentioned the new US administration. But if we want the multilateral architecture to continue to be the basis for international engagement and co-operation in the 21st century, we need to build support for reform. The economic crisis has highlighted the failings of the international financial architecture and should help to galvanise support for our efforts to reform the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
We now need to update the world's political architecture to ensure that its contours map the new distribution of power, and regional structures are important in that. Massive progress towards peace and prosperity has been spurred by the creation of, first, the European Economic Community and the subsequent development of the European Union. Nation states have learned to come together to share power, not to dilute their national identity but to reconcile it with the reality of economic, social, political and environmental interdependence. The EU has an important role to play in each and every one of the priorities that I have identified today: nation building in Afghanistan and Africa; European security and defence policy missions in countries ranging from Congo, Chad and Somalia to Bosnia, Kosovo and Georgia; the provision of humanitarian aid, which totals €750 million and helps 20 million people across 50 countries; and leadership on climate change.
A global Europe that capitalises on its soft power by keeping the door open to further enlargement keeps countries in the western Balkans and eastern Europe moving in the right direction and engages, rather than isolates, Russia. But we also need a global Europe that builds its hard power, not as a threat to NATO, which, in its 60th anniversary year remains the cornerstone of European defence, but as a complement to it. France is on the verge of the historic decision of fully rejoining NATO, because it recognises its indispensable role. The US welcomes stronger EU efforts, both military and civilian, in the security sphere—
I am sorry, but I have given way more than enough.
The US welcomes those stronger efforts because it agrees that such efforts strengthen our collective security, as Europe is doing in Georgia and the Balkans, and off the horn of Africa. We need to see this regional drive replicated elsewhere, notably in Africa, through the development of the African Union, but global problems require global solutions, and in that regard we need fundamental reform of our institutions, notably at the UN. The deal is simple: with power should come responsibility. For emerging, or re-emerging powers, there is a two-way street of recognition and respect, and obligations. For the previously dominant powers, such as the UK, the obligation is to continue to earn a place at the top table. That is what this Government are committed to doing.
The combination of circumstances in world affairs presents some of the greatest dangers for decades: nuclear proliferation; widespread conflict in Africa; immense tensions in the middle east; and widespread terrorist outrages. It also presents a major opportunity in 2009, because a new Administration in Washington have the best opportunity in a long time to win new friends for the United States, our greatest ally. I believe that this House should welcome the experienced team that President-elect Obama has put together in foreign affairs and defence, and hope—I believe the Foreign Secretary was expressing this hope—that the middle east peace process will, indeed, be one of their highest priorities, because unless a two-state solution is agreed soon, it may never be agreed. I hope that they will truly bring all the power and momentum that comes from being an American Administration who have four or eight years in office ahead of them.
The sombre nature of the background to our debate has been underlined by the scale and severity of the terrorist atrocities in Mumbai. In the face of those despicable outrages, to which the Foreign Secretary referred, we have all affirmed this country's strong support for the Indian authorities in their efforts to identify the orchestrators. It is encouraging that the Government of Pakistan have offered high-level co-operation and have made several arrests, because the whole world looks to them to do everything possible to work with India on this vital matter, including making further arrests, as appropriate, although we are mindful of course that Pakistan has itself been the victim of a massive terrorist attack within the past few months.
This House is also united in wishing to see the entrenchment of democratic government in Pakistan, which is much the best hope for its fragile economic position and for the defeat of terrorism. That message was strongly conveyed in Pakistan by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I when we visited in September, and it has also been conveyed by the Foreign Secretary on his visits. Indeed, he has made many international visits over the past few weeks, and we welcome the initiatives that he has taken on Bosnia, which we discussed yesterday, his visits to the Gulf and to Damascus, and the emphasis he has placed on the middle east peace process.
As an aside, I must say that in the summer the Foreign Secretary was meant to be going on a tour of Britain, but he has ended up going on a tour of the world instead. Evidently, when the Prime Minister gets a more secure position within the Labour party, the Foreign Secretary thinks that leaving the country regularly is more attractive to him than stirring up trouble in the country. We must recall that in the summer he was insisting, in that famous press conference with a bemused Italian Foreign Minister—the tour did at least get as a far as Carlton gardens—that he
"wanted to support Gordon's leadership."
He could not actually say that he had succeeded in supporting that leadership at that time. But since then he has been all over the world and has avoided what he calls "Heseltine moments", although in case he drifts away from that practice, we are keeping a careful eye on the Mace.
Although, as the Foreign Secretary says, there is a lot of bipartisanship in foreign policy—as I will illustrate—he regretted that foreign policy was not mentioned in the amendment tabled by the Opposition. That is the amendment to be voted on at the end of tomorrow's debate, which is about public services. Not surprisingly therefore the amendment is about public services. When he was saying that, Mr. Davey muttered "Astonishing", but the Liberal Democrats have not tabled any amendment at all, which the House might think is even more astonishing. It has never been our practice as the Opposition to divide the House on foreign policy during the Queen's Speech, and if the Foreign Secretary thinks that the Opposition should behave differently, he may soon have the opportunity to make such decisions for himself.
It is a powerful feature of British foreign policy that outside the area of European institutions, which we debated yesterday, so much of it enjoys broad bipartisan support, whoever is in office. That is certainly true of several tragic situations in Africa.
The most helpful thing would be for Pakistan itself to take on the full responsibility of ensuring order in the tribal areas, and to continue to improve and enhance the efforts that the Pakistani authorities have made in recent months to try to tackle the Taliban and other groups in the tribal areas. If the Pakistani Government exercised their full responsibility to do that, some of the situations to which my right hon. and learned Friend refers would be less likely to arise.
In a question to the Foreign Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend asked about Zimbabwe, which we also discussed yesterday, and I do not want to go over the same ground again—
The Opposition should say what they think is the right thing to do, and not necessarily be governed by opinion poll. I will, of course, come to Afghanistan in the course of my remarks—the hon. Gentleman would be astonished if I did not—but I wish first to address some of the situations in Africa.
We did discuss Zimbabwe yesterday, and we welcomed the ban on 11 further members of the regime—and called for its proper enforcement by EU nations this time. We hope, as do Ministers, that more African nations will join the leaders of Kenya and Botswana in saying unequivocally that Mugabe must go. The President of Botswana has called—as hon. Members have said—for a fuel blockade, which is a very difficult judgment to reach. I accept the Foreign Secretary's description of that as a matter of life or death. I suspect that were we in office we would come down on the other side of that judgment, because it is a matter of life or death either way for the people of Zimbabwe, but I understand how difficult it is to make that choice. It is also clear that if the responsibility to protect, to which UN members have signed up, means anything, the UN Security Council should authorise strong sanctions or direct intervention in Zimbabwe. The difficulty is—and this is perhaps the only respect in which I part company with my right hon. and learned Friend, who speaks with great authority and experience on these matters—that there is currently no authority from the UN or the African Union to take such action. I hope that the Government will find stronger support at the UN Security Council than they found earlier in the year, and when they again actively raise the issue of Zimbabwe, they will find that the views of some countries have changed. We continue to believe that it is vital to prepare for the day after Mugabe, with huge aid, security reform and a new and improved Administration, with an over-the-horizon force—supplied by African nations—ready to go in when that is possible and necessary. All those points remain valid, but it is the responsibility of African leaders and nations now to say that Mugabe must go. The need to take action on that is paramount.
My right hon. Friend will know of my long-standing and deep interest in Zimbabwe. Will he accept that the UK has a special responsibility in that country, bearing in mind that we brought it to independence and presided over the election of Mr. Mugabe? Does he also accept that we may have to consider seriously intervention in Zimbabwe to save the people from starvation and hyperinflation, and now even the tragic disease of cholera? Mr. Mugabe is no longer fit to govern: what are we going to do about co-operating with Africa in seeking intervention?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point and he does have a long-standing interest in these issues. He refers to co-operating with Africa, and that is the nub of the point. Direct intervention in Zimbabwe without the co-operation of South Africa or legal sanction from the UN would be a very difficult thing to bring about. However much we may wish for what he describes, we have to recognise that reality. That is why we must encourage African nations to shoulder their share of the responsibility. It is a crisis that now affects them directly, including people in South Africa and other surrounding nations, but if they stepped up to the plate, it would make all the difference and would allow this country, alongside many others, to bring about the change that we all want to see.
Does my right hon. Friend share the concern I felt when I heard recently of a conference of what one might describe as the next generation of African leaders in that region who all expressed the view that Britain was complicit in part of the problem because of what happened at Lancaster house? A major job needs to be done by this and other Governments to educate people that the land issue was resolved at Lancaster house and is not part of the problem. The Zimbabwean Government had the option to purchase large amounts of land that they could have distributed among the population. Instead, they kept it for the coterie of thugs around Mugabe. More could be done to educate the next generation of African leaders, who have great potential to help to resolve this problem.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. He is right, and the story to which he draws attention is part of the corruption, mismanagement and despotism with which Robert Mugabe has destroyed his country. This country can be proud of what we have tried to do in Zimbabwe in the past and in recent years, but now we need stronger co-operation from South Africa and other neighbouring states to bring what we hope for to fruition.
We must not forget that the conflict in Darfur goes on—the Foreign Secretary also referred to it. Out of 6 million Darfuris, 5 million are either in camps or relying on food aid to survive. The humanitarian operation there is becoming ever more hazardous, and access to refugees has become increasingly restricted: 11 aid workers have been killed this year. The House will recall that in July last year the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy announced that Darfur would be one of their top priorities and committed themselves to doing everything possible to bring the necessary international presence there, but, 16 months since UN Resolution 1769 was passed, the UN-AU mission has only 10,000 troops and police—less than half what was intended—and is still desperately short of the helicopters that are essential for its effective operation. I accept that the Government share our concern about this state of affairs, but it is now abundantly clear that the Sudanese Government will not act unless under pressure. I hope that Ministers will therefore consider calls for sanctions on the regime. I hope that they will also take a deeply sceptical attitude to the proposed suspension of International Criminal Court proceedings against President Bashir of Sudan in return for Khartoum's co-operation on other issues—a suspension that risks sending the message to some of the world's despotic leaders that they can act with impunity while the international community watches but does not act, which is another parallel with Zimbabwe.
More prominent in the headlines has been the appalling violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was also referred to by the Foreign Secretary. We support the Government in hoping that the talks led by former Nigerian President Obasanjo will be successful. Again, we are concerned about the delay in the deployment of additional UN forces that was authorised on
Next in the pattern of under-resourced peacekeeping forces and intermittent international political will has been the situation in Somalia and off its coast. The African Union force in Somalia is deployed with barely a third of the troops required under its mandate. Ethiopia has announced that it will soon withdraw its troops, raising the prospect of further violence. The security vacuum is fuelling piracy in the gulf of Aden and beyond. It is almost unbelievable that large-scale piracy can take off to such an extent in the modern age, but the fact that it has done so requires a decisive international response.
Of course, naval forces, including our own, are now doing sterling work off the horn of Africa, but I suggest to the Government that two aspects of that work require further attention. First, three naval operations appear to be taking place in the region involving a combined international taskforce, a deployment of the standing NATO maritime group and now an EU maritime operation. Would it not be better if there was a single command for the currently separate EU and NATO missions, especially since NATO is reported to be considering a significant expansion of its operation?
In addition, the rules of engagement appear to differ for the three different missions and there have been some suggestions that the Government have discouraged the Royal Navy from detaining pirates because that might breach their human rights or tempt them to claim asylum in the United Kingdom—
I am asking whether that is the case, because it was reported in the newspapers. I know not to believe things that are written in the newspapers, but we have to ask Ministers whether they are true. I hope that when the Defence Secretary winds up the debate he can say what the Government are doing to cut through the legal tangle and to find some solution whereby regional states can help in prosecuting apprehended pirates or whereby a temporary international court could be set up to try those who are accused. Without a major international effort to deal with those issues, it seems unlikely that piracy can be defeated and deterred.
Can my right hon. Friend shed any light on why the Government promised before the Queen's Speech to give extended powers to the Royal Navy and other forces in dealing with instances such as the piracy that he has just mentioned yet seem to have dropped the idea completely from the transport security Bill?
I share my hon. Friend's puzzlement. He is really asking a question of the Defence Secretary, who will reply to the debate, through my speech. As the Defence Secretary is scribbling furiously, I hope that he will answer that question in addition to those that I have raised about the Government's approach.
Let me turn to the middle east. It is a matter of great relief that the situation in Iraq has continued to improve through the course of this year. In welcoming the fact that our troops should be able to withdraw from Iraq in the coming months, we must never lose sight of the fact that 177 British armed forces personnel or MOD civilians have died serving there and that our forces have now been deployed there for more than 2,000 days, a commitment that is now longer than that for the whole of the second world war.
Alongside our hopes for continued improvement in Iraq, are there not now several issues of particular concern to us in British-Iraqi relations? One of course is the legal status of our troops in Iraq after the expiry of the UN mandate at the end of this month. The Defence Secretary has said that the Government expect to conclude an agreement at the end of the year, but I hope that he will be able to tell us when the negotiations began, what the terms might be and what link will be established to the agreement on US forces in Iraq. Very little information has been given to Parliament and there has been no statement on this subject.
I hope that the Government will also raise energetically with the Government of Iraq the human suffering wrought by the targeting of Iraq's minorities, including its Christian population. I hope they will also emphasise the situation of Iraq's 4.7 million refugees and displaced people, some of whom are in an increasingly desperate position. The situation is a recipe for instability and radicalisation in the region and must surely be a high priority for this country and our allies in our discussions with Iraqi Ministers.
The Opposition continue to believe that parliamentary accountability and the scrutiny of foreign and defence policy need to be improved, with regular quarterly reports to Parliament of objectives set and goals attained when our troops are deployed overseas in action. The complexity of Iraq's politics, its military situation and the need for strong regional support mechanisms for the Iraqi state easily merit a full day's debate in this House, particularly given the expenditure of £6.5 billion of taxpayers' money on our operations in Iraq.
The impending withdrawal of our forces brings us to two other issues. First, it was announced to the press overnight last night:
"The withdrawal of the 4,000 British troops in Iraq will be completed by next June, a senior defence source has disclosed"—
[ Interruption. ] I am reading from a newspaper article, but the reports appeared in several newspapers, and in the absence of Government announcements the rest of the House has to make do with what the newspapers say. The report goes on:
"The Prime Minister is expected to make an announcement in the New Year laying out the timetable" for the troops to pull out. Other newspapers lay out the rest of the timetable, saying that the withdrawal will begin in March and will be finished in June.
If it is true, that information should have been given to Parliament in the form of a statement to the House of Commons. If it is not true, the Foreign Secretary, who is shaking his head, can get up and say so. The reports have the appearance of an authoritative leak and since this time national security is involved, perhaps it might be appropriate for the perpetrator to be arrested.
The Government deplore leaks by day and live by them by night. Ministers either have no control over their Departments or are deliberately sanctioning such behaviour. I hope that when the Defence Secretary winds up the debate he will tell us which of those alternatives is true and whether the leak is correct. He can deny it if he wishes to do so.
We certainly hope that our troops can be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as is consistent with the security of that country, but if announcements are good enough for the newspapers, they should be good enough for the House of Commons. The other issue, which we have debated many times already in the House and which has already been brought up in questions to the Home Secretary, is the question of a full-scale inquiry into the origins and conduct of the war. In a speech in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, the Foreign Secretary said that
"despite good intentions in Iraq, and current progress, it is clear that serious mistakes were made."
He must surely agree that if that is the case, it is important to examine what those mistakes were and what has been done to ensure that they will not be repeated.
When we last debated the issue in the House, on
"there is agreement across the House that an inquiry into the Iraq war will be necessary...The dispute between us concerns not substance, but timing."—[ Hansard, 25 March 2008; Vol. 474, c. 52.]
Since the Government now speak of "tasks completed" and "fundamental change" in our mission in Iraq, and are happy to see it announced in the press that the major deployment of British troops will come to an end in June, it must surely be time for them to make clear their intentions on an inquiry. Once again, I serve notice that if they fail to do that, we will return to the issue during this Session and the continued absence of an inquiry, or its setting up on an inadequate basis, will be rectified immediately on the election of a Conservative Government.
The issues of parliamentary accountability and learning from mistakes bring us to the situation in Afghanistan, which is now much more alarming than that in Iraq. Once again we have British forces performing a role that is nothing short of heroic. The problems they face hardly need restating, so I shall restate them only briefly. Support from other NATO members is either insufficient in quantity or too hedged about with caveats, the civil aid and reconstruction programme is still not sufficiently well co-ordinated, the drugs trade continues on a vast scale and partly finances the insurgency, local police forces are ineffective and mistrusted and corruption still appears to be endemic in the Afghan state. That is quite a list of problems.
It is clearly not within the gift of the British Government to solve all the problems on their own, but it may be no exaggeration to say that the fate of Afghanistan may rest on the review of strategy being conducted by General Petraeus, and on the new momentum that President-elect Obama clearly intends to bring to this area. It seems likely that the US will send a large number of additional troops to Afghanistan and that it will expect other NATO nations to do the same, alongside making a commitment to deploy some troops in the south, where British forces have borne the brunt of the fighting. That should be welcomed, but I hope that Ministers will be clear that any request for additional British forces will be considered in the context of the severe overstretch of our armed forces and their equipment, and of the disproportionate share of the burden that British troops have carried over the past three years.
Like the Government, the Opposition have not ruled out supporting some increase in the level of British forces. We have gone out of our way to support the Government over Afghanistan and we always support our troops when they are deployed in combat but, if we are to support a further increase in our troop levels in Afghanistan, we would expect from the Government a clear explanation of the military necessity and purpose of such a deployment, an increase in the number of helicopters to ensure that our troops are properly mobile, improvements in equipment and protection for our troops, better co-ordination of aid and les corruption and better governance by the Afghans.
Furthermore, any additional British commitment should be accompanied by greater commitment by other NATO allies and a step change in the level of their effort and readiness to engage in actual fighting. It should be part of a revised and comprehensive strategy covering all the civil, political and military aspects that I have already mentioned, and it should be followed by improved communication to Parliament of British objectives and the progress in meeting them.
It is only through tabling written questions that we have learned that the UK
"has been asked to provide assistance to a US-led review of American defence and security policy", and that the Government have
"provided a combined team to contribute to this work."—[ Hansard, 10 November 2008; Vol. 482, c. 877W.]
We were also told that the team is now "fully embedded" in the American review process, and that it consists of 17 of our officials in Washington drawn from the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.
In another written answer—because we have had no recent parliamentary statement on the matter—we also learned on
The situation in Afghanistan is obviously at or near the top of the foreign policy priorities of the new Administration in Washington, and so it should be. Alongside it, presumably, will be the ever more urgent need for a diplomatic solution to the impasse over Iran's nuclear programme. The plain fact is that Iran today is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, with all the massive risks that that brings of nuclear proliferation in the middle east or war with Israel.
According to the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Authority, by next month—that is, January—Iran will have accumulated a stockpile of nearly 1,000 kg of low-enriched uranium, an amount considered to be enough to produce 20 kg of weapons-grade uranium, or enough for one nuclear weapon after further enrichment. What stands between Iran and that goal is not, unfortunately, a united international community, but a series of technical hurdles whose resolution is only a matter of time.
We do not know, of course, what opening will be made to Iran by the new US Administration, but we do know that time is running out if the world is not to enter a new era of nuclear insecurity. And whatever initiative the US takes, the chances of Iran responding positively to it must surely be increased if President-elect Obama is speaking from a position of strength and of strong but peaceful European pressure on Iran.
It is now more than a year since the Prime Minister announced that he was working for a ban on European investment in Iranian oil and gas fields, yet as of today there are no restrictions on European companies making new investments in such fields. There is still no formal Europe-wide ban on export credit guarantees that subsidise trade with Iran, and a swathe of Iranian companies are still involved in Iran's nuclear programme, which the United States has targeted but which European nations have not.
I am sure that the Foreign Secretary agrees with me that America's carrot will be more attractive to Iran if Europe carries a bigger stick. We recognise that it is difficult to achieve European agreement on these issues but it is galling to hear Iran's deputy Commerce Minister boast, as he did last month, that 67 per cent. of Iran's $140 billion foreign trade in 2007 came from Europe, and from Germany, France and Italy in particular. He also said:
"EU members are not paying any attention to the UN resolutions against Iran".
I think that that was an exaggeration, but the fact that he felt able to say that is alarming in itself. The looming danger of Iran's nuclear programme means that we need the EU as a whole to adopt the sanctions that we have called for. It should impose a formal ban on export credit guarantees, mirror US financial sanctions and place unequivocal restrictions on investment in Iranian oil and gas.
That brings me to the final and most important point that I wish to make. The Foreign Secretary talked briefly about one of the great challenges facing the world—climate change. We very much agree with him about that. Climate change is increasingly taking up the Foreign Office's allocation of personnel and resources. It is one of the great challenges facing the world, and I hope that at some stage we can have a debate—or get more information from the Government—about how the resources of the Foreign Office, which are now deployed quite heavily on the issue of climate change, are being used. We also need to know how the deployment of personnel working on climate change—for instance in Brazil—actively serves to influence other nations' climate change policies. This House must be able to make an assessment of that.
However, alongside that vital priority, the Iranian situation reminds us that nuclear proliferation is the other great issue facing the entire world. It seems entirely possible that within the next decade the great danger posed to our national security by international terrorism will be overtaken in magnitude by the dangers of nuclear proliferation. As the Foreign Secretary rightly noted towards the close of his speech, the non-proliferation treaty, which is subject to an international review conference in 2010, is under assault from within, with its member states locked in recrimination and stalemate. It is also being assailed from without, by the actions of countries such as Iran and North Korea and by the sheer march forward of science, which is making it easier by the day to acquire and to peddle nuclear technology.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the non-proliferation treaty's limitations is that it automatically excludes Israel, India and Pakistan? Might not a better way forward be to promote a nuclear weapons convention, a proposal currently being led by Australia? That might create a better forum for nuclear disarmament.
It is certainly a weakness of the non-proliferation treaty that the nations to which the hon. Gentleman refers are not signatories to it. That is undoubtedly true, but I am rather sceptical about whether it is possible to invent a completely different vehicle that is more effective than an updated, improved and strengthened non-proliferation treaty. Even with the absence of those three countries, many features of the treaty are essential to preventing proliferation elsewhere. We should not turn a blind eye to the sort of initiatives that he mentions, but we have to work with the framework that we have.
I hope that the British Government will launch and help to lead a massive diplomatic effort to persuade other nations to accord counter-proliferation the very highest priority in international affairs. We welcome the steps that the Government have already taken to put Britain at the forefront of the debate on nuclear weapons reductions and to propose a means of bringing the fuel cycle under international control, including hosting a conference on the matter next year. However, in my view such action now needs to be raised to a higher level of political priority and governmental commitment, from the Prime Minister down.
The Opposition have put forward a package of eight proposals for the strengthening of the non-proliferation treaty. Among the initiatives to tackle nuclear proliferation we propose concrete steps to improve our ability to disrupt the financing of nuclear proliferation, to enhance our ability to track and block the trade in nuclear weapons technology, to strengthen the IAEA and the international system of safeguards and inspections, and to close loopholes in the non-proliferation treaty.
We hope that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will make a major push—and major speeches for international consumption—on that vital matter, and that they seek a common approach with America that could combine the influence of one of the world's most powerful nuclear weapons states—the US—with the moral authority of the UK as a nuclear weapons state with a very good record in reducing its own nuclear arsenal.
I am on my last paragraph, and I said that I had given way for the last time, but given that it is my right hon. and learned Friend who asks, I will give way.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I applaud what he just said. Does he agree that it would make an enormous contribution towards the likelihood of the non-proliferation treaty being continued, and would put far greater pressure on Iran, if the United States and Russia, which both still have approximately 5,000 strategic nuclear warheads—infinitely more than they need for their mutual defence—could be persuaded to initiate negotiations? President Obama has implied that he would be willing to support such negotiations for a massive further reduction in the number of nuclear warheads of the two powers, which, together, have 95 per cent. of the world's nuclear weapons.
Certainly, we should hope for that, and the Governments that my right hon. and learned Friend mentions should take the lead. Perhaps the new US Administration will follow up on what happened under previous US Administrations, and perhaps there will be further massive reductions in those still colossal arsenals. Of course, people do not always recognise the many things that have been achieved in that area. Thousands of Russian nuclear warheads have been powering part of the American electricity grid for some years. That is one of the successes for non-proliferation and for co-operation between Russia and the United States. As for whether that process could go much further, and whether it would enhance the moral authority that we need if we are to persuade other countries not to develop nuclear weapons, the answer is yes, absolutely; I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend.
The right hon. Gentleman has said some fine words on a couple of issues, certainly on Iraq and on nuclear non-proliferation. I agree with him that the latter needs a much higher priority. However, the situation was made worse by the United States' deployment of missiles in other European countries; the Russians responded to that badly. Did he and his party support that deployment of US missile defence? Did he speak up against it, as part of his approach to non-proliferation?
I am a little worried to hear that the hon. Gentleman is in such agreement with me; that is a little disturbing. More seriously, we are at least able to differ on the issue that he raises. When one looks at the dangers of proliferation and of the Iranian nuclear programme, one finds that the basis for, and rationale behind, the plans that the United States put forward for missile defence can clearly be understood. The issue has to be seen in that context. That is why he has not heard words of condemnation on the matter from the Opposition. Before he and I fall out about anything else—we have agreed on so much—I will conclude with a point on non-proliferation.
If we stand back from our daily preoccupations, from varying crises and from any party political issues, we see that non-proliferation is perhaps the most important subject of all in our international work, and it is an issue on which Britain can make a decisive difference. If the Government launch an initiative like the one that I mentioned, they will find solid and enthusiastic support across the House.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and Mr. Hague for giving the House a real sense of the great sweep of problems that have to be confronted across the world. I will deal with a very small part of those problems, but an important part for our country, namely Afghanistan.
We are entering a more difficult phase in our efforts to convince the British public that the cause of Afghanistan is worth the sacrifice of young lives. The public's perception of the Afghan war is changing. The huge media coverage earlier this year of the death of the 100th British serviceman in Afghanistan, and the death of the first servicewoman, pushed the war firmly into the limelight. The death of 128 of our brave young people in a war that has already lasted longer than the second world war raises increasingly difficult questions, most of which have been eclipsed until now by the ongoing controversies generated by the Iraq campaign.
We should assume nothing about the impact of the Afghan war on the British public. One does not have to possess special powers to predict that, as the Afghan war grinds on, the people of our country will express concerns that we have heard little about to date. They will be generated by a whole range of worries, from President Karzai's habit of publicly maligning Britain's armed forces and aid agencies whenever he considers it necessary to grandstand before an Islamist audience, to the apparent ability of the Taliban and their allies to terrorise areas of Afghanistan that were considered Taliban-free not so long ago.
One of the most corrosive elements in the conflict is Afghan corruption at institutional, provincial and personal level; it is that which threatens most seriously the future of the whole international effort. It is worth recalling that the aim of the effort, stated briefly, is to help that country to become an entity that resembles a normal state, capable of delivering the basic security and services required by most people in most states in the 21st century. If the true dimensions of the corruption are not recognised, Governments such as ours will continue to pour precious resources into Afghanistan and continue to cause the lives of soldiers and other brave, talented people to be sacrificed, with little to show for it when it comes to helping to create that desired normal state.
The United Kingdom's strategy in Afghanistan is to effect a transition from international dependence to sustainable local ownership, but the character of those who are most likely to become the local owners of that sustainable independence is among the most pressing of Afghan problems. Institutionally, Afghanistan is corrupt from top to bottom, and there are few signs that the chaotic hegemony of warlords, gangsters, presidential placemen, incompetent and under-resourced provincial governors and self-serving Government Ministers has been challenged in any effective way by President Karzai. On the contrary, those individuals appear to be thriving, not least because Hamid Karzai has convinced himself that he cannot afford to sack or challenge the strongmen who, through corruption, brutality, power of arms or tribal status, are capable of controlling their territories and fiefdoms.
President Karzai has been treated with kid gloves by most of the international community, perhaps because there does not appear to be a great queue of credible candidates to replace him. That is the wrong kind of love to lavish on President Karzai. He needs tough love, and that is precisely what he is not getting both in relation to the need to hit corruption and, as I shall argue, in relation to the need to extend dramatically the efforts to promote reconciliation—clearly, there has to be reconciliation if the war is not to drag on for a great many years to come.
We will be asked, quite properly, why the lives of our service personnel should be risked if the Afghan Government are unwilling to tackle seriously the corruption, administrative indolence and incompetence of those charged with extending the remit of good governance in that country. We will be asked why we are fighting to preserve what looks remarkably like a regime that is being undermined by corrupt, self-serving cliques that have access to the very highest levels of Afghan politics.
If those concerns promote a powerful lobby in this country for the abandonment of Britain's role in the current UN-led campaign to help the Afghans to create sustainable peace and democracy, there will be extremely serious consequences for the ordinary people of Afghanistan, because there have been achievements, and they are worth listing. They include democratic elections, significantly more females in education, more availability of health care, more paved roads, improvements to agricultural projects and—perhaps most importantly in the context of Britain's security—the denial to al-Qaeda, or AQ, of safe bases in Afghanistan for terrorist training and planning. Achieving the latter was, of course, the prime reason for our going there in the first place in the months following the terrorist carnage on
The problem is that it is difficult to see how, militarily, al-Qaeda's protectors, the Taliban, can be excluded entirely from Afghanistan and prevented from terrorising and killing people, given the mountainous topography and the porous nature of the frontier with Pakistan. Even in 2008, there remain just over the border in Pakistan large refugee camps where the influence of the Taliban and other extremist Islamic groupings is powerful. These camps are full of young men without jobs or prospects, and they will remain for many years to come fertile recruiting grounds for Taliban fighting units and suicide squads.
The training camps in Pakistan run by the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba and their front organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, have equipped and conveyed criminals to murder innocent people from Mumbai to London and from Kenya to Argentina. There is little chance that the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and other Pakistani-based extremist groups will see their safe havens close to the Afghan-Pakistan border subjected in the near future to Pakistan Government control. The murder of 180 people in Mumbai is just one of the most recent of scores of obscenities. Quite properly in my opinion, fingers have been pointed at Lashkar-e-Taiba and their protectors in Pakistan. What is certain is that they have learned the lessons of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
In 2007 our ambassador to Kabul informed the world that it would take western forces 30 years to make Afghanistan a normal country. This prediction is at the more precise end of a spectrum of guesses—in America, for example, there are all manner of theories about how long it will take to put Afghanistan right, as Americans say. I am certain that our ambassador to Kabul knows as well as any of us that it is not tenable to assume that we can convince the British public of the case for a 30 years war in Afghanistan. I sense that he was talking about 30 years being the sort of perspective that the world needs to have when it comes to helping the Afghans to create sustainable peace in their country.
We will not find it possible to convince the British public that we should continue fighting across even vaguer time scales, such as "for as long as it takes" or "for the long haul". We may use these overly convenient phrases, but they will not stand up to close questioning by anyone familiar with the reality of contemporary Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.
I have been reminded many times by military commanders in Afghanistan and by historians in this country that the Soviets had more than 150,000 well equipped service personnel in Afghanistan in the 1980s, engaged in killing Afghans without having to worry about infringing international standards of human rights, but that did not prevent their defeat by a relatively lightly armed Afghan resistance movement that used to its advantage not just the hostility of most of the population to the Soviet occupiers, whom they considered ruthless and godless, but the nature of the Afghan terrain and its close proximity to the safe havens afforded by Pakistan.
The UN, ISAF, NATO and the US are not the Soviets. Almost certainly they are not loathed by most Afghans to the degree that they loathed the Soviets. Equally certainly, we must remember that the Afghans do not especially love us either. Understandably, given their experiences over the past 30 years, they equate outsiders with trouble, especially outsiders carrying guns. We assume that they prefer us to the Taliban and they most probably do, but our experience in other wars against guerrilla armies, especially in Northern Ireland, has taught us that it is almost impossible to erode completely the vital support that ordinary citizens are prepared to offer to those insurgents who reflect even small shreds of popularly held sentiment. It is obvious that there is no shortage of anti-foreign-occupier sentiment in Afghanistan.
If we cannot win an outright military victory, how do we attain our desire to help to transform Afghanistan into something resembling a normal state, and for how long do we pursue that desire? Forget the nonsense about being prepared to fight on the mountains and plains of Afghanistan for the next 30 years. Once the reality of that claim sinks into the minds of the British public, it will be rejected as a dangerous and dismal fantasy. People will not accept the notion that British families should be prepared over the next decades to send their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters to risk their lives fighting religious fanatics, tribal nationalists, corrupt warlords and heroin-traffickers in one of the most godforsaken terrains on the face of the earth. The notion is daft, however much we may try to rationalise it by arguing that it is better to fight al-Qaeda over there than over here.
We know, tragically in my opinion, from the failure of our considerable efforts to persuade our NATO allies to shoulder a greater part of the war fighting burden in Afghanistan that their commitment to the campaign is limited, constrained as it is by the political realities back in their home countries. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary report that, these days, the French and the Germans are making more sympathetic noises about deploying forces and resources to Afghanistan. I saw no real signs of willingness among far too many of our NATO allies to take upon their shoulders a greater part of the burden of ensuring security in the dangerous south and east of Afghanistan.
Those countries are flunking their duties as NATO members, for the Afghan campaign is a test of NATO's credibility. The Governments of NATO states cannot acknowledge that the nature of international conflict is changing—that it is generated less by the need to defend the borders of sovereign states and more by the need to combat terrorist groups that pay little heed to borders of any description—and not acknowledge at the same time that to counteract those changes it is vital that all allies co-operate and share equally the dangers in conflicts like that in Afghanistan.
There are ways of reducing the conflict to proportions that are manageable by the Afghans themselves, but they will involve greater emphasis than has been witnessed so far on promoting reconciliation among the factions, tribes and governments of that country. I have no doubt that the war-fighting will continue for some time to come. We can chase down and capture or kill the bad guys for the next 30 years, but that will not win for Afghanistan a sustainable peace and the chance of relative economic prosperity.
There must be dialogue between the hostile factions. Images must be created of what life could be like for those fighters and their families who may be persuaded to lay down their arms and take up offers, perhaps, of accommodation, land to farm, seed to plant and stock to rear. They must be convinced that they will be safe and valued, the equal of all other Afghan citizens, not exploited by the corrupt, violent placemen of Kabul and the gangsters who control so much of the country.
That means that President Karzai and the Afghan Parliament have to do two things. First, they must create a much stronger and more influential body to promote reconciliation than the largely ineffective national and independent peace and reconciliation committee that exists at the moment. They can do that. Secondly, they must convince the people that they will seek with much greater energy to do away with the scourge of institutional corruption, lawlessness and injustice. They must convince the millions of ordinary Afghans that peace will bring justice, fairness and prosperity and not more of the iniquity that they witness around them now.
Dr. Howells made a very thoughtful speech on Afghanistan, which was even more compelling given his recent service in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I shall make similar remarks when I turn to the Afghan situation later in my speech. He spoke about servicemen and women, the sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters of our constituents. When we debate foreign policy, the implication is that we are asking them to put their lives on the line, knowing the impact that that has on them and their families. It is appropriate that we remember that during our deliberations, especially on the Queen's Speech.
It is right to remember, as the Foreign Secretary did, the victims of the Mumbai terrorist outrage. Hon. Members in all parts of the House send our huge support to the Indian Government as they tackle the terrorist threat. I was pleased to see the British Government offering material and practical support to efforts to apprehend the terrorists, to work with India to deal with all the problems related to that, and hopefully also to help to diffuse the tensions with Pakistan that have arisen as a result of that terrorist outrage.
Mr. Hague said, rightly, that many aspects of foreign policy are conducted on a bipartisan basis. When we can find agreement across the House, this country's voice is much stronger. I agree with an awful lot of what he and the Foreign Secretary said. If it seems that my remarks focus on issues about which we do not agree, that is simply because the nature of this debate is to make sure that we persuade each other of the right way forward.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks ended his speech by referring to nuclear non-proliferation, and I strongly agree with him about that issue. He may be surprised to discover that I read his recent speech in which he made eight recommendations on how to take that work forward; indeed, I have also read a recent speech by the Foreign Secretary in which he laid out the Government's proposals. All parties in the House are thinking the same thoughts about the importance of nuclear non-proliferation and how we must take it forward, particularly as we work with President Obama.
However, there is one aspect of that policy area on which the Liberal Democrats disagree with both the Conservatives and the Labour Government: their support for the renewal of our Trident nuclear deterrent. That was a premature decision taken ahead of the 2010 non-proliferation treaty review conference. Given the objectives and urgency of the matter that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks rightly discussed, that decision sent the wrong signal to the international community at a key point, when we want to change completely the nature of the debate. The British Government have led on a number of aspects of non-proliferation—particularly research and development into new verification technologies, in which we are partnering Norway and a non-governmental organisation, the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre, or VERTIC. That is all very well, but we have sent the wrong signal in respect of our own nuclear weapons, which means that we cannot influence the debate as we ought to.
The major foreign policy development in the next year will be the impact of the new Administration in America. Although we have yet to see the absolute detail of President Obama's and Secretary of State Clinton's approach, we all know the direction of travel. The Liberal Democrats will certainly welcome the significant change in the position of the White House on many issues. There will be welcome changes on climate change, nuclear non-proliferation, the economy, poverty and the threat from international terrorism, as well as on disease and pandemics, about which the new Administration are genuinely concerned. Britain and the European Union should seize those changes as a way of promoting real progress in the world. If we look at foreign policy by country, we see that the new Administration will have a much more enlightened and effective approach to Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan—as well as, hopefully, the middle east, although we have yet to see the colour of the new Administration's money on that.
I think that those sentiments will be shared across the House. However, having said that, I regret that as a country we are in a less strong position to influence the new Administration than we might otherwise have been. We failed to oppose the Iraq war and all too readily backed President Bush without public question about matters such as Iraq or Guantanamo Bay, when as candid friends of America we should have explained that he was going down the wrong path. The Democrat President-elect will have noted the British position on that and that Britain does not have the influence that it should within the European Union, whether that is due to the British Government's position or to some of the stances taken by the Conservative party.
It is clear that the new Administration wish to engage with Europe. They are looking to Europe to do more on defence more generally, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and I believe that they would have liked Britain to have been in a better place to take our European partners with them; they will regret the fact that we are less influential. That is the problem of what we might call the Blair doctrine of "America, right or wrong". That approach, taken by the previous Prime Minister, was absurd. It was absurd because America's is not a homogenous political system; it has huge divides, almost down the middle, and it has had for some time. So when one has sided, almost ideologically, with one part of American public opinion, it is likely that when the leadership changes, the new Administration will not view that so favourably—not least when one has backed what President Obama has described as "a dumb war". Although the new Administration offer a massive opportunity, this country will have to work particularly hard to redress the damage done to our influence in Washington and Brussels.
Let me be clear: the Liberal Democrats are enthusiastic supporters of the new President, partly because we share so many of his policies. Indeed, a BBC analysis suggested that President Obama's platform was closest to ours, so we obviously welcome his arrival at the White House. We also support him because we think that he has the vision to reassert American leadership in the world in the best possible way—first, by sticking to American values and laws and dropping the more arrogant, unilateralist tendencies of his predecessor, and secondly, because we think that America can play a major part in building the wider international coalitions and co-operation that are needed to deal with the world's challenges today.
We believe that Britain can be the best possible friend to the new President if we do three things: first, support him wholeheartedly when we believe that he is right; secondly, explain to him, as candid friends, when we think that he is wrong, if he turns out to be so on any issue; and thirdly, rebuild our influence in Europe so that we are better placed to persuade the other 26 nations of the European Union to back the US when the new President does the right thing for our world.
The Administration offer new hope, but President Obama and this country face the responsibility of clearing up the mess left by the previous Administration, and that point brings us immediately to Iraq. We welcome the unofficial news about the withdrawal. The Foreign Secretary seemed to deny that a leak had been involved, but, like the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, I think that the news seemed incredibly well sourced and it was covered in detail not only by the newspapers but by the good old BBC, which seemed as if it had been fully briefed. We welcome the news, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there should have been a full statement to the House.
The withdrawal is long overdue. As President Obama said during his campaign, one of the benefits of withdrawing early was that it would have put responsibility on the Iraqi Government to govern. For far too long, that Government have not been prepared fully to take that responsibility. It was almost as if the British and Americans were allowing the inaction of the Iraqi Government to make our troops hostage. That was not acceptable. We were almost allowing the actions of the Iraqi Government to persuade us to keep our troops there. The deployment of our troops over the past year or so has been a completely bungled affair. Keeping them in Basra airport with a few training expeditions meant that we managed to offend the Americans, who did not feel that we were completely engaged, so we lost a lot of influence with them in discussions with the Iraqis and beyond, which is detrimental to the interests of our troops. It also meant that we did not get the benefit of bringing our troops out, because we were having to pay for them to be there, and, because they were still deployed, the biggest problem that they face—namely, overstretch—was made worse. We got the worst of all possible deals for our troops and for our relationship with one of our closest allies.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having been consulted by President Obama when he drafted his policies with regard to Iraq. Is it not the case that the Liberal Democrats would still print on a postcard and send to al-Qaeda the date of British troops' withdrawal from Iraq?
Sometimes one wishes that one had not given way. I will not bother to respond to that.
Although we welcome the announcement of the withdrawal and hope that we will get some more details on the record in this House, that prompts the question, as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said, of when we are going to get the long-discussed and long-hoped-for inquiry. Earlier this year, the Government said that they were in favour of it in principle, and in our exchanges with the Foreign Secretary we moved him some way towards trying to define when it can be held. So far, the line has been that it can be held when the troops have completed their mission. My hon. Friend Nick Harvey sought clarification of what that meant, but he did not get much. It clearly does not mean that every single member of our troops has to be withdrawn, but we still do not know what the level of draw-down needs to be. More information from Ministers, either now or at the end of the debate, would be very welcome. Like the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, we will be pursuing the Government until they announce the inquiry and wanting to know its terms. It must have a full remit to ensure that it covers all the remaining questions. There is no doubt that it should have been held several years ago, because memories and information sources degrade with the passage of time. That is very unfortunate, and it undermines the public benefit of the inquiry. Nevertheless, the case for it remains, and we hope that it will be announced as soon as possible.
I want to turn to the key issue of Afghanistan. The hon. Member for Pontypridd rightly talked about corruption and the fact that the rule of law does not exist in Afghanistan. He laid much of the blame for that at the door of President Karzai, and he may well be right. As he will know, my noble and right hon. Friend Lord Ashdown was due to go out there to play a role rather like that which he played in Bosnia, but his appointment was ultimately vetoed by President Karzai. We have both long suspected that that was because President Karzai did not want someone who was going to stand up for the rule of law and stand up to corrupt practices. I share much of the hon. Gentleman's analysis.
One of the issues following President Obama's inauguration on
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the problems is that there is no clear war aim in terms of the purpose of the troops in Afghanistan? There seems to be precious little political progress on negotiation with any elements of the Taliban, and the danger is that we are stuck in this war for decades to come with no obvious end in sight and proliferation of it into Pakistan.
I was about to come to the points that the hon. Gentleman raises. Although there is the review being undertaken by General Petraeus, in which the Prime Minister says that Britain is now involved, the first priority of the Government and President Obama seems to be to increase our troops. We are not against that, and there is clearly a need for it, but it would be totally wrong if that were where the policy ended. My right hon. Friend Mr. Clegg has argued that we need to go beyond that and talk to parts of the Taliban that can be engaged with. We need to consider setting up a regional contact group to bring in countries around Afghanistan so that they can play a more constructive role. It is to those points that I now wish to turn.
The truth is that a military solution will not work by itself; we all know that. The hon. Member for Pontypridd laid out all the reasons for that, and I would add a few more. The idea that NATO forces could stay there for 30 years is nonsense, not only because there would be no public support for it, but because the Afghans would not want it. Unfortunately, the popularity of the NATO forces is reducing as months go by, and the history of Afghanistan shows that if there are foreign troops on its soil, there will be a nationalistic urge to reject them. We should understand that, not least because of the three Anglo-Afghan wars in the 19th century.
The only other way for the international community to support law and order and to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is to support the Afghan army and the Afghan police, something on which the Foreign Secretary focused. That is being done, and we welcome the Government's moves in that area, but how will the long-term costs of that process be managed? The cost of the Afghan army and police at full strength, as anticipated by the Americans, would be more than $2.5 billion a year. That would take up all the Afghan Government's budget at the moment—indeed, more than that. Even given optimistic assumptions about Afghan growth and how much would flow into the exchequer in Kabul, many estimate that the Afghan Government would not be able to afford the cost of their own army and police force, even in 10 years' time. The army and the police would eat up all the resources available to the Afghan Government.
We are left with the international community shouldering the burden—but how sustainable is that in the long term? Can we really expect the Afghan people to have real faith in the credibility and legitimacy of the Afghan army and police if they are funded by the international community for ever? That is not sustainable, so we have to look at other ways of reducing and ending this conflict, which means talking to different people on the other side, and considering a diplomatic solution in that region. I shall explain why that is critical to the future of our deployment in Afghanistan.
Many people in the Pakistan establishment, particularly the intelligence services, feel that the deployment in Afghanistan is a threat to Pakistan. They may be wrong about that—I think that they are wrong—but that is what they believe. The history of the thinking of Pakistan's intelligence services shows that they have long been paranoid about India. Pakistan's forces are deployed and structured to fight a war against an Indian invasion, and it sees many of the developments with US and NATO forces in Afghanistan as some sort of coalition with India. Although no one will necessarily publicly state that, there is quite a lot of evidence and academic work suggesting that it is the case. Unless we engage with those in the Pakistan leadership and say, "We're on your side. You're part of the regional contact group that will take some of the decisions on the way forward, and we will bring you in along with China, Russia and Iran", and deal with their fears and suspicions to ensure that Pakistan is part of the decision-making process, which it clearly is not at the moment, we will not get a stable framework that will enable us to build peace over time without massive deployment of our troops or massive subsidy of Afghan troops. That is the only way forward in Afghanistan.
Both the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks talked about Iran at length—rightly, because it must be at the top of the list of other foreign policy challenges, and I agree with much of what was said. The new President of the United States is committed to much greater engagement and wants to talk to the authorities in Tehran, and that should be welcomed. It raises the question of how we tweak our existing sanctions policy if we are to embark on thorough engagement. We have long supported the sanctions regime, which has cross-party support, and we are concerned about other EU countries that do not back it. Italy, Greece and France seem to export an awful lot to Iran and I am concerned by trade figures, which show that Austria, Belgium and Germany are fast increasing their exports to Iran. Like the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, we condemn those EU countries for not playing their part in the sanctions.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech. Is he as worried as I am about the export from a country such as Austria of specialist steels, which are manufactured in few other counties in the world but are useful to the nuclear enrichment programme in Iran?
I agree. I was in Israel recently and asked for a special briefing from the relevant people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about their concerns, and the issue that the hon. Gentleman mentioned was one. They named a specific company about which they were concerned.
However, if we have a United States President who wants to engage with Tehran, what do we do about sanctions? First, are they working? Even if we had full EU support, much trade from China and Russia goes to Iran, and much of Iran's support comes from those two countries. Secondly, I understand that the financial sanctions that we have discussed are widely dismissed in Tehran, partly because Iran sees the banking collapse in America and Europe and is pleased not to be part of that banking community and to have avoided suffering because of it. Iran feels that the sanctions slightly insulated it. We must consider whether we can make the sanctions better but also whether they are effective. If President Obama and his team intend genuinely to engage with the mullahs, how do we play the carrot-and-stick negotiations? How will he persuade them if he wants to increase sanctions? I put that as a debating point. If there is to be a change of approach in Washington, we may need to think about our position, too.
Concluding peace negotiations in the middle east will have massive ramifications, whether in Afghanistan, Iran or Pakistan. We all know the global implications—the global prize—of successfully concluding those negotiations. When I visited Israel recently, I also talked to Dr. Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority and his deputy Foreign Minister, Dr. Soboh, and heard their views of the peace negotiations. I was pleasantly surprised.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians were incredibly optimistic about the current state of the negotiations. They said the same thing at different meetings, which I found reassuring. They have several messages to convey. First, they do not want outside interference in the bilateral negotiations, which are going well and are substantial. They ask for the space and time to conclude them. Secondly, they need the Arab countries to be more supportive of the Palestinian Authority and their attempts to conclude the peace negotiations—the Foreign Secretary said some good things about that recently. Sometimes, the Arab countries sit on the fence, some of them tacitly supporting Hamas and the extremist Palestinians. Frankly, that is not good enough. We now have an historic opportunity, but as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said, if we do not seize it, it might pass into history. We join the Foreign Secretary in calling on Arab countries to put their shoulders to the wheel and publicly play their part, by backing the negotiations and backing what the Palestinian Authority are trying to do.
People need to understand more widely why there have not been more reports about the progress of the peace talks. The reason is that one of the key parameters that was agreed by both sides early on is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That parameter means that progress reports cannot be issued, because no interim conclusions will be reached until the final conclusion is reached.
I would like also to mention the remarks that the Foreign Secretary made in response to my comments about settlements, which are critical to moving the process forward. I pay tribute to the Israeli Government and in particular the Israel defence forces on removing the settlers from the so-called house of peace in Hebron last week. When I visited Hebron, I stood just 20 or 30 yd from that so-called house of peace and saw the intimidation to which the Jewish settlers there were subjecting the Palestinian community. I saw a little Palestinian boy who claimed to have had his arm broken in a scuffle with the settlers. I saw the desecration of Muslim graves, which had been perpetrated by the Jewish settlers there. It was therefore good to see the IDF standing up to that intimidation and violence, and upholding the rule of law in Israel. That was an important development, because if we are to reach a final settlement, quite a number of settlers will have to be removed from their settlements in the currently occupied Palestinian territories.
If I understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, he said that the "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" doctrine was a hindrance. May I remind him that we applied that doctrine in Northern Ireland? From my personal experience, I can tell him that had we not applied it, we would not have made the progress that we did.
I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has given me the opportunity to clarify that I do not believe that the doctrine is a hindrance to the negotiations. Rather, it is a hindrance to public support for the process and for the Palestinian Authority in particular. The problem now is that the Palestinian Authority are not being seen by the Palestinian people to be delivering very much. Indeed, the agreement at Annapolis on settlements has not been fulfilled by the Israelis. There was supposed to be a freeze on settlements, but they have in fact increased massively.
My point is that the good things that are happening cannot be reported because of that discipline. It is the right discipline for the negotiations, but more pressure should be put on the Israeli Government to meet their obligations to put a freeze on the settlements, which are causing massive problems for the Palestinian Authority and their credibility. Indeed, Dr. Fayyad was pretty clear on that point, but when one puts it to the Israelis, they say, "Well, it's keeping the coalition going in Parliament." Colleagues in other parties in the House may be surprised to know that the Liberal Democrats do not support Israel's form of proportional representation.
Let me briefly touch on the Syrian track. It has not really featured in this debate, but it is crucial and welcome. If we can get serious negotiations under way between Israel and Syria to sort out, for instance, Hezbollah or the Golan heights, that will have massive implications for the policy towards Iran. Decoupling Syria from Iran and closing down the funds and armaments going to Hezbollah could have a very important catalytic effect.
I will not go through all the countries that others have mentioned, because I want to allow other hon. Members to speak, but I want to discuss Sudan and Darfur, which have been mentioned briefly. Earlier this year, I asked the Foreign Secretary about helicopters to the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur:
"what is the British Government doing to ensure that UNAMID has the 24 helicopters that it was promised?"
In reply, he said:
"It is a complex matter, but I strongly share the hon. Gentleman's sense of urgency about the situation, and I acknowledge the need to ensure that countries with forces at their disposal send them to the areas where they are most needed."—[ Hansard, 8 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 153.]
It is my understanding that we have still not managed to send any extra helicopters to the UNAMID mission, apart from five helicopters that Ethiopia provided. We understand that the Ukrainians are in talks about sending helicopters, but that Britain, the EU and NATO have failed to supply the helicopters needed by the UNAMID mission in Darfur. That is a disgrace. The resolution that went through the United Nations Security Council in July 2007—resolution 1769—was the precursor to the planning for UNAMID but, more than a year and a half later, we have still not provided the basic equipment to allow UNAMID to do its job in Darfur. That is a disgrace.
As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said, there is a great deal of agreement on these issues, but the Government also need to recognise where they have gone wrong in recent years on Iraq and on their relations with the European Union. Until they do that, they will not be as well placed as they need to be to influence the new President and to ensure that Britain punches above its weight in the world.
I welcome the fact that we have this annual debate, although it is a shame that this one coincides with a sitting of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. That does not seem terribly clever planning of parliamentary business, but of course it has never happened before.
Today is United Nations human rights day, and the theme of our debate ought surely to be the importance of international treaties, international agreements and international law to the way we operate. Some important reviews of a number of international treaties are coming up. There is also the serious problem of the denial of human rights around the world, both in the individual sense of the many people who suffer imprisonment, torture and isolation, or who are forced to flee into asylum and exile, as well as in relation to the 1 billion people—one in six of the world's population, according to UN figures—who face starvation because of a lack of food for them to eat. This is not about a lack of food supply around the world; it is about people's lack of ability to buy enough food to survive. That is surely a basic human right in itself.
I want to make a number of points on international law. I should like to know what stance the Government plan to take when the International Criminal Court review comes up in 2010. There are clearly limits to the Court's effectiveness so long as a number of member states, including the United States, have not signed up to it, and to the Court's ability to get people who have been arraigned on charges of genocide and torture to appear before it. I hope that we will reiterate our support for the principles behind the International Criminal Court, as well as using the good offices of the incoming President Obama in the hope that he will change the United States approach to the UN and its agencies and to international law in general, as well as signing up to that particular process.
It is also important that we ourselves abide by international law and conventions, and this relates to the behaviour of the British Government towards, for example, the Chagos islanders in the Indian ocean, who were quite wrongly thrown off those islands in the 1970s and 1980s. They have fought a long and stoic legal campaign for the right to return but, unfortunately, the House of Lords finally rejected, by a majority verdict, their application to set aside the Orders in Council of 2004. The Chagos islanders might well exercise their right to take their case to international jurisdiction, and, personally, I hope that they do.
I should like to pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done to bring that small part of the world to the attention of the House. Does he agree that it is timely that an all-party group on the Chagos islands has now been set up in Parliament? We hope that that will bring pressure to bear on the Government not to take this issue any further.
I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I entirely endorse and agree with her intervention. What happened to the Chagos islanders was wrong and immoral; they ought to be allowed to return to those islands as they are the best people to look after them. One has to recognise the incredible stamina of Olivier Bancoult and the other islanders in campaigning over the decades for their right to return. Can we not put an end to this horrible period of our history and provide justice to those islanders who suffered so much when they were removed?
I want to welcome one particular part of the Queen's Speech—the proposal to introduce an amendment to the Antarctic Act 1994, with which I was involved as it passed through the House. The premise of that Act was to oppose mineral exploitation of the Antarctic and I would be grateful if the Foreign Office or the Minister in his reply assured me that there was no danger whatever of going back on the principles that the Antarctic is a zone of peace, that it is a world park, that it exists for scientific and peaceful purposes only and that we will not disfigure, destroy or pollute it, as we have done to so much of the rest of the planet. The Antarctic is very important and very special in being such an important place for research.
This debate is clearly dominated by the current wars. I was one of a large number of Members who voted against the Iraq war in 2003. I have no regrets whatever about my vote and I am sure that my colleagues do not either—indeed, my understanding is that many around the House wish they had voted against the war in 2003. I am pleased that British troops are to be withdrawn in the near future, but the tragedy of the more than 500,000 people who died in Iraq during this conflict will not go away and neither will the bitterness of the 4 million people forced out of their homes into internal or external exile. We have to learn that what was, in my view, an illegal war and illegal intervention has not made the world safer or more secure. Perhaps there is also the lesson that supporting dictators, as many western countries did in arming Saddam Hussein in the first place, is a counter-productive strategy.
There is great danger in saying that because the war in Iraq was a bad war, the war in Afghanistan is automatically a good war. It is predicted that we will stay in Afghanistan for up to 30 years, yet there is no clear war aim and, as my hon. Friend Dr. Howells pointed out, there are increasing levels of corruption in the Afghan Government. The occupation by NATO forces and US special forces is increasingly unpopular and the spread of the war into Pakistan is terrifyingly dangerous. At the end of the day, every war has to be solved by some form of political dialogue and political process. There is no other way of ending conflict. Are we to stay in Afghanistan for 30 years and eventually be forced out by the growing unity of the Afghan people, or will there be a serious attempt at dialogue with some elements of the Taliban? The Taliban are not a seamless whole. I am not here to represent or defend the Taliban; I am just saying that we should look at the realities of the situation and that some talks will have to take place in the end.
The danger of the war spreading into Pakistan is very evident and obvious. Already the drone attacks on villages in Pakistan are causing political problems for the Government of Pakistan and the resulting instability is very serious. Pakistan is, of course, a nuclear power; it has weapons and a delivery system, as does India. The collapse of the Pakistan Government might, because of the spill-over from the Afghan war, ultimately have the most terrible consequences for the region and the world as a whole. This is very serious and, although I welcome his election, I am disappointed that incoming President Obama seems to be sending out a message, unless I have misunderstood him, that he believes that this war can be won by military means and that he is planning an increase in troop numbers.
The Foreign Secretary said quite a lot in his introductory remarks about nuclear weapons. Although I strongly support the non-proliferation treaty and associated purposes, the fundamental flaw is that India, Pakistan and Israel are not signatories to it—and because of its structure, they can never be signatories to the treaty or members of the non-proliferation system. I am not advocating breaking it up or leaving it. It is valuable and does have a purpose. Indeed, South Africa, Argentina and Ukraine, for example, have disarmed themselves of nuclear weapons within the terms of the NPT. However, there has to be something else in addition, which is why we should look seriously at a nuclear weapons convention of the sort promoted by Australia, formally known as the Canberra commission on the elimination of nuclear weapons, which is due to report in advance of the 2010 review.
There is growing support for the concept of a nuclear weapons convention that all states can join. At least that would be a forum for discussion and debate on the demilitarisation of nuclear weapons around the world. It would also help us. I agree with Mr. Davey that if we were not planning an expansion of the Trident nuclear missile fleet and the weaponry that goes with it through the work that is going on at Aldermaston, we would have a much stronger moral voice within the NPT and nuclear disarmament system.
Israel is a nuclear power. That fact is often ignored; no one wants to go into that area. However, if there is to be disarmament around the world, it has to include India, Pakistan and Israel. If we wish to have effective pressure on Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, we should put equal pressure on Israel, first, to take its weapons off alert and, secondly, to take them out of operation altogether so that the dream of a middle eastern nuclear-free zone—there are effective nuclear-free zones in Latin America, Africa and soon, hopefully, in central Asia—can be achieved.
The attitude that we take towards Israel is always far too soft. Every time any criticism is made of Israel's policy in, for example, Gaza, we always say, "Well, on the other hand". The reality is that Israel is acting illegally in the collective punishment of the people of Gaza. The bitterness felt in the daily lives of people in Gaza is something from which we will all suffer for a long time. There has to be a settlement based on respect for the Palestinian people, based on recognition of the needs of the Palestinian people. Israel should behave as a proper democracy in the world. That does not include arresting elected parliamentarians from Gaza or anywhere else and not affording them the right of a trial or representation. What is going on there is simply outrageous.
My final point takes me back to where I started: poverty around the world. One in six of the world's population suffer from real starvation. Half of the world's population lead very difficult existences and are seeing their living standards fall. The millennium development goals are not being met in many parts of the world. The Foreign Secretary mentioned the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and there have been interventions on that subject. The living standards of people throughout most of the DRC are barely increasing, and in many cases they are falling. The number of children attending school there is falling, and the instability brought about by the war is getting worse. Yet at the same time, massive amounts of money are being made out of the mineral wealth of the Congo by people all over the world. This is a war in a country endowed with the most enormous riches which at the same time is bedevilled by those riches.
Although I support what the UN does—my hon. Friend Mr. Joyce and I were in Goma earlier this year and saw the reality of the refugee camps and the misery that people face there—there has to be a political peace process and negotiations. The process led by the former President of Nigeria is hopefully a way forward. I hope that the Government will put as much effort as possible into supporting a peace process and getting humanitarian aid into the region. The people of the Congo do not deserve to live in that way. Those women do not deserve to be treated in the way that they have, with rape becoming a weapon of war used by all forces in the eastern Congo, be it the Government forces, the militia groups or anyone else.
I was surprised that the Foreign Secretary did not say anything about Latin America. It is a cause of regret to those of us with an interest in Latin America that so many British embassies have closed there and the amount of diplomatic activity has been so reduced.
The continent is experiencing enormous change, and I hope that the Government will continue to work with and support all the Governments there who are trying to reduce poverty and conquer inequality. I particularly hope that they will recognise that the present traumas in Bolivia have been largely brought about by wealthy vested interests that are trying to undermine a Government who are doing their best to bring a degree of prosperity and good-quality living to the poorest people in the poorest parts of that country. I think that there is a process there that we can admire and support. I hope that the Government will be prepared to extend an invitation to President Morales to visit this country at some point, so that there can be real discussions about the effectiveness of anti-poverty programmes in a country that has suffered a great deal from mineral exploitation in the past.
We live in a world that is experiencing what is a time of trauma and a time of fear for many people. The way forward must surely be respect for human rights, sharing the world's resources, and bringing an end to the wars that have so disfigured our society. That means a process of disarmament and a process of respect for law. It does not mean continuing what I believe to be the absolutely crazy war on terror into which President Bush led us after the dreadful events of 2001.
I listened with interest to the remarks of Jeremy Corbyn about nuclear weapons. On the Trident decision, the point on which I think he is mistaken is that the need is for multilateral, not unilateral, nuclear disarmament. I do not believe that the Government's decision is irreversible. I have no doubt that if there were scope for major progress on nuclear disarmament over the coming period, it could be revisited in the context of what was happening around the world.
The Gracious Speech itself was very light on the subject of nuclear weapons, but I pay tribute to what was said by my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary. He paid great attention to the subject, and I very much agreed with the thrust of his remarks. I believe that the whole issue of nuclear weapons will be increasingly important over the next 12 months and the period thereafter, partly because the first foreign policy crisis with which President Obama will have to deal will be the question of nuclear weapons in Iran—and how he deals with that will also be influenced by what is happening on the wider nuclear weapons front—but also because I believe the time has come for major consideration of where the world is going with regard to the overall question of nuclear weapons.
Over the last two days, I have attended an international conference in Paris arranged by the new Global Zero organisation. It may be thought that the conclusion that was reached was not a surprising one, but it was surprising in one sense. I shall come to that in a moment. The conference reached the conclusion that there was an urgent need for a massive reduction in the number of nuclear arsenals around the world, and for serious consideration of the question of ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons.
Members may ask what was surprising about that, given that over the years many conferences have reached the same conclusion. It was extraordinary, however, in view of the composition of the conference. To put it mildly, none of the usual suspects were there. It was not a collection of professional peace campaigners. Among those present were a former President of the United States, a former American national security adviser, Foreign Ministers and former Defence Ministers of NATO countries and nuclear weapons states, and air marshals, generals and other senior military personnel from countries with nuclear weapons.
The conference followed an initiative taken nearly two years ago in articles that appeared in the American press signed by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and others. In this country, a number of us have made similar proposals. An early-day motion is currently before the House, signed by 277 Members including, I believe, some 57 of my hon. Friends. We have to ask why those of us who have so often been identified with realpolitik are becoming strongly convinced of the need for a fundamental debate on the overall question of nuclear weapons, along with a change of approach to one of greater urgency. Essentially, it is because realpolitik means being influenced by real events and not by idealism or theoretical issues, and the real world has changed substantially since the end of the cold war.
As the Foreign Secretary implied and my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks said, much has been achieved. At the end of the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union between them had between 26,000 and 27,000 operational nuclear weapons. That figure is now down to about 12,000—between 5,000 and 6,000 each. Nuclear weapons have also been successfully eliminated from Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine in the former Soviet Union, and there have been local achievements, such as South Africa giving up its nuclear weapons and Libya being persuaded not to conduct a weapons of mass destruction programme.
In the past few years, however, that whole process has stalled dramatically. There is no evidence of any further impetus with regard to the United States and Russia, who between them have 95 per cent. of all the nuclear weapons in the world. That is becoming an increasingly serious matter because the continuation of the non-proliferation treaty, which comes up for debate in 2010, can no longer be taken for granted. Not only have we seen serious new proliferation in recent years, such as in Israel, India and Pakistan, but now there is the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons as well; the North Korea situation is not yet resolved, and we know that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would only be a matter of time before the Arab states did so as well.
There is, therefore, a serious new urgency, and the arguments that were valid during the cold war are no longer valid in the same way. The countries that had nuclear weapons during the cold war were overwhelmingly the great powers involved in that cold war, and they needed nuclear weapons because of the perceived conventional superiority of the Soviet Union and the need to prevent any war—conventional or nuclear—from breaking out.
Because they have 95 per cent. of all nuclear weapons, the key to progress lies with the United States and Russia. If they were both able to make massive further reductions in their nuclear arsenals, they would know they could do so without any change in the relative power of the two states and their ability to deter any possible attack on themselves. Even if we believe in deterrence, we do not need 5,000 nuclear weapons to prevent an attack by our enemy; 500 would clearly destroy the world several times over. There is, therefore, no logical argument of defence why the Russians and the Americans cannot now approach a further stage in these negotiations by at the very least reducing their nuclear arsenals to 500 or 400, or even 200 or 300, without any change in fundamental defence strategy.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not think it would be helpful if the US were to stop the whole national missile defence programme as something that is seen as antagonistic towards Russia—and as something that promotes the industrial and military interests in Russia?
I think both that the United States has been premature in giving such emphasis to a ballistic missile programme long before there is any real threat of the kind suggested and that the Russians have grossly overreacted to some unarmed missile defence systems that might be placed in the Czech Republic and Poland. Therefore, I think both countries have to look at this afresh and try to move forward in a more sensible way.
To return to my theme, if the Americans and Russians were able to make such major progress, that would itself send a massive signal to the NPT negotiations and help to ensure a continuation of that treaty. In addition, it would very greatly strengthen future President Obama in dealing with the Iranian threat. If he is able to demonstrate to the world not only that the United States is making massive reductions in its nuclear arsenal, but that he is prepared to negotiate—as he has said he is—with the Iranians on a resolution to the problems they face, either the Iranians will respond positively or if they fail to do so President Obama would be able to expect, and would receive, much greater international support for any tough measures that might then be needed against the Iranians. Therefore, no loss would be involved in the American position; instead it could be enormously enhanced.
The second half of this debate is about not only a reduction in nuclear arsenals, which would ultimately have to include the United Kingdom, China, France and other nuclear powers, but whether it is possible actually to contemplate their elimination. That is, of course, a very difficult issue, because there is a crucial difference between a country reducing the number of nuclear weapons it has to 150, 100 or even 50 and removing them completely. If a country has even five or 10 nuclear weapons and its opponent has the same, the relative position between the two countries remains the same. Compared with a country that does not have nuclear weapons, a country with five or 10 weapons is enormously powerful in a way that the other is not; in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
Bringing the amount of weapons down to a very small number will not be easy, but going to zero will be infinitely more challenging. That does not mean that it cannot be done, because we have been enormously successful in, effectively, abolishing chemical weapons, and that is a very encouraging precedent. To be able to contemplate achieving a reduction to zero, there must be a huge improvement in the verification and transparency regimes, not only for the weapon states themselves, but for civil nuclear programmes. That is because the fissile material in such programmes is also relevant to the potential production of enriched uranium or plutonium for nuclear weapons. We would also need to be confident that the verification and control systems would prevent the fissile material from getting to terrorist organisations, because those would be the people who could wreak enormous damage on the wider world.
That is the basis on which we would have to address this issue, but there is a second aspect to it. One of the arguments that many, including myself, have used over the years, and which needs to be addressed if we are ever to contemplate the elimination of nuclear weapons, is that our eliminating them—assuming that we can do that—might, in practice, make conventional war more likely. Might it not be argued that nuclear weapons have helped to prevent conventional wars from breaking out? That was a powerful argument during the cold war; indeed, in one of his last speeches as Prime Minister, Winston Churchill said that
"it may well be that we shall by a process of sublime irony have reached a stage in this story where safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation."—[ Hansard, 1 March 1955; Vol. 537, c. 1899.]
Those are very powerful words.
Even in recent years, there is at least an argument to be made that India and Pakistan are now much less likely to renew the conventional wars that they have had several times in the past 30 or 40 years, because both are now nuclear powers and they know that a conventional conflict might lead to a nuclear exchange. So this is not a foolish argument and we cannot simply dismiss it lightly. However, although the argument is valid, it is becoming progressively less so; indeed, it is becoming outweighed by other factors.
The crucial argument that was relevant during the cold war was that if a conventional war ever broke out between the Soviet Union and the NATO powers, it would, in effect, be a third world war. It would not just be a local conflict; it would be a global conflict of dimensions comparable with both the first and second world war. There is no prospect of a global conflict of that kind in the foreseeable future. The great powers have not the remotest intention of going to war with each other, and there is no fundamental issue that might even lead towards that in the foreseeable future. The wars that we are trying to avoid are essentially local conflicts in various parts of the world. That is still a serious matter, but one cannot use the argument that we must therefore have nuclear weapons in those countries, because the logic would then apply to 180 countries around the world, and that would result in an unsustainable situation.
In any event, even if the India and Pakistan situation in respect of the outbreak of conventional conflict has, in some way, been assisted by the fact that they are now both nuclear weapon states, that must be set against the downside that flows from what has been happening in recent years. The proliferation of nuclear weapons states has increased alarmingly, is increasing and, if we are not careful, will continue increasing so that it will encompass many more states around the world. We are talking not only about nuclear weapons states, but about the fissile material that is available, because when that fissile material is available and people such as A. Q. Khan in Pakistan are prepared to sell information to rogue states, the risks of that information getting into the hands of terrorist organisations become far more serious.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is obviously well versed in these issues. He mentioned the ambitious challenge for President-elect Obama in trying to reduce weapons in the US. Does he share the concerns that that challenge may not be achievable, given that there are elements in the US that do not want it to happen? One recalls what happened when President Kennedy tried something similar.
President-elect Obama will start with far greater authority than any other recent American President. If he is determined, a massive reduction in American and Russian arsenals can be achieved, at the very least because there is a mutual interest for both countries in achieving that. Going beyond that will require a degree of leadership, and we will have to see.
I have reached the following conclusions on the issues that I have mentioned. First, whatever people's views on nuclear weapons, there can be no credible, logical or rational reason why we cannot massively reduce the number of nuclear weapons from the 27,000 around the world—mostly in the US and Russia—to a tiny number, even if the deterrent argument still holds sway. Personally, I believe a deterrent is necessary unless we can achieve multilateral disarmament.
Secondly, only by making major progress in that direction can we be sure of the continuation of the non-proliferation treaty. If we are having such problems with proliferation when the treaty exists, one can imagine how disastrous it would be it if fell and was not renewed. Thirdly, the progress that has to be made cannot be unilateral. It is no use asking for gestures from individual countries. At the very least that will do no good, and it may do a lot of harm. Multilateral disarmament is the best hope for progress.
Fourthly, major enhancement of the verification and transparency regimes is needed, even though they are already quite sophisticated. With the advances in modern technology, the verification that will be available over the next few years will be of a much higher order. My final point is that we are not talking about these things happening in a year, or two years or five years. If we are to make the kind of progress required, it will be 10 to 20 years before we get down to low levels. It is only at that stage that we will be able to reach the final decision about whether it is acceptable to go from very small numbers of nuclear weapons to the actual elimination of this class of weapons, as we did with chemical weapons. It may be possible, or it may prove to be too difficult. It is not a decision that we have to reach now, and the mere attempt to move in that direction will undoubtedly be beneficial. In any scenario, having far fewer nuclear weapons than currently exist is infinitely preferable to the status quo, not least because it reduces the prospect of accidental conflict as well as removing large amounts of fissile material from the world.
These are fundamental issues that do not depend on whether we are right wing or left wing, Labour or Conservative. They affect every human being for the most obvious of reasons. Victor Hugo once remarked:
"More powerful than the march of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come."
The Global Zero concept is an idea whose time has come, and if it can help to stop the march of mighty armies, that is an objective worth achieving.
I wish to make most of my remarks on Afghanistan, but I must first say that I have been privileged to work with our outstanding armed forces, their families and the veterans in my two years as a Defence Minister. They are the best armed forces in the world and their courage is tremendous. That was typified in the regular visits that I made to Selly Oak and Headley Court to see our wounded service personnel, who displayed great stoicism in the face of severe battlefield wounds and injuries. Their families also give them great support. I wish to place on record my appreciation and admiration of their amazing courage. One of the great successes recently has been Defence Medical Services, which has saved lives and limbs that might not have been saved in the past. Its work extends from the battlefield medics in Iraq and Afghanistan to the amazing hospital at Selly Oak, the rehabilitation centre at Headley Court and facilities elsewhere.
I genuinely believe that in the past few years we have seen improvements in our armed forces' equipment and in the welfare support that they, their families and veterans have been given, too. I know that because that is what they tell me. Of course, there is always more to do, but if we listened to the press, we would think that nothing had been done for years when in fact significant improvements have been made.
Before I talk about Afghanistan, I want briefly to refer to Iraq. I know from talking to our service personnel there that they often feel that they are somewhat ignored because of what has gone on in Afghanistan as well as because of the intended draw-down from Iraq. I was last in Iraq in August and went to visit the MITTs—the military transition teams—that provide mentoring and training and are embedded in the middle of Basra. I saw a number of their teams. Our service personnel were working there in over 50° heat and were doing quite an amazing job in training and mentoring the Iraqi forces.
Mr. Davey said that the troops were all stuck in Basra air station. That might have been the case in March, before Operation Charge of the Knights, but when I went in August there was a great sense of achievement and that something practical had been done to bring about improvements. There was a massive improvement between Operation Charge of the Knights in March and my last visit in August. Everyone can see the turnaround and improvements that have taken place, particularly with the Iraqi army. There is still more work to be done with the Iraqi police, but even now great work is being done. Commerce and trade are returning and so on.
We will not know, of course, for a number of years how successful we have been in Iraq, but I believe that Iraq will prove to be a success. Lots of people want to rush to rash judgments now, but history will bear out our achievements, not least those of our armed forces.
I want specifically to major on the subject of Afghanistan because I am increasingly concerned about the amount of commentary that seems to be questioning our role there and whether we should be in the country. Some commentators are calling for us to leave, but, as my hon. Friend Dr. Howells pointed out earlier, I believe that would be a disaster. Support among British people in the opinion polls seems quite low, too, and we have a responsibility to argue the case for why we are there and about the national and international importance of our presence.
It is always worth repeating the importance of our presence to support the democratically elected Government in Afghanistan and the construction that needs to take place not only to support that democracy but to bring about improvements for ordinary Afghan people. Not only do we need to prevent it from being a safe haven for al-Qaeda and for terrorism in general, but we need to deal with the issue of drugs.
On drugs, I do not think that eradication, in itself, is the solution. I believe that we can provide people in Afghanistan with alternative livings, but the problem then is whether they can get their goods to market. The corruption in the country means that they have bits taken from them at every stage along the line on the way to market. When I went to Afghanistan, the Afghans told me that they could grow alternative crops instead of poppies, but that getting those crops to market to sell them is a big issue for them. That is where security comes into play, which I shall talk about a little more later.
There is no doubt, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd made clear, that the country is riddled with corruption. The problem is historic. It did not just arise with the election of a democratic Government—it is part of that society. When democratically elected representatives and the governors participate in that corruption, that is a scandal. It has a corrosive effect that can undermine the whole purpose of why we are in Afghanistan and the work that is being done there.
It is right to concentrate on the fact that we have a democratic Government in Afghanistan, which is a major step forward, for all its warts. We must support that. We must reiterate to the British people why we are in Afghanistan, why we support the democratically elected Government and why it is important to Britain for us to be there. We need to keep doing that, and we clearly have not been communicating that as well as we could.
I think everyone accepts—it amazes me when commentators mention it—that there is not a military solution. I have not heard anyone from the Government or from any other Government say that there is such a solution, and it is beyond me why commentators keep repeating that assertion. It is a given that there is no military solution and that the solution has to be that the democratic Government, civilian authorities and organisations and all parts of governance come together to support the construction of Afghanistan.
I also want to refer to our NATO allies. In my two years in the job, I was frustrated by the lack of support from some of those allies and their behaviour in terms of providing fighting troops, helicopters and support, given what we are doing and the fact that we are losing lives on a regular basis. Great frustration has been expressed in the House about our allies on a number of occasions, but the fact is that we must pile on the pressure to ensure that our allies do more. If NATO or the UN are serious about achieving things in countries like Afghanistan, they must make sacrifices and provide their share of support. I believe strongly that that is the only way that we can achieve things for the good of the world generally.
I turn now to the question of governance, which I think is another misnomer. The perception in some quarters is that we will be able to build local government and judicial systems like the ones that we have in the UK. That is not going to happen in Afghanistan—at least not for many years, or in my lifetime. The Afghan people have a traditional way of doing things, and we must tailor the system of governance that we develop to that.
For instance, the governance system that we develop might be based around each provincial governor, and the judicial system that we construct might reflect the demands of people in the different areas, but what is certain is that we will not end up with the same system that we in Great Britain or the western world have. However, the types of judicial and governance systems that we deliver must enjoy the confidence of the Afghan people. Our job is to work with them to achieve that, but I do not believe that we can build a western-style system. Quite frankly, that is not achievable.
There have been many achievements in Afghanistan that often get overlooked, and No. 1 among them is the provincial reconstruction teams. I first went out to Afghanistan in February 2007: I thought then that the collaboration between the Government and senior staff was not very good, and I made my concerns known in the right quarters. However, there had been a major improvement when I last visited in August.
I visited 16th Air Assault Brigade, and met Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, and found that the way that they had embedded in the PRT team was a major step forward. At last, I got a real sense of things progressing and of people working together. I am not claiming that things are now perfect, that there are no problems and that further improvements are not needed, but it was clear that there had been a major change in the time since my first visit.
Also, people in Afghanistan now have much greater access to health care. I visited a hospital in Lashkagar that was just awful, but there have been improvements in people's access to health care, especially in the district centres. More children—including girls—are going to school, but that is still a battle in many cases. We all know what the Taliban do when they find out about such things.
In addition, I went to see some very important reconstruction projects in Lashkagar—another example of what is happening in Afghanistan now. Nothing is going to change things overnight but gradual progress is being made, despite the many challenges that we face in the country.
The key issue, of course, is security. The Afghans to whom I spoke said that security was their No. 1 priority. We have to do a lot of hard work to achieve it, and we cannot do that by ourselves. Our goal is to get the people in the Afghan army and police trained up so that they can work effectively to provide that security themselves. We are moving in the right direction, although quicker progress is being made with the army. I spoke to our service personnel who are working with the Afghan army, and they had much more praise for its capability, effectiveness and numbers than was the case 18 months or two years previously.
Sadly, corruption and a lack of ability remain major problems with the Afghan police. Even getting officers to stay at their posts is difficult, and it is clear that much more work needs to be done, as security will be very important in the future elections. It is essential that elections are held and that we can get people out to vote in them. That is a big task, and security is an important element that we have to get right.
Some people say that we could be in Afghanistan for 30 years, but I do not think that that is sustainable. In fact, if we have to keep up the present level of fighting for 30 years, we will have failed. We have to be realistic: we must look at what is achievable, and that brings us back to getting the Afghan people themselves to provide security and to putting in place all the elements of governance that will deliver it. We must also get all the members of NATO to play their part in that regard.
I do not want to repeat much of what has been said about Pakistan, but the country has always been key to the history of Afghanistan, as is shown by the events of the three Afghan wars. Interestingly, some commentators say that Britain got kicked out after those wars, but that is not entirely true. Russia was also kicked out, but the present situation is different. The Taliban have only minority support in Afghanistan, and the vast majority of people are opposed to them. That is the difference, and the key for us is to win and keep people's confidence. In that way, we can ensure that they will support us in the job that we are doing, and not turn against us and give their support to the Taliban. That is a key priority for us.
Pakistan, too, is a very important area. Its Government have to do more about the borders and the tribal areas. I know that they are working on that, and a lot of time and effort are being spent on the issue, as we heard from the Foreign Secretary. It is a key area for us, and if things went wrong there, it would be a major problem.
I want to discuss Iran in the context of Afghanistan. We have heard a lot about Iran in the context of Iraq—about Iran supplying weapons and its involvement with the insurgents there—but it is also involved in the supply of weapons, or elements of weapons, such as improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan. Of course, we must maintain diplomatic relations and work at the diplomatic channels, but sometimes we are far too soft with Iran and should take a much stronger line. We have to work very hard on that, because Iran would have an influence in Afghanistan. There is work to be done in that respect.
Finally, our previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair, made an important, landmark speech almost two years ago on HMS Albion. He asked what sort of defence force our country wanted. He asked whether we wanted a defence force that could deliver hard power in the support of soft power globally—we live in a global world and are affected by what happens globally—or a home defence force that never came out unless we felt that our shores were threatened. The use of soft and hard power is key. We still need to debate that, and Tony Blair set out the parameters for such a debate in his very important speech. I strongly support what he said in it.
I finish on an important point: it is essential that we retain the support of the British people for what we are doing in missions such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have to get across why we are there, and the importance of the mission. My right hon. Friend Des Browne, the former Secretary of State for Defence, said that we need to hear Afghan voices saying why it is important for Britain and NATO to be there, and we need to say why it is in our national interests to be there. We have to work much harder on that, and on getting across to the British people why support for Afghanistan is so important to our future security and to the rest of the world.
I was interested to hear what Derek Twigg had to say about Afghanistan, because like Dr. Howells, he had ministerial experience of the issue. Obviously, it is well worth our learning from that experience.
The number of times that Afghanistan has been mentioned in the debate underlines the need to have a dedicated debate on that country in this Chamber, in which we could dedicate the whole of our remarks to the real problems there. I should like to say how very strongly I supported the speech by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind. He has shown us a lead that I hope our party and the Government will follow. As he knows, the only point on which I disagree with him is that I do not think that we can play a leadership role—the role that I would like to see the British Government, and people such as him, play—in moving towards multinational disarmament while committing ourselves to renewing our Trident deterrent, not now but in 20 years' time. That gives the wrong message. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows—we have debated the matter before in the Chamber—that is why I voted as I did in the debate on the renewal of Trident.
I want to talk about the fundamental shift that has taken place in the world in the past 10 years, and the way in which we need to reflect that in a substantial change in direction in foreign policy. When the cold war ended, the days of the big blocs disappeared. They were largely replaced by a unipolar world in which America had effective supremacy and dominance. It was the greatest military power that the world has ever seen, in relative terms. For 10 years, it exercised that power and, largely, we supported it in exercising it.
The world has moved on. In the past 10 years we have seen a network world come to the fore, with the emergence of China, the re-emergence of Russia, the building of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, and the emergence of Brazil in South America. It is a world in which hard power will have far less of a role to play, and soft power will become more and more important. In a network world, one cannot get one's way by confrontation. The nature of a network world means that one has to get one's way through persuasion and engagement. In the past five years, one of the failures of American foreign policy—and, I have to say, our foreign policy, as ours was so closely attached to it—was that we thought we could continue to exercise the sort of confrontational, isolationist policy that was so much part of the previous five years. We did not realise the effect that that would have.
If one looks at the region where I spend some time, the middle east, one sees the most extraordinary results of that policy of confrontation and isolation. One sees Syria being pushed closely into the arms of Iran, which the Syrians did not want. I saw the Syrian Foreign Minister two and a half years ago. His first question to me was, "Are you an isolator or an engager?" They wanted to engage with us but we were effectively shutting the door on them. If one shuts the door on someone on one side, they will walk out of the door on the other side. They did, and they got closer and closer to Iran.
I have seen even more unusual relationships created, with Sunni Hamas now effectively in combination with Shi'a Iran, which in the Islamic world is almost unthinkable, yet our isolation of Hamas, particularly after it won the election in 2006 in the Palestinian Authority, has forced it in that direction.
Today I want to look at the opportunity that I believe will arise with the catalyst of the election of President Obama when, without losing face, the west, America and Britain can begin to change the emphasis. The change of emphasis must be, as I say, from confrontation to engagement. I shall examine various aspects of that. We have spoken a great deal today about Iran and I shall not get involved in the arguments about how best we prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I take the view that we may, in the end, not be able to do that, and we should equally be looking at how, through engagement, we can create a doctrine that will manage an increasing nuclear region.
It is certain that isolating Iran has not stopped it moving towards obtaining a nuclear weapon. It has turned from the door that we closed in the west of Iran and opened the door in the east, so that for all their protestations in the Security Council, China and Russia are still trading with and have close relationships with Iran.
I spend some time in the Gulf. There is another implication of the policy that we were pursuing. We were saying to our friends in the Gulf, "We hope you will join us in trying to create these restraints on Iran." The Foreign Minister of one Gulf country said to me, "Hold on. It's all very well for you to say that, but you and the Americans are here today. You won't be here tomorrow or the day after, but Iran will always be there. If you expect us to take an antagonistic view of Iran and isolate it as you are trying to do, you are asking us to operate against our own interests."
There is every reason why we should support President Obama's initiative to reopen dialogue with Iran and, to use the words of the Foreign Secretary, use diplomacy to try and achieve the purpose that we want to achieve in Iran, and move away from the stick that has been waved, largely by the Americans and occasionally by us, which has ultimately operated against our interests and has had no effect on Iran at all.
The second area that I shall touch on is Afghanistan. Last year, in the equivalent debate, I described what we were doing in Afghanistan as pushing water uphill. I have tremendous respect for our armed forces. I think they are the best in the world and I have seen the enormous achievements that they have made in Afghanistan, but when one looks at what they are doing, every achievement that they make will be sustained only if they stay there. As we know, they are not going to stay there for ever, and when they leave, those achievements can be undone. One can push water uphill, but the moment one turns one's back on it, it comes running down again.
I hope that in the review that is taking place in the United States Administration about what needs to be done now in Afghanistan, we will look closely at what we are asking our armed forces to do. I well remember two and a half years ago the then Defence Secretary telling us on behalf of the Government as we were about to deploy to Helmand that he hoped that not a shot would be fired. When we look back at that and at what has happened since then, we can see how badly we misjudged what we were getting into in that area of Afghanistan and how much we have asked of our troops, including the sacrifice of many of them in the process. Even if the Americans deploy more troops in Afghanistan, we must consider very carefully whether we should be doing the same thing.
Secondly, we should consider where we see our priorities within Afghanistan. When we went into the country just after the twin towers were brought down on 9/11, we had one major objective—to capture Kabul, because it was the centre of power within Afghanistan and because if we held Kabul, or a benign Afghan Government did, a reasonable degree of control could be exercised over the whole country; I do not believe that complete control could ever be exercised there. We took and held Kabul, and when I went there as shadow Foreign Secretary and shadow Defence Secretary, the British were very much engaged in providing security in the city.
When I originally went to Kabul, I was able to walk the streets; I went into bookshops and went shopping. The last time I went there I was in an armoured car all the time, wearing body armour. We have taken our eye off the ball. We should look again at securing Kabul and making it safe again, and then, if we have the opportunity, moving out bit by bit, through a hearts and minds exercise. That would provide the best chance of a reasonably and relatively secure Afghanistan in future. I hope that that point will be closely considered in the review—not only by us, but by the Americans. I talked about engagement, so I will say one more thing about this issue. I agree with those who say that at some moment we have to talk to the Taliban. The Taliban are not a uniform organisation; there is a whole province right in the centre of Afghanistan which is largely Taliban, and there cannot be an Afghanistan in the future that does not recognise that reality. At some moment, we have to start engaging the Taliban, and I hope that that will also be part of the review.
The last issue that I want to discuss is that of Israel-Palestine. I was pleased that the Queen's Speech talked about a comprehensive settlement, because I do not believe that a deal on the two-state solution can be done only between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. That is for a good reason: part of that solution involves the creation of a secure Israel—and that depends not only on the Palestinians, but on the Lebanese and on the other Arab countries in the area. The settlement has to be comprehensive and include Syria as a key partner if the security needed by Israel as part of the settlement is to be provided.
It is absolutely right that, within the argument about the Israel-Palestine settlement, we begin to engage the countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia, which some years ago put forward a plan that I hope will now be adopted, and Syria. That should also include the elements within the Palestinian Authority which will have to be part of an ultimate settlement. We cannot have a viable Palestinian state that does not, to some degree, recognise the influence and existence of Hamas. At the last election, Hamas secured more than half the votes of the people in the Palestinian state. The idea that one can do a deal with Fatah and hope that it will last is fanciful.
We should be pushing the concept of a new body representative of all the Palestinians—not just Hamas and Fatah, but the prisoners and the people in the refugee camps. That body could negotiate with Israel, giving Israel the knowledge that if it comes to a settlement, that will include the whole Palestinian people and not just a faction of them. That means talking to people with whom we do not talk at the moment. It means talking to Hamas in the Palestinian Authority and to Hezbollah in Lebanon, because in the end it will be part of the necessary agreement to secure Israel's northern border. Those parties are willing to talk, and I hope that our Government will begin to look closely at the need to engage them.
I learned in Northern Ireland that moving towards achieving a settlement can happen only if all those who will have to be part of it are included. We went through a very difficult few years in Northern Ireland. We began the dialogue with Sinn Fein-IRA, and it was very uncomfortable. However, we knew that if in the end we could not bring them in some form into the arrangement that we hoped would secure the future of Northern Ireland—and we hope that it has—we would be back where we had been not only for the previous 30 years, but for the previous 300. We can apply that lesson in other areas such as the middle east and Afghanistan. I hope that that is in the minds of the Government when they talk about a comprehensive peace settlement.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Ancram, with whom I have worked closely on one of the issues that I want to raise. During this debate it has been very good to see so much cross-party agreement, with Government and Opposition, and the two Opposition parties, agreeing on many things.
I will dwell for a minute on an issue that has not been raised—the growing power of China and our failure to make enough use of the Beijing Olympics to put pressure on China over Tibet. In view of the statement by the Foreign Secretary on
I want to deal with the situation in Zimbabwe. Over the past few weeks, the outbreak of cholera has brought that country into focus again. Zimbabwe is one of those subjects where there is a lot of publicity and noise, then for a while it goes quiet again. All that time it is as if things are happening, but we know that all that has happened is that the situation has got much worse for its people. Over the past few weeks, Mugabe's agents have abducted members of the Movement for Democratic Change and representatives of civil society—people are disappearing day in, day out. I was talking to some people in Harare yesterday and in Bulawayo the day before, and I learned that the situation has become even more dire, with the breakdown of sanitation and water facilities. Now that the rains are beginning, raw sewage is getting right into the wells that people use for drinking and washing. We are facing a huge crisis there.
Despite that, some people in the Southern African Development Community countries are still putting faith in dialogue and a power-sharing deal. I believe that the MDC signed up to that deal in good faith. Let us not forget that the opposition in Zimbabwe has not resorted to violence. We are sending out a terribly bad signal to the world—that one cannot bring about the end of a dictator by peaceful means. Although the Opposition in Zimbabwe have used peaceful means, the international community has not come to their aid, and Mugabe is being allowed to stay on as President and carry on with business as usual.
"There comes a time when a dictator does not want to hear, does not want to understand, and so my understanding is that heads of state and governments must end discussions."
I hope that he speaks for the rest of the European Union. Many of the southern African countries have continued to make their high-flown statements on democracy and human rights, to which they subscribe as members of SADC, the African Union and the Commonwealth, but their actions fall woefully short of what should be expected after those declarations. In general, the silence of many of those countries has been shameful.
At the weekend, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, made a bold call for Mugabe and his henchmen to be removed from power in Zimbabwe and brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague to answer for their crimes against humanity. Last week, his brother archbishop, Desmond Tutu, also called for the Mugabe Government to step down or face indictment for their gross violations of human rights, and he said that if they refused they should be removed by use of military force. He did not go on to say what form of military force should be used, but he meant what many of us feel: in the end there will have to be some form of United Nations intervention. Both of those archbishops know what they are talking about because they were central to the struggle against tyranny in their home countries of Uganda and South Africa.
Does the hon. Lady not recognise what the President of Botswana, who met the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister in the UK two weeks ago, has said? Botswana has been vociferous in its opposition to the Mugabe regime, calling for fresh elections. It has a huge problem with refugees coming across its border. While what she says might be true about other Southern African Development Community members, Botswana has done more than many.
If the hon. Gentleman had been here at the beginning of the debate, he would have heard me intervene precisely on that point, and if he waits until the end of my speech, he will hear me mention Botswana.
The Prime Minister deserves enormous credit for keeping Zimbabwe on the international agenda. He has not found it easy because he faced some denigration of his efforts, not only by Mugabe, which we would expect, but by some African leaders such as former President Mbeki, who has spent his last few years acting as a cosy buffer of protection for the ZANU-PF regime. As the Foreign Secretary mentioned, when the British Government were determined to get the matter discussed at the UN and called for action from the Security Council, the resolution aimed at isolating Mugabe and his elite and at upholding the will of the people of Zimbabwe as expressed in the election of March 29 was blocked. In a shameful move, South Africa led China and Russia in opposition to the resolution. If it had only been adopted then, we might already be helping to rebuild the economy and institutions of Zimbabwe.
"there has been a sham process of power-sharing talks and now we are seeing not only political and economic total devastation...but a humanitarian toll of the cholera epidemic".
It is clear that the time for talking has now ended. I believe that there is no hope of a power-sharing deal with a dictator who refuses to give up any power. Despite what Jacob Zuma has said this week, and despite the continuing faith of the Tanzanian President in dialogue, we have to be honest and accept what Zimbabweans are telling us: the power-sharing process is dead.
I hope that Jacob Zuma will not continue to pander to the views of his hosts in Namibia, where he was recently, which is a long-term ally of Mugabe. I hope that we will soon see something more worthy of his new role as President of the ANC, and that he listens to COSATU—the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which is the voice of the trade unions in South Africa.
For those of us who have been calling for international action to support the Movement for Democratic Change and Morgan Tsvangirai, it is heartening that some of the strongest voices are now to be found in Africa. On Sunday, the Kenyan Prime Minister called on the African Union to deploy troops and to intervene to bring an end to the crisis. Botswana, which has already been mentioned, wants to put an embargo on petrol and diesel exports to Zimbabwe, and I believe that that could dislodge Mugabe from power in little more than a week. Zambia has also expressed support for his removal. Although there is always concern that sanctions may end up hurting ordinary Zimbabweans, they are being hurt so much at the moment that I believe that they would support sanctions, and I hope that soon they will be calling for them.
All the southern African countries need to accept that they have to uphold the will of the people of Zimbabwe. Mozambique, which borders Zimbabwe, has been shameful. It has done absolutely nothing, and the same is true of Malawi and Namibia. Sadly, the British Government and this country have been prepared to let them get away with their destructive stance for too long. We have continued to pump taxpayers' money to those countries despite their support for tyranny and corruption. That has to stop.
African leaders assume that aid will continue to flow regardless of how corrupt or repressed their people are, and they have generally been right because that is what we have continued to do. We have let those countries get away with support for corrupt countries and dictators for far too long. Regardless of the wider impact of the political and diplomatic stance of such countries in shoring up tyranny and corruption, UK taxpayers' money is still being pumped in. I am not talking about food aid, but about the aid to flagship projects, which ends up being seen as helping and supporting the particular president of a country. We must start to link our policies on international development to our policies on foreign affairs, human rights and democracy. There needs to be a much more direct link between the actions taken by nations receiving aid from the Department for International Development and the policy aims of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Even after the jamboree that followed the signing of the so-called power-sharing agreement, Thabo Mbeki came out on television and jubilantly demanded that the world should pile in with financial aid. He has a real nerve to do that. People like Mbeki expect us to be there to pick up the pieces and pay for reconstruction, yet they say that we have no right to comment on the corruption and tyranny that has led to ruin in the first place. He tells the Prime Minister to keep his nose out of Africa, yet he expects us to fork out taxpayers' money with no questions asked.
Why do so many southern African leaders and the African Union ruling elite keep asking what the minimum is that they have to do to get UK aid flowing back into Zimbabwe? The question that they should be asking is what more can they do to ensure respect for the democratic will of the people of Zimbabwe. They seem to think that if they pull off some kind of cosmetic change, that will allow ZANU-PF to stay in power and to continue to fleece our taxpayers by persuading us to provide financial support.
I will not give way because there are a number of things that I want to put on the record. In the past couple of weeks, it has been encouraging to see the new designations announced by the United States Department of the Treasury, which impose financial sanctions on and make it an offence to do business with four people whom the American Government have called cronies of Zimbabwe's Mugabe. The support of those four people is allegedly allowing Mugabe to undermine democracy, and any bank accounts or other financial assets belonging to them that are found in the United States must be frozen. In addition, Americans are forbidden to conduct business with them.
It is useful to name those individuals again. Nalinee Joy Taveesin is a Thai business woman who is said to have facilitated a number of financial real estate and gem-related transactions on behalf of Mugabe's wife, Grace. Ironically, Nalinee Joy Taveesin has participated in several initiatives on corruption and growth challenges in Africa and south-east Asia while secretly supporting the kleptocratic practices of one of Africa's most corrupt regimes, as the Treasury department has said. Another of those four people is Mahmood Kechik, a Malaysian urologist. He was described as one of Mugabe's physicians and business advisers who dealt secretly with the defence forces commander and Zimbabwe's central bank governor, Gideon Gono, and others to enrich themselves and the Government illegally.
John Bredenkamp is a Zimbabwean businessman and ex-rugby captain who reputedly made his fortune smuggling tobacco and weapons for the former white Rhodesian Government. He is described by the US Treasury office as someone who has clearly been financing himself from the smuggling that he has been doing. Billy Rautenback is a Zimbabwean businessman said by the US Treasury to be close to the Mugabe Government. He has provided logistical support for large-scale mining projects in Zimbabwe that benefit a small number of corrupt senior officials. I should have added that it is alleged that John Bredenkamp is—or has been—living in this country regularly. I hope that the Government are looking into that because we cannot allow such people to be here and we should not be dealing with them in any way whatsoever. We have also discovered that the World Food Programme is using one of Billy Rautenback's companies to transport some of the food it sends into Zimbabwe. That needs to be looked into.
I hope that our Government will ensure that we do all we can to carry out the same sort of policy in respect of those individuals. There is no easy way to make change happen in Zimbabwe, but we as a Government must continue to do every little thing that we can to tighten the screw on Mugabe, and there are things that we can do. I am pleased that the European Union has increased the sanctions and added to the list of individuals involved, but there are still far too many people who can get their money out of Zimbabwe and into other countries.
The Foreign Office has been extremely good in pushing the Home Office to allow those Zimbabweans who could in no circumstances return to that country to remain here. Many are well educated and should be allowed to work in this country while they are unable to return. I hope that the Foreign Office has a little more influence on the Home Office than the many colleagues in the House who have been trying to get the position changed for some time.
Finally, it is time for us to stop trying to be nice to those other African countries that continue to recognise, talk to and support Mugabe. If they do not do what they should do, we should ensure that we punish them, too.
This has been a very good debate, because the sense of agreement in all parts of the House has been commendable. I particularly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind on his challenging speech about nuclear weapons and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram on his speech about engagement with Syria and Iran. My one slightly negative observation about our engagement with Iran is that I was due to speak at a conference in Tehran last Sunday, but unfortunately the Iranian authorities refused me a visa.
I thank my hon. Friend for his support of the Iranian Government's decision.
I want to speak briefly about Africa, although not about Zimbabwe, on which Kate Hoey spoke passionately, but about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and Somalia, in the context of the European Union missions that have been deployed there in recent months and European security and defence policy generally. I want then to talk about the situation between Georgia and Russia.
I intervened on the Foreign Secretary earlier, because I am concerned about what appears to be a lack of deployment of support for the United Nations force in the Congo. There are plenty of precedents for European Union deployments in the Congo. Some years ago there was the Artemis mission and two years ago there was a fairly successful EUFOR mission to Kinshasa, which I visited. The question of who is answerable to whom was answered in that deployment. During my visit, I was involved in a meeting about security matters in Kinshasa in which the EU force commander, the force commander of MONUC—the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—the EU special representative and the United Nations special representative all participated.
My concern, which I raised with the Foreign Secretary, is that in the past two years the European Union has agreed to deploy eight battlegroups, but we have never deployed any of them. Two are on call now—one is a British battlegroup and the other is a German-led battlegroup—and they amount to some 3,000 troops on call, deployable at 15 days' notice. The Foreign Secretary was in the eastern Congo on 1 and
We can deploy under the EU flag. We have a very successful mission in Chad at the present time, which is protecting refugees from the Darfur conflict. It is there under a UN mandate, and will hand over to an African Union force under UN command in March next year. Interestingly—or perhaps ironically, given the Irish referendum debate—it is led by an Irish commander. General Patrick Nash is the operational commander of the mission, and one of the companies deployed in that force is a company of Irish soldiers.
That demonstrates that, under the European security and defence policy, what is described in Ireland as the triple lock really works. Such a force would deploy only with the UN mandate, and with the approval of the Irish Government and the Irish Parliament. That fits in with the kind of peace enforcement or peacekeeping role that the ESDP was designed for, and with the intergovernmental nature of the ESDP. It does not, as was suggested during the Irish referendum debate, involve a European army. It is an intergovernmental force or, if you like, a coalition of the willing.
There is a similar arrangement at the moment off the coast of Somalia, where the EU naval force is deployed. The United Kingdom is the framework nation for that force, and the mission is commanded from Northwood in London. My real concern is about duplication, however. What appear to be three international naval forces are now deployed off the coast of Somalia to combat piracy. We have the original CTF-150 force, which has engaged with the pirates; we have the NATO force, which has been there for some time; and we now have an EU force. That arrangement involves ships that are from basically the same nations but which are operating under different command structures. We still do not have enough ships, but I am not sure that duplication into three different commands will solve the problem of piracy in the long run. We really need some joined-up government.
I should like to reflect on the Georgia-Russia situation, which has already been mentioned. In the past month or so, I have visited Tblisi and Moscow, where I had discussions about the situation. In the wake of what happened at the beginning of August, the actions of President Sarkozy in the name of the European Union were commendable. He achieved some success, but I seriously question whether any other nation holding the EU presidency would have had the same success. I believe that President Medvedev and Mr. Putin were prepared to meet President Sarkozy because he was the President of France, which is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. I am not sure—I say this with all due deference to the smaller member states of the European Union—that other presidencies would have had the same success. I am thus very concerned about lulling ourselves into a false sense of security, thinking that we can use the EU in such an initiative. If we had been premature, as the Georgians would have liked us to have been, in advancing Georgia's NATO membership—I support it in the long term—and if an article 5 response under the NATO treaty had been made, I am concerned that we would have been looking at a far worse situation.
The conflict has real implications for NATO, EU and Russian relations. It is a frozen conflict that has moved on slightly, but it dates back to the fall of the Soviet Union. We have to remember that the two provinces, as we have described them, within Georgia—Abkhazia and South Ossetia—were never totally integrated provinces of the state of Georgia. In fact, they were placed in the territory of Georgia by one Joseph Stalin, who just happened to be a Georgian, when he was the chairman of the Soviet Union. They always existed as autonomous units within the territory of Georgia, so there is a danger of looking at the issue too simplistically. Of course we support the territorial integrity of Georgia, but we cannot look at it simplistically in the sense that these areas must be returned as integral parts of Georgia. We need to view the situation as far more complex than that. That is one reason why I believe we will see this revert to a frozen conflict, but with the chess pieces in slightly different places.
We were all dismayed by the fact that two members of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and two Council of Europe member states had gone to war in the dispute. It challenges all of us to get the situation back to a more sensible position in which we can engage with the people in South Ossetia and Abkhazia at the same time as engaging with the Russian authorities. We should engage in negotiations on an enhanced partnership agreement with Russia, while making it clear that it is unacceptable for Russia to seek to extend its sphere of influence to independent countries beyond its borders that have the sovereign right to determine their own future.
Together with Russia, the United States and our NATO and OSCE partners, we should prepare the ground for discussions on a renewed security framework in Europe, building on our previous achievements. We need to step up our efforts to seek solutions to all the remaining frozen conflicts in Europe, taking advantage, I hope, of the EU's enhanced credibility as a foreign policy actor and as a valuable counterpart to Russia with regard to issues of security and stability. The EU should further strengthen its relations with Georgia by providing full assistance with repairing the material and economic damage caused by the war and helping it to implement the reforms needed for its consolidation as a modern state based on democracy, the rule of law, good governance and a free market economy.
Finally, we must demand that Russia honour its agreement with the EU, ensuring that the EU monitoring mission that is deployed to Georgia is able to perform its tasks within the administrative borders not only of Georgia itself but of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That is absolutely essential. I think that those borders must be opened up to that monitoring mission, as well as to the OSCE monitoring mission. I hope that the Minister who responds to the debate this evening will give us the assurance that we are not going to let up on the pressure we put on Russia to honour the obligations it entered into in the two agreements it made with President Sarkozy back in August.
I want to focus on the European Union's relations with Africa in particular, following on from Mr. Walter who touched on a number of the issues. Many references have been made to the troubles in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe and Somalia, and to the role of the EU within a UN context. I want to talk about what the EU is trying to achieve in Africa, despite the problems, because there is a great deal to applaud in its efforts.
It is essential that Europe works with Africa, whether on climate change, migration, HIV or terrorism. I do not believe we can help the continent unilaterally. Clearly, working with the EU makes our efforts that much more effective and powerful. As we have seen from this debate, even the EU working as a body can be daunted by the huge obstacles to peace that many of the conflicts pose.
The EU-Africa summit held in Lisbon in December last year cemented a new Africa-EU strategic partnership, albeit one overshadowed by the attendance of Robert Mugabe and the subsequent boycott by our Prime Minister. Nevertheless, the summit ended with the signing of a strategic "political partnership of equals" which, according to the text, will serve to overcome
"the traditional donor-recipient relationship" between the EU and Africa. The joint declaration promised co-operation on investment, development, human rights and peacekeeping, and came with an ambitious action plan running to 2010. The plan includes moves towards an Africa-EU energy partnership to promote access to efficient energy services and renewable sources, and a package intended to help the African Union to intervene and prevent likely future conflicts—and Lord knows, there are many conflicts going on there at the moment. Having visited the African Union in Addis Ababa last year to discuss the chaos in Somalia, and with so many conflicts taking place at this time, we know how difficult that will be.
Africa and Europe failed to reach agreement on the comprehensive trade deals known as economic partnership agreements. Interim agreements were signed instead, covering trade and goods and leaving out sensitive areas such as opening up developing countries' services and investment markets. I applaud the Foreign Secretary's statement today and welcome his indication that there will be further efforts to get agreement on trade by rejuvenating the Doha round. The EPAs are good for African development because they offer African countries full access to the European market while allowing them to keep up to 20 per cent. of their own markets closed to protect domestic industries, but clearly there is further work to be done to ensure that the interests and concerns of African states are met.
There is, however, a new international context. Many of us have looked at Africa from almost—dare I say it?—a neo-colonial viewpoint, but there are many new players in Africa, not just the traditional western nations that have a history of colonisation. The role of China has forced the EU to re-assess its relationship with Africa. Since 2002, African-Chinese trade has increased fivefold to more than $50 billion in 2006. In October 2007, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China paid $5.6 billion for a 20 per cent. stake in Standard bank of Africa—the biggest single investment ever made on the continent. India has also been buying up oil and mineral concessions in such countries as Sudan and Nigeria. In addition, the US wants to take 25 per cent. of its oil supply from Africa to reduce American dependence on middle east resources.
As I said, China is set to become Africa's biggest trade partner, overtaking the US in 2010.
My hon. Friend has made an interesting point, but does it not worry him that China could now become the new colonial master because of all the investment and total dependence on the Chinese market? Does he share my concern about future over-dependence on China? Would Africa not do better to ensure that the basket is not filled entirely with China?
I entirely agree, but that is very difficult to achieve. I was interested in the speech made by my hon. Friend Kate Hoey. The west comes along with aid and investment to which strings are attached—quite rightly—in regard to issues such as human rights, while China has no such concerns. It is very difficult to square that circle.
China poses a particular challenge. We need to engage in a fair bit more dialogue, and try to persuade the Chinese that it is in their longer-term interests—about which I shall say more shortly—to take account of issues such as human rights, not just in their own country but in Africa. In the longer term, a stable Africa is much more important to China than an unstable Africa.
Funds from aid are rapidly being overtaken by the amount of investment flowing into the continent from China. Chinese investment in infrastructure, for instance, has already matched that of all the OECD countries combined. As I have said, Chinese money is particularly attractive to African nations because unlike European funds, which are linked to issues such as human rights and good governance, it comes without strings. However, there is an accompanying danger that, as the Foreign Secretary pointed out,
"commodity boom enriches the few, stunts the diversification of the economy, and leads to poor governance, with rulers accountable to foreign interests, rather than to their people."
I am sure that China recognises that, and it is to be hoped that in the future it will do what it can to ensure that its investment is positive. A more stable Africa is as much in its long-term interests as it is in the immediate interests of the African people themselves.
The European Union cannot be replicated everywhere, but it has been shown that prosperity and security can be achieved through the sharing of resources and political power. In that respect, the development of the African Union is exciting and positive. The AU has a long way to go; it operates in a fragmented environment, and at present lacks the same levels of organisational structure, supranational power and political commitment of members as the European Union. However, it has already played a major role in restoring peace to Burundi, and has deployed peacekeeping missions in both Sudan and Somalia—although, as has been said, there is still a great deal to be done.
There are three key areas in which the EU and the AU should work closely together. Obviously, as has also been said today, one is conflict. In 2003, the EU deployment in north-east Congo helped to prevent bloodshed, and allowed the United Nations time to reinforce and reconfigure its peacekeeping mission. Today, 3,000 EU troops are trying to stabilise eastern Chad. Obviously there is much more scope for that elsewhere in Africa, for example in Sudan, and we hope to see more and more of it. It is highly desirable for the EU and the AU to act together in a UN context.
The second is energy. Africa has the world's largest desert, the Sahara, and with it comes huge solar power potential. If we had peace and stability in the DRC, the proposed Grand Inga hydroelectric project on the Congo river could bring power to 500 million Africans for the first time. Through the EU's emissions trading scheme and the clean development mechanism, the EU could help to provide the finance needed to make that a reality. Generating energy in that way could eventually enable Africa to export energy rather than importing it, and rising prices for that energy could lift millions of Africans out of poverty. For the EU, it would mean a new, green energy supply on its doorstep.
Thirdly, in terms of development, rising food prices are forcing Africans to cut back on education and health care, and to sell off livestock in order to be able to eat. The EU, as the world's largest aid donor and largest single market, can play a big role. For larger-scale agriculture, we need more progress on reducing agricultural tariffs and subsidies, so that in addition to Africa one day being able to feed itself, it could export food to Europe.
Surveys show that nine out of 10 Africans want to live in a democracy, and events this year in Kenya and Zimbabwe demonstrate this sentiment. Not only is it our duty to support people in this fight for moral reasons at the very least, but democracies are more likely to respect human rights and support open trade, and are less likely to go to war. Rather than just focusing on whether we should support democracy, the EU should concentrate on how to support the institutions and constitutions of African states, and try to work out what forms of democracy could work in weak states and in countries with ethnic and religious divisions or fragile economies. Ideally, democracy should, of course, be home grown, but there are practical ways in which the EU could support democracy in Africa. First, we could use our aid budgets to support accountability and help to support state institutions and civil society, as we are doing. Secondly, trade can be used not just to drive economic growth, but to nurture social and political modernisation. That is why the "Everything but Arms" system and the economic partnership agreements are so important. Offering duty-free, quota-free access to EU markets is also important, which is why aid for trade and a new global trade deal to give all developing countries better access to global markets are crucial.
We could call for more robust diplomacy to be applied. Where the international community through the United Nations is united in its condemnation of a regime, and where it is prepared to support that with targeted sanctions and to play an active role in mediation, the legitimacy and viability of authoritarian regimes can be undermined.
In countries suffering from conflict, troops may be needed to provide the security that is the platform for re-establishing democratic governance. The readiness of British forces to provide such security is already well established, as we have seen in different parts of the world.
Zimbabwe poses a massive threat to the region, as its neighbours will continue to bear the brunt of Mugabe's actions. The UK has made it clear that a continuation of the status quo is not an option. The Foreign Secretary has said a great deal in the debate about what the Government have done and can do. I will not add to that, except to say that in my view we might not be able to remove Mugabe in the foreseeable future without the use of force. I believe it is not enough to will the ends, and that it is likely that we will need to will the means in order to see change in Zimbabwe.
In 2006, the EU helped the Democratic Republic of the Congo stage its first presidential and legislative elections in 40 years. This involved transporting 1,000 tonnes of ballot papers, and 2,000 EU troops supported the UN in maintaining a peaceful environment for those elections. It is a tragedy that this conflict has broken out and is continuing, and I believe that the EU will play an important role in bringing it to an end.
My natural father was from Somaliland. I say "Somaliland" deliberately because the picture there is very different from that in the rest of Somalia. Somaliland has been stable and democratic, and it constitutes what used to be the British colony of British Somaliland. There is a system of governance and democracy that has made it very stable. It should be used as a beacon and example for the rest of Somalia, but at present it is not even recognised as a state by the UN, although there are moves to try to change that. If we are going to stop the piracy off the Gulf of Aden, Somalia must become a stable state, rather than the failed state that it is at the moment. Until there is a stable Somalia alongside a UN-recognised Somaliland, that piracy will continue, no matter how many warships we send to the area.
Finally, the European Union has done much, but it still has much more to do to support Africa. As Africa is the only continent on earth that is going backwards and not developing, we have a duty to provide support through the European Union for the sake of humanity as a whole.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I welcome you to your place?
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Hendrick. I hope that I shall not detain the House for long, and I am sure the House does too. I wish to talk a little about the details of the recent attack in Mumbai and its implications for our foreign affairs and, consequently, for how we are going to deal with a similar attack in the future—such an attack is not inevitable, but it is highly likely.
First, it is worth mentioning that the attack was thought to have been carried out by about 10 or 12 terrorists, but I believe that is wrong—I believe that we will find that many more terrorists were involved. It might be worth dwelling for a moment on the British experience of this sort of thing. For what they were worth, my comments immediately afterwards were that we are not necessarily terribly well prepared to deal with this sort of attack. They were immediately shot down by a number of different individuals—I shall return to that in a moment—but we are not strangers to this form of attack inside this country.
It will have been forgotten, but in December 1989, 16 gunmen in an improvised armoured vehicle used automatic weapons, flame-throwers and rocket-propelled grenades to attack a Regular British Army post on the Fermanagh border. They drove off that Regular Army garrison—they were not from my regiment, I hasten to add—killing two of them and capturing a Regular British Army base. When I have said to police sources that it is possible that such an attack could take place, they have replied, "No, it won't, because they can't get the weaponry to operate inside this country." It is worth bearing in mind the fact that No. 10 Downing street was attacked with weapons that were much more powerful than their commercial equivalents.
How have we dealt with evolving terrorist tactics in the past? After the Mumbai attacks, a number of voices have been raised up in lamentation saying, "Actually, things are just fine." But are they? We must bear it in mind that not much more than 25 years ago, when the terrorist threat to our oil and gas fields in the North sea developed, we were pretty quick to develop the Comacchio group. I do not need to tell the Ministers sitting opposite of the excellence of that organisation, which is still in existence. It is based in Arbroath and, to the best of my knowledge, it has never had to fire a shot in anger. It is difficult to say what has stopped those targets being attacked, but I suggest that a powerful, capable, properly resourced and armed organisation such as the Comacchio group has probably deterred—deterrence being the important point—attacks on those sorts of targets.
I turn to the question of whether British terrorists or British-groomed terrorists have been involved in the Mumbai attack. I have no doubt that such an involvement will emerge, but two important questions need to be addressed. If these gunmen have recently been resident in this country or if the plot was partially or wholly hatched in this country, we need to be terribly alarmed. I do not believe that that necessarily was the case, but I am sure that there were British connections and that many of the individuals will prove to have been British residents, to have been born in this country or to have been British passport holders. If they are found to have been resident abroad for five or 10 years living, let us say, in Pakistan, it will be slightly less alarming, but it will none the less be very concerning.
This incident is highly likely to lead to further friction between India and Pakistan. Despite the fact that Lashkar-e-Taiba has been blamed for this attack, I have no doubt that the core planning of it was carried out by al-Qaeda. That is why rather than the targets just being Kashmiri, Indian or Pakistan-focused friction targets, British and American passport holders were targeted, as were Israelis and Jews, as has been mentioned. If that is not the hallmark of a core al-Qaeda operation, I do not know what is. Therefore, when we hark back to events such as the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, the subsequent arrests in Pakistan and the arrests there in the past few days, it is crucial to ensure that the tension between those two nuclear-armed countries is defused as far as possible. Those arrests must be seen to be proper arrests, and the individuals must continue to be kept under lock and key and, eventually, brought to justice.
I ask Ministers to think carefully about the prominence of LET inside this country and the implications of the enemy operations in India. We must consider just how significant and sinister this organisation is, and how far it has penetrated inside this country. For example, I bring the case of Mr. Rashid Rauf into focus. He was a citizen of Birmingham and a British passport holder, and he was heavily involved in LET in its initial stage. Later, he was a very highly placed al-Qaeda operative. I will not dwell on the rights or wrongs of his death. If terrorists are to be killed, well and good, but we should ensure that they have been tried in front of proper court of law and condemned by the appropriate authority.
I ask Ministers to think very carefully about British involvement in that style of operation. I understand the sensitivities involved, and how difficult it is to draw the boundaries correctly on such operations. However, if terrorism is to be defeated, it must be defeated within the letter of the law.
If we are reflecting on organisations such as LET, I ask the Secretary of State also to think carefully about Tablighi Jamaat. Although it has denied any involvement in terrorism, a leaked FBI memo, obtained by US media in 2005, raised fears that al-Qaeda was using membership of that organisation
"as cover...to network with other extremists in the US"— and in the UK. I accept the word of Tablighi Jamaat that it is not involved in terrorism, but—with the Olympic games in the not too distant future and its plans to develop a mosque alongside a maritime access route to the Olympic site—I would like Ministers' assurance that it is being examined, watched and scrutinised to ensure that its wholly legitimate aims are not in some way being suborned.
I wonder how well prepared we are for a similar attack. Why was it different? The answer is that it was not; it is just that more enemy gunmen were involved than we have seen for many years. Do we have the forces to deal with a similar incident? When I asked that question in the media 10 days ago, the Home Secretary and others immediately reassured me that we did. I was extremely interested to see an interview with the Mayor of London in which he said that a combination of the maritime support unit of the Metropolitan police and the Special Boat Service is poised and sufficiently numerous to deal with such an attack on the Thames. What about the Humber or the Severn? What about our other great rivers and maritime targets? Can Ministers honestly tell me that Milford Haven, for instance, which has been right at the top of the terrorist attack list for the past five years to the best of my knowledge—that comes straight from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—is properly defended against that style of attack?
We must clearly not become mesmerised merely by the maritime threat that our enemies pose.
As I have spoken already, I shall not say a great deal, but during the summer I was in China. Although I did not go to Beijing and see the Olympics, I was in Shanghai and in every underground station in every part of Shanghai that I visited bags were checked. Perhaps we need the same level of security as I saw in China to be applied throughout the UK in order for it to be successful.
The hon. Gentleman has no doubt heard me dilate on that point in the past. We must concentrate on not only London as being vulnerable to terrorism but on our provincial capitals. I ask Ministers to think very carefully, although I do not expect an answer today. We must provide cover not just from the maritime threat but from the airborne threat, too.
Interestingly, despite what we have heard about the preparation to counter the maritime threat, Lord West of Spithead, the Home Office Minister responsible for security, told Members of Parliament on the Select Committee on Defence recently that he was concerned that no overall body was responsible for monitoring maritime traffic around the country. He said that the Royal Navy is charged with keeping watch on larger vessels but that other organisations, such as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, local authorities and the police have varying degrees of responsibility over smaller boats. Whatever we like to think, if the Government's own Security Minister is pointing that out as a yawning gap in our security, I would seek reassurances from Ministers that we have addressed the subject as seriously as we can.
Lastly—I promise that this is my last point—we need a root-and-branch review of the special forces that we have available to deal with such a style of attack. There is no doubt that our SBS, our Special Air Service and the police specialist armed response units are first class. They have done sterling service not just in dealing with such style of attacks when they develop but, more importantly, in deterring them before they occur. However, by the time that the groups of two, three or four in which we have seen our enemies operating most recently start to operate in dozens, with two operational theatres being manned by our special forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and the crippling manpower problems faced by the Army at the moment, we will not have enough specialist forces developed, trained and easily deployed. The facilities are not available to get the forces that already exist quickly from one part of the country to another.
The bombings on the tube in 2005 caught us with our pants down. We were lucky that the numbers of dead and injured were not hideously worse. I implore Ministers to look carefully at the new style of attack and the new volume they come in before we are caught as badly in the future.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I was pleased to see the reference made in the Gracious Speech to the Government's commitment to securing a lasting settlement in the middle east peace process and it is on that subject that I shall concentrate.
Although the peace process was covered by just one sentence in the Gracious Speech, I believe that it is one of the most pressing issues facing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; it is certainly one of the most long standing. I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has invested considerable time and effort in it, not least through his most recent visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Syria and Lebanon. The recent visit of the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, and next week's Palestinian investment conference in London also demonstrate the Government's active and dedicated engagement with the peace process.
I firmly believe that the Israeli-Palestinian issue must be resolved if we are to achieve long-lasting peace and security, not just in Israel and a future Palestine, but in the wider middle east and even further afield. As parliamentary chair of the Labour Friends of Israel group, I will give my utmost support to efforts to achieve the Government's goal of a two-state solution that leads to a safe and secure Israel living side by side with a viable and democratic Palestinian state. There are huge obstacles ahead, however, and it is crucial that the political developments and changes in the US and Israel move the peace process forward. The EU and the Arab world must work together with all parties involved to bring about a sustainable peace in the region. There is a real risk of further violence if we simply stand still. I therefore urge the Government to continue to impress on the incoming US Administration the need to place this issue at the top of their foreign affairs agenda from day one.
It is important, however, that Members in all parts of the House recognise the progress made over the past 13 months. We need to be optimistic about the future. The Annapolis conference, held on
"vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations".
The deployment of recently trained Palestinian security forces in the west bank cities of Nablus, Jenin and Hebron to tackle attacks by militants was highlighted by the Quartet as an example of greater security co-operation between the Israelis and Palestinians. Those deployments form part of a security plan conceived by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the implementation of which involves co-operation among a number of partners, including Quartet envoy Tony Blair, US security envoy Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak. The project has been successful and there are now plans to send a similar force to Bethlehem by Christmas and to expand to further cities in the new year.
As well as security improvements, there has been significant economic progress in the west bank. The Israeli civil administration published figures for 2008 showing a 24 per cent. average increase in daily wages earned by Palestinians in the west bank and a 3 per cent. drop in unemployment. In addition, 2008 has seen a 35 per cent. increase in trade between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and there has been an 87 per cent. increase in tourism to Bethlehem since the beginning of the year, thanks to improved security conditions. The tourism boom that is expected to rise over Christmas serves shared Israeli-Palestinian interests, strengthening security in the region and bolstering the Palestinian economy.
I welcome the Israeli Government's announcement on
Sadly, the situation in Gaza does not reflect the progress being made in the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The current Israel-Hamas ceasefire that took effect on
I, too, was part of the delegation that went to Sderot in September. We all recognise the need to do more about the situation in Gaza, but the terror in which some Israeli people live in Sderot was obvious. Almost two thirds of people there have recognised post-traumatic stress disorder. I wonder whether my hon. Friend will say anything about that.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The situation is terrible for the people who live in that town. In the past month, Hamas and other militant groups have fired more than 200 rockets and mortars at Israel, resulting in a number of Israelis being injured. Militants based in Gaza have also fired Iranian-manufactured Katyusha rockets, which have a longer range of 20 km. About 200,000 civilians in Israel's southern communities of Ashkelon and Sderot and in the western Negev communities now live in daily fear of rocket attacks from Gaza.
Hamas and other militant groups continue to use the ceasefire to smuggle arms into Gaza through their illegal tunnels. On
The situation in Gaza is having a grave impact on the ordinary civilians living there. Israel has allowed increasing amounts of humanitarian supplies into Gaza since the ceasefire, but more needs to be delivered to meet the needs of all Gazans who are directly dependent on humanitarian assistance. The situation is not helped by the fact that militants continue to launch attacks against Gaza crossings. In the most recent of those attacks, on
The Annapolis peace process continues against the backdrop of Palestinian disunity. There is also uncertainty surrounding the possible end of President Abbas's presidential term in January 2009. Egyptian efforts to bring about Palestinian reconciliation are ongoing. We all want Palestinian unity, but it is important to ensure that any new Palestinian Government are committed to the Quartet principles of renouncing violence, recognising Israel and respecting existing peace agreements.
My focus today has been on the Annapolis peace process, but we should not underestimate the potential of the two further, complementary tracks to peace, both of which also came to the fore in the past year. First, the Arab peace initiative offers a real chance for a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for lands captured by Israel in 1967. That initiative can support the Annapolis peace process. It is vital that the API is reinvigorated by both the Israelis and the Arabs, with strong EU and US support. I would like to ask the British Government what discussions they have had, alongside current talks, with their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts to encourage their respective negotiating teams to consider the API as a framework for peace. Secondly, Israel and Syria have held four rounds of indirect talks, mediated by Turkey. There have been no further negotiations since the fourth round of talks held in Ankara in late June, but Prime Minister Olmert has expressed a strong interest in holding further talks.
Finally, I want to mention the destabilising players in region. Syria is not alone in supporting, funding and training terrorists operating in the middle east. Iran is sponsoring Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is rearming at an alarming rate in blatant contravention of UN Security Council resolution 1701. Iran is determined not to see a peace process occur and is deploying any means available to sabotage progress.
The middle east peace process is fragile and complex and is vulnerable to external attempts to disrupt it. If we miss the crucial window of opportunity that the Annapolis process offers us, as both the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary said, it will come at a painfully high cost to innocent civilians on both sides of the conflict. I commend the Government for their commitment to achieving a two-state solution, and I hope that that will actively continue, whatever challenges may lie ahead.
It is a feature of being fairly low down the parliamentary food chain that my remarks will be curtailed. It has been an interesting debate, with an opportunity to listen to some of those whom I respect most in the House, not least my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram, who is my neighbour, and Kate Hoey, who made a typically courageous speech on Zimbabwe.
This is an interesting time for defence. We know about the draw-down of force levels in Iraq. Despite it being a particularly bloody time in Afghanistan, there are interesting political development there. We hear stories that Mullah Omar, for example, is being invited by President Karzai to Kabul. We wait to see how that situation evolves. Who would have asked themselves in the early 1970s how long Operation Banner would continue in Northern Ireland? Would we honestly have said that we would be there for a further 35 years? I believe that the prevailing wisdom is right and that we will be in Afghanistan for a very long time, but who knows?
Is this not the time for a new strategic defence review? Many of us in the House would like nothing more than to see the armed forces substantially enlarged. We all live in the real world and know that there is nothing in the kitty for a much larger expansion of our armed forces in the next few years. When my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench talk about defence expenditure, Ministers huff and puff and attack us for not being specific about our financial commitments, but they know and their predecessors who were involved in the previous strategic defence review know that it is impossible from the Opposition Benches to give accurate estimates of the expenditure that one wants to achieve in defence. It is not possible through freedom of information trawls or written questions, for example, to find out why there are more than 20,000 people employed in defence procurement and similar areas.
I compliment the Government on the 1998 strategic defence review. I took another look at it the other day. It is a very good document, which described Britain's place in the world as it was seen at that time, and it tried to balance our understanding of where we in this country feel Britain should be with a resource commitment to our armed forces. Unfortunately, the resource commitment has since been fudged. As part of a future review, we need a close examination of procurement.
There are two prevailing and polarised views on procurement. One approach, voiced by one of my hon. Friends, whom I informed that I intended to mention his position, is that procurement has been wasteful and even corrupt. It has denied our servicemen on operations the equipment that they need. My hon. Friend and others would argue that it is focused on defence industrial profiles, perhaps in marginal seats, rather than on the equipment needs of our fighting soldiers, sailors and airmen. Those who hold that view argue that it is better to buy equipment off the peg.
The other approach is that procurement is complicated and it takes time to get it right. Weapons systems are complex. Those who take that view would argue that it is a strategic imperative to maintain a diverse defence and aerospace industrial base, and that British defence companies are good for our security and our balance of payments. They would also argue that it makes strategic sense to have long-term relationships with defence manufacturers. So, there are two clear certainties. I am always jealous of those who can be certain about anything in politics. There are certain things about which we can all be certain—I am sounding like Rumsfeld now—but for most of us, issues such as this are not black and white; there is no light and dark, but a large area of grey.
I believe that both the polarities that I have described are to a large extent right and to an extent wrong. Both arguments can select examples from recent years to cite in their own support. The "off the peg" fraternity, for example, will cite a number of shambolic experiences such as the Nimrod fiasco, which has cost more than £2.9 billion more than was originally predicted. On the other side of the argument, those who disagree with the "off the peg" option for complex military matériel will cite the case of the Boeing Chinook Mk III. That has been an absolute fiasco, given that the helicopters still sit in sheds somewhere while people try to sort out the software, which cannot work with our systems.
I hope that a new Conservative Government will ignore any certainties from the past and develop a clear vision for procurement, first by learning from the experiences of urgent operational requirements. Let us face it, those are fairly simple pieces of military kit; a mine-proof vehicle is relatively simple compared with a Chinook helicopter. The good news about urgent operational requirements is the speed with which they can be delivered to the front line. Of course, Ministers do not talk about the fact that a large proportion of the cost is clawed back from the core defence budget in subsequent years.
Secondly, we have to accept that there is a strategic imperative of maintaining relationships and working a skills base across a domestic aerospace and defence industry. There are good reasons for that; there are our own defence needs and there are the wider advantages of a vibrant aerospace and defence industrial base and the benefit that it gives to our balance of payments and employment.
We also need to consider the third issue, which is to do with the speed at which we provide equipment from start to finish. In military jargon, we talk about the "flash to bang" time. As a soldier, I always found that bizarre. It was supposed to be the method that we used to measure the distance that we were from an atomic device that was going off; I never thought that we would be in much of a position to measure that in the first place. The "flash to bang" time for the delivery of matériel to our armed forces has been astonishingly long, and that should be one of the core things that we seek to change in future.
Fourthly, we should consider upgrades. Extending the end-of-life date for platforms is extremely important. We can learn from the experiences of the Tornado; the improvements made by British Aerospace on the targeting pod and the complexity of electronic warfare systems can give much extended life. As has been mentioned, the five criteria applied to procurement are capability, affordability, adaptability, interoperability and exportability. I shall talk about the latter soon, but I would add one more: rapidity, which is important.
I draw Ministers' attention to an article in Jane's Defence Weekly this week. It discusses the need to find a means of reigniting economic growth across western economies. It says:
"Such an opportunity has already been missed in the UK, where the treasury's
It goes on to describe the disappointment in the defence sector. There have been leaks in the Financial Times about cuts to various projects, and that is extremely worrying. Our defence exports are a wonderful way of enhancing our economy and supporting British industry at this time. That makes all the more crazy the decision taken about 18 months ago to close down the Defence Export Services Organisation and replace it with a new organisation based within UK Trade and Investment.
That decision by the Prime Minister, which was taken in his first few days in office, possibly with the encouragement of Baroness Vadera, has destroyed one of the best examples of Government-industry co-operation. In the defence industry, there is a £55,000 per employee added value element to what they do. That is a fantastic earner for our country. I cannot understand why the decision was taken. DESO was a first-class organisation. We have lost a lot of the people who were fundamental to the success of our defence industry, and the new organisation, whatever its merits—I applaud the people who are involved with it—will not be as good. The good news is that it is portable, and as soon as possible it should be transferred back into the remit of the Ministry of Defence, where it can do Government-to-Government sales and people will want to work with it to achieve that.
The Prime Minister's decision has satisfied neither side. For all the celebrations among the anti-arms trade people, it did not satisfy them because they see that there is still an organisation in Government; and it certainly did not satisfy the defence industry. I hope that we can encourage the people who are still working in the organisation to hang on in there and assure them that they will be valued by a future Government, when they can return to the Ministry of Defence and we can continue with a successful defence industry that can work well for jobs in this country, for our balance of payments and for the future prosperity of us all.
It is a pleasure to be able to contribute to this debate. I intend to be brief because I know that other Members wish to speak.
I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary say that he was determined to continue to support our troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I wish to focus my comments on one particular issue—the Government's decision to withdraw the Harrier from Afghanistan and replace it with the Tornado from
Following on from a debate in Westminster Hall, I would like to construct an argument that is based purely on factual answers that I have received to parliamentary questions. Before I do that, I would like to say through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, how disappointing it has been to receive some of those answers from the Ministry of Defence. In the past 10 days alone, we have had to correct the parliamentary record on three occasions. When I first asked whether the Harrier had served in Operation Telic, I was told that it never had, and then, as a result of the answer to Question 239716, we discovered that it had. I asked how much has been spent on operational requirements for the Harrier in Afghanistan, and following the answer to Question 238824, we had to correct the parliamentary record. I asked how many Harrier pilots had served in Afghanistan, and we had to correct the parliamentary record again. I am afraid to have to say to the Minister that I fear that even the corrections to the parliamentary record will have to be corrected in the next few days.
"In some ways the Tornado brings capabilities that the Harrier does not, such as the 27 mm cannon and the new RAPTOR imaging system—the reconnaissance airborne pod Tornado—which has been used very effectively in Iraq and, I am told, will be in Afghanistan as well."—[ Hansard, Westminster Hall, 19 November 2008; Vol. 483, c. 95WH.]
That is factually incorrect, as we discovered in the answer to Question 241200 that the RAPTOR imaging system will not be fitted to aircraft deployed to Afghanistan. If Ministers and hon. Members are being given misinformation and the parliamentary record is having to be corrected on such a regular basis, how can we even begin to make these decisions? It is pretty worrying.
Perhaps we start at a point where we do agree, which is that there were initially concerns that the Harrier's continued operation in Afghanistan would affect its airframe life. I am delighted that that was put to rest in the letter to me from the Under-Secretary after the debate. It appears that the operations in Afghanistan are less of a strain on the Harrier airframe than training for peace in the UK.
From a financial perspective, that decision seems to make absolutely no sense. During the past few years, we have spent £885 million on upgrading the Harrier to its current performance level in Afghanistan. The upgrade to capability E—an extra capability for Afghanistan—cost £728 million. The new Mk 107 engine cost £122 million. Urgent operational requirements for the Harrier in Afghanistan cost £45 million. The total is £885 million, with annual running costs of £20 million. According to the answer to Question 238825 on
The Royal Air Force has relied on claims that harmony guidelines are not being met. Fascinatingly, I have been trying to get information on this matter out of the Ministry of Defence for some time. Back on
It has taken me three weeks to establish what the harmony guidelines are. We end up with a complicated picture, as they are different for each of the services. They are different for formed units and for individuals. For example, the Royal Navy sets separated service at a maximum of 660 days in a three-year period. How many Royal Navy Harrier pilots have been away for 660 days in the past three years? I doubt that any have been. The RAF has a separated service planning target of 280 days in a 24-month rolling period. How many RAF Harrier pilots have been away for that period? I doubt that many have. As a serving soldier, I looked at my pay statement last week; in the bottom right-hand corner it tells me exactly how many longer separated service allowance days I have had in the past three years. That is on my pay statement; surely it must be on individual statements throughout the armed forces. If I were in the RAF at the moment, at Cottesmore, knowing that that information was held at a squadron level, I would try to choose a 20-month period which has a minimum number of Royal Navy Harrier pilots, because its harmony guidelines are far lower, and maximises the number of RAF pilots to try and prove the argument. Harmony guidelines are a bit of a red herring in this argument.
We have had some debate about the capability of the two airframes. I will not go into detail on that, but we have already seen from the answer to parliamentary Question 240495 that Tornado will not be deploying with RAPTOR, as the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for North Durham, said it would. We also discovered in the answer to parliamentary Question 239740 that it will be unable to carry the Paveway 4 missile—the great new weapon that is supposed to help with proportionality. It will, however, be able to do so in the future once the urgent operational requirements are complete. Perhaps that is the crucial part of the argument.
There is now some acceptance, partly through parliamentary questions that have not been answered, that there will be a difference between the initial operating capability of the Tornado when it first goes to theatre on
My question is simple: given that there is now an acceptance that there will be a different capability, why can we simply not delay the deployment of Tornado until its final operating capability is met? That would ensure that the troops on the ground received the same level of support as they do today.
There are no arguments against harmony. Chinook pilots currently go for two, four or five months, so why is
These are important matters and I am concerned that the main reason they are not being dealt with now is to save embarrassment, careers and the Royal Air Force's face instead of ensuring that we get maximum protection and support to our troops on the ground. There is risk and that is accepted; Ministers have accepted that there is a risk in sending Tornado, but it is their job to judge whether that risk is acceptable. If we discover in time that they have taken that risk, which the parliamentary answers I have received have shown is unacceptable and unnecessary, and we discover that troops have been injured or—God forbid—killed, it will be tragic, and I, personally, will be determined to try to hold the people who took that decision to account.
I would like to begin by paying tribute to the staff who work in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, many of whom work in difficult environments. There has had to be a significant increase in expenditure on security for embassies, high commissions and posts around the world. During my time on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and when I have visited posts around the world, those people have diligently helped and co-operated with Members from all parties. We ought to pay tribute to them in this debate.
As well as the increase in expenditure on security, one of the problems that the FCO faces is the fact that it pays the international subscriptions to many international organisations on behalf of the United Kingdom as a whole. At a time of fluctuating exchange rates, that places a particular burden on its budget. I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government will recognise that. I have never understood why subscriptions to the United Nations come out of the Foreign Office's budget, yet, from one year to the next, those subscriptions in UK pound terms can vary significantly because they are paid in US dollars. I believe—and I think many Members would agree if they looked at it objectively—that there is a case for having an earmarked discrete UK subscription to international organisations, which should not come out of the budgets of individual Departments.
There has been a wide-ranging debate, but, unfortunately, I have been chairing a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in which the Foreign Secretary has been talking about the European Council meeting. I was therefore not in the Chamber for most of the debate, apart from the opening speeches. During this century, there will be a significant change in the world's power centres. The centre of economic and political gravity is moving to Asia and the focus of the incoming US President Obama will, I believe, be much more on the Pacific than on the Atlantic. We need to recognise that that will have global consequences.
In his opening remarks, the Foreign Secretary referred to reform of the international institutions and the United Nations. We also need to look at other international organisations, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We have already seen the inception of the G20, but there will be other consequences over coming decades.
It is increasingly important that we recognise that the values that we espouse, which were set out in the UN system that was developed in the 1940s—today is the anniversary of the UN universal declaration of human rights—are not universally unchallenged. There is a view in some parts of the world that human rights are not something that we should pursue. There will be a debate in Westminster Hall next week in which I shall be able to say more about that, but it is fundamental that we hold true to those universal values and that we continue to work for them throughout the UN system.
In the past year the Foreign Affairs Committee has published "Global Security: Russia", "Global Security: Iran" and "Global Security: Japan and Korea", as well as reports on human rights and—I pay tribute to the Foreign Office's quick response on this one—the overseas territories. The overseas territories did not feature in the opening speeches in this debate, but one of our recommendations was that there should be a commission of inquiry into the allegations of corruption and other problems in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The FCO responded very quickly to our report and recommendations. That commission of inquiry is now in existence and is due to report early next year. That is an example of the Government responding to Select Committees in the manner that they should. When Select Committees make serious recommendations, they should be responded to. I am pleased that in our case the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was quick to respond.
I am conscious of the lack of time, so I want to focus on one final matter. Reference has been made in various contributions to the appalling terrorist acts in Mumbai. Those attacks were not just directed at the Government of India or intended to damage relations between Pakistan and India, but were directed at the British-Indian and British-Pakistani communities and at good community relations in this country. As we approach the celebration of Eid and the many other cultural events and activities throughout the different communities in this country, including in my constituency, people have an opportunity to renew their commitment to harmonious relations among all the communities, of all faiths and cultures in this country.
We in Britain have an important historic association with India and Pakistan and we have ongoing family, cultural and economic links with that part of the world. It is tragic that the relations between Indians and Pakistanis in the UK should be much better than the contacts between those two countries. Anybody who has been to the Wagah crossing in the Punjab, as the Foreign Affairs Committee did two years ago, and passed from the Indian to the Pakistani side will know how inefficient that border is. It is crazy: people bearing goods take them off their heads on one side, so that they can be transferred to the heads of other people to be carried on the other side. I am talking about an international border.
One of the good things about what President Zardari of Pakistan said just 10 days before the terrorist attacks was that there is a need for economic co-operation between India and Pakistan. That is vital. As well as trying to ensure co-operation in combating terrorism and encouraging the European Union and our own country, we should be encouraging economic and human contacts on a much greater scale between the countries of the India-Pakistan region. Together they have a common interest in combating terrorism and in building human contacts and political development against the extremists.
Everyone in the House will agree that, when he becomes President, President-elect Obama will find that he has the biggest in-tray since Harry Truman's. He will have to deal with the continued violence of Islamist fundamentalists, the fragility of the situation in Iraq and the worrying position in Afghanistan, as well as the instability in Pakistan and the fear in India and beyond, given the threats that they face. He will find a resurgent Russia, with the complications of the recent events in Georgia, and an Iran on the verge of becoming a nuclear weapons state. All those matters were addressed in today's extremely interesting debate, during excellent contributions from both sides of the House.
I shall begin by discussing Islamist fundamentalism, which we must all accept is the existential threat of our age. There have been different threats in the past, including the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s and the communism of the cold war, and we face an equally grave threat today, which we must take equally seriously. This threat undermines the stability of an increasing number of states and we will have to find the strength to confront it politically, militarily and economically. We have to accept, however much it pains us to do so, that there are those out there who hate us because of who we are and not just because of what we do.
As my hon. Friend Patrick Mercer said, this will be a long struggle, which will require us to find a great deal of moral courage. We will need resolve and resilience from our people and our politicians and we will have to make assets available as necessary. In terms of foreign policy, we will need to receive much more vocal support from moderate Muslim states if we are genuinely to make a difference in this battle. Those who think that they can get away with silence in the face of the fundamentalist threat need to remember that if we feed terror, it simply gets more hungry.
As something of a counterbalance, however, we must also accept—and point out at every possible opportunity—that Islam and Islamism are not synonymous, even though that is what the extremists want us to believe as they prosecute the conflict according to their criteria and on their terms. I had the privilege at the weekend of meeting and listening to the historian Bernard Lewis. He made an interesting point when he said that Nazism was undoubtedly German, but there was a Germany before Nazism, a Germany outside Nazism and, triumphantly, a Germany after Nazism. We have to start building bridges to moderate Islam, to get it to recognise that there is another way and that there has to be a potential for well-being, stability, security and prosperity if we are to deal with the threat within society at present.
There will always be new challenges. My hon. Friend Mr. Walter talked about Somalia. It has been pointed out recently that only 0.14 per cent. of all shipping in the Gulf of Aden is subjected to piracy, but the point is that it is not the threat that we face now that we need to deal with, but the threat that we might face in the future if we show inaction. Piracy is turning out to be a very nicely lucrative business. If we consider the combination of the profits made through piracy and what is now happening in a country such as Somalia, which is utterly lawless, we can imagine all the prospective benefits for organisations such as al-Qaeda and related groups. The mistakes that we made after the defeat of Russia in Afghanistan are all too clear. We did not invest in the long-term security and stability of the state, and the lack of adequate institutions made it all the easier for it to become a breeding ground for extremism and terror. We must not allow that to happen in Somalia or any other states today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newark also mentioned what had happened in Mumbai. I am always loth to use the term "al-Qaeda", because there is a danger of its becoming a brand, but the events in Mumbai, which included the targeting of US citizens, British citizens and Jewish citizens, certainly bear all the hallmarks of those who are sympathetic to the aims of al-Qaeda. No state can disengage from this, because no state is currently safe.
My hon. Friend was right to point to our domestic, maritime and airborne security fragilities, but there is an element in the broader debate to which we must always be sensitive—the need to find ways of diminishing the forces that strengthen radicalism at home or abroad. That is the key to our long-term success. When we boil it down, we find that people who have nothing have nothing to lose, and people who have nothing to lose are much more willing to gamble with it. When we give people security and prosperity, we get some leverage for the first time and deny a recruiting ground to the men of terror. When we are discussing Afghanistan and other areas, it is important to remember that economics play a very important part in long-term stability and the defeat of terrorism.
A number of contributions dealt with Zimbabwe and the soul-searching about what we should do there. Should we impose sanctions? They might strike a fatal blow to the regime, but at what cost to the rest of the citizens? It was an interesting debate and the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary pointed out that the arguments were quite well balanced, but these arguments are true in any conflict. They were true in Iraq.
As several Members pointed out and as I have experienced myself, it is now possible to go to Basra without body armour. It is possible to be caught in a traffic jam, as I was, because of the number of people going shopping, showing that they have suddenly forgotten about security as the No. 1 issue and can take part in and appreciate the things that we so often take for granted. Those freedoms never come at zero cost: there is a price—sometimes a terrible price—that has to be paid for the end of tyranny and despotism and for people to be able to live in freedom and shape their own destinies.
A key question about what happened in Iraq is why the surge was successful. There has been a lot of discussion, but perhaps not very much analysis, about that. The fact about the surge that is often overlooked is that it was not done just to put boots on the ground; it was done in specific support of a specific political objective. It took place to provide support at a time when the policy was to separate the reconcilables and the irreconcilables, the Sunni community and al-Qaeda. The US surge and associated increase in numbers allowed troops to move out of their large forward operating bases to secure the people where they lived, in their own communities. Many were embedded with small units of the Iraqi army and were able to hold on to areas once they were cleared. Ultimately, that provided Prime Minister Maliki and his Government with sufficient confidence and feelings of strength to take on the Shi'a militias that had held up so much for so long.
We will be able to leave Iraq in a much more stable state when, as we understand from the press, we start to depart from the end of March next year. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will, for the sake of clarity, confirm this evening that we are to start to leave at the end of March and will be out by June. We should hold our heads high about the contribution of the UK and our armed forces to what is ultimately a much more stable situation in that country.
Many people have said that what we need now is a surge in Afghanistan, as though we can read across directly from one situation to the other. However, for a start, Iraq was about reconstruction, while Afghanistan is about construction. There was a large middle class in Iraq, but there is no middle class to provide a degree of stability in Afghanistan.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said today, Conservative Members' support for the Government's policies for Afghanistan has been acknowledged by Ministers on a number of occasions. However, I echo what he said earlier—that any requests for more UK troops must take into account the overstretch in our forces and the disproportionate contribution we are already making, especially in southern Afghanistan. If more troops are to be deployed there, it must be in support of a specific political process and we must have a proportionate increase in our assets to match our increase in the number of troops. Real pressure must be placed on the Afghan Government not to block in any way what the international community is trying to achieve, and we must have a greater effort by NATO allies in burden sharing in Afghanistan.
As my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram and Derek Twigg said today, we need clarity in the strategies that we pursue because at the moment it is hard to know how we will know when we have been successful. It is hard to know what the benchmarks are to tell us when we are getting things right, when we are failing to make real progress and what our exit strategy should be. As we said in our last defence debate, when we talk about strategy in Afghanistan, the question is which strategy—the UN strategy, the NATO strategy, the Afghan Government strategy, the American strategy or the reconstruction strategy? They are not all tied together in a coherent format.
We know that some things are going much better than others. The Afghan national army is doing relatively well. We are making good progress and the British armed forces have done a great deal to encourage that. However, as the Foreign Secretary said, the same cannot be said of the police force in Afghanistan. We need to ask why not. Why is it that some things have made better progress than others? Where does the blame lie and, far more important, how can we put it right? As my hon. Friend Mr. Lancaster said, we have to ensure that we have the right equipment at all times to give support to our forces. I am sure that the whole House will look forward to the publication of the report that he discussed.
The subject of Iran was raised a number of times. The primary question for the international community is whether it finds the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran acceptable. We have set out three reasons why we believe that the prospect is unacceptable. The first is the nature of the regime and its leadership, not least its threat to Israel's very existence. The second is Iran's record in exporting terror to other parts of the region. Adding fissile material to that situation would be utterly irresponsible. The third is that if Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state, others in the region will want to join the nuclear club. I was recently in Turkey, where it was made clear to me that if Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state, so will Turkey, and so will Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Do we really want a new nuclear arms race in the world's most unstable region?
If we are to influence Iran's behaviour, we must have international solidarity on matters such as sanctions. We will require the co-operation of countries such as Russia, yet Prime Minister Putin was recently reported as saying that Russia is aware of what Europe is still doing in Iran and that it will not hand over this valuable market to Europe. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague said, President-elect Obama would be in a much stronger position if there was international unity, yet Europe is failing to show resolution where it matters. As he said, there is no ban yet on European investment in Iranian oil and gas fields and no ban on Europe-wide export credit guarantees, which subsidise trade with Iran. If we want security, we cannot say one thing and do another.
My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind made a passionate speech about the need for multilateral disarmament. It is fair to say that with bipartisan support, the United Kingdom's approach is within the spirit and the letter of the non-proliferation treaty because our new nuclear deterrent will be at a lower warhead level than is currently the case. We are making our contribution; others must do the same. However, his speech echoed other contributions about the need for a new framework for non-proliferation. We will be in a world where more countries will want access to civil nuclear power. At the very least, we will need to be able to control the fuel cycle, with new structures and safeguards, if that is not to become a new proliferation problem.
A number of hon. Members talked about the relationship between the EU and NATO. NATO remains the cornerstone of our security. There can be a role for the EU in defence, but it must be as a delivery mechanism within NATO policy, not in conflict with NATO. It should do things that NATO cannot or will not do—elements of nation-building, and peacekeeping that is complementary to NATO's actions, not in competition with them—and have additional resources, rather than diverting scarce resources. Far too few members of NATO pay what they are supposed to in terms of their share of GDP. In fact, if all NATO members paid 2 per cent. of their GDP, we would have $67 billion extra for NATO defence spending every year. That is a considerable sum.
We heard about piracy. Why is it that some hon. Members—a couple of my hon. Friends alluded to this—chose not to reinforce the Combined Task Force 150 mission or the NATO mission and chose to fly the EU flag instead? It smacks of politics first and piracy second.
Of course, everything depends on the capability of our armed forces. We are still operating on 1998 defence planning assumptions. We need a strategic defence review. The Ministry of Defence still has a mismatch between commitments and resources. We are now told that there will be further cuts or delays to programmes, but on what basis? Against what strategic analysis? The suspicion is that the present Government have not the will to fund fully what the Government themselves, in the strategic defence review, said was necessary for our national security. As my hon. Friend Mr. Benyon pointed out, there is a danger that the use of urgent operational requirements will destabilise the procurement budget. We must defend our defence exports, because that is how we can protect British defence jobs in the long term.
Let me end with a tribute to our armed forces, their families and the civilians who contribute to our country's safety. Whether Members visit Iraq, the Gulf or Afghanistan, they will observe that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines—all the men and women in our armed forces—show courage, dedication and professionalism. Those men and women have a right to expect the Government of the day, of whatever colour, to maximise the success of a mission, and to do all that they can to minimise the risk to them. If they are injured, they will be looked after properly; if they are killed, their families will be looked after properly; and if they leave the armed forces, they will be valued as veterans who have made sacrifices for the country. That is the covenant. It is the ultimate underpinning of our security in this country, and if it is broken, all of us will be the losers.
Let me begin by picking up the theme and the tone of the final comments of Dr. Fox, which I thought were excellent. I am afraid it is true that there are many things in the House that divide us, but I hope there is one thing that should always unite us: the respect and admiration that we should demonstrate for those who serve in Her Majesty's armed forces.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have set out a comprehensive range of measures that will go a significant way towards ensuring that the military covenant he described is honoured and fully respected. The 40 separate recommendations set out in the summer by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Des Browne, represent a significant improvement in the range of support and help that we provide both for those who are currently serving and for those who have left the service of the Queen. I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman said: I think it incumbent on us to attach the highest priority to that.
It is a privilege to respond to what I think has been an excellent debate, featuring outstanding contributions from Members on both sides of the House. During the 13 minutes available to me, I shall do my best to deal with all the issues that have been raised.
On defence policy, Members on both sides of the House raised the issues of nuclear proliferation and current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The subject of defence procurement arose several times, and Patrick Mercer—who, sadly, is not present now—raised some important questions relating to civil contingency planning. I intend to deal with all those comments. On foreign policy, Members raised the issues of Georgia and Ukraine, Zimbabwe, the role of the European Union in security and defence policy and the wider issues of terrorism, Iran and the middle east.
I now have 12 minutes in which to deal with all those points. Let me begin with the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend Dr. Howells at the beginning of the debate. He offered us the benefit of his extensive experience in the Foreign Office, and contributed rich insights to the debate on Afghanistan. The hon. Member for Woodspring queried our strategy in Afghanistan, but I believe that we have the right strategy. I believe that we have a genuinely comprehensive framework of policy which covers security issues and the political, social and economic development agenda.
As has been widely observed both in the House and outside, we have never argued that the only solution to the enormous problems of Afghanistan lies in the hands or the gift of the military alone. That is palpably not true. My personal view—and the strong view of the Government—is that if we desire, as we all do, to make progress in other areas, we must act according to what we know both instinctively and on the basis of precedent and evidence. If we are to sustain a sensible solution to the risk of terrorism, we must develop stable and secure democratic institutions and effective governance. We must deal with the corrosive effect of corruption and crime, and we must be able to develop the instruments, policy and tools that will help us to sustain the progress that we have made. That is what we are trying to do in Afghanistan; but if we are criticised for our lack of progress, I know that we can all agree that we would like to do more in all those areas.
However, the essential precondition for success in Afghanistan is that there be improvements in security. That is a fundamental issue, because everything else depends on it. That is not to say that we should not do everything we can to develop reconciliation approaches; we should do so. That is in my view an Afghan lead—the Afghan Government must be able to take the initiative in that. We have to be able to guarantee greater security in every part of Afghanistan, not only in Helmand and the south, but in the east, north and west as well. There is more progress to be made in all those areas, but my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd was right to address the subject in the way he did.
The issue of nuclear proliferation was raised by several Members, including Sir Malcolm Rifkind and my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, and, towards the end of his remarks, by Mr. Davey. It is true that with the non-proliferation treaty review conference coming up in 2010 we have an opportunity to make some headway and progress. We have proposed initiatives covering the treaty's three main pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The Government are doing all they can to support a successful outcome to the NPT review, and it is important that we make progress, but I strongly agreed with the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea when he described nuclear disarmament as essentially a multilateral process; it must be so.
I took issue—as I have often done—with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North in his approach to these matters. I also take issue with what he said about the nuclear White Paper. He said that we were planning an expansion of the Trident fleet. As he knows, that is not the Government's policy. We are taking the necessary measures now to prepare for the need for an eventual replacement of the current Vanguard class, but we are doing so on a prudent basis and it remains a minimum nuclear deterrent.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton got it wrong, too. He described our decision to replace the nuclear deterrent as premature. That is fundamentally wrong. We set out in the nuclear White Paper a clear time scale for the replacement and the reasons why it is necessary. If he does not agree with the time scale, which represents the best advice we have received from the military, he and his party are countenancing something that should not be countenanced: a gap in the deterrence capability of the UK.
I can give that assurance. I thought I recently answered a parliamentary question on that from my hon. Friend. We made it clear in the nuclear White Paper that we will come back to this House to have a vote on that if and when the need arises.
I have only eight minutes left now, so I am running out of time as I still have 78 issues to respond to. Let me end my comments on nuclear proliferation with the following remarks. The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea has had responsibility for this policy, and I have a great deal of respect for his judgment on these matters. He will know that when Ministers need to make decisions about nuclear deterrence, they are not thinking about the next two, three or five years, but have to take into account the next 40 or 50 years. That is the lifetime of the weapons system that we are designing and, as Members will know when they look at the detail of the White Paper, the new fleet will begin to come into service from about 2024 onwards. We are therefore thinking about a time frame that covers up to the middle of this century. Of course, we would all welcome a world free of nuclear weapons, because that is the sane and, it is to be hoped, it will be the happy outcome of all these discussions, but we must defend ourselves. We must take a reasonable judgment against risk. We know perfectly clearly that others are rearming as well, and the Government are not prepared to deny future generations the benefit and security that current generations have enjoyed from the nuclear deterrent.
My hon. Friend Derek Twigg made an excellent speech, and I want to pay tribute to him for the work he did in the Ministry of Defence and also to remind him of the very high regard in which he is held. He made the case that we have made significant improvements in relation to equipment. That is true and it needs to be put on the record. Members who have been to Afghanistan and Iraq will have heard first hand from troops on the ground that they have never felt better equipped and that they feel they have the right kit with which to do the difficult and dangerous job we ask them to do.
A great deal more work needs to be done on procurement, and Mr. Benyon raised a number of interesting issues in that context. Tomorrow, we shall set out some ways in which we intend to improve value for money in defence procurement and so on. Although I accept that more work needs to be done in that area, we must ensure that a balanced range of kit is available to our armed forces. It must allow them to deal not just with what is likely to be the most realistic threat—disputes not between states but within states, given that there are failing states and given the rise of terrorism—because we will also still have to plan, prepare and equip our forces for a different range of missions that could include, heaven forbid, more traditional forms of inter-state warfare. That is a difficult balance to get right. Every Secretary of State in every country in the world wrestles with these issues, but it is right that we try to strike the right balance on all these arguments.
My hon. Friend Kate Hoey raised the situation in Zimbabwe, and I praise the work that she has done in all the areas that that involves. We are all seriously concerned about the deepening humanitarian crisis in that country. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and others are working to help contain the cholera outbreak, and we will continue to do all we can to address the basic needs of Zimbabwe's very long-suffering people. The dire situation is clearly the result of a chronic and wilful failure of social, economic and political will, and we continue to engage states in the region. We welcome the contribution of those, such as Kenya and Botswana, that have been willing to speak out against the atrocities that the Mugabe regime is inflicting on its own people.
Mr. Walter raised the interesting question of the relationship between the European Union and the European security and defence policy, and I very much welcome what he had to say. I am not sure that Dr. Fox would have been with him on everything that he said about the ESDP. I have said before—I stand by these remarks—that we should take a positive and pragmatic view of the ESDP. That is very much what is enshrined in the St. Malo agreements.
Both hon. Members raised a specific question about the need for the various anti-piracy missions off Somalia. It might be helpful if I were to tell them that the Combined Task Force 150 mission, to which several hon. Members referred, is primarily a counter-terrorism mission and it flies its flag under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom. As they will know, that means that some member states in NATO will not take part in it. The NATO mission itself, to which both hon. Members referred, is due to end this month, and its focus is very much on providing escorts for the World Food Programme ships. The ESDP mission is not a duplication; it is a necessary addition and complementary to the missions that are dealing with this growing threat. Those who want to sniff at the ESDP mission display less of an appreciation of the reality on the ground and more of a traditional form of animosity to anything that flies the European Union banner. I think that that is a serious error and we should not participate in making it.
My hon. Friend Mr. Hendrick made a number of thoughtful comments on Africa and the role of the European Union in the continent. I suspect that his points are more for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to develop and pick up in future debates.
The hon. Member for Newark spoke about the terrorist atrocity in Mumbai and asked about contingency planning in the United Kingdom. We plan for a range of possible threats, and I know that hon. Members will not want me to go into the detail of all of that. I can say to the hon. Gentleman and others that we have specifically developed plans to protect the UK's vital national infrastructure, and I believe those plans to be in a very good state. It is obviously the case, too, that any such counter-terrorism measures need to be based first and foremost on a strong intelligence-led approach, and that is how we always try to proceed.
My hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne emphasised the importance of progress towards a long-term peace agreement in the middle east, and I think we can all agree with him on that.
I think that I have referred to most of the comments made by the hon. Member for Newbury, who, I know, served in the Royal Green Jackets. That very fine regiment is now part of The Rifles and we all celebrate their role today. I think he is wrong about the Defence Export Services Organisation; I think it would be a waste of time and money to rearrange the deckchairs yet again. If he were to talk to industry, he would find that it is very supportive of the way in which the organisation is working. The combined mission of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary and me is to ensure that people in industry would not feel the difference in relation to this change of structure and organisation. Defence exports had their best ever year last year and they sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs right across the country; it is my strong desire to ensure that they do so.
Mr. Lancaster raised his concerns about the deployment of the Tornado in Operation Telic. I know that he has tabled a very large number of questions—
The debate stood adjourned (
Ordered, That the debate be resumed tomorrow.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that the Secretary of State was short of time tonight, but in his response he indicated that the Government would make several announcements tomorrow about the procurement programme. May I suggest that, given we were not able to discuss those tonight, an oral statement would be in order tomorrow?