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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 3 November 2004

[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

UK-US Relations

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Watson.]

9.30 am

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): In light of the events of the past 24 hours, this debate is nothing if not topical. I have been up for most of the night, as I imagine have other hon. Members, so I assure the Minister that if I nod off during his reply it will not be a reflection on his speech. The most important thing is that I do not nod off during my own speech. Given the potential result of the election, I am suffering from not only sleep deprivation but a hangover. I do not know whether Ohio has been declared formally, but it seems as though President Bush has won a second term.

On the positive side, the elections were an important victory for democracy. There was a very good turnout; there seem to have been no allegations of corrupt practices or glitches in the procedures; and, given the popular vote, President Bush seems to have won a clear mandate. It must be good for America and, indeed, for the world that there is clarity in the result and that there has been no dispute as there was last time. However, the victory is not greatly welcomed outside the United States. When I was at the United States embassy last night with other hon. Members, I found it interesting that there were loud cheers and applause when Kerry won a state but stony silence when George Bush did so—among not only the Britons but many Americans.

On 15 October, The Guardian published a poll that showed that the 10 or 15 countries that had been canvassed throughout the world wanted John Kerry to win, not George Bush. The only exception was Israel, perhaps for obvious reasons. Of those polled in the United Kingdom, 22 per cent. wanted a President Bush victory and 50 per cent. wanted a John Kerry victory. Among those countries that are physically closest to the United States, including Canada and Mexico, even fewer wanted a President Bush victory than the 22 per cent. in the UK. The figure in Canada was 20 per cent., but I think that it was even less in Mexico, so there will not be wild celebrations throughout the world as a result of last night's victory for President Bush. It is incumbent on the American Administration to reflect on that and to consider how they wish to engage with the world. It is also incumbent on us in this country and on other allies of the United States to consider how we should now engage with the US.

Undoubtedly, damage has been done to the traditionally good relations between the UK and the US as a consequence of the policies pursued by the Bush Administration. It is clear from the information to which I have referred that Bush is not well regarded, but when people were asked in the same poll whether they had a favourable or unfavourable opinion of Americans, it emerged that each country polled had a
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favourable opinion. People can clearly distinguish between their view of their relations with the United States and Americans in general, and their view of the Administration who have been in office for the past four years, and who now look like being in power for a further four years. The poll showed that 62 per cent. of UK residents were favourable towards the Americans, while 21 per cent. had an unfavourable opinion. It is interesting that the UK had one of the lowest positive percentages, although 62 per cent. is still a significant figure.

Before I come to where that result leaves US-UK relations, it is worth my referring to a further question asked in the poll in The Guardian. Individuals in different countries were asked:

All countries said yes. The percentage of people who agreed was the highest in all the countries polled. In this country, 73 per cent. of people agreed with that statement, while only 17 per cent. dissented from it.

Has the way in which we have developed our relationship with the United States since 1945 been good for this country? Should we have done anything different? Should we do anything different now, particularly in light of the new four-year Bush Administration and the Republican majority in the Senate and in Congress?

I cannot help thinking that the UK may have made a strategic miscalculation immediately after the second world war by appearing to try to retain some sort of    superpower status. Still enamoured of Yalta, we thought that we were one of the big three along with Russia and America, rather than recognising that the sands of time were running out for our status as a world power, and that our future lay, as did that of France and Germany, in being a major European power. We still wield considerable influence in the world and are still, I hope, a force for good, but we are not of the same status as the US or Russia. We tried to retain a world status in line with that of those two superpowers for too long; that damaged our relations with Europe and, in some regards, with the US.

We have been hesitant about our European role since the second world war. This country is still more hostile to the concept of the European Union than other European countries are. That is a failure of successive Governments to explain to the British people the realpolitik of where we are and what our role might sensibly be in the real world. A consequence for UK-US relations is that the policy of successive Governments has been to try to be best buddy to the US, not only to shore up our global position but potentially to give us advantages. That policy is followed by this Government, too.

As the United States has grown in its size, global influence, gross domestic product and what it can deliver in the world, it has lost competitors, most notably the Soviet Union. The United Kingdom, however, has diminished in relative importance since 1945. Obviously, the empire has gone, and so have other things. The so-called special relationship seems to have become less and less important to the United States, but paradoxically it is in some ways more and more important to the United Kingdom. We seem to have to
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give more and more to keep the US interested. That is a cul-de-sac that it would be dangerous to go down. It is time to review our relations with the US in light of the balance of power in the world and the relative strengths of individual countries.

We have an unequal relationship, made even less equal by the fact that the US is now the sole superpower, and by the philosophy and approach of President Bush   and his Administration. Unlike previous US Administrations, the Bush Administration have been openly dismissive of the need for consensus in the world and of the views of the rest of the world. By implication, they are also more dismissive of the views of the United Kingdom. That manifests itself in several ways.

I was sorry to hear of the situation that arose at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which was clearly a flouting of accepted international behaviour. That was regrettable, and in my view the US has not been sufficiently apologetic for that. There is also the issue of Guantanamo Bay, a no-man's land deliberately set up to hold people without fair trial and without recourse to the normal avenues of justice. People there are not prisoners of war or charged with criminal offences, but are held indefinitely. Of course, to this day there are four Britons held at Guantanamo Bay. Five have been released, it is true, but when they were eventually released it seemed that the reasons why they were held in the first place were less than clear. Certainly, there was no clamour on this side of the Atlantic to press charges against those individuals.

As I say, four UK citizens are still being held, so I welcome the fact that the US Supreme Court recently issued a judgment criticising that situation. Still, we seem to make little progress on the matter. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said on 25 June:

I have seen no evidence that that is happening.

The line from the Foreign Office appears to have been unchanged for some time. In June, I asked the Foreign Secretary what steps he intended to take to ensure that British nationals held at Guantanamo Bay were subject to a fair trial or released, and what time scale he had set. The answer given by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), on 5 July was:

That seems an extraordinarily weak response to a serious situation involving British citizens. I doubt whether the British Government would have been so laid back and relaxed had those British nationals been held by another state.

I do not understand why the British Government have not been more forceful in demanding a regularisation of that position. The answer, I think, is that they do not want to upset the Americans, with whom relations are very important, and that they are not prepared to push the case, even when they have a
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clearly legitimate case and there is a disagreement on philosophy between them and the US. I happen to think that the Government's response on many such issues is inherently sound; the trouble is that they will not press them, and give way time and again. That is why I   say that we need to examine the so-called special relationship and why I think that we are now paying too high a price to stay best buddy of President George W. Bush.

There is also the issue of the prisoners held on death   row. I refer particularly to the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on behalf of Kenny Richey. It is intolerable that such a situation should be allowed to drag on indefinitely. I should like to have seen the British Government make a greater effort to resolve that and other similar situations. We have not done ourselves or the US any favours by keeping quiet in public about such matters. The US is now showing a disregard—I do not want to say contempt; that may be a bit strong—for the international rule of law, which it did so much to establish in the post-war era. It was instrumental in creating the international institutions and has done a lot of good for the world as a consequence. It is now dismissing or ignoring those institutions, including on many occasions, I am sorry to say, the United Nations.

We do not seem to have a special relationship when it comes to our prisoners on death row or our people at Guantanamo Bay. The operation of the Extradition Act 2003 is similar in that it gives the United States the power to extradite UK citizens to the US, but does not reciprocate that right to the UK. I am honestly baffled: why are we signing one-sided treaties with the United States that disadvantage us? I hope that the Minister will respond to that. It does not make any sense. We have never had a clear answer to that question, and I hope that we will get one today.

One consequence of the treaty—I have to be very careful about what I say, because I am aware of the legal situation—is that three individuals face extradition to Texas for alleged fraud, involving activities that allegedly took place in London against a British bank. That is of particular concern to me, because one of the individuals, Gary Mulgrew, owns a business—the Allen and Joy building company—which is based in my constituency in Lewes. There is genuine concern among the company's employees that if the extradition goes ahead, Mr. Mulgrew, who is key to the business, will be perforce out of the country for at least two years, even if charges are subsequently dropped or he is found innocent of them—if they are laid against him in that way. As a consequence, the jobs of 21 people and 40 to 50 subcontractors in my constituency will be at risk.

As I understand it, the Extradition Act was meant to be about not fraud but terrorism. If the allegation involves fraud, a British bank and something that allegedly happened in London, why, if there is evidence to justify the charges, cannot a trial take place in the UK? Why might there be an extradition to Texas? That is another example of the British Government responding weakly to an important matter involving UK citizens.

The Government's stance on the middle east is entirely right. The Prime Minister has recognised the need not only for Israel to be secure in its own boundaries but for a viable Palestinian state. Both those
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things are correct. To his credit, he also recognised very early on that to deal with terrorism and the instability in the middle east it was necessary to make important progress on the Israel-Palestine situation. He understands that and has said so, as has the Foreign Secretary. I do not doubt that the Foreign Office is quite sound on that matter. However, when President Bush suddenly changes policy, having been lobbied by Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister, rather than saying, "I'm sorry, I don't agree with that", goes meekly along with the new arrangements and the tearing up of US foreign policy after 20 or 30 years' history. The Prime Minister, who was not consulted on that change, simply goes along with it.

It is important that we stand up for what we believe in, and being good friends to a country does not mean always agreeing with them; it can mean being critical friends. The rest of the world expects us to be critical friends. We are led to believe that behind the scenes the Prime Minister influences the United States, talks to President Bush and, by being supportive in public, can achieve progress in private. I am prepared to accept that that is a possible way forward and might, in some ways, be a sensible diplomatic strategy, but it is not without risk—for example, if we end up tied into Iraq, contrary to public opinion and, possibly, international law.

I would be happier with that strategy if clear benefits could be demonstrated, but I have yet to see any. We have ended up in  Iraq in an unfavourable situation, the middle east peace plan is falling apart, and in the examples I have given involving British citizens we have not seen the British Government making substantial progress—not even on the release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. There is now something coming down the track to do with missile defence.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Here in the 51st state of the United States of America, many of us are surprised that the Bush campaign refrain, "Four more years", is missing the preface, "Can we cope with another?" Does my hon. Friend agree that four more years of this rather simplistic cowboys versus Indians and good guys versus bad guys foreign policy will act as an effective recruiting sergeant for psychopathic terrorist organisations? If we have four more years of "God bless America to do what the hell it likes" policy, we will have four more years of global warming, four more years of US corporate supremacy over hopes of finding a resolution to world poverty—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Edward O'Hara): Order. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to catch my eye for a speech.

Norman Baker : I know where my hon. Friend was going and I agree with him to this extent: I do not think that it is possible to defeat terrorism solely by military means. Terrorism has to be dealt with as a battle for hearts and minds, by persuading friendly nations to come on board in that fight, by respecting international law and conventions and by isolating those who wish to challenge those laws and conventions. The present policy will not achieve the outcome that President Bush
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wishes. He needs to change policy to bring on board other countries which would be and are sympathetic to his aims, and certainly were so after 9/11.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's speech. Does he think that President Bush picked a fight with global terrorists and invited 9/11 to happen, and does he think that we can negotiate with these people peacefully and reach some kind of settlement? Is not the war against global terror a particularly unusual war, in that it must be won by military means ?

Norman Baker : Of course President Bush did not invite 9/11. The terrorists operating in al-Qaeda seem to be a different sort and not open to negotiation. However, President Bush can and should persuade others who are not so fanatical to understand the need to challenge al-Qaeda. He can do far more, for example, to bring Arab countries on board and involve them in the fight against terrorism, but at the moment he is alienating them by his treatment of the Palestinians. The Prime Minister understands that, and that is why he is trying to get the middle east peace process back on the road and why President Bush is wrong not to do so. He can do a lot more to isolate the terrorists than he is doing already.

Andrew George : Does my hon. Friend agree that one failing of the United States is its inability to establish a proper international accord? Does he share my concern that the United Nations has had its priorities and agenda deflected by the United States wishing effectively to go it alone if it cannot get its own way?

Norman Baker : The United Nations is a very important part of the international jigsaw, which all of us would do well to respect and enhance. After asking several times when vetoes had been exercised by permanent members of the Security Council, I received a parliamentary answer. The last time that we exercised our veto alone was against Rhodesia, as it was then known, in the early 1970s. France and China have hardly ever exercised their vetoes, and Russia's veto has petered out over the past 10 years. Nearly every single veto—and there have been about 100—has been exercised by the United States. If I can find the relevant parliamentary question in the notes in front of me, I will refer to the exact figures later.

We have a close defence relationship with the United States, and I am not one who says that we should not have that. However, given the apparent weakness of the British Government when dealing with the US, questions naturally arise about the purpose of our engagement with the US, the use of Royal Air Force bases, and whether what is proposed openly or behind the scenes for missile defence is in this country's interest.

We have a series of RAF bases that are RAF in name only. On 13 June 2000, I asked the Defence Secretary

The rather curious answer was:

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We have RAF bases that are simply US bases. We ought to be more open and honest with the British people about the engagement process with the United States and the use of the bases, and we should provide an explanation of how that process is in the British national interest.

Rather than the Government smuggling through the possible deployment of missiles, whether at Menwith Hill, Fylingdales or anywhere else in the United Kingdom, with little debate and no opportunity for comment in Parliament, let alone the wider world, why do they not explain their intentions, thinking and long-term strategy and sell the idea? By behaving surreptitiously and not being up front about those matters, I am afraid that the conclusion is that there is something to hide. That is a matter for the British Government, but it is also a sign of their weakness when dealing with the United States Government.

I have mentioned that the present US Government show a disregard for world opinion, which is regrettable. Nowhere is that stronger than on environmental matters. The Minister will be aware that in a statement earlier this year, the Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, mentioned that in his view climate change represents the biggest threat to the planet, and that it was—to paraphrase him—bigger even than terrorism.

The Prime Minister has said that he recognises the great need to deal with climate change. He has said how important it is and that he intends to make climate change and Africa the centrepiece of his work during the European Union and G8 presidencies. I will welcome that if he carries it through. I hope that he does so, but he weakened his case by applying to the EU last week for increases in carbon emissions under the emissions trading scheme.

Be that as it may, the Prime Minister says that he wants to raise the issue in the EU and the G8. If he thinks that it is an important issue and he agrees with his chief scientific adviser that it is more important than terrorism—let us say for the sake of argument that it is as important as terrorism—I presume that he has raised it with President Bush. He has met him many times, he presumably has his ear and he has certainly been to summits with him, but nothing has happened in America with the President and his Administration. The only conclusions are that either the Prime Minister is being disingenuous and telling us that he has raised the matter with the United States when he has not done so, or—this is much more likely—he has raised the issue with the United States and it has paid no attention whatever to his views. That underlines how weak the Government's influence is over the American Administration. The Prime Minister has given the Americans what they want in Iraq. He has gone along with things and been their best buddy, but he has not got much in return. That is my criticism of UK foreign policy with the United States.

The Prime Minister has got nothing on climate change. Just about the first thing that President Bush did on coming to office was to abrogate President Clinton's wish to adhere to the Kyoto treaty. President Bush even suggests that climate change is not happening. He must
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be one of the few people in the world still to hold that view. In the meantime, the United States, which accounts for 4 per cent. of the world's population, is responsible for 25 per cent. of carbon emissions. That is an intolerable position and it is consistently getting worse.

There is no evidence that President Bush or the American Administration are going to do very much to tackle the situation, but they need to do so. That is not a criticism of the United States, because many states are taking action. In California, both Republicans and Democrats are doing good work—including Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has converted to green politics. A lot of good work is going on and there is investment—some of which President Bush has started, to be fair to him—in the hydrogen economy. However, while the US Administration are in denial about climate change, progress will not be made. The way things are going on climate change, we cannot afford another four years not simply of inactivity but of increasing US emissions. We need to act.

I am bound to say that President Bush has displayed a total disregard for the environment in any case. He has   repealed several hundred laws and regulations protecting clean air and water, wilderness, and national parks and wetlands, as well as walking away from Kyoto. He has reneged on a pledge to cut power plant carbon dioxide emissions. He has launched his so-called clear skies initiative, under which 48 million extra tonnes of air pollutants will be released each year over US communities. He has also launched a so-called healthy forests initiative, which will increase logging—that is Newspeak if ever I heard it.

President Bush has modified the Clean Air Act to   allow power plants to upgrade without installing new anti-pollution equipment. Thankfully, the Appeal Court blocked that. He has announced logging plans for    the rainforest in Alaska. He has postponed by several years the deadline by which coal-burning power plants must cut mercury emissions. He has proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act 1973 to    allow wildlife collectors to import endangered species. President Bush is by all measurements—this is recognised independently in the US, as well—the worst US President in living memory in terms of protecting the environment.

It is not America generally; it is President Bush and   his Administration. For example, Bill Ford, the chairman and chief executive of the second biggest US car maker, says that he would support higher fuel taxes in exchange for incentives to promote energy-efficient vehicles. So, there is some movement in the US, even in the car industry, but it is not reflected in the Administration, which is a great pity.

President Bush said in New Jersey in September 2002 that he wanted

He is so far away from tackling climate change and behaving in an environmentally responsible manner that it is frightening. For me, the test of whether the UK has any influence at all with the US Administration on key issues is whether we are able to influence a new Bush Administration to tackle climate change and put their environmental house in order. What the Americans do
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is key for the rest of us, because they are such big polluters and America is such a big country with such a large population. I hope that the Prime Minister will take that forward and that his first action this morning will be to ring up President Bush and say, "George, congratulations on winning the election. Now, can we talk about climate change?" It would be great if that were the first thing that he said, but I doubt very much that it will be.

One of the reasons why the Americans and President Bush objected to Kyoto—in addition to the potential impact on the US domestic economy—was that 80 per cent. of the world was exempted from compliance. I understand why the Americans object on the basis of exemptions and I suggest that the Prime Minister consider the Liberal Democrat policy of contraction and convergence, which seeks global agreement on reducing carbon emissions and recognises that that reduction must be spread fairly across all countries, including developing countries. If we pursued that line, which is not only environmentally sensible but might be of interest to the United States, it might overcome one of their two objections.

Such one-sidedness leads me to question the relationship between the UK and the US. We have much in common and have good relations. Many of us, including me, have spent time in the US and enjoyed and learned from it. I was in New York when I was 24. I think that anyone who is 23 or 24 should spend some time in New York. Being in the US is an important part of individual development. We learn much from the US and take a great deal from it. Nothing that I have said is a criticism of the United States as a country. [Laughter.] No, it is a criticism of the US Administration. It is important that that point is made.

I also criticise successive British Governments for pretending that there is a special relationship; that relationship has withered away. The Prime Minister has tried to be a bridge between the United States and the European Union, but because of the weakness of our position with the US, he has concentrated on one end of the bridge to the exclusion of the other. There is not much evidence of the pursuance of the EU end, and the danger is that the bridge will fall into the water and that the Prime Minister will end up drowning as a consequence. That is not something that I want to happen—it is not in the interests of this country.

I shall finish by quoting the former Minister, David Clark. He was a very good Minister and the only one to    have been sacked for trying to implement the Government's manifesto, by introducing what the Government thought was a too radical right to freedom of information. In an article in The Guardian earlier this month, he said:

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Reinforcing the point that I made about our weak position with the US and the tendency to offer more than we ought, David Clark also said:

I hope that the Prime Minister has realised that that was a mistake and that he will take corrective action in the second Bush term. Our present method of engagement with the US does not help the US or the world, and most of all it does not help us. There is a way forward, but it requires a change of policy from the Government.

10.3 am

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) on securing the debate and on the typically forthright manner in which he put his case. Under normal circumstances, one might say that it was uncanny timing to secure the debate this morning. Unfortunately, the lack of other participants makes it appear that right hon. and hon. Members prefer to celebrate or commiserate about the election, rather than come here to pontificate on it. Perhaps we will have another opportunity, when more of our colleagues will contribute to what is one of the most important foreign policy issues that faces us.

There is still some uncertainty about the outcome of the US election, although that may end while we are here. Clearly, the protagonists in the presidential election have different world views, but they will undoubtedly face the same challenges. If Mr. Kerry were to win—I appreciate that that now seems unlikely—we might look forward to a more internationalist approach to foreign policy, but he would face serious constraints, some of America's making and others that reflect the challenges in this new world order. If, as is now almost certain, President Bush wins a second term, we must hope that, in the tradition of second-term presidents, he will focus on solutions to some of the most pressing international problems. Regardless of the outcome, we must do our best to be optimistic that the new American presidential term will offer us an opportunity to develop our relationship with the United States and tackle the fearsome difficulties that face us all.

We regularly debate in the House and elsewhere the nature of our relationship with the United States, and how special it is or is not. Whatever one's opinion, the relationship is undeniably unique and strong, but it is not without strains. Its strength is founded on our economic and trading relationship, which is one of the most important that the UK enjoys. There are still extremely close defensive and security ties between the two countries, and underpinning the relationship are the historic links of families, the shared experiences of the world wars and much else besides, which keep the two countries close.

Undoubtedly the balance has shifted with the end of the cold war and more recently with the new realities after 9/11. In the absence of the Soviet Union and the communist threat that went with it, the glue that bound us together has loosened. The US has parallel interests in the Americas and Asia that alter the balance of its outlook. The United Kingdom and Europe are less
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dependent on the United States for security, and increasingly are its competitors in the new globalised economy. In the aftermath of 9/11, we all have a new perspective on what has become a fractured world of new, complex threats with which we are only just getting to grips.

Whatever the strains, the world needs the United States and Europe to bind together. I strongly believe that the UK has the most important role in facilitating that. As my hon. Friend has remarked, the Prime Minister has often characterised Britain's position as the bridge between Europe and America. I join my hon. Friend in urging that the Prime Minister and Foreign Office Ministers pay as much attention to both ends of that, so that we can make the most of our unique position in the world. That will be at its height in 2005, with the G8 and European Union presidencies, which will give our position added strength. Britain should be positioned as a committed European country, able to bring together the different parties and not necessarily having to make a choice between Europe and America.

My hon. Friend has raised some important issues such as Guantanamo Bay, missile defence and the extradition treaty between the UK and the United States, on which I hope that the Minister will have the chance to respond in detail in due course. Those are hugely significant issues that sour our relationship with the United States, and I hope that we will have a constructive reply on them.

One of the most significant issues on which my hon. Friend touched was the environment. As his analysis set out, perhaps on that we have an awful lot more work to do in recognising the scale of the issue facing the whole world and in persuading the Americans, particularly if we are to have President Bush again, that they must play a part. We are pleased that the Kyoto protocol is now to be implemented—it has been long overdue—but, without American participation, there is a huge gap in its effectiveness. We must ensure that we engage with America in that process as a matter of urgency. Whether or not it is the first remark that the Prime Minister makes to the President when they call each other—I suspect that if he calls him this morning, he will get a rather short answer—I hope that it is one of the first issues that the Prime Minister will seek to raise with him.

My hon. Friend touched only briefly on the situation in Iraq, which is one of the most sensitive issues between our two countries. Sadly, that has become more and more precarious, and we wait with some trepidation to see what might happen in Falluja in the coming days and weeks. Whatever one's view, it is increasingly obvious that the safety of everyone in that country is more and more at risk.

I do not want to rehearse all the issues in the Chamber again, but the Liberal Democrats remain deeply concerned about this country's engagement in Iraq and the prospects of developing a realistic and early exit strategy. We all want the elections next January and the year after to succeed, but we must be realistic about the difficulties, which seem to be intensifying rather than ebbing away.

The latest deployment of United Kingdom troops offers us the prospect of mission creep in Britain's contribution to the coalition efforts, and it is still
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uncertain what will happen once the Black Watch return and other British troops have to be deployed in their place. I hope that the Minister will expand further on explanations given to the House about the long-term exit strategy. We believe that, unless we make it clear to those in Iraq, whether they are terrorists, or the ordinary people of Iraq seeking democratically to go about their business and to make their life, that there is the prospect of a phased withdrawal of coalition forces that is tied to key events such as the elections, there is little prospect of genuine Iraqi sovereignty being passed to the people of Iraq.

My hon. Friend spent some time discussing the difficulties in the middle east, which must also be an early priority for the new presidential term. The quartet's activities in the past year have been subsumed into the American election timetable. That is a basic reflection of the realities. The United States is by far the most important of the parties in the quartet, but it is important that Britain, in its role in the European Union and as a key member of the United Nations Security Council, ensures that the road map is given new impetus and offers the Palestinians a realistic prospect of realising their dream of a viable separate state. We all want Israel and Palestine to live in peace and side by side in viable separate states. We now need the international political will to achieve that.

International terrorism, whether or not the middle east and Iraq are the key drivers of its growth, is one of the most worrying and misunderstood threats to the world as a whole. None of us can be experts on it and offer a simple solution. I accept what the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), said in an intervention about our being duty-bound to tackle international terrorism militarily where necessary, but we must recognise the need to tackle the underlying causes that give rise to it, which either President Kerry or President Bush will be uniquely placed to do.

We should not, however, lose sight of nuclear proliferation, which is a separate issue that has sometimes been lost in the grander debates. In the aftermath of the cold war, there is a danger of becoming increasingly complacent about the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation. We are acutely aware of the situation in North Korea, we are all very anxious about what is happening in Iran, and it goes without saying that we do not want international terrorists to obtain nuclear weapons. However, we in the international community must sharpen up our act on that score. In a recent debate in this Chamber, I characterised the situation with regard to Iran as the Europeans having too many carrots and not enough sticks and the Americans operating in the opposite way. We must bring about convergence between the American and European approaches to tackling Iran and we must hope that, by succeeding there, we will offer the prospect of a reduced risk of proliferation in other parts of the world.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West) (Lab): I am slightly surprised by what the hon. Gentleman has said. Is he suggesting that we are not being tough enough on Iran? One of the things that differentiates our policy from that
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of the US is our position on Iran, but he has said that we should be tougher, which is what the US is currently implying.

Mr. Moore : I spoke in shorthand to a degree. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the debate that we had on Iran in this very Room a couple of weeks ago. He may have been present at it in a silent capacity.

My criticism is that, although the European Union has offered the prospect of alternatives for Iran to supply a civil nuclear programme, it has not been clear-cut enough about the economic sanctions that would kick in were Iran not to proceed with that programme. My view of the American position is that it has been too willing to see an early reference to the Security Council on Iran without offering the country a way out through developments. The EU and the Government are to be commended for working with France and Germany to develop our position on Iran. However, Europe has offered too many carrots and not enough sticks, and the United States vice versa. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman and I will continue to have a difference of opinion on the matter, but I hope that I have been able to clarify what I think.

Many of the different problems come together in the United Nations. In recent times, that has been the location of fraught battles involving the United States, Britain and other allies. Not least because of Britain's role in the G8, I hope that we will have an opportunity to revisit the way in which America relates to other countries within the UN. We will have a crucial test in a few weeks when the Secretary-General's high-level panel produces its report on the development of reform in the UN. That will go to the heart of the debate about what legitimises interventions in other countries. It is important that our Government and the Americans engage in the debate that comes out of that report at the earliest opportunity and at the most senior levels. We must recognise that in this fraught world the strength of the UN is a key to maintaining peace.

The United Kingdom's historic ties with America—our shared interests and the common threats we face—make the relationship between the two countries strong and unique. Irrespective of the outcome of the presidential contest, we have new opportunities to work with the United States to tackle the serious challenges facing the world. Instinctively, we always seek to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies, but we must not lose our ability to be constructively critical or to strike out in a different direction when our interests diverge. The biggest challenge facing our Government is to persuade the American Administration to re-engage with Europe and to broaden the base of its international diplomacy and engagement. With the imminent presidency of the G8 and the later presidency of the EU, the timing has rarely been better.

10.19 am

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore). As always, he has been a voice of reason and moderation. I   congratulate the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) on securing the debate and getting his timing right.
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I think that we can now say that President Bush will win the election. I may be the only person in the Chamber today to do so, but I welcome that. It is a good result and I welcome the fact that the Republican party—our sister party—has strengthened its position in the Senate and Congress. I imagine that the Minister has mixed feelings about the outcome, but I believe that it is strong and positive. I welcome the fact that President Bush seems to have won the popular vote by more than 3 million and that there was a high turnout. Let us hope that we have a high turnout here on 5 May 2005, which we all know will be the date of the next   general election in this country, despite the smokescreens last weekend. It is good news for America that it has apparently delivered a decisive outcome.

I recognise that the BBC will be in mourning about the result, as will many colleagues. Some people love to criticise America. The hon. Member for Lewes did so—although he made some important points about the environment and other issues—in the general thrust of his comments about the Bush Administration and, by implication, America and its role in the world in recent years. I caution those who love to criticise America—I   shall make some specific criticisms in a moment. The world would be a very different and much more dangerous place if America's present President or a future President decided to take their bat and ball home and to exercise a more isolationist policy. I do not think that that would be in the interests of the world. It would be an alarming state of affairs, so let us be more positive in welcoming America's contribution to the world.

When we were approaching the run-up to the most recent war in Iraq, the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons—it must be true, because he said it—that the military might of the USA was the equivalent of the combined military might of the next 27 strongest countries in the world put together. I sometimes reflect on that. It is no wonder that America is the world's only hyperpower. Never before has one country dominated global events in such a way. I believe that 25 per cent. of the global economy is generated in the United States; it is truly a hyperpower and we must work with it.

I admire George Bush and believe that he has strong values. I prefer political leaders to have a strong sense of direction and values rather than to be all men for all seasons. I admire his leadership, but there is one reason in particular for celebrating his victory: a second-term US President has a much stronger chance of effective intervention in the middle east peace process than a first-term President, whether Democrat or Republican. If there is just one matter on which we need to see progress in the next few months it is the middle east peace process. We need to bring the parties together, to get them talking again and to reach some sort of settlement.

The middle east peace process is unusual because the contours of a settlement are clear to all sides. It is important to get the parties together, to make them talk and to thrash out the detail. I welcome the commitment that the Prime Minister expressed at the Labour party conference to re-engage with the issue after the    presidential election. A second-term American President and a re-engaged British Prime Minister are a welcome recipe, because there are no issues more important in the world today than resolving that conflict. If we are to resolve or diminish the underlying causes of the war against terror, the most important
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thing that we can do, apart from taking a gradual approach and attacking global poverty, is to resolve the running sore of the middle east conflict.

It seems that everyone in this country loves to attack America, and I have done my share of that in the past. I often think of a conversation that I had with a Syrian business man in Syria when sitting under a star-filled sky in a beautiful part of the world enjoying a wonderful meal together. I asked the sort of question one asks at about 11 o'clock at night when the conversation is beginning to dry up. I asked him what he thought was the best country in the world. He was a widely travelled man and I thought that he might say Syria or Lebanon or another country in that region. He thought for a while and then said, "Without a shadow of a doubt, the United States of America." That answer surprised me somewhat and I asked him why he had said that. He said, "Because the one thing about the US of A is that people there have freedom, and what I would give for that sort of freedom in this country and throughout many parts of the middle east and the rest of the world."

When we attack the United States, we should sometimes remind ourselves that the US is the land of the free. In many other parts of the world—in most African countries, in China, in many central Asian countries and in Latin American countries—people would be very pleased to swap living standards and their level of freedom for those enjoyed by Americans. We must not lose sight of that important point.

If one considers the role that America has played in    global events in the past 50 years, one must admit   that, although many mistakes have been made, America has largely been a force for good. The American intervention in world war two helped us to win the war on tyranny. The cold war was a long and difficult process, but in the end, the war against communism was won. I wonder where we would be today if the war against communism had been lost and Russia and the Soviet Union, not the west, had become the dominant world power. Where would this country be today? Would we be having this debate? Would we be having any debates at all?

We are now engaged in a war against terror, and we want to ensure that that war is won. I absolutely agree with the hon. Members for Lewes and for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale that the war against terror cannot be won by military means alone and that we must deal with the underlying causes. I accept that we must engage in the middle east peace process and tackle global poverty and the alienation felt by many, but we seem to be dealing with a group of people who do not have a political agenda and whose intentions are to create terror and chaos in the west and to bring it down. That must be dealt with militarily.

I am unashamedly pro-American. I am an Atlanticist, and I rejoice in the special relationship. How could I not be, when I represent a city from which the Mayflower set out in the 1660s and helped to found the land of the free? I was pleased when the Prime Minister said in the run-up to the Iraq debate that for him our special relationship was an article of faith. I know that that did not go down too well in his own party, but I, too, believe
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in the special relationship. One of the most important planks of UK foreign policy is that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our American cousins and friends.

That policy does not, however, mean that we are the poodle of Bush or of any other President. It does not mean that when the American President says, "Jump," we say, "How high?" It does mean that we should be a candid friend. During those 18 glorious years of Conservative rule in this country recently, when we enjoyed a special relationship with American Presidents of different colours, there were many times when we were critical of them and influenced American opinion. I could go into detail, but I do not want to do that now. I want to give the Minister plenty of time to respond to this debate.

I sometimes think that our special relationship may have become a little lop-sided. Our support for the Iraqi war was very welcome indeed, bearing in mind that British involvement took engagement in the war from being solely American to one involving a coalition. Other countries were involved, but without us, one could not claim that there was a coalition. It is therefore important to President Bush that we were there alongside him. The deal appears to have been that we   would have a new initiative on the middle east peace    process—a fair exchange. The road map was announced, which was very welcome, but there was not the follow-through that we would have liked. We should have insisted that a special envoy be put in place in Jerusalem to see that matter through, with the full authority of the American President. That did not happen. We have a second chance now, and I very much hope that it will be taken.

There may well be a surge of confidence among Republicans, having won the popular vote fairly decisively—at least, there may be when we finally add up all the numbers. In the next few weeks, we must think through some very sensitive global issues, not least Iran and North Korea, which need to be resolved. We do not, however, want any American President, especially President Bush, to reach for hobnailed boots in which to stamp all over those situations. The UK can and must be a voice of reason to temper that sort of American confidence. There are some things that America does so well, but cultural sensitivity, peacekeeping and sensitive diplomacy are not necessarily the first things that come to mind when one lists the qualities of our American friends.

I have been critical about other issues in the past. I agree that the Guantanamo Bay policy was bad; there have been human rights abuses and it has been a public relations disaster. I wish it were otherwise, and even now I hope that the American President will change that policy.

Not long ago in this very Chamber we had a debate about the treatment of UK citizens by United States immigration officials. Some UK nationals have been handcuffed and manacled in United States airports simply because, for example, they did not have the right visa. That is an overreaction, and we would do well to ensure that the special relationship is a two-way street. We must ensure that that kind of abuse is ended. The Minister might want to comment on that.

There are important issues that the special relationship must cause us to address with the new—or returned—American President. I agree with the hon. Member for
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Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale that we have to see things through in Iraq; there is no plan B. We must ensure that the January elections take place; we must commit sufficient resources to make that happen. The hon. Gentleman talks about an early disengagement plan; I   would like that, too. However, the most important thing is to get the job done. We must see Iraq through to a period of democracy and prosperity. We must face down the insurgents, many of whom have come from other countries. We must also see the war on terror through; there must be no let-up on that. I mentioned Iran and North Korea; these issues need to be grappled with in the coming months.

I had a meeting with the British Council recently, in which I was informed that within a few years the majority of American middle management will be of Hispanic rather than Anglo-Saxon extraction. The gathering momentum of that change in the United States may lead to a change in the nature of our special relationship, which is largely cultural, historical and relational. Therefore, there are issues that we will need to address if we are to manage the relationship well over the coming years. However, I believe that the special relationship is crucial to our country's foreign policy, and that in it we can have the best of both worlds. We   can have a close working relationship with our American cousins and full engagement with our EU partners, and we can make our own unique contribution to the world, bearing in mind those two relationships. The United Kingdom's special contribution is to promote democracy and good governance and to be at the forefront of the attack on global poverty. We are no longer a superpower, but we have a unique role and we must play it to the full.

10.32 am

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander) : I join the hon. Members for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) and for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) in congratulating the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) on securing this debate, on this day of all days, on the United Kingdom's relationship with the United States. It is a huge topic, and many Members of Parliament—not just those who are present in this Room—have a view on at least one or   two aspects of the special relationship. Although disagreements have emerged, there has also been some common ground, not least between the Front-Bench spokesmen. I welcome the opportunity to present the Government's view on the relationship as a whole, and I will seek to address at least some of the specific issues that have been raised in this wide-ranging debate.

In some parts of the United States, the polls closed only a few hours ago. Tempting though it is to be the first Government voice to speak on the outcome of that election, it would be injudicious of me to do so, not least because I imagine that more senior Government figures than me will be making comments. Therefore, I trust that hon. Members will understand if I resist saying anything about the outcome; it would be speculation at this point—at least it was when we entered the Room. Needless to say, the United Kingdom will work closely with whoever wins, to ensure that our partnership remains a positive influence on the global stage.
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Britain's relationship with the United States is, and will remain, the most important of our bilateral ties. We share common values, as the hon. Member for South-West Devon acknowledged, and those values outweigh our differences on particular issues. The United States is crucial to the achievement of the UK's international strategic priorities; I will develop that point in my response to the remarks of the hon. Member for Lewes. Both countries believe in freedom and security for all and will continue to work together to combat global terrorism. We also want the global divisions between the haves and have-nots to be narrowed.

As well as our shared values, we have other close ties. Our two countries are each other's largest foreign investors, supporting millions of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. Given my ministerial responsibilities for trade, that is a matter of direct concern to me. The US-UK trade relationship is worth £60 billion a year, of which half originates in the UK and half in the US. In areas as diverse as science and technology, health, urban redevelopment and law—issues that we did not cover today—our experts exchange best practice knowledge to improve the quality of life for us all and for future generations.

With the greatest respect, I hope that the hon. Member for Lewes will forgive me for saying that the proposition of being lectured by a Liberal Democrat on what it requires to stand up for what one believes in is at least curious. To balance that, I should say that the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, made a far more measured and insightful contribution to the   debate; there is a fair amount of common ground between us.

If I interpreted the hon. Member for Lewes correctly, his fundamental argument on a range of issues is that the USA's taking a different position to the UK is somehow in and of itself evidence of the failure of British foreign policy. He seemed to be saying that if there is any disagreement, there cannot be any influence on the international stage. I urge him to consider an alternative proposition. Just like the UK, the US develops policies on the basis of its national interest. The challenge for our international relations is to strengthen our influence, recognising that of course there will be disagreements between even the strongest friends. From time to time, all true friends argue and debate with each other the merits of their respective standpoints. It is not always constructive to do so publicly, but it is healthy to admit any differences.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Kyoto. The UK's objective, as regards Kyoto and other issues mentioned, is to work with the United States to find mutually agreeable solutions. We will continue to do so, both bilaterally and by working with the United States in multilateral institutions. Of course, we will encourage the US to play a leading role in strengthening those institutions in years to come, as we share common values on our view of the global community.

The hon. Gentleman's speech ranged widely, from the latest polls in The Guardian to the historic Yalta summit. Personally, I had greater sympathy with the more generous acknowledgement of the hon. Member for South-West Devon of the US's contribution to the cold war and to securing victory in the second world war.
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I fear that the hon. Member for Lewes inadvertently made an error by suggesting that the David Clark from The Guardian whom he quoted was the former Cabinet Office Minister, Lord Clark of Windermere. I suspect rather that he is David Clark, former special adviser, who writes somewhat more frequently on foreign affairs than the other. I say that with feeling, because David Clark and I are friends. We were contemporaries at Edinburgh university, and if my memory serves me correctly, notwithstanding his membership of the Edinburgh University Labour club, he had been a member of the Young Liberals in the borders of Scotland, so perhaps he is returning from whence he came.

Let me deal with some of the more substantive points raised. On the Extradition Act 2003, on which the Home Office leads for the Government, I am of course willing to raise the matter identified by the hon. Gentleman with my colleagues in the Home Office. In relation to the death penalty, it might be helpful to set out the position. There are 38 states in the US that still have the death penalty on their statute books, as well as the US federal and military courts. We have repeatedly made clear our opposition to the death penalty, and regularly engage on the subject with US authorities, particularly when a British citizen is involved.

The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. Capital punishment has no place in a modern democratic society in the view of this Government. Along with EU partners, we make regular representations to the United States, urging it to abolish the death penalty. The United States Government are in no doubt about our views, and we shall continue expressing our opposition to that practice at every opportunity.

On Guantanamo Bay and the detainees, we have long    expressed our reservations about the military commissions, and the US Government suspended all legal proceedings against them at our request soon after two UK detainees were designated in July 2003. After a lengthy series of discussions with the United States, led by our Attorney-General, the Government concluded that the military commissions process would not provide sufficient guarantee of a fair trial according to international standards, so we requested that the nine detainees be returned to the UK. Further discussions at official level explored whether there was any prospect of providing an alternative trial process to the military commissions envisaged, but it has not proved possible to reach agreement.

Five of the detainees have been returned, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged. Following a visit by officials to Washington in late May, the Prime Minister repeated our request that the remaining four detainees be returned to the United Kingdom. I respectfully suggest that no Government have done as much for their nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay or looked after the welfare of their nationals better than the United Kingdom. We have visited our people more often and have worked harder to resolve the position of the British detainees. We have held more frequent and higher-level talks with the United States Government than any other Government and, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, we have successfully secured the return
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of five British detainees. We will continue to request at the highest levels the return of the remaining four detainees. Our discussions with the United States continue.

I turn to the broad issue that in many ways underpinned the speeches of the hon. Members for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale and for South-West Devon—the centrality and importance of the middle east peace process, not least in light of the anticipated results that were referred to earlier. The middle east peace process remains one of the UK's highest foreign policy priorities. As was acknowledged by the hon. Member for South-West Devon, the Prime Minister, speaking at the Labour party conference in September, reiterated the depth of his personal commitment to the middle east peace process and pledged to make progress on resolving the conflict a personal priority.

The United States engagement on the middle east peace process remains critical. We continue to work with the United States and other quartet members to   find avenues for progress and ways in which to inject    new momentum into the peace process, in inevitably difficult and complex circumstances. We remain committed to helping the parties to implement the road map and to achieve a comprehensive and just settlement. The Prime Minister firmly believes that the road map is the right way forward. The US has made it clear that it agrees. We intend to do all that we can to see it implemented in the months and years ahead.

Prime Minister Sharon's plan to withdraw all settlements from Gaza and some from the west bank is a real opportunity for progress given that, frankly, little progress has been made for many months. We hope to see a withdrawal as soon and as fully as possible. On    26 October, the Knesset voted in favour of disengagement and that was a welcome step towards that goal. Over the coming weeks, we hope to see the parties preparing for disengagement and co-ordinating their efforts. The key will be to see the plan implemented with both sides working to make it a success and taking full advantage of the opportunity to inject forward momentum into the road map process.

We and the United States, along with the rest of the international community, have a vital role to play in consultation with the parties, in preparing the ground for withdrawal and in doing all that we can to make it a success, both for Israel and the Palestinians. It is essential that the quartet leads the international community's involvement. At the same time, the quartet and the parties need to keep their eyes on the bigger objective: negotiations on a final settlement to the conflict. The recent quartet statement of 22 September set out a balanced and constructive way forward. We are supporting the Palestinian Authority in their efforts to improve the security situation in the Gaza strip and the west bank. We believe that that will benefit both sides. Candidly, of course much more work still needs to be done, but we have been encouraged by the possibility of making further progress in the months ahead.

Norman Baker : Will the Minister confirm that the British Government remain opposed to the construction of the wall on Palestinian territory? Will he also confirm that the Government are asking the United States to put pressure on Israel to discontinue its construction?
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Mr. Alexander : The position of the British Government remains unchanged in respect of the barrier, not least in respect of its location on what has previously been Palestinian territory. We have made clear our views directly to the Israelis about that. The matter has formed the basis of discussions between ourselves, the Americans and the other quartet partners, as part of the much wider discussions to which I have referred.

The issue of climate change is close to the heart of the hon. Member for Lewes and he has much expertise on it. As he acknowledged, the United States is the world's biggest contributor to climate change. It is therefore essential that, as a country, it is involved fully in global efforts. We remain confident that future international action will include the United States.

From the Prime Minister down—he has particular views on what should be at least the second few words that he says to the President, if the situation turns out as he envisages—and through the work of Ministers and officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Office of Science and Technology, the United Kingdom is working hard to convince policy makers in the United States that their main fear that reducing emissions will   harm economic growth is groundless. The United Kingdom has shown that. The UK economy grew by 36 per cent. between 1990 and 2002, while greenhouse gas emissions fell by about 15 per cent.; but some still clearly need persuading of that.

The United States Government's position against Kyoto is a matter of record. In 1997, the US Senate—notwithstanding the changes to the Senate that seem to be emerging this morning—voted 95 to zero in favour of a resolution that stated that it would refuse to ratify such a treaty. I doubt that time has shifted the numbers radically, and in light of the observations on the composition of the new Senate, there may not have been significant change overnight on that matter.

It is essential to ensure that the United States is fully engaged in international discussions on how to advance beyond Kyoto. Of course, the United States remains a signatory to the United Nations convention on climate
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change, and regardless of the outcome of the elections we will continue to press the United States to re-engage with international efforts to tackle the matter. After all, a change in the Administration will not cause an overnight change on emissions policy.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale raised specifically the matter of Iraq, and I will seek to respond to his question on withdrawal. As the Foreign Secretary made clear in the House on 10 September 2003:

Our task is to help the Iraqi people rapidly build a nation from the ashes of Saddam's dictatorship. We are doing all we can to help that happen, together with the United States and our allies in the coalition, and the    process is well under way. The Iraqi Interim Government are committed to holding elections in January, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, and they are on track to meet that deadline.

Iraqis want elections. The hon. Member for South-West Devon spoke eloquently of the importance of freedom, and we are convinced that the Iraqi people share the ambition for free, democratic elections. That is borne out by all the recent opinion polls and discussion in Iraq. We believe that we are working towards that January deadline for elections.

This debate could go on for a long time. It not only underlines the breadth and depth of our relationship with the United States but frankly acknowledges that   we disagree on certain issues, notwithstanding the   enduring strength of that relationship. Today's debate—given its timing—will not be the last word on the issues raised, and I suspect that it will not be the last word spoken in the House today on the subject. However, I assure the Chamber that we in the Government will seek to work with the next Administration, of whatever hue, as we advance together our national interests on the international stage.

10.47 am

  Sitting suspended.
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