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3.46 pm

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), I realise that Sutton Coldfield's gain is Islington's loss. Following the energetic and articulate way in which he delivered his speech, it is a privilege to follow him.

Although she has gone, I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) on her admirable maiden speech. I seemed to spend a lot of September in Brent. I was thinking that, if I had tipped that extra 10,000 votes, I would have been deprived of hearing her excellent speech.

I wish to make a few general points on the Queen's Speech. Looking at it and at the papers this morning, it has taken a scatter-gun approach. It seems to have no real theme—if there is one theme, it is of broken pledges on House of Lords reform and on tuition fees. Hardly anything is said on reform of public services. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition put his finger on it yesterday when he said that the approach in the Queen's Speech seems to be of an open wallet and an empty mind.

On higher education and tuition fees, the Prime Minister got it absolutely right when he said that, under a Conservative Government, fewer students would have university places. I agree with the Minister for Children, who said that we do not want Mickey Mouse degrees—people are doing degrees in hairdressing and in shoe design. The best way of funding higher education is a graduate tax, to which I have always been attracted.

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As a Member of Parliament for a south London constituency, I give a cautious welcome to the draft Bill on identity cards. I am persuaded by the conversion of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, who considers it necessary for fighting crime in London. That must be taken into account. I give the draft Bill a cautious welcome. I hope that I can persuade Conservative Front Benchers to do the same.

As a London MP, I welcome the transport Bill. Those of us who remember the chaos before the introduction of the congestion charge in central London will realise that something must be done about the way in which utilities work on the roads. I do not particularly expect the Minister or his colleagues to reply to this point tonight, but will the legislation apply to acts by the Mayor of London, who seems to take a hands-on approach to manipulating traffic levels for his political convenience?

I give a cautious welcome to the civil partnership Bill. There is an issue that needs to be addressed—how to deal with property issues relating to same sex couples—but I give a tentative welcome because the details are unclear. Does it relate to taxation matters? Will there be exemptions from capital gains tax and inheritance tax? What happens in the case of a divorce between a couple in a partnership? What rights will platonic couples who live together have?

The theme of today's debate is, of course, foreign affairs. The Government's priority of doing their best to support international stability is essential to the defence and security of this country and to our trading interests. Our focus must be to reduce global tension, especially in the middle east, which is the flashpoint for global conflict wherever it is found. We live in a fast-moving world with a growing population and instant communications, and vigilance and diplomacy are more necessary than ever before.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), I was in Tehran when the Foreign Secretary came to negotiate the agreement on Iran's nuclear capacity. I congratulate him on what he achieved that day, although the picture since has been confusing. The clerics in Iran have crowed that it is a meaningless agreement and the United States has remained critical of the situation in Iran despite it. Indeed, the UN seems to have censured Iran following the agreement, although the basis for that is not clear. We must keep a close watch on the situation, because there are developments of concern to us all.

The case for war, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling dealt with so admirably, does not need repeating by me today. We will come back to the issue in the new year, when we receive the Hutton inquiry's report on the tragic death of Dr. Kelly. Whatever the outcome, it is a matter of trust. If we cannot trust the Government to put it to us straight on the case for war, why should we trust them on anything else that they say? In this case, we would probably have gone along with them, but that

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problem with trust hampers everything that the Government do. It will be the central theme when we debate the issue next year.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the next time a British Government seek to deploy our forces overseas, everybody will ask whether we can trust that decision, because of the apparent mistrust of the Iraq decision? It will make it much more difficult for any future Government of any colour to convince the House and the people of the necessity for military action.

Richard Ottaway: I agree. The parallel is with the boy who cried wolf. I could not disagree with a word of the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), and he made a similar point.

The situation in Iraq today is tense. We have daily attacks, with terrorists loyal to Saddam freely operating in the country. I was struck by a letter I received today from the Free Iraq Council, which claims that some 30,000 fighters are operating inside Iraq. The borders to Syria and Iran are also open. I am sorry that we no longer have a Foreign Office Minister on the Front Bench—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): What do you think I am?

Richard Ottaway: I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon, but he changes Departments so often. Given that it now seems to be common knowledge that terrorists are entering Iraq through Syria and Iran, I hope that the Minister who winds up the debate will tell us what is being done about that. Will we just acquiesce, or will we join the United States in sanctions against Syria? We cannot sit back and do nothing. The situation in Iraq is very difficult. There are attacks in Baghdad, which appear to be co-ordinated. The situation is unstable and it raises question marks over the extent to which we are in control.

The Foreign Secretary spoke about the plans for a handover to a transitional Iraqi Government. Those remarks are obviously welcome, but I query whether the situation is stable enough at the moment for that type of handover. It will work only if it is sustainable and the rule of law can be maintained. The Government must not overplay their hand. They exaggerated the case for war; they should not now exaggerate the case for peace. I am not convinced that the climate is right. If the Government try a handover and fail, it will be a disaster and set back the cause out there for very many years.

I nevertheless consider that the Government should spell out in much greater detail the post-transitional arrangements. What is the plan? What is the exit strategy? Are we planning for troops to be there for many years? We also need to address with care the need for extra investment; for example, the oil industry must be a top priority for the transitional Government.

I shall now discuss the war against terrorism in the wider scale. The campaign is relentless; there will be no let-up. We shall live with it for generations. Some say

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that this is all the fault of the war in Iraq. I have no doubt that the invasion has agitated the situation but, as many people have pointed out, it is a long-running campaign. I cannot remember the date of the attack on the USS Cole, but it was several years ago; it certainly pre-dated 9/11.

I was listening the other day to a lawyer who was speaking, I think, in the context of Guantanamo bay. I do not criticise her position, but she said that this was not a war by definition. I believe that it is a war; it is simply that the rules have changed. Usually, wars are waged against other countries, but now we have an unseen enemy who leaves no fingerprints, observes no boundaries and dies for the cause—as suicide bombers—and we must recognise that the rules of the game have changed. The events of 11 September changed everything; the United States now marches to a different drumbeat.

I wish that I had had a chance to listen to President Bush's speech in the Banqueting House, but none of us got an invitation. He spoke of the bombings in Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Bombay, Mombasa, Najaf, Jerusalem, Riyadh and Istanbul, and in all these, the common theme was that they targeted innocent people regardless of their religion. He said that if the people who perpetrate these crimes could get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, they would use them, killing millions of people, and that we must face these threats and defeat them.

It is important to address what is going on in the Islamic world. I appreciate that this is the most sensitive of subjects, but I am concerned that much of this terrorism is being done in the name of Islam, yet the Muslims in my constituency do not recognise what is going on and it is not their way. The Minister for Europe, who sadly is not in the Chamber, rather blundered into this recently in his comments, when he said that the Muslim world must choose between the British way and the way of the terrorist. I know what he was trying to say, but I think it was rather inept. The question that he must put to the Muslim world is about what it is doing to prevent this happening again.

The terrorists say that they are responding to the call of a jihad, and that that is the duty of all Muslims. My judgment is that it is no such thing, and that the challenge to moderate Islam is to find ways to deal with this very difficult situation and put pressure on the fundamentalists to persuade them that they are going down the wrong path and that they should reject the way of terror.

At the heart of all this is the dispute between Israel and Palestine. That is a cause for which terrorists around the world campaign, and it is how they justify their actions. I have no doubt that that conflict is the sparkplug and flashpoint for global instability, that there will be no peace in the world until it is truly resolved and that it should be our No. 1 priority.

The road map was published in June last year. It is performance-based and goal-driven, with a two-state solution, but the key to its success—I made this point in my intervention on the Foreign Secretary, who did not demur—is that it needs third-party involvement to make it happen. The road map calls for an independent, democratic and viable state by 2005. That is a hugely challenging concept, but it is based on a

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weak document. However, it is the only plan that we have. It is consensual and it has international backing, and it must be made to work.

The problem with the road map is that there is no dispute resolution procedure. To give an illustration, it states that the Palestinian Authority must undertake visible efforts to prevent attacks on Israelis. The then Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, said that that issue, as well as unauthorised weapons, must be addressed. Hamas immediately said in response that it would not disarm until Israel ended its occupation. Those are entrenched positions, and the situation worsens.

Prime Minister Sharon, who is considered a moderate and pragmatic politician in Israeli politics, is under considerable pressure and has agreed to the construction of the separation wall, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling referred. The wall would be okay if it was built within recognised boundaries, but it is not. That is the problem, and that dilemma has been well illustrated.

I am a great supporter of Israel's right to exist. As a serving officer, I was in Aden in 1967, when the six-day war started, and the British Government's immediate reaction was to support the Israelis. I was proud to be part of that, but what is going on now is not the way to proceed. However, the Palestinians are not helping. There is huge mistrust in Israel. A ship carrying aid was arrested by Israel, as it was carrying arms procured by the Palestinian Authority from Iraq. President Arafat's wife, Suha, said that, if she had a son, he would be a suicide bomber. How can a peace settlement be achieved against that sort of background?


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