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1.31 pm

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab): I wish first to make a few general remarks about the Gracious Speech. I had the privilege of being brought up in a household that had on the wall the old National Union of Railwaymen slogan "Unity is Strength", and in the House I have always worked on the principle, "If in doubt, vote Labour." I have no doubts about the majority of measures in the Queen's Speech and I shall vote enthusiastically for Bills to protect the vulnerable, whether from domestic violence or from the danger of losing all or part of the pensions to which they have contributed.

With some doubts, I shall even support the Government on top-up fees. Surely we all agree that we need to channel further resources into higher education if we are to open the doors to more students. Conservative party policy is to restrict or freeze access, and I hope that it will say so honestly in its manifesto. The Liberal Democrats believe that the general taxpayer should pay, and I hope that they will also say so honestly—and with costings—in their manifesto. Top-up fees may be the least unsatisfactory method of providing increased access, as long as we protect those from less prosperous homes.

I have more fundamental doubts about the proposals for civil partnerships. The state has an interest in reinforcing the status of marriage and should do nothing to undermine its status. Making partnerships the legal equivalent of marriage sends the wrong signals.

I shall now address the key parts of the Queen's Speech in relation to foreign affairs, including Iraq, the intergovernmental conference and our system of alliances. At the time of the state opening of Parliament last year, one issue dominated the international agenda—Iraq. Resolution 1441 was passed some five days before the Gracious Speech, and it was a high point for the international community. The unanimous vote and the international consensus put pressure on Saddam Hussein's regime. Since then, we have seen momentous developments in foreign affairs, which culminated in the Iraq war in March.

The question now is whether we should dwell on the conflict and the steps leading to it or look forward and move on. Both the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee produced reports on the run-up to the war, reaching broadly similar

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conclusions on the role of intelligence. Most people would accept that the current situation, however imperfect, is an improvement for the people of Iraq. Without the intervention in March and April, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, and almost certainly preparing the succession for one of his two sons. The focus must now be on reconstruction and the future of Iraq.

The present violence is likely to continue. Resolution 1511 has not been translated into sufficient changes on the ground. Many of the hugely sensitive issues have yet to be tackled, including the distribution of power between the centre and the regions, and the role of Islam in the future governance of Iraq. The governing council of Iraq and its successor will have to tackle those issues.

Jeremy Corbyn: Is my right hon. Friend concerned that the Iraqi governing council, which was largely appointed by the Americans, is busy handing over state assets to any international buyer that comes along, and is limiting levels of taxation on international and local corporations to 15 per cent.? The council assumes that the people of Iraq want an unbridled free-market, capitalist economy in the future.

Donald Anderson: I hear what my hon. Friend says, but no one can doubt that the situation is substantially better and that rapid steps are being taken towards a Government for Iraq chosen by the people of Iraq, not appointed by the occupying powers. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that that would be a substantial step forward, as we seek to win hearts and minds in Iraq. I also recommend that he read the recent report of the International Crisis Group. Much remains to be done, but in the longer term we can be positive about much of the future of Iraq, especially because of its national resources—its oil, its agriculture and its human resources, which have enormous potential.

In June next year, sovereignty should pass to a more representative authority, although the occupying power will remain responsible for security. Therein lies one of the problems—how the relationship between those responsible for security and those responsible for the governance of Iraq will be arranged. We will need to wait until the next Queen's Speech to see how successful the reconstruction and the succession of power have been. It is a battle we dare not lose. The battle is against terrorism and the wreckers who blow up UN buildings, destroy pipelines and wreck police stations and the civil infrastructure. They should not be allowed to win. It is in the interests of all of us to succeed and to end up with an Iraq that, while probably not a model of democracy in the region—as was initially trumpeted—is far better governed than it was under Saddam Hussein.

At the time of the Queen's Speech last year, the European Convention on the constitution had been meeting since February. It produced its report in July this year and we are now trying to see whether the cacophony of different views can be reconciled. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was good enough to accept that it would be miraculous if the two-day meeting in Naples this weekend and the intergovernmental conference in December—however much it is extended—could reconcile the opposing views. The prospects are not good, because there are clear dividing lines on the future of Europe, which were

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revealed this week in the collapse of the European Union's stability and growth pact and the Italian draft, which was mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and is light years away in several areas from being something that we would be disposed to accept.

Chris Bryant: My right hon. Friend mentioned the collapse of the stability and growth pact. Does he believe that what has happened this week is likely to lead to faster reform of the pact, and that such reforms might be in Britain's interests, especially if we subsequently want to join the euro?

Donald Anderson: Well, that is a possible scenario, but it does seem very clear that the doubts expressed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer have some substance in the light of what has happened this week.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): In sharp contradiction of what the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has just said, would the right hon. Gentleman not agree with me that the stability pact's treatment by France and Germany demonstrates that the euro remains above all a political rather than an economic construct, and that these other countries will always put their national domestic economic interests ahead of the greater interests of the European Union?

Donald Anderson: Clearly, both interpretations can be well founded. The jury is out, as the dust settles, on the direction in which the pact will move. The extent to which the big players, France and Germany, will be enabled to have their way is one of the problems that will have to be resolved at the intergovernmental conference. Another factor is the way in which the European Parliament and the Commission are opposing the Council with charges of backsliding since the Convention was agreed in July, particularly with regard to the proposal by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other ECOFIN leaders on the role of the Parliament over the budget. Spain and Poland are trying to ensure that the Nice arrangements on the weighting of their votes will be maintained, but there is a key difference over structural co-operation, which is institutionalised, and enhanced co-operation, which is more ad hoc. There are other differences. Obviously there must be a procedure for amendment for minor matters, but the passerelle clause, clause 24.4, which would allow, with unanimity, a move to qualified majority voting in key areas, clearly could bypass national Parliaments and needs to be opposed.

Perhaps most important of all is the European security and defence policy. Since the chocolate summit in April, there has been some retreat by the four countries concerned—France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg—but the Prime Minister made a compromise at Berlin about six weeks ago and the Government may well be making a similar compromise at Berlin today. Surely the correct hierarchy is to have NATO first, NATO being the only institution for collective defence, then the carefully negotiated Berlin plus, whereby the European Union may use NATO

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assets, and then, if there is to be planning, first the national Governments who are able to do that, notably France, Germany and ourselves, and then, if there is to be a separate planning unit at all, it should be sited at Mons, at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, rather than in Kortenberg, because there is a real danger of movement from there.

Perhaps the real danger now is that the Government may be prepared to pay too high a price to kill Tervuren and the initiative that came in April. In my judgment, no European defence without UK participation will be credible, so we have a major negotiating asset in trying to ensure that any European defence will indeed be credible. There will be areas, such as Bosnia, where the United States—perhaps because of overstretch—is more ready to see a European presence, and there will be areas, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the US will not wish to be involved, but it is mightily in our interests to ensure that the United States stays fully engaged in European defence.

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