Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con):
The Minister will be aware that he took this country to war
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against a dictatorship that turned out not to have weapons of mass destruction. The definition of weapons of mass destruction includes chemical weapons. He will also be aware that in February of this year, Burma, on the Burmese-Thai border, used chemical weapons against Karen rebels. So we have a situation where the Government took the country to war against a country that did not have weapons of mass destruction, but choose to ignore a country that has weapons of mass destruction and has used them. Will he share his thinking and his logic on that?
Mr. Alexander: It is simply wrong to suggest that this Government are ignoring the challenge of Burma. This Government have led the international effort in the European Union to ensure that tougher and more rigorous sanctions are brought forward. However, we do need to work with European Union partners, not least given the relative balance of investment between EU partners in Burma and that within the United Kingdom. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to make every effort to continue the pressure on the Burmese regimecertainly, on this side of the House, that has been a long-standing commitment.
Since 1997 this Government have done more than any other to make the United Kingdom's rules on arms exports among the very best in the world, yet much more needs to be done to regulate the trade in conventional arms worldwide and to tackle the easy availability of conventional weapons, especially small arms, in countries vulnerable to conflict and instability. The Government will therefore lead international work to agree a global arms trade treaty. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will take forward this work at a meeting of G8 Foreign Ministers that he will be chairing this coming month.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I welcome the Minister's suggestion of a worldwide convention on the arms trade and arms dealing. Will he turn his attention to the non-proliferation treaty talks that are going on in New York at present? Can he give the House an assurance that the British Government will adhere to the original terms of the treaty, which is for global nuclear disarmament, and that this will be included in a British proposal for the conclusion of this year's conference?
Mr. Alexander: We have met all our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and we are engaged in important discussions at the moment. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to take forward our initiatives to secure wider disarmament in relation to the treaty of which he speaks, and which is under discussion in New York.
The United Kingdom's commitment to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq remains strong as they work to defeat those who would put in jeopardy the progress that has been made. As the House is aware, UK forces
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serving in Iraq are a part of the multinational force and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House would join me today in paying tribute to their courage, professionalism and commitment. The United Kingdom's forces are mandated under United Nations resolution 1546. That mandate will be reviewed by the United Nations Security Council next month and will expire on completion of the political processthat is, when Iraqis have agreed the constitution by referendum and held elections due by December 2005.
However, the multinational force is in Iraq with the agreement of the Iraqi Government, who may terminate their presence at any time or request their continued presence. The UK therefore will continue to provide troops for as long as the Iraqi Government want us to remain. We have no desire to stay a moment longer than necessary, but we will not leave the job before it is done. We will continue to help Iraq to develop more capable security forces
We shall continue to help Iraq to develop more capable security forces of its own, working with our partners in the multinational force, NATO and the European Union to train and equip the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police service, and we shall continue to support Iraq's reconstruction, to which we have already committed £544 million. However, to build the conditions for wider global security and prosperity we cannot just focus on the middle east. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, we must in particular make this a year of opportunity for Africa. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will chair the G8 summit in Gleneagles in July, from which we hope to achieve significant results in delivering the recommendations of the Commission for Africa, as well as building consensus for action on climate change.
Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): The Minister has been generous to the House in giving way. While he is talking about the wider impact of the British Government's relations and representations, will he bear in mind the fact that the longest-serving prisoners of war in the world today are soldiers of the Moroccan army held by the Algerians? That is also an aspect of interest to British-Arab policy. Will he consider whether representations could be made to the Algerian Government to release those long-standing prisoners?
As G8 and EU President, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will also attend the UN millennium review summit in New York this September. As well as being a forum for stronger action on development and especially on Africa, the summit provides an excellent opportunity to strengthen the UN and make it more effective. We strongly welcome UN Secretary-General Annan's "In Larger Freedom" report, which sets out innovative ideas for reform within a framework, rightly
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linking the challenges of development, security and human rights. We will work with other Governments, the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly to encourage member states to sign up to as full a package of reforms as possible at the summit in September.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world warperhaps the proudest moment in our national historyyet for some time the year 1945 also symbolised the end of an era for the United Kingdom's power and influence in the world. Now, 60 years on, the United Kingdom is Europe's strongest large economy, and Britain is strong today not just because of our economy or our alliances: we are strong, too, because we are confident of the role that we can play in the world. We are proud of our strong values and our network of global friendships and influence. When we tackle poverty and hunger, act to resolve conflicts or work for the spread of peaceful, democratic institutions, we are promoting both our values and our own security and well-being, along with those of the world as a whole. Today, with this Government, Britain is a nation determined to be at the heart of international efforts to build a safer, fairer and more prosperous world.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): I begin by saying how delighted I am to be back at the Dispatch Box again after my 18 months exile with those at central officealthough probably not as delighted as they are. I am disappointed that the Foreign Secretary is not here for this debate. He had the courtesy to call me personally to explain why, for which I am grateful. Notwithstanding that, the date of the Queen's Speech has been known for some time, and I hope that the Government will ensure that their business is better organised and more coherent in future.
This is indeed a good time for us to review our foreign policy in general. Ours is the world's fourth largest economy, with a unique trading pattern and long and varied historical contacts. Yet, despite what the Minister has just said, the ambitions set for our country have been far too modest, the focus of policy has been too narrow, and there has been too much tactical thinking and not enough strategic vision. We need to look for new opportunities and challenges. Our long-term prosperity depends on finding new markets and new trading partners.
We need to ditch the hang-ups of those who seem obsessed with apologising for our history, and turn the good will and respect for this country, which stills exists extensively around the world, into new economic opportunities. We need to look ever more outwards and remember that the world does not end at the southern border of Greece, the western border of Portugal or the eastern border of Poland and the Baltic states.
The charge that we lay against the Government is that they are insufficiently ambitious for the United Kingdom. Too much foreign policy is about grandstanding, rather than the national interest. There is far too much short-term tactical consideration, and they have failed to exploit the many opportunities that they have been given. They have failed to understand that British foreign policy is about doing what is in Britain's national interest. They seem to confuse policy
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and diplomacy. It is for Ministers to set out policy in the national interest and for the diplomatic service to carry out that policy diplomatically.
Let me give the House just one example that indicates the problem. The European Union has been very keen to lift the arms embargo on China, largely to accommodate the wishes of the French and German defence industries. That policy has been strongly opposed by the United States, which has indicated its unwillingness to see new defence technology shared with the United Kingdom if it will subsequently be simply exported to China. There is no strategic interest for the United Kingdom in arming Chinese defence forces, but there is clearly a downside in terms of defence co-operation with the United States. Yet the policy has been decided not on the basis of our national interest, but on the short-term tactical interest of the Prime Minister at the beginning of the EU presidency. The obsession with regaining popularity among European leaders seems to take precedence over any other considerations. As long as it is good for him, it does not matter if it is bad for British industry and British jobs.