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

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

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

Was not it the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), a former Minister of State at the Foreign Office, who described the phrase "ethical dimension" as

It appears that the Government talk about ethics at election time and in practice try to distance themselves from the word the rest of the time.

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

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

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

Mr. Spring: I should be happy to. I am sorry that the Minister is so sensitive, as I said nothing of the kind.

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I cannot understand why he should rise out of the waters like some sort of fish. I do not know his track record in the 1980s with regard to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or anything else, but perhaps he is sensitive about that. My only point was that Britain played an enormously important role, of which every person in the country can be hugely proud. We helped to liberate Europe not only from Nazism, but from the subsequent horrors of communism. That is something of which we can be extremely proud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.31 pm

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

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

I was a little puzzled when the hon. Member for West Suffolk said that the United Kingdom's role was not to be a pale shadow of the United States. I contrasted that

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with the immediate response of the Leader of the Opposition when the United States talked of siting at Fylingdales the national missile defence station and the indication that whatever the Americans asked for, the Conservatives would give--a sort of blank cheque.

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

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

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

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

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

Praise has come, too, from wider afield. For example, Mr. Dhanapala, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs at the UN, commented on the UK Government's role in disarmament and non-proliferation:

He commended the UK for leading by example.

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

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

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

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