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Mr. Hoon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soames: No, I will not.

The project is a typical new Labour one. The British public would be forgiven for thinking that our continental allies were positively overflowing with highly trained, well equipped, deployable troops. They are not. The Secretary of State knows that. While our very professional British forces are so dangerously overstretched, many of our European partners continue to cut their defence budgets—

Mr. Hoon rose—

Mr. Soames: —and look increasingly unserious about their commitment to hard military issues. What effect will that have on the transatlantic relationship?

The transatlantic relationship is going through an important period of trying to create a new framework in which to tackle challenges of a profoundly different nature from those with which it has previously been occupied. The Secretary of State correctly referred to transformation. It is right that that should be pushed ahead with all possible vigour.

There are issues that bring us closer, but there are others that divide us. The harsh realities of today are an important reminder of why we ought to be working together, and I hope that all hon. Members realise what a chilly and frightening place the world would be without an internationally active America. Terrorism is a global problem. The worldwide reach of terrorist networks implies that global terrorism cannot be fought effectively solely by military means, or only on one's home soil or by one country alone.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to dissociate himself from the pathetic and deeply offensive suggestion from the Leader of the House, in one of his increasingly extravagant and eccentric outbursts, that the country can be safe from terrorism only with a Labour Government in power. Terrorism is a long-term challenge. We look forward to hearing the hon. baby—the Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Alexander)—renounce the words of the Leader of the House.

Terrorism is a long-term challenge. There are no quick or easy solutions, but one thing is certain; close international co-operation, including across the Atlantic, remains crucial to our task. Living away from regions of instability does not guarantee our security. In a globalised, interlinked world, people and ideas flow freely around the globe. A Government have no higher duty than to provide security for their people, both at home and abroad. Foreign policy is central to that; yet, regrettably, the Government's policies are often unplanned, ill considered and at the mercy and drift of the whims and tides of events, whereas a clear and coherent approach linking analysis of problems to the proposed solutions and the resources to carry them out is vital.
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The Government disastrously failed to prepare for the post-conflict period in Iraq. There was no plan for post-Saddam Iraq. Worse still, the Government ignored the well tried and proven norms that our people have learned over many years of experience on peacekeeping missions; to send the army back to barracks to await further orders, to keep the police policing, to leave the civil service in post until otherwise directed, to control the borders to hinder insurgency and to have a real plan in place for job creation and economic reconstruction.

Amid political instability and violence, Iraq's economic problems have been viewed as secondary and unrelated. They are not. United States and Iraqi institutions have systematically lost, and the insurgency gained momentum, as living conditions failed to improve, and the Government have failed adequately to act upon the link between economics and security. I hope that the Secretary of State will reassure the House that they are better prepared for the January elections, which are central and vital to establishing the democratic legitimacy of the new Iraqi Government. With much territory beyond the Interim Government's control and sectarian and ethnic forces threatening to pull the country apart, there is a profoundly difficult task ahead. The period between now and the elections will be hard going and will require the greatest of skill.

In Afghanistan we are in charge of controlling opium production. The UN's annual opium survey reveals that poppy cultivation increased by two thirds this year. Last year, Afghanistan exported 87 per cent. of the world's supply. Once again, the Government have failed to plan adequately. The UN report for 2003 found that one in 10 Afghans, many of them unemployed returned refugees, is involved in the drugs trade, which last year employed 2.3 million people and made up 60 per cent. of the gross national product. Is that what the Prime Minister meant when in 2001 he pledged to eradicate the scourge of opium along with the Taliban? In his own words,

The most fundamental challenge inherent in international terrorism that we are fighting today is ideology. Military pressure is but one way of defeating al-Qaeda and its franchises, which could in the future become more widespread, extreme, international and autonomous. But just as important are sound intelligence, political dialogue and diplomatic, political and economic engagement, to remove from the terrorists the havens where they would seek shelter or a passive support that they might enjoy. Looking back on the cold war, we should take confidence from the fact that the enduring values of freedom and democracy, just as much as economic power and military muscle, triumphed. We must have a dialogue with those who do not support terrorism; with those who are free from its influence and find its teachings abhorrent. That means political dialogue, economic help, educational and aid programmes, encouraging democracy reform and education.

Poverty combined with unemployment creates a social climate in which extremists and various populist and religious sects flourish; these in turn provide some of the recruits for violent groups in internal conflicts.
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According to some projections, the number of young unemployed in the Arab world and north Africa could reach 50 million in two decades. Such a situation will not be conducive to political stability. We must do all that we can to address these issues that have become a breeding ground for terrorists. We must try to help to solve those concerns that some in the Arab world might use to justify supporting and financing violent extremists. We must engage in a planned participation in the resolution of those combustible conflicts where we have a particular knowledge, experience or input that will be valuable.

No conflict lends itself more to that than the Palestinian-Israeli dispute; a conflict that has for too long acted as a poisonous backdrop to regional tensions. Any durable settlement between Israel and the Palestinians cannot be imposed, let alone arrived at under duress. It must result from freely given consent on both sides if it is to take root in the communities who must live with the consequences.

The way ahead is already clear. There can only be a two-state solution; two states west of the Jordan living co-operatively at peace with each other, an Israel secure within guaranteed and acceptable borders and a viable and independent Palestinian state. Like so many other such comprehensive and final status solutions, it is easy to envisage but the devil to deliver. It cannot be imposed and can be achieved only in a lasting way through dialogue, hard work and agreement.

What proposals did the Prime Minister make when he last met the President of the United States? Is there an initiative to appoint a special envoy for the middle east to push the process forward with the vigour that it needs? Is there not a strong case for international peacekeeping monitors within the occupied territories and Gaza to promote security and to help to suppress the roots of terrorist violence? The Government are strong on "save the world" rhetoric but weak on action, as in so many other areas.

David Burnside: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, post-Arafat, an international commission or special envoy should put as a priority the proper use of international funds in Palestine, funds which up to now have been totally misused, corruptly, by the former head of that region? Does he agree that, for the good of the people of Palestine, it is important that all the international backing and finances necessary to establish an independent state in Palestine are administered honestly and correctly and without the corruption that has taken place in the past?

Mr. Soames: My hon. Friend is right. There is a real need, above all, to bring to the Palestinian people, for their own good, benefit and future success in the world, good governance and good order; clearly, that is important. But more than any particular criticism of anyone—legions of legitimate criticisms can be made of both sides—there needs to be a dialogue, and it needs to be pushed ahead. It will be hard pounding and hard work. Our country has a major role to play but, so far, we have seen very little of it.
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The Prime Minister speaks of saving Africa—except, apparently, Zimbabwe. We all agree with the Prime Minister on the need to make progress on Africa. But how is Zimbabwe advancing, except into a quagmire of dictatorship and xenophobia, as instanced by the latest frenzied assault on all foreign assistance agencies? Or has the killing stopped in Darfur? Here, the Government have taken a firm line, but with what results? On 8 October 2004, while in Addis Ababa, the Prime Minister announced a military force

the day after his Defence Secretary decreed the reduction in infantry numbers. A hollow laugh could be heard all over the land from the armed forces.

The threats posed by rogue and failed states and international terrorism when combined with a backdrop of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction could have truly terrifying consequences. The proliferation of WMD poses the most serious danger to the peace of the world. Chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists or outlaw regimes could bring catastrophic harm. There is an urgent need to improve and modernise non-proliferation laws to address new and changing threats; to restrict the sale and transport of nuclear technologies and equipment; to close a loophole in the nuclear non-proliferation regimes that allow states to pursue weapons of mass destruction under the false cloak of legitimacy; and to expand efforts to secure and destroy nuclear weapons and matériel. Finally, given the importance of intelligence in fighting the war on terror, we hope that the Minister will assure the House when he winds up tonight that the important recommendations made by the Butler inquiry regarding the co-ordination between the intelligence services will be and have been implemented.

The Government have inflicted upon this country a foreign policy without shape and without agenda. It is little wonder that it is so regularly, so often and so badly derailed. But worse still, it is no wonder that our stock has fallen in the rest of the world, and the contents of the Queen's Speech do nothing to remedy that.

12.58 pm

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