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John Bercow: We agree that the United Nations should be an instrument of necessary change and not a symbol of passive acceptance of a frankly unsatisfactory status quo. In that context, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, for all the good work of the high-level panel, its position on the UN Commission on Human Rights was not impressive, given that it argued for automatic membership of the commission? Does he agree that the Secretary-General's position is better? Membership should be determined not by geography or automaticity but by behaviour.
Sir Menzies Campbell: The hon. Gentleman is right. The Secretary-General, provoked or stimulated by the panel, produced what seems to me a much more elegant solution than that originally envisaged by the panel.
Darfur has implications for the United Nations. The Minister for Europe made a strong case for what has happened, but he did not persuade me and I doubt whether he persuaded himself. The international community's response to the crisis in Darfur has been slow and inadequate. None of us can be other than shamed by what we have done or not done about Darfur. According to the United Nations, 2 million
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people have fled their homes and at least 180,000 are thought to have died. People in Darfur are still unsafe and suffering shortages of food, water and medicine. That will be remedied only by strong and concerted peace enforcement actionI use those words advisedlyin Darfur, with full United Nations backing.
The world has watched as Governments have prevaricated and the killing has continued. The Security Council should secure the presence of an African Union-led force of at least 10,000 troops and police as the UN's humanitarian chief has requested, with full logistical and financial backing and air support. The force should have a clearer and stronger mandate to protect civilians, not just themselves. There should be targeted sanctions against the Sudanese Government, including a comprehensive arms embargo. A strict no-fly zone should be imposed over Darfur. United Nations monitors should be deployed, including human rights observers, and all the atrocities should be referred to the International Criminal Court. Effective action is imperative, to protect not only the civilians in Darfur but the fragile north-south peace process.
The violence in Uzbekistan is a matter of grave concern. However, it is hardly surprising, given its Government's long-standing record of systematic human rights abuses. For the moment at least, the former ambassador, Mr. Murray, must feel vindicated.
The United States has a military base in Uzbekistan. It signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2002 and has provided more than $200 million in aid. There are reports that the United States and the United Kingdom receive information from the Uzbekistan Government that may have been obtained by torture. What do our Government say to those allegations?
Did those exports conform to criterion 2 of the "Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria", which the Foreign Office publishes? It provides that licences should not be issued when there is a
Concerted pressure must be placed on the Uzbekistan Government to respect the universal right of peaceful protest and freedom of expression. Western states, including Britain, must defend and promote human rights and democracy everywhere in the world. There should be no selectivity. Oppressive regimes should not be exempt from censure simply because of political expediency. The campaign to spread freedom and human rights can never succeed unless the same rules apply equally to all.
I was interested to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) on Europe. He expressed his view a little more noisily than his predecessor but it is not much different. I thought that I
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detected a stirring in Rushcliffe; I thought that there might be a moment when Rushcliffe would be unable to resist the bait to put the sensible case on Europe, which used to be a characteristic of the Conservative party but has long since disappeared
With referendums taking place in Holland and France, our Government can no longer procrastinate on the issue of Europe. The no campaign was launched today; it is time that the yes campaign was launched, and only the Government can do that. If we are serious about the European Union, we must make the case for the peace, prosperity, stability and democracy that it has brought to Europe. Everyone knows that economic prosperity in Britain is underpinned by our membership of the world's largest internal marketa market that constitutes one fifth of global gross domestic product. I have no hesitation in saying that the treaty for a European constitution is essential to facilitate the operation of a much enlarged European Union, and that the spread of freedom, human rights, economic liberalism and good governance to the countries of the former Soviet Union is an historic achievement of which we should be proud, and which we should never stop highlighting.
We shall return to the issue of Europe when the Government introduce the Bill to ratify the treaty, and a lot of the old arguments will be rehearsed. I hope that the Bill will pass quickly through the House of Commons and that we will have a referendum as soon as is practical, to allow Britain to be at the heart of Europe and of the reform of Europe. However, the Government should be in no doubt that the referendum will be a test of commitment and nerve.
The United Kingdom can achieve a better foreign policy. We can commit ourselves unreservedly to the rule of law in international affairs. We can use our influence in Europe and in other places with which we have historic ties, including the Commonwealth, to promote democracy and respect for human rights. We can commit ourselves to support in word and deed the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. We can forge a new relationship with the United States that would be a partnership of influence, without our being so subordinate as to make us appear subservient. The Government have all to play for, and the House is entitled to expect them to take every opportunity to advance those principles, and the interests of the people of the United Kingdom.
Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab):
I should like to begin my first speech in the House with an apology to my hon. Friends. As the new Member for Leicester, South, I can claim credit for being the Labour gain on 5 May. I was also, however, the candidate who did not win the by-election last July. My thanks are therefore due to my many hon. Friends who campaigned for me last year, and my apology goes to them for being 10 months late in getting here.
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My constituency has many strengths. It contains most of Leicester's city centre, which has a lively, thriving shopping centre and a unique covered market. Leicester has an unbroken history from Roman times: it was a major Roman centre, its Norman castle hall is still partly standing, and it has a beautiful mediaeval guildhall. It is a fine city that experienced dramatic growth during the 19th century, and we still benefit from that legacy today. The city contains two excellent universitiesLeicester university and De Montfort universitywhich contribute enormously to its well-being, its cultural life and, particularly, its economic life.
The constituency of Leicester, South is possibly unique in having four first-class professional sports teams: Leicestershire cricket club; Leicester City football club; the Leicester Riders basketball club; and the Leicester Tigers rugby club. While Leicester City football club might not currently be in its proper place in the premiership, we can console ourselves with the triumphs, or indeed the near-triumphs, of the Tigers. We can also look forward to a good summer for the county cricket club.
I firmly believe, however, that the outstanding strength of my constituency is the diversity of its communities. Every aspect of Leicester's life has benefited from the families who have made their home there over recent decades. Its social life, its cultural life, its religious diversity, its political life, its business and its economy have all been enriched and transformed by those who have made it their home over those decades. We can never be complacent, but Leicester provides a model of a community strengthened by and proud of its diversity.
I am privileged to have led the city council in Leicester for more than 17 years, and I am now privileged to have been entrusted by the electors of Leicester, South to represent them in this House. It is appropriate, in this debate on foreign affairs and defence, to refer back to the by-election last July. Other parties focused at the time on the single issue of Iraq, and were quite successful in converting anger over that issue into votes. At the general election it was different. That is not to say, however, that the many members of the electorate who believed Iraq to be a mistakeindeed, who were appalled at the blunder that it representedhave changed their view. They have not, and neither have I.
However, in Leicester, South and elsewhere, the election was about the Government's achievements and manifesto, and the alternatives to those achievements and that manifesto. The electors in Leicester, South are aware that the constituency has benefited enormously from three highly successful Sure Start schemes, which have transformed the life chances of many children. They are also aware of the extra police and community support officers who contribute so much to community safety in the city. They are also aware that antisocial behaviour legislation has enabled communities to begin to reclaim their neighbourhoods for the ordinary, decent people who live in them.
The electors of Leicester, South are also aware of the transformation of the city's public services that is taking place under Labour. They are aware of the £700 million commitment to transform Leicester's hospitals, particularly the Leicester royal infirmary, which is in my constituency. The new children's accident and
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emergency unit there has already been built and opened, and it is paving the way for the major transformation of that and the other city hospitals.
I must, however, mention two issues of concern that were brought to my attention during the election campaign. The first was a specific concern expressed by the parents of children in one part of the constituency about the potential effect of the proposed city academy on the other schools in the neighbourhood. Although most people did not express opposition to the academy, they frequently expressed concern about the perceived lack of genuine consultation and dialogue about the proposals, and about the potential impact of the academy on the other schools currently attended by their children.
The other, more general, concern that I must mention came from Muslim constituents. They are respectable, reasonable, sensible people who, in recent times, have felt that their religion has been grossly misrepresented and that their communities have been demonised. Although they warmly welcome the proposals to outlaw religious discrimination, they none the less increasingly resent the way in which they, their families and their friends have been stopped, questioned and subjected to official attention for no apparent reason other than the way in which they were dressed or the fact that the men had beards. They share the concern of many other constituents in Leicester, South that the introduction of further anti-terrorist legislation and the proposed introduction of identity cards should take place only in ways that will protect their civil liberties and their dignity.
I want to use this opportunity to commit myself to playing a full part in the regeneration of Leicester. I particularly want to ensure that the very welcome moves, following the Lyons report, to relocate Government Departments and agencies do not miss the excellent advantages that Leicester provides in terms of location and communications. For too long, unaccountably, Leicester has lost out to the smaller city of Nottingham somewhere to the northa city which I understand is somewhere near Rushcliffe. I hope, along with my good right hon. and hon. Friends the Members for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and for Leicester, West (Patricia Hewitt), to help to ensure that the balance is redressed for Leicester and that we too have our share of Departments.
I want to pay my respects to Parmjit Singh Gill, my immediate predecessor, who was here for a brief 10 months. Although we taunted him about it, it is indeed fortunate that Mr. Gill remained a member of Leicester city council. He will, at least until the next city council elections, have an opportunity to use in that forum the experience that he undoubtedly gained in the House, and I wish him well.
I began with an apology, and I shall end with an aspiration. I was proud to be, for more than 30 years, a friend and sometime agent of Jim Marshall. Jim, of course, represented Leicester, South until his sudden death almost exactly 12 months ago. With a break in the mid-1980s, he had served the constituency since 1974. He was a man of principle, much loved, much admired and now sadly missed by his constituents in Leicester, South and, I know, by many Members here. My
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aspiration is to be as effective a representative of Leicester, South in the future as was my friend Jim Marshall in the past.
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