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The people of Darfur have suffered immensely in the past three years from unacceptable violence, daily insecurity and profound humanitarian misery. Millions have had their lives disrupted and often much worse. The UK has been leading the international
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community’s efforts to resolve that crisis. Last Thursday’s agreement in Addis Ababa on a peacekeeping force for Darfur and a resumption of the political process show that there is increasing international consensus on the way in which we should address the ongoing, deplorable violence in Darfur. We need the Sudanese Government to agree that peace, stability and prosperity in Sudan will continue to be a top priority for them.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Margaret Beckett: I will do so, although I said that I would not. Afterwards, however, I wish to make progress.

John Bercow: The Foreign Secretary has been characteristically generous in giving way.

Earlier, the Prime Minister spoke about the need to take a look at the proposal to construct a no-fly zone over Darfur. However, given that that proposal was originally endorsed by the United Nations as long ago as 2004, and that with every day that passes without that protection we witnesses an increase in the number of dead, dying and destitute in the region, does the right hon. Lady not agree that it is imperative that much greater urgency be attached to the matter, and that the zone is established quickly and enforced regularly so that people receive the protection that they need?

Margaret Beckett: I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because he takes a great interest in the issue, which he has raised on many occasions in the House. I take his point entirely, and I assure him that we will look at it again. I simply say, however, that we have concentrated on trying to put an international force on the ground so that it can effectively counter some of the problems that have arisen. I take his point, too, about the no-fly zone, but although there were great hopes last Thursday that the new agreement would indeed be implemented and would hold, there are indications that that may not happen as speedily as we hoped. That must be the focus of our efforts, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will certainly bear in mind the strong point that he made.

In Afghanistan, NATO faces its greatest test. Success in its mission is crucial for its credibility in future. With our NATO allies, the UK is engaged in a struggle to turn a failed state into one that provides for its people and functions as a part of the international community. What has been achieved is rarely reported. Since 2001, more than 4.5 million people who fled their homes have returned. Men and women have turned out in their millions to vote in free and fair elections; 6 million children are now in school, over a third of them girls; 72 new hospitals and clinics have been built; and 35,000 children who would have died are alive thanks to immunisation programmes. British soldiers, alongside the Dutch and the Canadians, are supporting the Afghan Government’s efforts to bring security to the south of the country. It is a tough job, which they are carrying out with incredible professionalism and bravery.

Several hon. Members rose—

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Margaret Beckett: It is genuinely difficult, because I know that with every country I come to someone will wish to intervene. We could be here all afternoon. The hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) was first on his feet, so I will give way to him.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for her generosity. The point that she made about our NATO allies was quite right, but will she tell the House what support she and her Department can give the Defence Secretary to persuade our allies that national caveats have affected operations on the ground? She will know that General Richards made a request for five infantry support companies from some of our NATO allies, but their national caveats prevented them from taking part in Operation Medusa, so they could not help to save 12 Canadians from being shot. Real lives are at stake, and there is a serious problem for British commanders on the ground. The Government and the Opposition are as one on this, but what is the position of our NATO allies?

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman will know that there is a meeting in a few days’ time, and I shall come on to that. We certainly continue to talk to our allies about what can be done, as well as about what further technical and other support can be provided.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con) rose—

Margaret Beckett: I am sorry, I must make progress.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the outstanding work that military and civilian personnel from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, the police and other organisations are doing in Afghanistan and, indeed, Iraq. I hope that no one objects if I single out from my own Department Stephen Evans and his team in Kabul, Nick Kay and his team in Lashkar Gah, Ros Marsden and her team in Basra and Dominic Asquith and his team in Baghdad. Our diplomats rarely receive the recognition that they deserve for doing a difficult and often dangerous job in those countries and others across the world.

Those are a few issues that are rightly at the forefront of our minds, but in focusing on what is most urgent we must not lose sight of the important underlying factors that drive and exacerbate global insecurity. Here, too, Britain is making a difference. Last month, we took the lead in tabling a resolution at the UN General Assembly on an international arms trade treaty to end the irresponsible trade in arms worldwide that fuels conflict and ruins lives. Since the last Queen’s Speech, a great deal has been achieved in the fight against global poverty. At Gleneagles, G8 Governments pledged to increase aid by $50 billion a year by 2010, with half going to Africa; to cancel debt worth another $50 billion; and to provide AIDS treatment to everyone who needs it. During our presidency of the G8, we were instrumental—in fact, key—in securing those agreements. Last year, the UK provided £5.9 billion in official development aid, making us the third largest donor in the world. We
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were instrumental in the launch of the international finance facility for immunisation, which is expected to prevent 5 million child deaths before 2015, and more than 5 million adult deaths after that date. The Government White Paper, “Eliminating world poverty: making governance work for the poor”, sets out how we intend to work with others to meet the challenges ahead.

We will not end global poverty, however, unless we give developing countries the means and the tools to help themselves. The World Trade Organisation round is our best opportunity to do so, but we have only a narrow window—a matter of months, perhaps—to secure the ambitious pro-development deal that we all want. There have been some encouraging signs. Pascal Lamy has restarted WTO negotiations at a technical level. Leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Hanoi made a commitment to break the deadlock, and they recognised that to do so all sides would have to move beyond their current positions. If others move, the European Union must be ready to move, too. In his speech last week, Peter Mandelson confirmed that we are.

We must not underestimate the cost of failure. If we cannot resolve those differences our own economies will suffer, but if we cannot overcome them or find a compromise we condemn millions of men, women and children to a life of poverty or to no life at all. If we cannot work together on that agenda, which is clearly in all of our interests, it weakens the hope of building a global consensus, whether on counter-terrorism, international crime or energy security. Nowhere is that need for mutual trust and action more obvious or vital than in the global challenge that may come to define our generation—climate change. The remaining few who do not think that that is a foreign policy issue simply fail to grasp the sheer magnitude of the challenge that we face. An unstable climate will place huge additional strain on the international tensions that we are already trying to resolve. Many of them are at breaking point, but climate change has the potential to stretch them far beyond that point. As I have reminded the House before, they have played a part in, for example, the conflict in Darfur.

The recent Stern review has now clearly laid out the challenge for the international community. It has shown that it will not cost developed or developing countries the earth to tackle climate change but that it will cost the earth, literally as well as financially, if we do not. Through the G8 plus 5 process that began at Gleneagles, through our role in pushing ambition in the EU, through our increasing co-operation with China, India and Brazil and through our links with individual states in the United States, Britain is helping to set and drive the agenda—but no country, however powerful, can address any of the challenges that I have identified, or others that I do not have time to set out, on their own. They call for concerted global action—for a truly international consensus that brings together countries from across the political and the economic spectrums.

One element of that will have to be a more effective multilateral system that includes a reformed United Nations, better equipped to face those challenges. For the UK, that means that we are forging new partnerships with emerging economies and powers around the world. On recent visits to India and Brazil,
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I have spoken of the need for us to act as global partners and restated our support for the growing influence and role of those countries to be fully reflected in the Security Council and other international organisations.

While we are developing partnerships that are new in depth or in scope, we continue to value our previous partners and relationships. The Commonwealth continues to do much important work, about a third of which we directly fund, not least in promoting democracy, good governance and the rule of law. We have other strong allies, such as the United States, although there are from time to time differences between us on some areas of the global agenda, such as the international arms trade treaty or, indeed, climate change. It is we who are taking initiatives and asking our American colleagues to join us. None of the matters that we have spoken of today, from global poverty and Africa to the middle east peace process or reconstruction in Afghanistan, can possibly be addressed, let alone resolved, without American involvement.

Our membership of the European Union—the largest political union, the biggest economic market and the largest aid donor in the world—gives us a far more powerful voice on the international stage than we have when speaking as a single nation. That is why the Government have put Britain at the centre of Europe, from where we can influence how the European Union speaks and how it acts beyond its borders, rather than migrating to the margins and losing that hard-won leverage.

One of Europe’s greatest achievements so far has been the successive waves of enlargement that have created an ever wider circle of prosperous and stable democracies. Earlier this year, I accompanied Her Majesty the Queen on a state visit to the Baltic states. Those are countries transformed—confident free nations and strong allies as well as trading partners of the United Kingdom. At next month’s European Council there will be a strategic discussion on further enlargement, but we are clear that further enlargement, coupled with rigorous conditionality, will bring clear benefits to Europe and to Britain. We must honour our existing commitments on enlargement, above all by moving forward accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia. For that to happen, those candidates will need to fulfil their existing obligations to all member states and to make progress towards meeting European standards, and we will support them in that process.

Later this month, Latvia will act as host to the NATO summit. It will be the first territory of the former Soviet Union to do so—a powerful symbol of how NATO, like the European Union, has erased cold war divides and helped to create a modern and united continent. In Riga, we want NATO to make the decisions that will allow it and us to meet the challenges of the century to come.

Those are some of the strong global partnerships through which we carry out a distinctive British foreign policy. It is a foreign policy that does not rely on gesture or political grandstanding, but is conducted through quiet and steady progress. The hard grind and
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sheer determination of our soldiers and our civilians around the world means that Britain continues to be a strong, independent and positive force in that world.

1.4 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): A full day’s debate on international affairs in this House is much needed, and some might say that it is long overdue. The last time we had any such debate was in July, and that was short in duration and necessarily dominated by the turmoil in Lebanon at the time. Without extending the argument about on how many occasions Iraq has been referred to in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall over the past few years, it is obvious that given the extent of concern in Parliament and among the wider public about international affairs, and the legitimate debate about foreign and defence policies that in any case takes place outside the House, Ministers should do their best through the coming Session to ensure that such matters can be debated at regular intervals, in particular with regular reports to the House about the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD) rose—

Mr. Hague: That is a rather early intervention, but I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Robert Smith: I want to reinforce the need for that focused debate, especially on Afghanistan, as that was at the heart of the terrorist problem that we faced on 11 September. The Foreign Secretary was able to take very few interventions on that issue to address fundamentally how the distraction of Iraq had undermined our effectiveness in dealing with the problem in Afghanistan.

Mr. Hague: I am glad that my opening remarks have been a vehicle for the hon. Gentleman to make that point. The Secretary of State did her best to take a lot of interventions, and I shall try to take a few as well, if they arise.

In the past year alone, as the Foreign Secretary said, we have seen the escalation of two major attempts to break out of the constraints of the non-proliferation treaty, to one of which there has been a fairly effective and united response but to the other of which there has not. We have seen the continued unacceptable abuse of human rights in countries such as North Korea, Burma and Zimbabwe. We have seen continuing conflicts in some parts of Africa, with the United Nations sometimes struggling to assert its authority. In the western Balkans there have been signs of a slow reversal in some of the progress that has been made. Of course, we have all been immensely concerned by what appears to be a steady deterioration in the situation in the wider middle east, which has inflicted a terrible human toll on Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Gaza. I echo what the Foreign Secretary has said about the outrage that we all feel about the assassination of Mr. Gemayel yesterday in Lebanon. It has reminded us of how serious the situation is. It is not unreasonable, in the light of that and other recent events, to be genuinely alarmed about the situation and worried that our policies might be overtaken by events.

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Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Following the Lebanon war, my right hon. Friend has rather more credibility in Lebanon than the Government, given the lines taken by the respective parties. Will he reinforce my request this morning to Mohammed Raad, the leader of the Hezbollah faction in the Lebanese Parliament, for at least one of the Hezbollah members of the Cabinet and the other four members who recently left the Cabinet to rejoin it to demonstrate that they are not going to see the destruction of the Siniora Government by assassination and murder, even if that is the objective of Hezbollah policy?

Mr. Hague: Of course it would be good if those former Ministers were prepared once again to join a national unity Government in Lebanon, provided that the terms were acceptable to the other parties. That would be a welcome development. It seems unlikely at the moment, but the call for unity in Lebanon is well made.

Let me join in other things that the Foreign Secretary said. She referred to the vital role of the United States, on which we agree, and to the hugely positive influence of European Union enlargement, on which we also agree. We welcome her emphasis on climate change in foreign policy. I join, too, with great enthusiasm in her tributes to Foreign Office diplomats, who, when we travel abroad as the Opposition, we also see doing an extraordinary and sometimes inspiring job around the world.

In any such debate there will be a good deal of common ground between Government and Opposition, and it would be surprising if there were not. Nevertheless, the difficulties that we face require frank assessments and open debate. Let us make it clear that no one who wishes this country harm should mistake our readiness to debate such matters for a sign of weakness. Far from it—it is a sure demonstration of our strength. Nevertheless, when the Chief of the General Staff speaks out as he did about the presence of our troops in Iraq, when the Prime Minister appears to assent—I say “appears” to give him credit—to a televised suggestion that the situation there is a disaster, and when the Chancellor says that the decisions that were made in the early days could and perhaps should have been different, Ministers should be neither surprised nor irritated that others in this House have many questions to ask. The public want to know where we have gone wrong, why mistakes were made and what Britain should do next to improve matters. Just as the Government are entitled to support for many of their objectives, the House is entitled to ask many questions.

Before considering the affairs of Iraq and Afghanistan, I shall follow the Foreign Secretary into a few other areas of immediate concern, of which one is Darfur. The plight of hundreds of thousands in refugee camps and the murder of large numbers who never made it to the camps have moved and angered hon. Members of all parties and people throughout the world. Many of us have been there—I went with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) earlier in the year and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was there only yesterday. We give credit to the Secretary of State for International Development and Foreign Office Ministers, who have worked hard on those matters.

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We have all called and worked together for proper access for aid workers, the implementation of peace agreements and the acceptance by the Government of Sudan of a United Nations peacekeeping force. The framework determined at the weekend between the UN Secretary-General and the Khartoum Government to add UN forces to the African Union mission in Sudan appears to be a major step forward and we welcome the comments of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary today about achieving a larger, stronger and better equipped force in Sudan, and further intense pressure being placed on the Sudanese Government, if necessary.

In those matters, we are at one with the Government, and the same is true of another area of crisis in recent months—North Korea. Its testing of a nuclear device met with clear resolve and unity in the UN Security Council, including a vital and determined response from China. The return of North Korea to the six-party talks is testament to the influence of the Security Council when acting in a united fashion. I know that the Foreign Secretary agrees that it is imperative to maintain that resolve. North Korea must not be allowed simply to buy time or deflect international criticism by going along with talks, and the sanctions against North Korea must be enforced rigorously.

Perhaps the Secretary of State for Defence can say in his winding-up speech whether he is confident that the coalition necessary to enforce those sanctions, especially the provision on cargo inspections, is in place and that any supply of nuclear technology to North Korea can be detected and stopped, especially without South Korean co-operation in the proliferation security initiative. Perhaps he can also say whether the onward proliferation of material from North Korea to other countries can be prevented and whether United Kingdom naval assets will have a role to play in boarding and inspecting suspect vessels.

The response to North Korea is in sharp contrast with that to Iran. The importance of Iran’s progress in nuclear capability is hard to overstate, especially given the possible effect of that success on the intentions of half-a-dozen or so other middle eastern nations, which may wish to develop a nuclear arsenal of their own. If that happens, the efforts of two generations of world leaders, diplomats and intelligence agencies to prevent the uncontrolled spread of nuclear weapons will be in ruins.

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