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Tyrannical Regimes

3. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What progress there has been in the last month in developing international law and the structure of the UN to end tyrannical regimes.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The Government have long worked for the reform of the United Nations system, and for that reason we greatly welcomed the publication of the report last month from the United Nations Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. This report offered two options for reform of the Security Council, and also proposed new approaches to the use by the Security Council of its chapter VII powers, including a self-denying ordinance on the use of the veto in cases of genocide and large-scale human rights abuses, and observations on the use of force preventively to stop latent threats becoming imminent. I shall reproduce the UN report as a Command Paper to the House, better to assist debate.

Mr. Allen: I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will feel that there is no more important task on his agenda over the next year or so than trying to ensure, while not going over old ground, that we do not repeat any of the problems that the legality of action against previous tyrannies brought before the world and, indeed, this House. Will he accept that there is now an opportunity, given events in the last two or three weeks, to make real progress on developing a global legal system that will allow all of us to unite when faced with tyrannies and re-create the global coalition against terrorism on a sound legal basis?

Mr. Straw: I share my hon. Friend's views on this matter. Having read the report carefully, I believe that if it had existed and been adopted by the international community a decade ago, some of the major problems that we faced in securing agreement—for example, in respect of Kosovo, earlier; in respect of the genocide that was taking place in Bosnia; and in respect of Iraq—could almost certainly have been avoided. The report does not propose changes to the charter itself. They would be virtually impossible to achieve, except those
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relating to membership of the Security Council. It does, however, propose major changes in, as it were, the jurisprudence of the United Nations.

We are fully behind the report and want a full debate about it, which is why I shall be making it available to the House. I hope that there will be a big input from both sides of this House and the House of Lords.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Is not the most significant element of the report the UN's recognition for the first time—alongside the established doctrines of self-defence and imminent threat—of the concept, mentioned by the Foreign Secretary, of what it calls prevention? Does the right hon. Gentleman, like me, welcome the UN's engagement with the need for a responsible doctrine of pre-emption, which is what that means?

Does not the European Union's current flirtation with lifting the embargo on arms sales to China fly in the face of that new consensus? It sets Europe against the United States and threatens the cohesion of NATO. Surely, in the face of growing threats from tyrannical regimes and a growing need for international co-operation, the Foreign Secretary will refuse to sign up to the lifting of the embargo at this time.

Mr. Straw: I do not accept the hyperbolic phrases used by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Circumstances have changed since 1989, when the embargo was imposed. In any event, its scope is limited and it has no legal force.

A key circumstance has changed during the intervening period. Following an initiative by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), we now have a legally enforceable EU code of conduct on arms sales. More denials to China have taken place under that than have taken place under the embargo, and all but two of the denials under the embargo would have taken place in any event under the code of conduct.

I hope that we will not make a decision on the lifting of the embargo at the European Council on Thursday and Friday. We need more time before putting all the arrangements in place. The European Council's General Affairs Committee agreed yesterday that we should seek a strengthening of the code of conduct, and also greater transparency between member states, to reassure everyone including our allies.

I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's first point. I refer Members to an important passage in paragraph 194 of the report. According to the panel,

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): Will the Government impress on the Bush Administration that trying to undermine the International Criminal Court—not least by trying to blackmail small and poor states into bilateral agreements—contrasts starkly with their pretensions to spread democracy, human rights and justice?
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Mr. Straw: The United States has taken a different view on the International Criminal Court from the United Kingdom Government and the European Union. We are four-square in support of the ICC. I can reassure my hon. Friend that a resolution which I think began as Security Council resolution 1414, sponsored by the United States, has now been allowed to lapse.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I am sure that in the debate to come the Foreign Secretary will recognise the distinction between prevention and pre-emption, which is an extremely important doctrinal distinction.

I think that the whole House can welcome the High-level Panel's report, not least because it manages to be both balanced and authoritative. How can we ensure that it does not suffer the fate suffered by similar reports in the past, and find itself gathering dust in the archives of the United Nations? We have, after all, been here before.

Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to confirm Her Majesty's Government's continuing support for the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and to deprecate the efforts of some across the Atlantic to undermine his authority?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his last point. I am delighted to confirm Her Majesty's Government's full-hearted support for Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his staff in the United Nations, and to emphasise the importance of the UN at the centre of our whole system of international order. The UN is not a perfect organisation, but it is essential and it is also essential that we support it. On whether this report will bite the dust or be taken forward, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whom I spoke to last Friday, is determined that it should be implemented effectively, and that is our determination too. There is now a period of consultation within the UN system, and Kofi Annan hopes to make a further report to the UN General Assembly during its ministerial week in September of next year.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): The Secretary of State will know that I am a very strong supporter of the UN High-level Panel and his efforts to publicise it, but can we make absolutely clear the importance of this debate to the future of the world? We need to understand that the United Nations has been and will remain in danger of becoming a second League of Nations unless it can act more effectively against tyrannies in failing states, and in reforming the Security Council to make it more relevant to today's needs. This issue is of vital importance.

Mr. Straw: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I commend his work and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). She had an important input into our thinking and consequently into the UN's, and the result is some of the report's recommendations, not least those in chapter VII. The key point about the report is that it emphasises the way in which the world has significantly changed since the charter was developed almost 60 years ago. The threats then were primarily from sovereign functioning states; today, they are primarily from failing states, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
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In addition to the list of things mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley), I should point to one striking table in the report, which correlates civil wars and disruption with levels of income per head. There is a direct link between those states in which income per head is less than $1,000 a year, and those that are vulnerable to civil war.

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