Mr. Maude: One seasoned observer of the Government's stance on Zimbabwe put it accurately. He said that the Government appeared to be "insufficiently assertive". Who was that? It was the Prime Minister, and he was right. The Government did appear and have continued to appear insufficiently assertive; they have not asserted themselves at all.
When it comes to the crunch, we see dithering. In Zimbabwe, there is a food crisis, a fuel crisis, inflation is roaring at 60 per cent. and people are being beaten and murdered for their beliefs. What are the Government doing about that long-running outrage? Apart from introducing a belated arms ban, they have willingly continued to give Mr. Mugabe too much room for manoeuvre. What country would ban arms sales to Zimbabwe, but the week after permit the Zimbabwean chief of air staff to come to Farnborough? It is this Foreign Secretary's Britain. The right hon. Gentleman continues to justify a policy of supine inactivity.
There is a case for saying that attacking Mr. Mugabe directly might be counter-productive--there would a risk of allowing him, however improbably, to present himself as a persecuted martyr--but targeting his cronies, the coterie surrounding him who sustain him in power, could make a difference. It is time to show that this country, which should have a powerful voice in the world, holds those people responsible for the unfolding tragedy in Zimbabwe.
We have proposed the freezing of the assets of those cronies, the imposition of travel bans on them and the threat of investigations into their involvement in crimes against humanity. After all, several of them were precisely the people involved in the loathsome Matabeleland massacres in the early 1980s. Does the Foreign Secretary finally agree that measures now to identify and to single out the people benefiting from Mr. Mugabe's refusal to accept the verdict of the ballot box are the only way to avert an unfolding catastrophe in that country?
Mr. Maude: I shall make some progress--[Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary spoke for almost an hour. I am conscious that the debate started late, and that many Back Benchers wish to speak. I shall therefore make some progress. I do not want to take quite as long as the Foreign Secretary did.
We hugely congratulate Britain's armed forces on what they have done in Sierra Leone--they have, as we would expect, comported themselves with courage and great effectiveness. However, I ask the Foreign Secretary whether it might not have been better to allow the legitimate Government of Sierra Leone to take the action that they thought right to defeat the rebels? As that option involved the possible use of private military companies--which, in the Foreign Secretary's old, dogmatic and outdated view of the world, are the invention of the devil--he vetoed it.
Would not such action have been a better answer? Is the Foreign Secretary not prepared at least to contemplate the possibility that it might have been a better answer than a huge United Nations force in Sierra Leone? That force has been thought, by common consent, to have been extraordinarily ineffective.
Mr. Mackinlay: The shadow Foreign Secretary seems to be outlining a profoundly important benchmark in the Conservative Opposition's views. Is he really saying that they would condone and encourage the use of mercenaries by a Sierra Leone Government?
Mr. Maude: Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that it would be out of court and impossible in any circumstances for the Government to consider the possibility that a sovereign and legitimate Government might take the choice to avail themselves of expertise to uphold their legitimate Government against rebels? Let us face it: what has been substituted for that possibility is a huge United Nations force that has grown and grown. By common consent, that force has been extraordinarily ineffective. Is the Foreign Secretary at least prepared to accept the possibility that there might be a different way of dealing with the matter?
Mr. Robin Cook: I hate to intrude on this with some reality, but the Government of Sierra Leone were first restrained from using mercenaries because of the Abidjan agreement, which was signed in 1996, when the previous, Conservative, Government were in office.
Mr. Maude: Is the Foreign Secretary denying that, when the subsequent Lome peace accord was reached, he absolutely insisted that he veto any further use of private military companies? Is he denying that?
Mr. Cook: I can do more than deny that. Britain was not a party to the Lome agreement--[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman objects. We were not a party to the agreement, which was negotiated by the countries of the region. It was authorised and witnessed by others. We were not a party to it; nor did we seek to intervene. The right hon. Gentleman is ducking the fact that the ban on mercenaries began under the previous Government, not the current one.
Mr. Maude: Is the Foreign Secretary really saying that no Foreign Office officials were present when Lome was negotiated? Will he accept that Foreign Office officials were present, taking an active part in those negotiations? Is he really saying--this is quite important; I urge him to think about it--that Britain did not intervene in those negotiations? Will he answer that? Is he saying that there was no intervention at all?
Mr. Maude: I think that what we have seen is a Foreign Secretary wriggling. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to contemplate the possibility that what has happened in Sierra Leone has been a continuing saga of ineffective intervention, and that there might be a better way of doing things. Cannot he concede that there might be a better way of doing things in future?
Mr. Menzies Campbell: As has rightly been said, this part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech raises some fundamental questions. We discussed the Legg report on the Foreign Office's conduct in relation to Sierra Leone. Although I am operating from recollection, and there is always the risk of that being faulty, I do not recall those who were speaking for Conservative Members making the point that the Government should have agreed to the use of mercenaries.
Mr. Maude: Again, we hear a refusal to accept that there might be a different way of doing things. Are we so hide-bound by previous thinking that we cannot contemplate a legitimate, sovereign Government being able to avail themselves legitimately of whatever resources they need to uphold their power? That seems a dubious proposition.
In what was perhaps the Foreign Secretary's last intervention on Russian matters before No.10 took over the conduct of that relationship, he told the British press in Russia that he would talk tough to Mr. Putin about Russia's record on Chechnya and about fundamental freedoms of speech and the media. It was revealing that the Russian press told a quite different story, reporting that the Foreign Secretary had not given President Putin the dressing down that they had expected. The same Russian media now appear to be enjoying a running joke. They say that they have been hoping for 50 years that NATO would fall apart, and that they are now delighted to discover that it is doing so--led by the European Union.
The image and the reality are also miles apart in relation to international development, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), the shadow Secretary of State for International Development, mentioned earlier. The fact that this morning's White Paper was given to the press but not to Parliament is yet another indication of a Government who are frightened to allow serious scrutiny of policies that do not stand up to a second look. There is no sign in the White Paper of any plan to reform the multilateral organisations, which continue, by common agreement, to under-perform, and no sign of the long-promised legislation to fight corruption. That marks another failure to deliver, despite the spin and the rhetoric.
We shall not oppose the Bill on the International Criminal Court. We shall support it in principle. I question how much of a priority the matter has been for the Foreign Secretary, despite his fine words today. Despite previous opportunities to introduce the measure, it is now being introduced in what looks increasingly likely to be a truncated Session.
How could anyone be against an institution intended to bring to justice those who have committed crimes against humanity? The question is how effective the court will be in accomplishing that. The danger is that this will simply become gesture politics, giving an impression of action and building more layers of higher institutions. The court's effectiveness will be questionable if the United States and China continue not to sign up to it.
There is a case for saying that the court would not address the problem of arresting war criminals and obtaining evidence against them. There has, after all, been no problem in finding a tribunal in which to bring such people to justice. The problems lie in arresting them and getting evidence, and those problems will continue. Proponents of the International Criminal Court say that it will save money, but there is no guarantee that that will happen. Steven Kay, a Queen's Counsel with experience in the field--[Interruption.] I am not against the court, but we are not going to rubber-stamp the proposal. It is an important measure, which we shall subject to proper scrutiny. The Minister for the Armed Forces might think that the House is to be used as a rubber stamp for legislation that might be ill thought out. If so, he has another thing coming.
Steven Kay, a QC with real experience in the field, has said that the International Criminal Court is in danger of being just a cosmetic exercise. It will be the job of the House, in scrutinising the Bill, to ensure that it is not.