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Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab): The hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) hit a number of important targets. I was in Belfast last Friday. As the hon. Gentleman knows, when he was in another party I was with the British armed forces in South Armagh, and I talked to many of the people who are now suffering the problems to which he referred. I hope that the Government will show some sensitivity to the plight of people leaving the serviceservice that they have given to this country.
I commend the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) for an excellent analysis and a sympathetic view of the situation among the Arab nations. I hope that behind the scenes, away from the political theatre of which this is very much a part, there will be an opportunity for joint work to establish what our ParliamentGovernment and Oppositionshould do to help the people of the middle east to find a real solution to their problems.
That was illustrated very well by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) in his perceptive analysis of the Arab-Israeli position. I have been going to the area since 1988. Many errors have been made on both sides, which has led to the present tragic impasse. As for Kosovo, there is no need to apologise for our intervention. I was calling for intervention some two months before we did intervene, when a massacre was going on and there was good evidence for it.
Abu Ghraib is not the benchmark to determine whether our invasion of Iraq was a success or a failure, although the hon. Gentleman used it as such. There are no excuses for anyone who voted for that invasion. I voted against it because, regardless of what was put to the House from the Dispatch Box, everyone who read the evidence in the public prints and presented by many learned peopleincluding all the weapons inspectorsargued against it. The Tories voted for it. I know that Members of Parliament are never hypocritical, but I think it appalling that those who voted for it should now try to shift their ground. The thing to do is to see this through with some honour and to the advantage of the Iraqi people, and perhaps learn the lesson that we should not have voted for invasion in the first place.
The contribution of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex on defence was pretty weak. He did not answer the question from the Secretary of State for Defence about the number of troops when the Conservatives left office; nor did he allow the Secretary of State to tell him in an intervention. He simply funked it. I remember the tragic loss of good will and motivation among our armed forces when the Tories introduced "Options for Change" and people in my constituency, serving loyally, were scrappedthrown on the scrapheap by the Government when they wanted to continue to serve. That caused much of the malaise and the recruitment problem that continue in my area to this day.
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I had an opportunity to go to Afghanistan and join our troops on the ground before the election, in both Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul. Everything that has been said about their work there is true and commendable. The problem in Afghanistan is caused by what is virtually a narco-economy. I am worried about what may happen if we take the view that the Americans have taken in Colombia. If we eradicate the crop by spraying, it may move elsewhere. We need to tackle that problem in a more fundamental and economic way.
Iraq is a different matter. I was there in the Kurdish area, before the invasion. I recently chaired a meeting with Iraq's Vice-President, who at that time was the Kurdish Speaker of the House. He argued that many of those who lead the insurgency are not Iraqi nationals. It would be useful if those who are described as insurgents could be named, and in particular if their country of origin could be identified. If that information were provided, much of the existing sympathy for the idea that Iraqis are resisting an invasion by foreign troops would disappear.
There are many things to learn, and I hope that the point that I made in an intervention about thinking smarter and adopting evidence-based policies in the middle east will be picked up in the winding-up speech. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) on his circumnavigation of the globe in what must be record time; he did spectacularly well to get around so many countries in such a short time. However, it is a particular pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson), who did a great service to the House by continuing with his assiduous following of the scandal of the oil-for-food programme fraud.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) was right to chide the Minister, who is now presentthe hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Alexander)for his lengthy absence during this debate. I am pleased to report to the Minister that, in the main, it has been a very good debate. There have been some excellent contributions, not least from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), and from my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) similarly made a very thoughtful contribution, and the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) drew attention to the urgent need to deal with the heroin supply coming from Afghanistan.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) made it clear that the Government should not seek to stoke up fear in respect of security and terrorism. My hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) made it clear that he regards the Prime Minister as the P45 Prime Minister, thus proving that he has ignored the Prime Minister's injunction that this is no time for soundbites. Indeed, all the contributions were excellent and showed that our foreign affairs are deeply controversialboth between and within partiesin a way that they perhaps have not been for many years.
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As my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Defence made clear at the outset, we understand why the Foreign Secretary cannot be with us today. However, it is regrettable that the priority given to foreign affairs in this debate has therefore been somewhat reduced, and that there is so much on which we have yet to hear from the Government. There are important matters concerning Darfur and Zimbabwe, and we have also heard little about the Government's continuing commitment to joining the euro, or about their faltering campaign for the EU constitution.
The Secretary of State for Defence said that the UK is not directly threatened at present. We were pleased to note his clear contradiction of the Leader of the House's disgraceful assertion that the fight against terrorism is the property of one partya matter on which the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe both spoke compellingly. Less welcome were the Secretary of State's complacent remarks about the increasing problem of opium production in Afghanistan. That is one of many problems on which we expect far more from the Government.
Similarly, we heard nothing of the crisis in Darfur. On 10 November, the Prime Minister promised tough international action. I have no time to read what he said into the record, but as column 842 of that day's Hansard shows, he did indeed promise that tough action would be taken. Five days ago, the UN failed to take that tough action and, as Oxfam has said,
The Secretary of State for Defence spoke for 47 minutes, with barely a mention of the one piece of Foreign and Commonwealth Office legislation proposed in the Queen's Speech. Might that be an indication of the Government's hope that the EU constitution will be entirely forgotten about until after the general election?
The hon. Member for Paisley, South, who is now with us to wind up the debate, is of course a Minister in the Foreign Office and in the Department of Trade and Industry. Perhaps more importantly, he is also well known as a protégé of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Meanwhile, his trade responsibilities mean that he has to work very closely with Peter Mandelson, the new EU Trade Commissioner. The House will be listening with great interest to hear whether the Minister speaks with the increasingly Eurosceptic tone of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or whether he shares the view of Mr. Mandelson that the Chancellor has been engaging in crude Euro-bashing. Perhaps he shares the view of his colleague, the Minister for Europehe is no longer in his placethat there is
The Minister for Trade and Investment has been left with many questions to answer, including at least one that was elegantly dropped on him by the Secretary of
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State for Defence in his opening remarks. What actions do the Government propose to improve the position in Darfur? What representations is the Prime Minister making to the US about the middle east and how to take negotiations forward? What is being done to tackle the scourge of drugs from Afghanistan? How can the Government recognise the ever-increasing pressures placed on our forces with their proposed cuts in battalions and warships? The request of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe for real clarity about the way forward in Iraq was important, given his warning that an election there will not be a panacea.
I should like to add some further questions for the Minister to consider. First, I and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, admittedly for different reasons, would like to see the Bill to ratify the EU constitution introduced at the earliest opportunity. Will the Minister now give a clear commitment that Second Reading will take place before Christmas, or is its presence in the Queen's Speech just a feeble sop to those who favour EU integration from a Prime Minister who desperately hopes that the French will vote "No" before the British do?
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