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Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): So far, the right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the problem of AIDS, the epidemic of which is threatening economic development throughout Africa. May we have an absolute assurance from him, as I constantly try to get from the Secretary of State for International Development, that we will put a maximum amount of funds into education and condom supply in Africa, and pursue research on a vaccine for AIDS?
Mr. Straw: I assure the hon. Lady that we recognise the huge significance and devastating effect of HIV-AIDS across Africa and in other countries. I am unable to commit myself now to specific sums, but we regard the problem as a high priority.
I began by saying that events overseas have an ever greater impact on the daily lives of the British people. That is probably more true of the United Kingdom than of most countries. Isolationist policies have rarely benefited any nation, least of all a country such as Britain which has long earned its living from global contact.
It may be worth the Conservative party contemplating the fact that when it has fallen into the pit--as it did in the early part of the 19th century and again towards the end--the cause of division was tension between isolationist and integrationist policies.
We export more per capita than the United States or Japan. We are the fourth largest trading nation in the world, the fifth largest economy, the second largest investor abroad and the second largest home for foreign investment. The British people are travelling overseas more and more--53 million overseas trips last year alone, which is one overseas trip for almost every man, woman and child in the population. We benefit hugely from belonging to the world's most influential networks: NATO, the United Nations Security Council, the G8, the Commonwealth and the European Union. We derive practical benefits from a foreign policy that engages actively with all of them.
We will continue to meet the challenge of global change by building alliances and forging common goals with those who share our outlook, interests and values. In our second term of office, we will continue to deploy an active and engaged foreign policy to underpin the tolerant, secure and prosperous Britain that we were elected to build here at home.
Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House, as I shall not be present for the winding-up speeches. Two of my daughters are being confirmed later today, and my absence would be regretted elsewhere. I have told the Foreign Secretary and understand that he will also not be present, although for a different reason.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his appointment and welcome the entirety of his new Foreign Office team. It is almost unprecedented for there to be such a comprehensive clear-out and replacement of a ministerial team in a Department without a change of Government. There has been some recycling, which is environmentally friendly. We particularly welcome back the hon. Member for Neath (Peter Hain) as Minister for Europe. We rated him rather highly. We did not always agree with him when he was previously in the ministerial team, but he was forthright--I suspect that for the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor he was sometimes uncomfortably forthright on African matters, especially on Zimbabwe. We hope that he will continue to be forthright on other matters. I commend him on the seriousness and thoughtfulness with which he approached his duties then, and we hope that that will continue.
The new ministerial team will be served by the finest diplomatic service in the world; it is a Rolls-Royce service. I should like to take this opportunity to express the debt of gratitude that we all owe to the diplomatic service. We should never forget that its work is always onerous and demanding, and sometimes dangerous.
The diplomatic service is a Rolls-Royce service, but Rolls-Royces need good drivers. I do not want to disrupt the even tenor of today's debate by making remarks about the Foreign Secretary's predecessor, but it is fair to say
We hope that this ministerial team will mark a clean break with the past four years, and will take a broader, more confident view of Britain's place in the world. I was interested to hear the Foreign Secretary talk about Britain's place at the centre of a series of interlocking networks--I have used that phrase myself many times. I regret that people sometimes talk about Britain as if we were on the edge. We are not on the edge of anything: we are at the centre of a range of interlocking, overlapping networks. Britain can and should be at the centre of an increasingly interconnected world. That is a source of great strength. Britain can count for something in the world. We do not have to feel that we need to take shelter in an increasingly integrated, common European foreign policy. We should be confident about Britain's role as an independent nation state.
I hope that this Foreign Secretary will take as his first objective the restoration of Britain's standing in the world. I hope that it will not be thought overly partisan if I say that it was a mistake for his predecessor to make so much play of the ethical dimension that he claimed to bring to Britain's foreign policy. It was a mistake, not because we are against ethics in foreign policy but rather the reverse. Britain's foreign policy should have more than an ethical dimension: it should be entirely ethical.
Few Foreign Secretaries in the past would maintain that their foreign policy was anything but ethical. The idea that a foreign policy has a dimension that is ethical and everything else can be unethical is absurd. At its best, Britain has always pursued an ethical foreign policy, and it should not be necessary for a Foreign Secretary to brag about that. It invited ridicule and criticism when the previous Foreign Secretary seemed to apply different criteria and treatment to different countries and Governments on the basis not of their relative conduct but of their size and power. The Minister for Europe, when he was previously in the Foreign Office, described the phrase "ethical dimension" as a hook on which we found ourselves. I hope that the new Foreign Secretary will detach himself as quickly and elegantly as he can from that hook and consign it to the memory hole, to use the Minister of Europe's less elegant phrase--if I have quoted him correctly.
Mr. Maude: Yes, I would certainly argue that. The proposition that Lord Hurd and Sir Malcolm Rifkind were pursuing an unethical foreign policy is absurd. I doubt whether any Foreign Secretary in the history of this country would claim with hindsight that he had never made any mistakes. It is certainly unlikely that the right hon. Gentleman's immediate predecessor could make such a claim. The hon. Lady's suggestion that a Conservative Foreign Secretary was deliberately pursuing an unethical foreign policy is absurd and offensive.
We should hear less about an ethical dimension and more about a foreign policy that is ethical--of course, it should be ethical--but which represents Britain's interests and stands up for Britain in the world.
I hope that the new Foreign Secretary will rehabilitate the Foreign Office. It has been sadly diminished during the past four years. More and more matters that were under its aegis have been taken away. Envoys have been appointed by the Prime Minister apparently accountable to no one, and have been conducting much of Britain's diplomatic efforts--I am thinking of Lord Levy in the middle east. There has been no accountability to Parliament, not even through any Minister. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will do something to restore the Foreign Office's ability to be at the centre of Britain's diplomatic effort. The weight on his shoulders is very great, and expectations should be high. We will watch with interest, and scrutinise carefully what he does.
I welcome early indications that the Government propose to take the Commonwealth rather more seriously than they have in the past. A year ago, we launched a commission to investigate ways of maximising its potential. The commission, chaired by Mr. Algy Cluff, reported earlier this year. Its most important conclusion was that the Commonwealth needed to increase its powers to discipline wayward members.
I am delighted that steps are being taken to expand the work and broaden the remit of the Commonwealth ministerial action group. I hope that that will enable the Commonwealth to adopt more robust measures in relation to countries such as Zimbabwe--about which I shall say more later--where millions are fleeing their homes and the infrastructure is on the brink of collapse.
I also welcome the emphasis that the Foreign Secretary placed on international development. It was odd that during the previous Parliament no time, or very little time, was allocated to debate that subject, although a Bill was produced towards the end of the Session. We would like the opportunity to debate such issues more regularly.
Of course everyone wants to see a world free of poverty. We all want children to grow up, wherever they may be, with basic living standards and with access to education and primary health care. In particular, we want children to be free from involvement in violent conflict. We all recognise the reality of abject poverty, and accept that Britain can play a role in helping to raise living standards for those in some of the world's poorest countries.
I think that Members on both sides of the House also recognise that real improvements depend on the existence of a proper framework of responsible government and the rule of law in the countries involved. Increasingly, in today's highly interconnected, globalising world economy, countries can choose whether to succeed or fail. A country that chooses to have the rule of law and an open economy will, by and large, succeed, in the absence of massive natural disasters; but a country that eschews the rule of law that protects investment and human rights, or rejects the open economy, will fail. Much of the ability of poor countries to raise themselves up and improve the conditions of their people rests with the Governments of those countries. Of course we can help, and we should help; but the issue of governance is crucial. Britain, with its ancient history of a living rule of law and its
There is, of course, a role for financial and development aid. We support that role, and hope that it can be maximised. We hope that the contribution and partnership of individuals, charities and other non-governmental organisations can be enhanced, and welcome the impressive work already being done through British development charities, large and small.
We would like to see some reform of the international institutions, to make them more effective and accountable. We regret that no decisive action has been taken to bring about real reform of the European Union's aid programme, which has been robustly criticised by both the Secretary of State for International Development and Commissioner Chris Patten. Everyone who deals with it says that it is bureaucratic and immensely slow, tending to deliver after the problem has been dealt with. It is a creaking, not very good organisation. In the absence of serious reform to improve its operation, we would like a big slab of our development effort--currently channelled through the European Union--to be undertaken bilaterally by the British Government, either directly or, we would hope, through NGOs and in partnership. That is a better way of doing the job.
The contribution of direct financial and development aid will remain important, but I hope we also recognise that the greatest contribution we can make to the elimination of global poverty is a complete and unequivocal commitment to the creation of global free trade. There is no doubt that free trade and globalisation help the rich, but they also help the poorest, and they help the poorest disproportionately. It is cant and nonsense for those in rich western countries to go on about how we should give more development aid to poorer countries, while keeping their markets closed to products that poorer developing countries can provide and sell. We should open up our markets.