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We were about to leave at the end of the day when a message came from Field Marshal Richard Vincent, who was the chairman of NATOs military committee at the time. He asked us to speak to him, and he told us a very different story. He obviously was not speaking on behalf of any Government, and he made the point that he had a NATO role at that time, not a role as a British Army officer. He said that sooner or later, Europe was going to have to take military action to stop what Serbs were doing in the former Yugoslavia, and that the longer we waited, the more battle-hardened and effective Serb regular and paramilitary troops would be. He told us a story: as a boy, he had been taken by his father to see the miracle of a Prime Minister flying back to Britain by aeroplane. He saw Chamberlain come off that aeroplane and wave that piece of paper, and he said that that was appeasement then, and he believed that
not intervening militarily in Bosnia was appeasement too. [ Interruption. ] I see that I have got my marching orders from the Whip.
On Kosovo too, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that there was no genocide so we should not have intervened. At the time of military intervention, the majority of the Kosovar Albanian population had been driven out of their country, across the border into neighbouring countries. It was an unstable position, and I believe that non-intervention would have done more harm than good.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) said, people sometimes use the terms democracy and human rights almost as if they are interchangeable. The ideas are related, of course. Both concepts require rulers to cede power to the people. They both imply the accountability of those with power to a broader constituency, but they are not the same thing. It is possible to have some human rights, such as habeas corpus or the right to a fair trial, without living in a democracy, but democracy cannot exist without human rights. That is why the Council of Europe requires countries to meet human rights requirements before they can join. I believe that the Foreign Secretary is right to make democracy one of the key goals of British foreign policy, but promoting democracy internationally is not easy, and I believe that distinguishing between human rights and democracy helps to highlight how Governments can promote democracy effectively.
Western support for democracy has been tainted by the military interventions in Iraq, certainly, and in Afghanistan, to some extent. They make it clear that democracy cannot be imposed from outside. Democracy is a collective conceptwithout a thirst for democracy from the people, it cannot grow. It certainly cannot be imposed by military force. The best the military can do is to create conditions that allow security and the rule of law to flourishin other words, to create human rights conditions that permit democracy to grow if there is a public thirst for it. Human rights are a precondition for democracy.
For the past three years, I have had the great privilege of chairing the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. It was created when the Berlin wall fell, and over the years it has done extremely important work to support democrats, reformers and democratic political parties in the countries of central and eastern Europe when they were breaking free from Soviet control. It has done similar work in other parts of the world, such as Africa and the middle east. In the early years of this decade, it lost its way. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), who was my predecessor, began to rebuild the organisation.
WFD is a Foreign Office sponsored, non-departmental public body. Shortly before I was appointed to the foundations board, the Foreign Office commissioned an independent review of the organisation from River Path Associates. The review was highly critical. It proposed a number of options, including winding up the foundation, scaling down its operations or transferring its funding responsibilities from the Foreign Office to Parliament. Some of those criticisms were completely unreasonable, but there were some problems in the organisation, and I told the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend
the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), that I was prepared to take on the appointment in order to lead a process of reform and renewal, but that if the Foreign Office wanted to close the organisation down, it should go ahead.
I was appointed on the basis of leading a process of reform in the organisation. The Foreign Office kept its side of the bargain, and I believe that WFD has kept its part of the deal and has emerged as a stronger, more relevant and more effective organisation. I should like to thank my fellow governors and members of the boardI see one in his place tonight, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne)and the chief executive and the staff of the foundation. I should also like to thank the staff of the political parties who implement the party-to-party foundation programmes, and the Foreign Office officials and Ministers who have supported the foundation during the three years for which I have been in the chair.
During those three years, we have put through quite a number of reforms. We have concentrated the foundations resources so that it now has greater impact in fewer countries and fewer specialised fields of work. We have moved the foundations focus from being a London-based grant giver funding one-off projects to being a manager of sustained programmes of work over several years. That has led us to move some of our permanent staff from working in London to working in the field. We have reduced the percentage of the budget being spent on administration, and taken the difficult decision to make some senior management posts redundant. We have also increased our overall funding without increasing administration
The foundation has written a new corporate strategy, which identifies three particular strengths or niche markets for the foundation: political party development, parliamentary capacity building and local governance. We have agreed a business plan to pursue those specialisms, and to increase the organisations turnover and budget. We have sought to build alliances with other bodies based at Westminster and elsewhere in this country that also have an interest in democracy building. They include the National Audit Office, the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the British section of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Clerks Departments Overseas Office, the House of Commons Library, the International Bar Association, the Reuters Foundation, certain universities, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies. We have brought many of those organisations together to create a Westminster consortium.
We have also managed to broaden the foundations funding base. We continue to receive grant in aid worth £4.1 million a year from the Foreign Office, but in addition, we have won tranches of money from the Foreign Office for programmes of work in other countries, including Ukraine, Egypt, Serbia and Macedonia, and from the Department for International Development for work in Sierra Leone. Recently, as part of the
Westminster consortium, we won a £5 million contract from DFID for parliamentary capacity building in Uganda, Mozambique, Lebanon, Yemen, Ukraine and Georgia, and we are currently negotiating what I hope will be a $15 million to $20 million contract with the United Nations Development Programme for parliamentary capacity building work in Ethiopia.
During the past three years, the WFD has refocused its priorities and activities, and broadened its funding base. Over the next three years, the priority will be to deliver measurable impactstrengthening citizens rights and democratic institutionsin the broader range of programmes that we have been commissioned to undertake, in order to strengthen the foundations reputation and to enable it to continue to win contracts.
Sadly, I do not have time to say a great deal about the foundations work, but I believe that it makes a huge difference. For example, DFID commissioned the foundation to do nine months work with all the political parties in Sierra Leone in relation to its elections last year. We sought to help the parties to build policy platforms based on issues rather than on ethnic differences or regional loyalties. We persuaded the parties to set out their policies on pledge cards, and we persuaded Sierra Leone public radio to organise a version of Any Questions?. The idea of African politicians having to answer questions about their policies from members of the public was quite an innovation.
We also supported a role-playing exercise, in which each party worked out in advance what they would do in their first day, their first week, their first month and their first three months of office if their party were elected. With the then President Kabbah, we went through the process to find out what he would do in those first days and weeks if he was not returned to office. When would he move out of the state house? When would he set up his office as leader of the opposition? What facilities would he expect to have in order to fulfil that role in Parliament? He was defeated in the election, and he did move out of the state house and become leader of the opposition.
In Africa, it is very unusual to have such a revolving door, involving a genuine multi-party contest at an election in which the party that was in power is defeated and a party that was not in government is elected. In Sierra Leone, however, the door revolved, and the actors changed. I believe that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy had a real part to play in ensuring that that happened.
Having spent three years at the helm of the WFD, I have now decided to stand down. I believe that I have achieved the goals that the then Foreign Secretary set for me when I was appointed, and that a new chairman will bring new ideas and a fresh focus for the challenges ahead. I understand that the Foreign Secretary has been asked to appoint my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) to the WFD board, and I hope that the board will elect her to the chair. It would be a major asset to the foundation to have a former Foreign Office Minister, alongside my right hon. Friend Lord Foulkes, a former DFID Minister, on the board.
The WFD does a lot with the relatively limited assets at its disposal, but I believe that it could do much more to express the UKs soft power in emerging democracies. I hope that the Government will maintain the grant in aid, because without core funding, the foundation would
have serious problems. I also hope that they will look for opportunities in other countries in which the foundation could play useful roles, and then fund the WFD to undertake them. The Foreign Office and DFID should both do this, and we should be encouraging multilateral bodies such as the European Union and the United Nations to do so as well. As chair of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, I worked with three Foreign Secretaries, and I thank them for their support. I urge the Government to keep supporting the foundation, as I believe that it is one of the best assets of the Foreign Office, the Government and the United Kingdom.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley). I listened to his remarks about the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and I pay warm tribute to his contribution in leading it for the past three years. It is also a privilege for me to be the first Member on the Conservative Benches to congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason) on his maiden speech, which was graceful, gracious and informative about his constituency. We ask no more than that.
In a sense, this debate is a tribute to the power of democracy and to our ability to support each other even when we disagree with each other. I have found the insights that I have heard today fascinating and mutually reinforcing, from all the different aspects. I hope that the House will forgive me if my comments are a little more related to the legal side of human rights, because that is a personal interest and, as it happens, a familial interest of mine. I also have experience in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which I have found very stimulating and informative on this issue.
Looking back at the history of all this, we can see the roots in world war 2, going back as far as the Atlantic charter. It was signed by the two nations of Britain and America, which Churchill described as the great democracies. It was a reaction to absolutism, aggressive war and the holocaust. I think it was also an understanding of the need to temper the powers of the democratic state, which were exercised during wartime. It was also a celebration of the worth of every individual. It is about the respect we have for individuals and groups of people in our society.
I commend the European convention of human rights itself as a clear document that is well worth reading. It has a surprisingly strong emphasis on private autonomy, private life and private decision making. That is well instanced in article 8, which recognises the right to private life, but then says that it is subject to any overriding interest, whether it be of national security, public safety, economic well-being, concerns about disorder or crime, health or morals or, finally, the protection of the rights or freedoms of others. The default position in human rights law thus lies firmly with individual rights, and any derogations are defined only in strictly limited and specified circumstances. Bearing in mind the strong influence of British lawyers in the drafting, it expresses in codified principles the pragmatism of our common law, and it is in no sense a sanction for arbitrary acts by central Governments.
It is perhaps not without significance that the title of todays debate omits the third leg of the Council of
Europe stool, which always refers to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Indeed, it is under the present Government that we have repatriated the convention and required Ministers to certify the compatibility of their legislation with the convention rights. Sometimes, they do not find it very happy when that is challenged.
Nobody has said in todays debatebut I shallthat there is sometimes a backlash against human rights, although not perhaps against the simple ones. We can all sign up to the fact that we do not want people to be maimed, tortured or subjected to arbitrary imprisonment. That is easy. The more difficult situations arise when there is a clash of rights or where we feel some sense that rights are being extended to persons who do not deserve them. That is not my view. Our problem is that we all enjoy implicit rights, but we dislike explicit rights being extended to people who do not suitwhether they be terrorists, paedophiles or even just foreigners. That argument can then turn up in the tabloid press, with a very unpleasant set of overtones.
As I just mentioned, those who drafted the European convention recognised from the start that there were limitations occasioned by public policy and that no absolute right was expressed in the convention. This rather difficult situationthe move from the easy rights to the complex rightshas, I think, been aggravated by a number of factors. This country has seen a huge growth in administrative law and judicial review. There has been a shift from concentration on individual rightsinvolving whether individuals are tortured or persecutedto issues about group actions and groups of people, often fuelled by the media or by non-governmental organisations. The increase in challenges to authority is perhaps healthy. For example, whereas food rationing would have gone through on the nod as an administrative action during the war, if we started imposing a system of milk quotas now, that would nowadays immediately become subject to judicial review.
Where do we go now for human rights? The first and strongest point is that we need to be very careful about our own record. There is a wonderful phrase in the convention about the general principles of law being recognised by civilised nations. I have an idea that the UK thinks of itself and defines itself as one of those nations. It is no longer any good, however, simply putting ourselves forward as a civilised nation, with the assumption that everything we do here is above reproach.
One really stimulating aspect of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is that it has 47 member countriesall in various stages of emerging democracy and with different traditional attitudes towards human rights. Whether Her Majestys Government like it or not, those members can bite back at us. Critical reports were recently issued about the security of our postal voting systemalready referred to earlierand an outline report has been drafted on the 42-day detention proposals. That, of course, stresses the importance of process and safeguards. I am given to understand that the other place has taken a lively and, in my view, entirely commendable decision on that matter today[Hon. Members: Hear, hear.] The concept is not confined to the Council of Europe, because some rights are universal
under the UN convention, and they extend to other issues such as disabilities, the rights of children and so forth.
I am delighted to welcome the Minister for Europe to her new post and I am pleased to see in her place the Under-Secretary, who is going to wind up todays debate. I would like to provide them with a brief shopping list on human rights. I mentioned in an earlier intervention the importance of adequate resourcing for the Strasbourg Court and of following protocol 14 to improve process. I would like Ministers to look further into the whole business of Council of Europe conventions that we have signed but not ratified. A White Paper explaining why we have not ratified themsometimes over many yearswould be appropriate, even if some of them are no longer valid.
I would also like further work to be done on the responsibility to protect both the definition of the circumstances justifying intervention and the means of securing it. Given that Ministers are now a certifying body, I would like them, along with central and local government officials, to get better training in what the conventions mean. In domestic legislation, I would like greater use of principles clauses, which we used successfully in the Mental Capacity Act 2005. I would like to see greater awareness of the concept of human rights in education, notably in history and citizenship training. Better international exchanges between interested parties to promote a common understanding of the meaning of human rights under legal systems that formally differ from one another would also be helpful, as would more independent international monitoring of each others practices. We have nothing to hide, so we should welcome that.
As the final item on my list of specific interventions, I would like further work to be done on preparing for intense immediate intervention in conflict and crisis situations. I pay tribute to the work done during recent conflicts in Georgia by the teams of the European Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammerberg. It is very important that we are able to send such people in, because human rights go by the board when there is warfare.
Today is a time for thinking about the big picture. On paper, we can have all the human rights we want, but we must have a human rights culture to accompany them. Perhaps the easiest bit is democracy, because we have been at that for many years, but we need to remind the general public that human rights are their rights, and that in a sense we will all need them at one time or another, whether for the purposes of anti-discrimination or for protection from arbitrary administrative action.
We have moved a long way. For example, I participated in consideration of legislation driven by the European Court of Human Rights to change the law on transgender people. Also, as today has shown, by adding the rule of law to complete the trio, we have made Ministers think. Sometimes, as today, we have stopped them dead in their tracks.
In the end, however, this will be a matter of attitudes. In the spirit of the conventions, whether European or United Nations, we need to start by leaving spacewhether in Britain or worldwide; it does not matter wherefor people to live and flourish without unwarranted interference. That is the respect side of human rights. We need proper discretion by Governmentfor example, over
their storing of data. We need a sense of fairness between the parties that people have to deal with. If Government have to intervene, or are the provider of a public service, people using that service should be treated with decency.
If we can get Ministerswho are public servants, as they should beand then their private counterparts to act in that spirit, the advances in human rights that we have made in the last half century in this country, in Europe and internationally will be secured, and we can use and extend those universal principles to improve the future functioning of this planet and, above all, of the people who live on it.
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