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Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will my hon. Friend comment on a report in The Times today that the Conservative party will not stand in the way of the Bill that deals with the European constitution? If so, what would that mean?

Mr. Brady: I invite my hon. Friend to wait until we see the Bill—[Interruption.] Opposition Members should contain themselves. I can assure my hon. Friend that he will not be disappointed by the vigour with which we oppose the European constitution, as we disagree with it as a matter of principle. If the Minister wants us to believe that the Government are serious about promoting the EU constitution, will he also clarify whether the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary is winning the argument, and will he tell us when the referendum will be held?

Will the Minister now tell the House emphatically that citizens of other countries who happen to be resident in the UK will not be allowed to vote in the referendum? The vote must be for the British people and by the British people. Will the Minister confirm that? Ministers have suggested that British Gibraltarians will be able to vote in it, so will the Minister give an assurance that other overseas territories, to which elements of the constitution might apply, will also be allowed a vote?

The Chancellor has rightly said that the Commission's bid for a 35 per cent. budget increase is "unrealistic and unacceptable". We agree. Given that the Commission has underspent by 7 to 15 per cent. of its budget in each of the last three years, will the Minister now go further and make it clear that there is no case for an increase at all?

In the brief time available, let me explain what a Conservative Government would do differently. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition set out in his speech at Chatham house, we
 
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should chart a course in foreign affairs that puts the safeguards and benefits of the UK first, while taking full advantage of what he called

to promote freedom, democracy and peace. In that context, we have consistently called for better forward planning in Iraq and more rigour in the approach of the international community towards Darfur. We believe that the Government's belated and weak response to the crimes of the Mugabe regime is a national scandal. We have also made it clear that we will reverse Labour's cuts in the infantry and other front-line forces.

Our vision of Europe is clear and positive. There is no crude Euro-bashing from us. We reject British membership of the euro on principle. We say no to the EU constitution on principle and we will negotiate to return powers to member states. Our vision of a more flexible, less centralised Europe is widely shared, and not just by the new member states.

It is our view, following the rejection of the constitution, that we should

Those are not my words, but the words of the Dutch Foreign Minister, Bernard Bot, speaking at Berlin's Humboldt university last June. It is an eloquent expression of the sort of settlement that might be negotiated once the constitution is thrown out.

However, achieving such a settlement will need leadership, and that is what the Prime Minister cannot offer. He is too beset by doubt to lead those who want more integration, and too trapped in an outdated view of a centralised, integrated Europe to give the leadership that Europe so desperately needs to take it towards a more flexible, less centralised and more outward-looking future. That is why it is so essential that the British people should elect a Conservative Government next year. A Conservative Government would want to hold a referendum next year and to use the mandate of a "No" vote to lead Europe to a new and better settlement.

It is truly remarkable that a Government who devote so much of their attention to foreign affairs have achieved so little. We can give the strength, direction and vision that British foreign policy so badly needs.

6.45 pm

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I am grateful for the opportunity to draw to a conclusion this part of the debate on the Gracious Speech devoted to foreign affairs and defence. I want to thank Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen for the characteristic grace and generosity with which they welcomed me to my role.
 
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As was intimated earlier, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary could not be here in the Chamber today. He has been attending the international conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, and is today holding talks with Israel's leaders. Tomorrow, he will meet the leaders of the Palestinian Authority. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's presence in Egypt to encourage international support for Iraq and his discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders underline Britain's role at the heart of international diplomacy and our determination to work for a lasting settlement in the middle east.

I should like to take a few moments to add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said earlier today about the developing situation in Ukraine. As I speak, events are still unfolding. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken today to his counterparts, and the Foreign Office has, of course, been in regular contact with Kiev. The message is clear: this crisis needs to find its way to a political and peaceful solution. The EU has today appointed a special envoy, and the Government have made it clear that they want the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's election observers to report and have their concerns—and, indeed, ours—addressed by the authorities in Kiev.

The situation is still unfolding. I am sure that the House would welcome a further statement in due course. In the meantime, we will continue to work with all parties to make the case that democracy and fair and free elections become a right that every Ukrainian citizen can expect to enjoy.

Mr. Tyrie: Do the Government recognise the outcome of the elections as it stands?

Mr. Alexander: I understand that a report was due to be issued this afternoon, but I have not yet had the opportunity to study it. However, if it would be helpful to the House for a Foreign Office Minister to make a statement following publication of the report, I am sure that that offer can be taken forward with the appropriate authorities.

I shall endeavour to address at least some of the points made in the debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, made an important speech that ranged from the middle east to the transatlantic relationship. He was followed by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) who, while he clearly disagrees with much of the Government's approach, made his case with characteristic force and grace.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) brought years of experience to his contribution on the middle east, while the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) assumed his standard position on the issues of Europe, Iraq and the question of a referendum, attacking the Government and the position of his own party's Front Bench with equal vigour.

The speech by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) ranged from George F. Kennan to George W. Bush, while explaining his opposition to the foreign policy of the present US Administration.
 
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My   hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) spoke movingly of the plight of developing countries, and a close constituency neighbour of mine, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), made an impassioned and informed speech.

Similarly, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) made a speech that focused on human rights in general and on Burma in particular. It revealed real expertise and concern for that blighted land. My hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) and for Battersea (Martin Linton), and the hon. Members for South Antrim (David Burnside), for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) made wide-ranging contributions ahead of the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty).

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) spoke about her constituents in Guantanamo bay, and of her recent meeting with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I will make him aware of the points that she raised, and I will make my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence aware of the points raised by the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson).

The very breadth of the issues covered in this Chamber over recent hours demands that I begin by endeavouring to place a number of current issues in context. We live in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. The challenges we face today—terrorism, poverty, crime, drug trafficking, illegal immigration and climate change—are global challenges. We are all affected and, in turn, to address them effectively we must work together. That means Government working at home with Parliament, the private sector and civil society, and overseas with our partners in Europe and in the UN.

In the coming year, the UK will chair both the G8 and EU Council of Ministers. We will use those opportunities to seek to take forward international action on poverty reduction, to encourage debate and further research on climate change and to make progress on trade liberalisation as we seek both free and fair trade. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence pointed out in his opening speech, UK armed forces are increasingly working with the forces of other nations to resolve conflict and stabilise peace. Our diplomats are working in partnership with those of other nations to negotiate diplomatic solutions to challenges around the world. May I take this opportunity, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my ministerial colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to pay tribute to the members of the diplomatic service and to all those who work tirelessly at home and in our posts overseas—often in difficult and dangerous circumstances—both to promote Britain's interests and to help those in need throughout the world? At this challenging time, may I also join in the tributes we have heard today from both sides of the House to the remarkable courage and determination of the UK armed forces serving in Iraq and around the world at this time?

There has been much focus in this debate on the prospects for moving forward the peace process in the middle east and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has today held meetings with several Israeli
 
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leaders. He has made clear our determination to work to promote progress towards a lasting peace in the light of changed circumstances on the ground; the recent death of President Arafat, the forthcoming Palestinian elections and the prospect of Israeli disengagement from Gaza and parts of the west bank.

The recent joint UK-US statement set out clearly our view of the way ahead with, at its heart, a vision of a two-state solution with the road map still a crucial guide. There is much work to be done in pursuit of that goal—and that, at least, was a rare point of consensus between the occupants of the Front Benches during the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). We will do all that we can to contribute to the success of the 9 January Palestinian presidential and legislative elections and we welcome the stated intention of the Israeli authorities to do everything that they can to help ensure that the elections run smoothly.


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