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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD):
I welcome the commitment to a long-term political solution and the recognition that there has to be such a solution, but ultimately, if the Afghan people are to embrace a political solution, they must feel confident that the NATO forces are there for the purpose of a long-term commitment to bring sustainability and hand
over security in a way that will not cause them to see the political system failing around them. If they are to buy into that future, they must believe that a long-term commitment exists.
Mr Hague: That is a very good point. Where progress is being made in Afghanistan, it is being made because the people in those areas have faith in the continuation of the security improvements that have been made, and in the continued presence of the forces that have helped to deliver them.
It is possible to see those improvements. This weekend, for instance, when my right hon. Friends and I were in Nad Ali-a much-contested place-we were able to walk about and meet local people. We could walk around the whole town, visit the bazaar, go to the local clinic, and walk freely in the streets with the district governor. That would not have been possible only eight or nine months ago. Amid all the anxieties about Afghanistan and the casualties that we commemorate and recognise in the House each week, it is important for us also to explain to the British public where things are succeeding in Afghanistan, so that the full context is available to them.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): During his early consultations with Paris and Berlin in particular, did the Foreign Secretary receive a commitment from our NATO partners to continue to support the action in Afghanistan, not just in words but in deeds?
Mr Hague: As the hon. Lady knows, those countries are committed to supporting the NATO strategy. We have, of course, often wished that other allies in NATO could do more, and on our visit this weekend we certainly identified that there is a need to increase further the ability to train the Afghan national security forces. That is a particular area in which our close allies in Europe may be able to do more, so we will be having further discussions with them about it, including, I hope, on my visits to Paris and Berlin in the very near future.
David Cairns (Inverclyde) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that while it is very difficult to articulate what victory in this conflict will look like, it is very easy to articulate what defeat would look like, and how utterly disastrous that would be-a return to brutal internal repression and a safe haven for the export of fanatical jihadism-and that such a defeat must be avoided at all costs?
Mr Hague: That is exactly right, and it is the counter argument to the concerns about the situation expressed by his party colleague, the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick). As I have said, there are plenty of things to be concerned about and give attention to, but what the hon. Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns) has said is why we have embarked on this, and why more than 40 nations are part of the coalition that is embarked on it. That is the spirit in which we are doing this work.
Achieving our objectives in Afghanistan requires close co-operation with the Afghan Government, who must make progress on their commitments in the areas of good governance, corruption, reconciliation and reintegration. We discussed these issues at length with President Karzai and his Ministers over the weekend, and we remain strongly committed to a comprehensive
co-ordinated strategy, bringing together the political, security and development aspects of our support to Afghanistan.
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that making any consistent progress in Afghanistan will also require some measure of stability in the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and between India and Pakistan and India and Afghanistan? That is a crucial part of the way forward.
Mr Hague: Yes, the hon. Lady is absolutely right, and she beautifully anticipates the next paragraph in my speech. Indeed, I intend to visit Pakistan in the next few weeks because of its close connection with the issues that we have been discussing in Afghanistan.
In Pakistan we will likewise pursue a broad strategy of engagement that focuses not just on security, but on education, development and building up democratic institutions. We will explore with Pakistan ways to strengthen our bilateral relationship, building on so many shared goals and long-standing ties between Britain and Pakistan. Secretary Clinton and I agreed in Washington that it is crucial that the United States and Britain work extremely closely to co-ordinate our efforts in Pakistan given the colossal American resources that are deployed in Pakistan and the enormous British expertise about Pakistan. Those factors need to be brought more closely together.
The single biggest foreign policy priority after Afghanistan and Pakistan is to prevent nuclear proliferation in the middle east. Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability could unleash a cascade of nuclear proliferation and significantly destabilise the region. A comprehensive diplomatic offer to Iran remains on the table, but it has refused to discuss its nuclear programme and has forged ahead, announcing its intention to build 10 new enrichment plants and beginning to enrich uranium up to 20%, which is well above the level needed for the production of civil nuclear power.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his appointment to the post. Does he recognise that as Iran is still a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and-as I understand it-he supports a nuclear-free middle east, membership of the NPT is a vehicle for achieving that goal? Does he not also acknowledge that Israel possesses nuclear weapons and has 200 warheads, so should it not be engaged actively by the western Governments-particularly the big five-in pursuing a degree of nuclear disarmament on its part, in order to bring about the prize of a nuclear-free region?
The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know-although he may know this already-that one of the proposals on the table at the NPT review conference that is taking place in New York as we speak is to take forward the 1995 commitment to a nuclear-free zone in the middle east, with a conference of all the relevant nations. Therefore, there are the beginnings of an effort to activate this subject in the international diplomatic arena. Of course there is, however, no chance of achieving that objective if Iran succeeds in obtaining a nuclear weapons capability or in constructing nuclear weapons.
So I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who clearly believes in a middle east free of nuclear weapons, will join me in supporting every possible measure to increase the peaceful pressure on Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
We note the efforts of Brazil and Turkey to engage Iran on the deal to supply fuel for the Tehran research reactor, but even if Iranian intentions are genuine on that confidence-building measure, the broader concerns would remain unanswered. We are therefore playing a significant role in negotiations at the UN Security Council on a new sanctions resolution. It is important that European nations are ready to build on UN action by adopting strengthened EU sanctions in order to send a strong signal to Iran. As we approach the anniversary of the presidential election in Iran on 12 June, the whole House will want to recall those in Iran who are striving for a better future for their country. Only Iranians can determine how their country is governed, but this House should make it clear that we deplore human rights abuses, wherever in the world they occur, and that we will always stand on the side of victims of oppression-other countries such as Burma are very much in our minds in this context.
Although much of our immediate concern about nuclear proliferation is concentrated in the middle east, technological advances and the blurring of the line between civil and military applications of nuclear technology pose an urgent and critical threat to global security. Stemming an uncontrolled spread of nuclear know-how and equipment, deterring any country that might be tempted to try to acquire nuclear weapons from doing so and keeping nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists must be a top foreign policy priority of any British Government.
The conference to review the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which I just mentioned, began during our election campaign and has entered its final week in New York. In opposition, my party promised decisive UK leadership in this effort if elected, and the coalition agreement pledged an immediate and strong UK role at the conference. So I am pleased to announce today that, for the first time, the Government will make public the maximum number of nuclear warheads that the United Kingdom will hold in its stockpile-in future, our overall stockpile will not exceed 225 nuclear warheads. This is a significant step forward on previous policy, which was to publish only the number of warheads classed as "operationally available", the maximum number of which will remain at 160. We believe that the time is now right to be more open about the nuclear weapons that we hold. We judge that that will further assist in building the climate of trust between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, which has been lacking in recent years, and will contribute to efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons worldwide. I can assure the House that this disclosure poses no threat to the security of the United Kingdom. Together with similar announcements made by the United States and France, it helps to set standards of transparency that all states with nuclear programmes should follow.
I can also announce that the Government will re-examine the UK's declaratory policy as part of the strategic defence and security review. The purpose of our nuclear weapons is to deter attack, and the UK has long been clear that it would consider using them only in extreme
circumstances of self-defence, including the defence of our NATO allies. This country has been deliberately ambiguous over the precise circumstances of use, although we have offered some assurances to non-nuclear weapons states. We have decided that the time is right to look again at our policy-the US has done the same in its recent nuclear posture review-to ensure that it is fully appropriate to the political and security context in 2010 and beyond. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), is, as I speak, attending the review. He will repeat these announcements there and will meet other delegations to help promote a positive outcome to the conference. These concrete actions show how seriously we take our obligations to strengthen the non-proliferation treaty and to move towards the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons while ensuring that we maintain our credible minimum nuclear deterrent.
Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): I, too, offer my congratulations to a fellow south Yorkshireman. In the spirit of what he is describing, and in the light of the domestic defence review, it might be possible for the Foreign Secretary to contemplate sharing the cost of and future planning for any renewal of nuclear capacity for this country in order to reduce massively the cost to the British people and avoid cuts in essential services elsewhere. Such an approach would involve co-operation between the UK and France in an entirely new environment.
Mr Hague: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his good wishes. As he knows, the Government are committed to maintaining a nuclear deterrent. As with all Government programmes, we will, of course, be reviewing the Trident programme for value for money. He has put forward a radical idea and we will feed that idea, as his representation, into the strategic defence and security review.
North Korea's nuclear programme is another area of serious concern where robust international diplomacy is needed. In that context, we deplore the unprovoked act of aggression by North Korea that led to the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel. We strongly support President Lee's announcement of proportionate action in response to that act, as well as a referral of the incident to the UN Security Council.
On the middle east, there will be much agreement across the House on the need to make urgent progress on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before the window for such a solution closes. Our goal is a secure and universally recognised Israel living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, with Jerusalem the future capital of both states, and a fair settlement for refugees. We will seek to buttress the diplomatic initiative -[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for South Shields is remarking on the fact that those are the same words that he used-I did stress that there was some bipartisanship in foreign policy, and there ought to be on the middle east.
I used to say that I agree with him, but now he will have to say that he agrees with me; the situation has changed. We seek to buttress the diplomatic initiative of President Obama's Administration and the
proximity talks that are under way, and we will be strong supporters of those building the institutions of a future Palestinian state while actively exploring with our European partners the scope for further EU action.
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his elevation. During the general election campaign a full-page advertisement was placed in the Jewish Chronicle on 16 April by the Conservative party. It stated:
"Universal jurisdiction will be amended at the earliest opportunity to enable Israelis to visit the UK".
I noted that the Queen's Speech contained no reference to "universal jurisdiction". Will the Foreign Secretary clarify whether that is because of a disagreement in the coalition or because the Government are not prepared to introduce legislation in the near future to resolve this matter?
Mr Hague: That is a perfectly legitimate question. I will go on to say in my speech how we will proceed on this issue, so if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to reach that point, I will explain the exact answer to his question.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I, too, give my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman. As he has said, the words that he has chosen are exactly the same as those used by the former Government, but a number of us feel that the problem is that what he has described is not happening and that progress is not being made. It is important that on this issue, which is vital to world peace, everybody should know exactly where Governments and Prime Ministers stand. On the day following another Israeli attack on Gaza there is some concern about whether or not this Government acknowledge that Operation Cast Lead, which took place last year and caused such carnage in Gaza, was disproportionate. The former Government were clear that it was disproportionate, but do his Government take that view?
Mr Hague: Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point. I can assure him that I share his frustration that not enough is happening. One of the things that I discussed with Secretary Clinton in Washington was this subject and how we could support the efforts of the United States to push forward the peace process. It will be one of the subjects that I particularly want to discuss in European capitals over the next couple of weeks in order to see how the European Union and its member states can exercise more leverage in this important process.
I do not want to spend my time redefining any attitude to past conflicts; this is a new Government and we will set out our position on what happens in the future. However, I will say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) that we call on the Government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity and to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza, where we are seriously concerned about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians. At the
same time, of course, the rocket attacks from Gaza must cease and Hamas must make concrete movement towards the Quartet principles; we will have no truck with those who espouse or practise terrorism. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that this Government will give our energy to that and also try to ensure that there is European leadership in trying to drive the middle east peace process forward.
The conflict matters to British national security. We will take every opportunity to help promote peace and we will now examine-to deal with the question asked by the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes)-how to deal with the totally unsatisfactory situation that has had the effect of barring Israeli politicians, among others, from visiting the UK without weakening our commitment to holding accountable those guilty of war crimes. We will report to the House in due course. To answer the hon. Gentleman's question more explicitly, this is a coalition Government and we have to discuss together the way forward, although we are absolutely clear that the current situation cannot be sustained.
Mr Hague: Consideration of this will not be long delayed, I can assure the hon. Gentleman. Given that the previous Government said in December that it was urgent to deal with the matter but had done nothing about it by April, I will not, after two weeks in office, take lectures from the Opposition about the speed with which we are dealing with it.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I, too, congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his elevation. Everyone will look at his words in detail and he just said that this is a coalition, and the inference was that action on Israel was somehow being held back by someone in the coalition. Is he saying that the Liberal Democrats take a softer view on action on Israel or that his own party has a softer view? Coalition difficulties must, presumably, have some source.
Mr Hague: I am merely saying that there are a range of issues for the Government to address. I explained earlier how our concentration in our collective discussions on international affairs has been very much on Afghanistan. The three meetings of the National Security Council that we have had so far have concentrated overwhelmingly on Afghanistan. We have not yet determined the exact action that we will take on universal jurisdiction. However, that is after two weeks in office. As I said, the former Government had a good deal longer to try to deal with these things.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): Although most of the comment so far has concerned Tzipi Livni and visitors from Israel, the Foreign Secretary knows as well as I do that these powers could be used against any visitor from many other countries around the world, including the United States. If there are any difficulties in reaching an early decision, I hope that those who are cautious about making such a change will bear in mind that this is not simply about Israel but about the United Kingdom being able to welcome visitors from many countries and not being prevented from doing so by some technical aberration.
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