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House of Commons

Friday 27 November 1998

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]


Road Traffic (NHS Charges)

Mr. Secretary Dobson, supported by Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Dewar, Mr. Secretary Robertson, Mr. Secretary Michael and Mr. John Hutton, presented a Bill to make provision about the recovery from insurers and certain other persons of charges in connection with the treatment of road traffic casualties in national health service, and certain other, hospitals; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 30 November, and to be printed [Bill 3].

European Parliamentary Elections

Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Secretary Cook, Mr. Secretary Dewar, Secretary Marjorie Mowlam, Mr. Secretary Michael and Mr. George Howarth, presented a Bill to amend the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 so as to alter the method used in Great Britain for electing Members of the European Parliament; to make other amendments of enactments relating to the election of Members of the European Parliament; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 30 November, and to be printed [Bill 4].


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 107 (Welsh Grand Committee) (matters relating exclusively to Wales)),

Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Fourth Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [24 November],

Question again proposed.

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Foreign Affairs and Defence

9.34 am

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): In the week of the previous Queen's Speech, I set out a new mission statement for our foreign policy. In this, the second Queen's Speech of the Parliament, I should like to measure Britain's standing in the world today against three of the objectives that I set out in that mission statement: first, to ensure the security of the United Kingdom; secondly, to promote the prosperity of the United Kingdom; and, thirdly, to secure respect for our values of human rights, civil liberties and democracy.

I begin, logically, with security. There is no higher national interest for our foreign policy than the promotion of our national security. In the context of international security, no nation can be an island--not even such a distinguished island state as Britain. That is why peace for our people is best guaranteed by fostering our alliances with other nations and by promoting international stability.

I am pleased to say that our alliances are in good shape. In the lifetime of the new parliamentary Session, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will expand to include three new members. Countries that, only a decade ago, were potential adversaries within the Warsaw pact, within a few months will be our firm allies as fellow members of NATO.

NATO is a unique partnership, spanning two continents separated by the Atlantic, but joined by common interests. More than any other member, Britain is both a European and an Atlantic state.

At the recent meeting in Portschach, the Prime Minister took the lead in Europe in launching a debate on how we can improve European capacity for effective and timely decisions on security and, equally important, on how we can improve the European capability to deliver an effective contribution wherever the stability of our continent is under threat. That British initiative has been welcomed with great interest by other European states, and, throughout this Session of Parliament, Britain will take a leading role in the debate that we have started.

Our relations with the two American members of the Atlantic alliance have never been in better shape. There is particular appreciation in Canada of the prominent role that Britain played in securing European and international support for the Ottawa convention. All hon. Members can share the national pride that Britain was in the front rank in banning landmines.

Britain's alliance with the United States has, of course, been the anchor of our security for half a century. Today, that alliance is stronger than ever, particularly because of the close working relationship and mutual respect of President Clinton and our Prime Minister. We have seen the importance of that relationship in the progress that has been made towards peace in Northern Ireland, which was boosted by the staunch support and personal interest of President Clinton.

We have seen the relationship's importance in the former Yugoslavia, where the US and Britain are the two leading contributors to the stabilisation force in Bosnia, and were close partners in securing the NATO threat that obliged President Milosevic to back down in Kosovo.

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Most recently, we have seen the value of our partnership in the way in which our combined forces obliged Saddam Hussein to agree to the return of United Nations inspectors.

A dominant theme in the foreign policy of the past year has been the necessity of backing diplomacy with the credible threat of force against those who challenge international stability. Both in Kosovo and in Iraq, that twin-track approach has been successful in securing agreement. However, a necessary feature of agreements obtained by the threat of force is that they are likely to be implemented only if we demonstrate our continuing resolve.

In relation to Iraq, the threat of force came very close to being the use of force. Both President Clinton and the Prime Minister had authorised air strikes to be made. The threat of force was certainly credible to Saddam Hussein. He had thought that we were bluffing, but he realised that he was wrong. When he grasped how serious we were, he was desperate to avert military action.

In the course of that Saturday two weeks ago, the fax machines between Baghdad and the United Nations were in overdrive. Not only did we receive the initial commitment to allow the UN special commission to resume inspections, but, when that was not sufficient, we secured two further clarifications, making it clear that the undertaking was without conditions, without reservations and without limitations.

UNSCOM is now back in Iraq. However, our forces are still in the Gulf. If UNSCOM is prevented from inspecting suspect sites, military action can be swift. As Kofi Annan has warned, next time there may be no diplomatic phase.

Saddam must understand that there can be no question of lifting sanctions while he retains the weapons of terror that could wipe out whole cities throughout the region. If he really wants an end to sanctions, he will achieve it only by giving full co-operation to UNSCOM. His recent refusal to hand over the documents that would help UNSCOM to find his chemical weapons is contrary to his own wish to see sanctions lifted. The less he co-operates with the UNSCOM inspectors, the longer it will take them to complete their work and the longer sanctions will stay in place. I have no doubt that the Iraqi people would vote overwhelmingly for Saddam to comply with UNSCOM and co-operate in the ending of sanctions. Their tragedy is that he has no intention of listening to them.

I was troubled during the recent confrontation by the readiness of some in the media to report, on the basis of a few vox pops in the street, that the people of Iraq were solidly behind Saddam. I am not at all surprised that residents of Baghdad, if accosted by foreigners, express enthusiastic support for Saddam. Failure to do so is a guarantee of certain, but possibly slow, death.

I urge all hon. Members to read the recent report of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iraq. It sets out a harrowing account of torture, murder, arbitrary imprisonment and amputation for those who dare to lift their hand against the regime. The brutality and terror that Saddam inflicts on his own people are the most compelling reason why we cannot allow him to retain weapons with which he could inflict terror on the people of the countries around him.

In Kosovo, there has been steady progress on implementing some elements of the Holbrooke package. There has been a marked improvement in the

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humanitarian situation. Within two months, the number of refugees on the open hillside has fallen from 50,000 to a few hundred. There has been a substantial reduction in the presence of the Serbian security forces, which have been cut, as agreed, to the level that existed before the conflict began.

There is a continuing build-up of the verification mission on the ground. Britain has already supplied more than 50 extra monitors in Kosovo--the largest European contingent on the ground. Next week, an additional 23 British members of the verification mission will be deployed in Kosovo.

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