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7.51 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) made a fine, extremely thoughtful speech. However, it is worth placing on record as a comment on the state of modern British politics the fact that not one Tory Back Bencher was present before the welcome arrival one minute ago of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). At 7 pm, that is no accident. If the boycott was meant as an insult, the right hon. Member for Yeovil is entitled to take it as a compliment. If it was intended to demonstrate the modern Tory party's discipline, it showed only its puerility.

Excellent co-operation on foreign policy has been established between the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, and it can be established on many other subjects. I refer in particular to the close working relationship, which the right hon. Gentleman was involved in establishing, and which has continued between my right

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hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). The work of the Cabinet joint consultative committee on the United Nations and on Europe attests to the success of the relationship.

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

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

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

We have now got the consensus out of the way. I stress that speaking with one voice on international issues does not mean that we can neglect differences when they occur. However slight they may be, they lead to disagreements that are expressed through the normal procedures of the House. In any debate it is therefore important to be clear about the terms that we use and to capture the full complexity of the issues. We do not agree that

as the Liberal Democrat motion states. Sometimes, a country may need to argue its case in the face of collective opposition. The important point on such occasions is that the issues are approached in the spirit of constructive partnership with other countries and international organisations. That is the true hallmark of the Government's approach to the important global issues of our time.

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

Our high commissioner in Harare expressed his strong concern to the Zimbabwe authorities this afternoon and is liaising closely with the local British community. I stress

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that we have received no reports of serious injuries to UK nationals. We shall continue to monitor events closely and we will advise UK nationals to contact the high commission if they need further guidance. I shall consider the further action that we should take tomorrow morning as circumstances become clearer. I believed that it was my responsibility to advise the House of those developments as early as possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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charging him in Belgrade with his crimes against the Serb people. They will quickly come to realise that Milosevic was not a great Serb nationalist but a great enemy of the Serb people.

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

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

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

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

Nowadays, every nation state is as interdependent as it is independent. The fact of globalisation is beginning to dominate our domestic politics as much as it does our international relationships. Old definitions and dividing lines are being reassessed. A more revealing measure of political outlook is how people react to the new global reality of interdependence. The progressive political forces will be those that are cosmopolitan, outward- looking and comfortable building international partnerships, and that respect people of different ethnic

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identities. They will offer solutions that recognise that national security requires international alliances, and that domestic prosperity requires the dynamic pursuit of external economic co-operation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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