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13 Nov 2002 : Column 29continued
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Before the Prime Minister leaves foreign policy, will he answer this question? No one doubts his genuine concern with the continent of Africa, but would he reflect as to whether
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend put his question in a very reasonable way and I pay tribute to the sincerity of his views because he disagrees profoundly with what we are doing in relation to Iraq, but I would say to him that the simple answer is that we should do both things. We should be ensuring that, through the United Nations, Iraq is disarmed of weapons of mass destruction, but we should also be carrying on the policies that the Labour Government have pioneered on aid and development and on third world debt, to help people in Africa. The reason why it is so important to get action in Africa, and the reason why we have been leading on the issue of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, is precisely to achieve the combination of measures against conflict and measures for better aid and development, so that the issues that have arisen in Ethiopia and southern Africa do not recur.
The truth is that on each of these major issues there is a fundamental difference between the two political parties: fundamental on the issue of the economy, fundamental on the issue of Europe, fundamental on the issue of investment for public services, fundamental on the issues to do with reform of public services and fundamental in relation to crime and law and order and antisocial behaviour. [Interruption.] I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition can count.
However, it is important to realise that the reason why the right hon. Gentleman has taken his party to the position that it is in, is that in each of those cases, he has made the wrong choice. That is the real reason why, with respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he has the problem that he has. This country knows that we need a stable economy and low unemployment, not a return to boom and bust. People know that we need investment in our public services rather than cuts. They know that we need reform of our public services not the privatisation of them. They know that we need the tough measures on crime and antisocial behaviour and they know that this country's future in the end, whatever difficulties and doubts they have about Europe, lies at the heart of Europe and not on the outside of Europe. It is for that reason that the Queen's Speech continues that programme of the Government, continues the programme on the economy, on our public services, on a strong civic society, and on a foreign policy that allows us to play our part in Europe properly, and it is for these reasons also that the Conservative party, as it has shown once again today, has made the wrong decisions for the country and as a result will remain out of office for a very long time.
Secondly, it is my very pleasant task to join in the congratulations of the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). I do not have to practise too hard to say his constituency name. As someone said to me on a television programme, when I mentioned the title of my constituency, it sounds like a firm of accountants. We have that feature in common.
On the serious side, I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman in welcoming the emphasis on increased foreign aid and international obligation in the Queen's Speech. I pay tribute to his long-standing work, as a Minister and in opposition, over many years, through the 1980s in particular, in that field. I think I am right that, such was his global track record in opposition, as a member of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees, that the late Donald Dewar remarked percipiently that if he ever found himself, as he frequently didas the press recorded on many occasionsin a global trouble spot, whether it was a military coup or a civil war, it was always possible to find him, as he would be in the radio station, broadcasting to the rest of the world about what was happening.
I remember that, in my first Parliament, just as we entered the summer recess of 1983, The Guardian decided to run a competition for its readership. The prize was a bottle of champagne for the first sharp-eyed reader who could spot the first Member of Parliament to demand the recall of Parliament. The next day's edition carried a clarification saying that the competition was now suspended, because a sharp-eyed reader had written in to say that, the day before, the right hon. Gentleman had already demanded a recall of Parliament. He was never one to miss a trick.
The right hon. Gentleman has been at his most persuasive this afternoon. I only regret that I have never been able to persuade him of the merits of proportional representation. In that respect, he is unlike the much more enlightened hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). In the past, she and I have worked together on electoral reform issues through the Make Votes Count campaign. I wish her every success in her chairmanship within her party of the ongoing campaign for electoral reform. I hope that, like me, she will not miss the opportunity, which will occur during this Session, to remind the Prime Minister of the commitment in the last Labour general election manifesto to review all voting systems after next year's May local elections. If he is not susceptible to my persuasive charms, I hope that he will be susceptible to hers.
Over the years, the hon. Lady has also impressed many of usin the best sensewith her independence of mind and spirit on issues as wide-ranging as Afghanistan and asylum. I suspect that she subscribes to Thomas Jefferson's view of life that a little rebellion now and then is no bad thingI do not expect the leader of the Conservative party to be saying that in his sleep at
In many ways, the Queen's Speech defines what are the new fault lines of British politics in the 21st century. The old, more sterile and outdated arguments about left versus rightthe arguments across the Dispatch Box between the two other party leaders make this pointare increasingly being supplanted by arguments between those who pursue a liberal approach and those who pursue an illiberal approach.
Much of the Queen's Speech is sensible, but in its measures on law and order and on crime and punishment, there is also much that is too illiberal. It is clear from the general stance of the Conservative party that a properly effective Opposition, who take a critical approach to the Government's measures, is more likely to come from those who are instinctively liberal and democratic in their approach. That is the case in both this House and the House of Lords, as we saw up to and including last week with the progress made on the last Session's legislation and the changes that we made to it.
I am surprised about one of the Conservative party's choices in respect of the Queen's Speech. Many people watching from outside will not know how our procedures work. We are in the process of modernising, and the Liberal Democrats have given full support to the efforts of the Leader of the House on that. However, there is one aspect of the Queen's Speech that I should like modernised. As things stand, the Conservative party decides the themes for each day of the Queen's Speech debate. I am sure people outside the House will join me in finding it unbelievable, given the long shadow that the international situation is casting in the Chamber and across the country, that the Conservative party has not allocated a day to discuss defence and foreign policy.
One can only speculate why. On Iraq, as we saw during the parliamentary recall, the leader of the Conservative party has positioned himself so close to the American Administrationit is not simply a matter of being close to the British Governmentthat he does not have the valid questions to ask which need to be articulated. I find it even more incredible that when the chairman of the Conservative party was asked by an interviewer at lunchtime today why it had not allocated a day to discuss foreign affairs and defence, which is in its gift to do, she said that the party wanted to concentrate the focus of its discussions and attack over the coming week on the public services.
How interesting! Let us consider the big initiative on the new Conservative approach to the public services launched by the leader of the Conservative party, who made his name in the House as a principled and consistent Maastricht rebel. On taking up his position, he asked his Front-Bench spokespeople to go around the rest of the European Union to find out why Europe delivers better public services than the Tories managed to provide in 18 years in power. Surely the benefits that he now believes can flow from the continental experience, as reflected in the Conservative's reformed approach to the public services, mitigate all the more the decision to have a day's debate that focuses on matters European and further afield. It says it all that the quiet
We welcome the fact that the Government again rightly pay tribute to European enlargement remaining the big goal, a view that we share. However, as we did in exchanges a couple of weeks ago after the last summit, we have to enter the reservationI think the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor would agreethat despite the agreement, which goes up to 2006, Europe will have to revisit the common agricultural policy if it is serious about making a success of enlargement. We hear nothing positive from the Conservatives on that because they have nothing to contribute. I say in passing that when agricultural matters are considered, it is important that the Prime Minister, with an eye to the many fragile communities around our coastline and country, puts maximum political support behind the plight of the fishing communities, which face an uncertain future.
On Iraq, there may be an opportunity for a fuller debate beyond the Queen's Speech, but clearly the progress that has been made in influencing the American Administration to recognise the legitimacy of the United Nations is welcome. We hope to see the readmission of the weapons inspectorate and a sensible, authoritative international analysis of the situation regarding weapons of mass destruction.
The American Administration, having been so dismissive of the UN and having become much more realistic and responsible in their attitude to it, must surely realise that if the weapons inspectors enjoy unfettered access according to a clear timetable, as we believe they should, and return with qualitative information based on that, the moral mandate must rest with the UN. We must not allow the situation to slip in favour of the more hawkish elements in and around the Bush Administration who in their hearts, many of us suspect, would still prefer to take a unilateralist approach with Britain tagging along, if possible, rather than maintaining the international coalition of interest against terrorism which has been such a successful feature since 11 September last year.