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John Barrett: I had finished speaking, but I am delighted to allow the right hon. Gentleman to clarify
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matters. I am aware of his position, which is similar to mine in support of international development. I agree that a number of Members on the Conservative Benches have slightly nuanced their position over the past couple of years.

4.58 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): I hope the House will forgive me if I depart from the focus on one or two geographical regions of the world, important though the debate has been in relation to those areas. It has been a privilege to take part in the debate and to enjoy the extremely informative speeches of what I would call the three high towers of the Conservative Back Benches—my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke).

In my brief contribution I shall concentrate on the general principles of democracy building, and make the case for Britain being at the forefront of building democratic capacity around the world in the way that I shall define it, and certainly not trying to impose it. First, however, I shall flag up two situations that concern me. We have not yet had any reference to Belarus. It is a disgrace that there, on the edge of the European Union, in the heart of geographic old Europe, there is still a dictatorship. The UK and particularly the EU could be doing more to focus our efforts to underpin the forces of opposition in Belarus, and to broadcast to that country truth and media reflections of what is going on in the real world.

There has also been much debate about North Korea, where the situation is desperately grave. I am probably one of the few Opposition Members who has been there—it was three years ago—and it was the grimmest, bleakest experience of my life. Not only does the country have nuclear plans, but 25 million people are cold, hungry and starving, so I hope that those on the Opposition Front Bench and the Government will, in the run-up to the six-party talks, use the European Union and other world forums to urge the North Korean Government to allow non-governmental organisations and international charities into the country to help to meet the needs of their starving, cold and oppressed people. Any contact is good and we certainly want more support for that country and its people.

I want to develop the theme that democracy building should be a major plank of British foreign policy. Let me first briefly explain what I mean by democracy. I am certainly not talking about simply promoting the Westminster model or saying that we are perfect, even though we have been at it a long time. I could produce a long list of things that we could change in our democracy, not least the status of the second Chamber, the role of the Whips in Parliament—I hope that is written down in the Government Whip’s little blue folder—party funding and voter turnout. Many things should be changed in our democracy and the constant evolution of the way we do things is entirely healthy. We have been at it a long time and, as my right hon. Friend the leader of the Conservative party has suggested recently, we have experiences that we can,
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with humility and patience, share with many willing participants in the developing world.

Although democracy will always look different wherever it is to be found, I believe that four pillars must be present in every healthy democracy. The first is the ability to elect and get rid of people we call politicians—those who are brave or perhaps stupid enough to put themselves forward for election—and to elect the Government we want and then to remove them when they do things that we do not like.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Would this ability to get rid of certain politicians apply to both Houses of Parliament?

Mr. Streeter: I certainly support the election of a certain percentage of the upper Chamber, although I am not sure that I entirely agree with Opposition Front Benchers that the figure should be 80 per cent. However, I agree that we should elect a significant number.

It was a striking disappointment for me to realise some years ago in my work on democracy capacity building that we cannot really have democracy without political parties. I am sorry about that; I wish that we could. We certainly need politicians and they need to cohere around a set of principles and, in the end, that means that they form parties. Party politics is by no means perfect, but we need to support it and build its capacity where it emerges in fledgling democracies.

The second pillar that needs to be found is the rule of law. No one is above the law and we look on with interest at the sight of our Prime Minister possibly being questioned by the police about certain things that he may have done. I have no idea whether he has done anything wrong, but I find it healthy that he is not above the law and that our police force does not conduct itself with partiality. The rule of law also involves independent judges who decide without fear or favour, a commitment to the rights of the individual and a respect for human rights.

The third pillar found in a healthy democracy is freedom of speech and a free media. Sometimes we pull our hair out at our irresponsible media, but I am glad that we have our media rather than those in Belarus or Burma. This pillar also involves the freedom to criticise those in power, the freedom to worship whichever God we choose, the freedom to assemble and the freedom to travel. Freedom is an important pillar of democracy.

The fourth pillar is a strong civil society. A country is not just made of the state and individuals. In between are all those little platoons of charities, organisations, associations, unions, Churches and faith groups that form the glue of that society and hold the whole thing together. That is what I mean by the promotion of democracy.

Churchill described democracy as the worst form of government ever invented, apart from all of the others, and I am sure that he was right. Every democratic country will have its own home-grown version, with all its quirks and idiosyncrasies, and that is how it should be. I am persuaded that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside. If anyone thought—I am not sure that they did—that we could simply go to war in Iraq and impose democracy from the outside, they have
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been proved wrong, because that has clearly been a non-successful policy. Democracy will look different and it cannot be imposed, but the four pillars of free and fair elections, the rule of law, freedom of speech and a strong civil society will be found in every healthy democracy.

In the long run that will mean that a country will enjoy better governance—good governance—and that will lead to better lives for its citizens. If I were to say the one thing that we could do for any of the failing states where people live in such abject poverty or suffer such human rights abuses, it would be to help those countries to build a democratic framework so that they end up with good governance.

Despite what some may claim, Britain has much solid experience in all those four pillars. In fact, we are rather good at them, warts and all, and we have experience to share, albeit with patience and humility. If we add that to our international heritage and our global networks, it soon becomes clear that we should be at the forefront of offering help and support in building capacity in all those nations that aspire to become stronger democracies. We do that in three principal ways.

The Westminster Foundation for Democracy has existed since 1994 and it provides a platform for both party-to-party capacity building work, and institution- to-institution work, both the political and the civil society streams. But its budget is roughly £4 million a year, which is peanuts compared with what other countries, such as America and Germany, spend on democracy building. The budgets of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute are around $100 million each per year, and the Germans also spend a lot of money.

Secondly, last year more than £200 million from the DFID budget went on support for democracy and good governance. That is commendable and to be supported, but I simply ask whether that was spent in a focused way, or whether it could have been better spent on democracy building and good governance projects through a specialist organisation.

The third way in which we build democracy is by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—through various of its posts—buying in specialist capacity building services in a country, not least through the global opportunity fund, and there have been successes. Bahrain was mentioned, and that was an example where the global opportunities fund was put to good use in supporting its fledgling democracy.

Mark Pritchard: Does my hon. Friend agree that the BBC World Service also has a part to play, albeit directly in democracy building and sharing British values and the values of the free world across the world? Does he further agree that the Foreign Office might look at extending Chevening scholars more globally in order that people understand the four pillars of democracy that he rightly underlines?

Mr. Streeter: My hon. Friend is right. Those are very much part of the focus that Britain should have in its foreign diplomacy and policy.

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Whenever I go to Africa or central Asia—I am fortunate enough to travel quite a lot at the moment—and sit down and talk to people about their lives and ask them what is the biggest problem that they face in Kenya, Zimbabwe, or wherever it might be, interestingly the answer is nearly always the same. They do not say poverty; they say corruption. Linked to that corruption is a sense of powerlessness to do anything about it. The only real antidote to corruption in the long term is a robust democratic framework that produces good governance: the ability to vote a corrupt Government out of office in a free and fair election; judges of integrity who are independent to challenge corrupt practices at every level in society; media that can expose wrongdoing; and a strong civil society that can produce and sustain men and women of values in office.

My call therefore is for the Government to ramp up our democracy-building services in this country by planning for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to grow into a major global player as a specialist arm of British foreign policy, and in particular to develop more specialisation in the two pillars of democracy that we currently do not really do: to strengthen the rule of law and to underpin freedom of speech in various countries. That £4 million business should be encouraged to grow into a £40 million business in the next three to five years, which would increase the impact of our work. That money would be crumbs off the table in terms of the DFID budget, and it would be better spent in a more focused and strategic way.

WFD is often seen as an underachieving institution—of course, that was not true when the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) was its chairman—but a process of renewal is now under way. There is an awful lot of hope for the future of WFD, and it is time that the Government changed their attitude towards it by promoting it as a major arm of Government policy. It has started to win contracts, which is a step in the right direction.

Our grandchildren will live in an increasingly globalised and interdependent world, and decisions made in faraway countries will impact on them. Let them at least know that we, the preceding generation, did our utmost to establish strong democratic traditions all over the world.

5.11 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), and I appreciate his remark about me.

I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House because I was not here for a period this afternoon as I was chairing a Select Committee meeting. Unfortunately, the way in which the business has been organised led to that clash.

I was here for the opening speeches, when I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary refer to the Commonwealth. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not always pay sufficient attention to the Commonwealth. The White Paper on active diplomacy, which sets out the 10 strategic priorities, did not
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mention the Commonwealth, which was unfortunate, so it was good that the Foreign Secretary referred to it today.

The Foreign Secretary also said that there should be no question of cutting and running in Iraq, which is absolutely right. Whatever views hon. Members may have about the current situation—there have been welcome references to handing back Maysan province to Iraqi control before Christmas, and there are plans involving Basra in the spring—we must recognise that we need to give a sustained commitment to the democratic institutions and constitution, which were established by the 12 million brave Iraqi people who defied bombs and beheadings in order to vote for democratic change in that society.

Two weeks ago, King Abdullah of Jordan spoke to Members of both Houses at a meeting in the Royal Robing Room, and his message was sober and sombre. However, he also told us not to cut and run, because of the consequences not only in Iraq, but for Iraq’s neighbours. In that circumstance, Iraq’s neighbours might try to intervene in Iraq in order to influence the outcome of a breakdown in that society, which would potentially result in three different warring areas.

In 2003, I voted for the intervention in Iraq. I did so because of my long-standing commitment to my Iraqi Kurdish friends, whom I have known for many years from their living in this country, and to those on the left in Iraq who suffered brutality and repression in Iraq at the hands of Saddam’s regime. The Prime Minister has used the word “resile” in a different context, and I will not resile from my support for self-determination and ridding Iraq of a dictator.

I must admit that the situation today is far more difficult than I thought it would be. I have visited Basra on three occasions, and on each visit I thought that the situation was worse than it was on the previous occasion. All hon. Members must learn the lessons from the mistakes that have been made in Iraq. One of the mistakes was clear on my first visit in May 2004, when the British military wanted to open Basra airport. They were not allowed to do so because the matter was under the ambit of the collective decision of the coalition provisional authority, which took the view that it would be politically dangerous to open up the situation in Basra in advance of that in Baghdad. In retrospect, that was one of the most damaging decisions taken, because Basra, which is a port and provides access to the rest of the world, could have achieved normal economic development for a society that operated—as it still does to a large extent—as a state-controlled system with almost no private enterprise. If Basra had been opened up in that way, it might have led to other highly beneficial economic developments.

Mr. MacNeil: May I take the hon. Gentleman back to his remarks about self-determination, and ask whether he supports self-determination for the Kurds?

Mike Gapes: I have spoken to many Kurdish politicians about that issue and they believe that the best security for the Kurdish people of Iraq is a federal, democratic Iraq. If that fails, I suspect that the Kurdish
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people would want a separate state, and there would be a danger that Iraq’s neighbours—Turkey, Syria and Iran, each of which has a minority Kurdish population—would intervene. The Scottish Nationalist party proposes simplistic solutions to problems in this country, and they have simplistic solutions, too, for the much more complex problems in Iraq.

It is possible that there will be a significant reduction in the British military presence in Iraq, but we must sustain democratic, humanitarian and other commitments to the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi people and their democratic institutions for a long time to come. There should be an international commitment under the UN—we have authority under UN resolutions even now—but we must recognise, too, the nature of the British contribution in the long term. President Bush will visit Jordan in the next few days. I understand that he will meet the Iraqi Prime Minister, and I hope that he will listen to what he says. I hope that he will listen, too, to the views of King Abdullah and other Jordanians on the importance of engaging countries in the region.

I raised that subject in my intervention on the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). The American Government must rethink their role towards countries in the region, including Syria and, more importantly, Iran, where it has not had a diplomatic presence since Jimmy Carter was President, when diplomatic relations ended. The US does not have an ambassador in Syria, but it has an embassy and a chargé d’affaires. In Iran, however, it does not have anything. The Americans fail to understand how the Iranians, who are a very proud people, feel about their 3,000-year-old Persian history. The issue is complex because we are dealing not just with the problem of perceptions on the Arab street, but with the Sunni-Shi’a conflict and the fact that Iran is not an Arab country.

If developments in Iran go badly, the country’s Arab neighbours in the region may wish to acquire nuclear weapons in a short time. That is destabilising and it could be disastrous for the peace and security of the whole world. The more countries that have nuclear weapons—particularly countries that lack democratic traditions and have a history of hosting jihadist and Wahhabist groups—the more danger there is that a terrorist group will gain access to weapons of mass destruction and will be prepared to use them. The debate about nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction must therefore be raised to a much more sophisticated level, so I hope that when the Government publish their White Paper on Trident they will address those complex issues. When debating them we should consider not just the costs of particular weapons systems, but the international context. The world we live in today is, sadly, very dangerous and very different from how we had hoped it would be at the end of the cold war.

Reference was made briefly to the situation in North Korea. I went to Korea for the first time in September, and the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) was with me. We were in the demilitarised zone and, frankly, it was bizarre. It was like being in a 50-year-old time warp, with giant towers and North Korean and South Korean soldiers in poses standing off against each other. We have to understand that
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there is serious potential for a resumption of conflict in that area. We need to give more attention to assisting the six-party talks process and what is being done by the neighbours of North Korea to bring about stability.

Finally, I want to make brief reference to the fact that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget is under pressure. We continue to close posts in a number of Pacific islands and in southern Africa, and the level of diplomatic representation in several European countries is being run down. Could we not have a more sophisticated approach to some of these issues? I met the Kyrgyz ambassador to the UK yesterday. We do not have diplomatic representation in Bishkek—although the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has been calling for it for a long time—but I discovered yesterday that there is a Department for International Development operation there. Is it not absurd that only one arm of the British Government is there? Could the person who runs the DFID operation perhaps provide visas for four hours or two mornings a week so that people do not have to go all the way to Kazakhstan to get a visa to come to Britain? That seems to be common sense, but we have not yet considered it. I raise that as a suggestion to the FCO and DFID to see whether there are ways in which we can improve our representation internationally.

5.22 pm

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): The Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) made a thoughtful speech, and I agreed with much of it. There has been a remarkable consensus across the Chamber and it has been a real pleasure to listen to many of the speeches.

However, I risk shattering that consensus a little by taking issue with the Foreign Secretary’s statement that there have been some 60 debates on Iraq since 2003, in response to my questioning why the Prime Minister does not come to the House and lead a debate on current and future policy on Iraq. Most of the debates that the Foreign Secretary mentioned looked back into the past. I ask the Minister to understand the deep sense of frustration in the House because the Government refuse to allow a full and proper debate on the future of Iraq, as illustrated by the number of speeches that have dealt with Iraq in this debate.

It is absolutely disgraceful that the Prime Minister refuses to come to the Chamber and discuss current policy when he is more than prepared to contribute to the Iraq study group’s deliberations and to other deliberations around the world. It was the Prime Minister who led us to war, and given the deteriorating situation in Iraq it should be the Prime Minister who comes to the House and leads a debate on the subject. Everybody outside this place is discussing the issue, including politicians in the US. We in this House need urgently to be part of that debate, yet the Prime Minister refuses to make himself answerable to the House of Commons and that has to be wrong.

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