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Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. Britain led the way in getting European sanctions against Zimbabwe and in raising the problem in the United Nations, as his Front-Bench colleagues asked us to do. Can he tell us why, during the Conservatives' term of office, the Government gave Robert Mugabe a knighthood?

Dr. Fox: An absolutely devastating point. It is typical of the Government that they take no responsibility for what has happened in the past eight years. While they have been in charge of British foreign policy, we have seen the destruction of Zimbabwe's economy and the abuse of human rights. Far from instituting sanctions that matter, they have, instead, been utterly worthless. Nothing effective at all has been done against the regime in Zimbabwe because this Government have not had the nerve to do it.

The New Partnership for Africa's Development requires the President of South Africa to promote democracy in southern Africa, and he should have been reminded of that. The consequences of inactivity have been not only continued suffering in Zimbabwe, but tacit encouragement to other southern African countries to consider land occupations similar to those that had such damaging consequences in Zimbabwe.

Clare Short : I agree that the situation in Zimbabwe is devastating, with a lack of free elections, the suppression of human rights—torture and starvation—and the destruction of the economy. The question is: what can we do about it? It is right to be angry, but the Government have done what they can, which is not much. What more could be done to put right a dreadful situation?

Dr. Fox: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for making a sensible point, but the Government have not put the pressure on South Africa that they could have exerted, which would have been important in improving the situation in Zimbabwe. For some reason, they bottle out of any confrontation with the South African Government, who largely hold the key to the situation in Zimbabwe. I urge the Government, even at this late stage, to make a far greater attempt to persuade the South African Government of the important role they have to play. The new high commissioner will soon go to South Africa. Surely that is an opportunity for the Government to exercise influence on the South African Government to improve the situation.

That problem and others in Africa have not been helped by consigning the Commonwealth to the periphery of British foreign policy.
 
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Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to look carefully at arms sales to some African countries? Is he comfortable with the appointment of the noble Lord Drayson as Minister with responsibility for defence procurement? He gave large amounts of money to the Labour party, got plum contracts for his company, got a peerage and has now bought a job in government. What signal does that send?

Dr. Fox: I share my hon. Friend's reservations. That appointment was typical of the Prime Minister, who, in a spirit of contrition, stood at the steps of Downing street and told us how much he had learned, and then immediately started reappointing cronies to top Government posts. That was the extent of the humility that we will see in the Government's third term.

It is a great shame that the Commonwealth has been consigned to the periphery of our foreign policy. It is one of the most valuable resources for exerting our influence, yet the Government regard it with disdain. I sometimes think that Britain does not deserve the Commonwealth. The French or the Germans would give their right hands to be at the centre of an organisation with such political and economic potential. So much could be done, but so little is attempted by the Government. Whether it is limited vision, lack of ambition or some sort of post-colonial guilt syndrome, it is impossible to say, but it is certainly a wasted opportunity. From India, with its massive potential for growth, or Sri Lanka, where I had the honour to play a small part in the peace process, to the powerhouse that is Australia, so much could be achieved, yet so little is attempted.

The one area in which the Government have been only too ready to become engaged is Iraq. I do not intend to go over whether or not the Attorney-General gave inconsistent advice on the legality of the war. Nor do I intend to rehearse the familiar arguments about whether the country was misled about Iraq's ultimately non-existent weapons of mass destruction. But what is clear is this: if Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein's regime was certainly intent on getting them. Iraq was in clear breach of its international obligations. The security of neighbouring nations and the stability of the region as a whole was put at risk by those developments.

I make those points not because of their relevance to Iraq, but because of their relevance to Iran. Just what are the parallels between Iraq and Iran? There is widespread public anxiety that the decision to undertake military action in Iraq was taken long before we in the House of Commons voted for it. So what is the Government's plan of action for Iran? The approach of the three European Governments, however well meant, does not seem to be reaping rewards. If the Security Council comes next, what sanctions do we envisage and in what time scale? Transparency on the issue from the outset is vital if we are to maintain public confidence. Trust will be harder to come by second time around.

Jeremy Corbyn : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it would be helpful in persuading Iran not to develop nuclear weapons if the non-proliferation treaty conference re-adhered to the 2000 declaration and
 
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Britain and the United States in particular said that they would not develop a new generation of nuclear weapons?

Dr. Fox: I think that members of all parties in the House would agree that it would be beneficial—full stop—if Iran did not develop the potential for nuclear weapons. We would certainly support any Government efforts to that end. We want a transparent course of action that is set out well in advance by the Government.

Much is talked today about globalisation. One of the benevolent consequences of globalisation is that it is more difficult for Governments to misrule their peoples and mismanage their resources without quickly running into problems. Globalisation may not make bad government more difficult, but it certainly makes it more apparent. International interdependence brings opportunities as well as challenges. Interdependence based on free trade increases political stability and makes military conflict less likely. Governments require stability to ensure that their economic interests are not interrupted, and having vested interests in other countries reinforces the likelihood of effective international defence co-operation.

Free trade offers opportunities for exporters to take advantage of new markets as they emerge. Michigan university estimates that if only a third of all tariffs on agriculture, manufacturing and services were cut, world trade would rise by more than $600 billion—equivalent to an economy the size of Canada's. Free trade offers the best opportunity for third-world countries to provide themselves with a sustainable income, and it is infinitely preferable to long-term dependence on aid.

Although no one can deny the vital role that aid plays in the short term, it is too often little more than "conscience money" paid out by developed economies that are preventing less developed countries from gaining access to their markets. We have all seen examples of that over recent years. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) made much of that in her time in office. Aid has become synonymous with caring about poverty, but on the ground it is all too often a process of taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries.

We in this country have one of the best—if not the best—programmes of bilateral aid in the world. We need greater control over the aid budget. The work of the British Council and non-governmental organisations shows just how effective our programmes can be when they are managed on the ground by those who understand local conditions. Those of us who have seen their work at first hand have marvelled at their skill and efficiency. What a contrast that is to the expensive and bureaucratic operations run by so many multilateral organisations.

This country has much to offer in Europe and beyond. We will support the Government where they do the right things. We will particularly support their efforts to deal with global warming and the effects of climate change; that affects all the world and its future generations. In the United Kingdom, the compassion of our citizens, the expertise of many of our organisations, our
 
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economic and political standing, and our historical perspective and diplomatic experience give us natural advantages in pursuing a positive, outward-looking and optimistic foreign policy. All that holds us back is our Government's lack of ambition. We need a foreign policy that is run for the long-term interests of the United Kingdom, not for the short-term tactical interests of this Labour Government. It is a sad state of affairs, but it will not always be so.

12.29 pm


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