Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is missing Blackburn and going to Naples on Friday and Saturday, and there is then the IGC on 12 and 13 December. Does he believe in miracles? Does he believe that there is any realistic prospect of the many problems being resolved by the IGC?

Mr. Straw: No, I do not believe in miracles. I think that the chances are reasonable, but such things cannot be predicted.

Chris Bryant: Talking of miracles, I wonder how my right hon. Friend hopes that we shall resolve the issue of whether God will be in the final draft.

Mr. Straw: My understanding of ecclesiastical law—it is a little known fact that I was pupilled to an ecclesiastical lawyer—is that one can sort of resign one's holy orders, but once a cleric, always a cleric. If money were being taken on this, I suspect that there would be nothing in any final treaty on the issue of Judaeo-Christian heritage, but we cannot be certain.

These parliamentary occasions follow a pattern. Since May, there have been seven debates or statements in the House on the IGC or the Convention. I have twice given

27 Nov 2003 : Column 152

evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee and once to the IGC Standing Committee. The Minister for Europe has also given evidence to the IGC Standing Committee. There have been two reports on the Convention or IGC by the European Scrutiny Committee, and 13 reports by the Lords European Union Select Committee.

I hope that the IGC will agree a constitutional treaty that modernises the way in which the EU takes decisions in preparation for a union of 25 or more. I also believe that national Parliaments should, for the first time, be given a formal role at the EU level and that the new treaty should make an explicit acknowledgment that the EU's power derives from its member states, ending the hopes of those who seek the creation of a federal United States of Europe. I have already set out the position on the draft in the White Paper and in the House on 9 September. If we can get agreement, as I hope and believe we should, the new treaty should be a good result for Britain and for the EU. As with previous EU treaties, the Government will lay a European Union Bill before the House in order to enact the treaty in UK law.

Britain is more influential today because of the active and engaged foreign policy of the Government. I was struck by a recent poll published by a German magazine, which showed that the German population rated Britain as the most influential nation in Europe, above France and Germany itself. Furthermore, the rating was seven times greater than when the last such poll was taken, when Britain's score was only 4 per cent. [Hon. Members: "When?"] It was in the last full year of Conservative Government in 1996—[Hon. Members: "Ah."] Thank you for the cue.

Next week, I shall lay before the House a strategy setting out how we see the world developing over the next 10 years—the main threats and the main opportunities that we expect to face. It will set out the Government's agreed medium-term international priorities and will stress the interlinked nature of today's world and the need for us to work more closely together, both within government and with our international partners, to deliver our goals. Whether it is limiting the flow of drugs to British streets, promoting British trade, tackling illegal immigration to our shores or creating a cleaner domestic environment, delivering national outcomes requires an international role.

More than ever before, our destiny as a confident, progressive, prosperous and secure nation requires an active and engaged foreign policy. Whether or not internationalism was ever an idealist luxury, today it is an essential part of pursuing our national interests. Withdrawing to the sidelines of international debate, as some advocate, or isolating ourselves from the international scene as a way of avoiding the effects of global change, would simply undermine the way in which we cope and adapt to that change, and undermine, too, vital British interests. Withdrawal and isolation are not the road to national liberation, but instead the road to national ruin.

Since 1997, the Government have pursued the active and engaged foreign policy that we need in today's world. Thanks to the Government, Britain is today a

27 Nov 2003 : Column 153

leading player in the European Union, a solid and staunch ally of the United States and a strong and committed supporter of the United Nations and of the system of international law. The United Kingdom is delivering a greater commitment than ever before to action on world poverty and development, and is a country prepared to put all its assets, including, where necessary, our armed forces, behind the goals of enforcing international law and promoting justice and democracy.

This is our record and it is one of which I am proud—and it is an agenda that we will continue to pursue with vigour and determination.

1.2 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): I welcome the Foreign Secretary back from his travels; it is good of him to look in on us between flights, before he heads off again this afternoon. It was a little unfair of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who has left the Chamber, to talk about doughnutting. I thought it was rather touching to see the affection that Labour Members feel for the Foreign Secretary; on his rare visits to this place, they like to surround him with close protection. [Hon. Members: "Where are they?"] Having heard what he had to say, they have now, with relief, managed to get away for their lunch.

The Gracious Speech is, as ever under the Labour Government, paved with good intentions: tackling the underlying causes of conflict and extremism; working to reduce world poverty; effective debt relief for developing countries committed to reform. They are all there. They are great aspirations, and as such I commend them. However, aspirations come cheap under this Government; it is their actual delivery that is lacking.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Is not my right hon. and learned Friend surprised that the Foreign Secretary made no mention of Zimbabwe in a speech on international affairs? There is a deep and growing crisis in that country, yet we heard nothing from the Foreign Secretary about how we might increase pressure on Mr. Mugabe and his regime by extending sanctions and perhaps even by encouraging South Africa to do something about the supply of energy to Zimbabwe.

Mr. Ancram: As ever, my hon. Friend has with great prescience taken some of the words that I was going to use later. He makes a good point, not only about Zimbabwe but about some of the other issues that were omitted from both the Queen's Speech and the Foreign Secretary's speech.

As I was saying, it is the delivery of the Government's aspirations that is lacking, which may explain the strange lack of direction in the speech that we have just heard. The Foreign Secretary's theme, which he tried to establish at the very end of his speech, was one of active engagement, if I understood it rightly. His general themes were those of purpose and success. However, they are hardly borne out by reality. We see Europe at odds with itself, the Commonwealth no longer able to deliver on its basic principles, and the United Nations gridlocked at crucial moments. That is the reality, but it is not the one about which the Foreign Secretary spoke today.

27 Nov 2003 : Column 154

To be fair, there are exceptions; for example, the fight against terrorism. I will not call it a war, because a war honours its combatants and there is no honour in terrorism. There is only the blackmail of fear seeking to force concessions that cannot be democratically won; at the cost, as we saw so tragically in Turkey last week, of the lives of innocent victims—our consul-general, Roger Short, and two of his staff, Lisa Hallworth and Nanette Elizabeth Kurma, among them. We pay tribute to all those who lost their lives, and we offer our thoughts and prayers to those who are injured or left behind.

The Government have been right in their response to terrorism. Although there are certainly serious questions to be answered about the levels of intelligence and security in relation to the suicide-bombing of the British consulate, and I have tabled those questions, I acknowledge the refusal of the Government to be cowed by those evil attacks. Indeed, I welcome the Government's commitment in the Gracious Speech to effective action on tackling the threat of global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The fight against terrorism is worthy because it faces up to the most dangerous international threat today. That threat must be pre-empted before it is realised.

Pre-emption may sometimes be military, but by no means inevitably so. It can also be economic, to pre-empt impending humanitarian disasters within which future terrorism may find shelter. The developing world needs a fair deal if it is to compete with the developed world. Cancun exposed a major problem with global trade: rich countries are over-prepared and over-represented, leaving poorer countries with very little voice. The playing field must be made more even.

In May, the Opposition proposed an advocacy fund that developing countries could use to provide themselves with quality legal and economic advice on trade issues. We looked to the Government to take that up, so it is a matter of great regret that there is no reference to it in either the Gracious Speech or the Foreign Secretary's speech today. That is an opportunity missed.

The Gracious Speech mentions the millennium development goals, which the Government are way off meeting. There was no mention in either speech of the fact that, as the Chancellor was recently forced to admit, in sub-Saharan countries, on present trends, it will take 126 years to meet primary education targets, 147 years to meet extreme poverty targets and 162 years to meet child poverty targets. Those figures show that yet again an opportunity has been missed.

Pre-emption can also be political and diplomatic. Recent progress in both North Korea and Iran demonstrates the value of strategically planned and internationally co-ordinated pressure, backed up by regional political clout. Friendly but necessarily circumspect influence has helped to lead to the current and very welcome ceasefires in one of the most dangerous of all global flashpoints: India and Pakistan in Kashmir. I visited the line of control last year and experienced the tension. Encouraging genuine dialogue at different levels, matched by a clear determination not to take sides, is the best service that we, as old friends, can render in that dispute.

We supported the war in Afghanistan because it was aimed at al-Qaeda and its supporters, the Taliban; but al-Qaeda needs constant attrition if it is not to re-grow

27 Nov 2003 : Column 155

and rearm. For all the success about which the Foreign Secretary spoke, there were worrying signs when I visited Kabul this summer that a lowering in the profile and intensity of the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan has led to a reappearance of terrorist organisations. Along with a resurgence of opium poppy production, there are storm signals that renewed levels of commitment in Afghanistan are urgently required if the objective of a more democratic, stable and above all anti-terrorist Afghanistan is to be achieved.

We welcome the undertaking to promote peace in the middle east. I am a long-standing friend and admirer of the people of Israel. I also have great affection and sympathy for the Palestinians. I can understand the fear each has of the other, but I can see the potential for peaceful coexistence in two viable and secure states to the west of the Jordan. Fear breeds the violence of the intifada on the one side and disproportionate reactions, including the security fence, on the other. Against this there is the moral high ground of the road map, within which each can offer the other a genuine hand of friendship, along with the resumption of dialogue that alone will secure peace and a lasting settlement. We must more directly help to promote the principles of that road map and encourage that dialogue. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) that there is a need for a constructive third party to help that process along. But first the duress of terrorism must be removed. There can never be a sustainable settlement negotiated with guns on the table, guns under the table or guns outside the door.

We continue to support military involvement in Iraq. The Government were right to take action. If not this year, action would almost certainly have had to be taken in the not too distant future when the risk and cost would have been far greater and the danger considerably more far-reaching. What was done was right, legal and necessary. Seventeen United Nations Security Council chapter VII resolutions establishing Saddam Hussein as a threat to international peace and security confirmed that. The ending of a vicious reign of terror may not of itself have been a reason, but from what I saw when I visited Baghdad in July it was certainly a most worthy outcome. I welcome the genuine, if somewhat belated, progress now being made in Iraq and sincerely congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his visit. I join him in paying tribute to our armed forces for their work not just in Basra, but in other areas of that country.

The overall objective, which we will continue to support, must be the establishment of a representative Iraqi Administration, presiding over an acceptable and sustainable level of security. While speed of transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis is important, there must be no short cuts. To leave behind an unstable Administration incapable of preserving public order would be to betray everything that we have sought to do and would create a great danger for the future.

There is, however, in what has happened in Iraq one blot, and that is the conduct of our Government. While we await the outcome of the Hutton inquiry on one part of that conduct, I would not seek to pre-empt the detailed findings. What is already clear is that the Government did not play straight. The intelligence

27 Nov 2003 : Column 156

information in the dossier of 24 September 2002 was, according to an insider, "over-egged". The second dossier of 3 February 2003 was described by the Prime Minister to the House as "further intelligence", when it was nothing of the sort. A number of claims were made, largely by the Prime Minister and not least after the conflict was ended, about evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. While we still cannot be sure about WMDs, we can be pretty sure that the claims of evidence of their existence do not stand up; otherwise we would have seen that evidence by now. All that undermines confidence and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The case for military action was sound. There was no need to manipulate the truth. That is why we have called for and continue to call for a comprehensive independent judicial inquiry to ascertain the facts.

The truth is that this Government, for all the words of the Foreign Secretary today, have not got a foreign policy, nor indeed ever had one. A foreign policy means identifying national interests, recognising limitations, setting out objectives, matching them with available resources and being true to one's word. Labour Members need not take such criticisms from me. The Foreign Secretary confirmed today that next week the Foreign Office is for the first time to set out in a White Paper its long-terms strategic goals. Those were the words used by a spokesman for the Foreign Office this morning. Is it not appalling that the Foreign Office has only just woken up to the fact that Britain's foreign policy must be based on long-term strategic goals? Surely that should have been happening all along.

Next Section

IndexHome Page