|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
"They had no tail, but a head at each end, and sharp horns on each head. They were very shy".
They were very shy indeed-so shy that they could never move an inch. Britain needs Europe, but also, as President Sarkozy made clear to the Prime Minister during their recent meeting, Europe needs Britain-a Britain with strong and clear commitments on Europe, not an internal feud that paralyses discussion and action. Unfortunately for the Foreign Secretary, that paralysis means that he goes into European discussions without any policy at all.
After 18 years of Conservative government in 1997, Britain had halved overseas aid spending, fought and lost a beef war in Europe, and stood on the sidelines when tens of thousands of people were slaughtered on the edge of Europe. The previous Government put that right. We tripled overseas aid, made Britain a leader in Europe and stood up for human rights around the world. We are determined to protect that legacy and prevent history from repeating itself.
We also, for 13 years, put up with bucket-loads of moral sanctimony from the Liberal Democrats, as they complained about everything and gave credit for nothing. Conservative MPs repeatedly said in the last Parliament that the one thing we know about the Lib Dems is that if they are promising something in one part of the country, we can be sure, as night follows day, that they are opposing it somewhere else. In the general election, the Liberal Democrats campaigned for votes under the banner "Keep the Tories out", then promptly proceeded to put the Tories in. They are, as the Prime Minister so rightly said, a joke.
We know that the Foreign Secretary is good at jokes-but now, for the first time in a very long time, he is in a job that needs judgment, not good jokes. Britain is respected around the world, and we will seek to ensure that he and his motley coalition do not put that respect at risk.
Mr Speaker: Order. Today's debate is very heavily subscribed, and I have therefore imposed, with immediate effect, a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): I think that we rather enjoyed the leadership speech by the former Foreign Secretary.
The Foreign Secretary has already been weighed down with congratulations, and I should certainly add to those. I share his extension of commiserations to the former Foreign Secretary on his embarking on the process of seeking to be the leader of his party. As the Foreign Secretary and I know, that can be a painful process both in the achieving and, indeed, in the serving.
The Foreign Secretary began with Afghanistan, so let me say a word or two about that. Whatever he said, rather eloquently, there is no doubt that over the weekend there was the perception of an apparent difference in emphasis between Ministers. It seems to me that that has to be eliminated, and that we must speak with one clear, unequivocal voice on Afghanistan. I, too, pay tribute to the troops, and indeed to the civilians and diplomats, who serve our interests there.
I would like to make two points that perhaps jar a little with the Foreign Secretary's position. First, our success in relation to a political settlement rests on the shoulders of President Karzai, and until now he has not proved adequate in discharging these responsibilities. Secondly, we may talk about our strategy, but the truth is that we are subordinate in strategy to the United States, to the extent that the electoral cycle of the United States will play an important part in the way in which the United States formulates its policy. President Obama is committed to bringing American forces-
some, at least-out by the middle of next year. Round about that time, he will begin the campaign for his own re-election. We should be cautious, therefore, in forming strategies that do not take account of the fact that the United States' position might be subject to very considerable domestic pressure.
I speak from this position with some diffidence, because when I first entered the House Mr Julian Amery spoke from here, and thereafter Sir Edward Heath. Mr Amery's views were pretty imperialist, which I imagine would have made them more acceptable to many Government Back Benchers than those of Edward Heath. However, it is worth remembering that Edward Heath's views were formed by his own direct experience during the second world war and immediately thereafter. Often in these discussions about Europe, we forget the fact that Europe was formed out of a determination to prevent another major military conflagration across a continent which had suffered grievously as a result of two such occasions. Along with NATO, the European Union has made an enormous contribution towards keeping the peace on this continent.
In the time now available to me I shall deal with two issues; I will, perforce, do so rather more briefly than I had intended. The first is an issue from the past. It concerns the crash of a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter on the Mull of Kintyre on 2 June 1994, when all the passengers and all the crew were killed. It was a terrible and tragic event, but with an additional dimension in that the passengers were the civilian and military heads of intelligence in Northern Ireland. The consequence of that event was to prejudice very considerably our efforts at a time in the Province before the Good Friday agreement, when things were by no means easy. The two pilots-Flight Lieutenant Cook and Flight Lieutenant Tapper-were found to have been guilty of negligence. However, it is forcefully argued by many people that the evidence available failed to meet the very high standard necessary before such a finding could be made, under the Royal Air Force's own regulations.
It is sometimes thought that to seek to reopen this matter is to imply bad faith on the part of the senior officers of the Royal Air Force who were ultimately responsible for the board of inquiry. Let me dissociate myself from that completely and say that I believe that they all acted in good faith. Nevertheless, I believe that an error was made. There have been two external inquiries: a fatal accident inquiry in Scotland under Sheriff Sir Stephen Young-now Sheriff Principal Sir Stephen Young-and a special Select Committee of the House of Lords under the chairmanship of Lord Jauncey, a distinguished former Scottish judge. Both inquiries reached the same conclusion-that the evidence did not justify the verdict. That is why I urge the Defence Secretary to consider, by whatever means appropriate, a review of that decision. Indeed, I have already written to him in those terms, and I sent him a copy of my letter before I came into the Chamber.
Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my pleasure that the Prime Minister himself, before he became Prime Minister, said:
"the Conservatives believe that the matter cannot rest there. Accordingly, we have committed to undertaking a review"?
Does he agree that such a review has to be independent of the Ministry of Defence for it to carry any weight?
Sir Menzies Campbell: I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. Over the years he and I, along with many others in both Houses, have sought to persuade the previous Government, and indeed the Government before that, to undertake such a review. On one occasion we met Prime Minister Blair. I very much hope that this Administration will feel compelled to deal with something that many people believe has, inadvertently, caused an injustice that should be put right. If this Chamber is anything, it is surely a place for the redress of grievance.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): For the sake of clarification, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) is correct to say that in opposition we said there would be an independent review of the evidence, and I can confirm that the Ministry of Defence is already considering the best way to undertake that. We will certainly live up to the promise that we made in opposition.
Sir Menzies Campbell: I am grateful to the Defence Secretary for that intervention, and for his undertaking.
I also wish to deal with the issue of Trident, to which I come as someone who has always been convinced of the utility of nuclear weapons and accepted the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence. We have moved, of course, from mutually assured destruction, through flexible response, to minimum deterrence and weapons of last resort. In fact, the United Kingdom has a good history of nuclear disarmament. When I first took an interest in these matters, as long ago as 1988, we were still talking about nuclear depth charges, nuclear artillery shells and an air-to-surface missile with a nuclear warhead, and we still had free-fall bombs. All those have been dispensed with, so the UK has a solid record on these matters. However, it is illogical not to consider that Trident should be in the full-scale defence and security review. It is a strategic system being excluded from a strategic review, which does not seem to make sense.
The proposal contained in the coalition agreement is that Trident should be examined from the point of view of value for money. I do not believe that we can consider it in that way without considering whether it is required, and whether there are reasonable alternatives. The procurement cost of Trident is approximately £20 billion, and the through-life cost £100 billion, according to a recent estimate. There are those who claim that we can save £100 billion by cancelling Trident. We can, but only by the end of what would otherwise have been the period of the through-life costs. It is not an instant hit, as some have claimed.
The case for Trident's inclusion in the review is overwhelming. How can we assess its value for money if we do not assess the possible alternatives? The questions that should be asked in that review, anchored in the notion of value for money, are whether it is possible to engage in such a way that there could be a further life extension of the existing system; whether it is possible that we can dispense with continuous at-sea deterrence, which essentially means patrols 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year; and whether it is possible that we could modify Astute submarines to carry Trident. There is already strong anecdotal evidence that work to that effect is being carried out in the Ministry of Defence.
Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
Sir Menzies Campbell: I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
Would a reasonable alternative be the Astute class submarines carrying cruise missiles with a nuclear warhead, rather than a full-blown Trident system? Is there not room for far greater collaboration between the French, the United States and ourselves, all three of whom operate a nuclear deterrent based on submarines? Surely co-ordination of patrols could have a considerable impact on the extension of life, to which I have referred, and on the whole question of continuous at-sea deterrence.
Having already described myself as someone who has always been convinced of the utility of nuclear deterrence, I ask myself whether it is necessary, for the protection of this country in 2010-or perhaps more correctly by 2025-to have a system that was conceived in the cold war and designed against what is called the Moscow criterion, which is to say a system with the ability to penetrate missile defence systems around Moscow. Is that what we need in 2010, and what we believe we will need in 2025?
I am not alone in expressing scepticism about these matters. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Guthrie, and the Foreign Secretary's predecessor as Shadow Foreign Secretary, Mr Michael Ancram, have expressed reservations about the need to proceed with a Trident system. One person whose name may not be well known to the House, but is certainly well known to those who follow these matters, is Sir Michael Quinlan, who was the architect of the existing Trident system and probably one of the most knowledgeable commentators in the country, and who is, sadly, no longer with us. He observed that Trident was not a good deal, regardless of cost. That is why I say respectfully that if the review is to deal with questions of value for money, it seems to me that it must inevitably deal with the other questions to which I have referred.
I have one final quotation to give:
"Only a strategic defence review will tell us whether we need to renew Trident... there are other, potentially greater, threats to the security of the nation than the distant prospect of an invasion by an unidentified superpower, or an attack by a rogue nuclear state."
If that seems familiar to some Members, it should be. It is from an editorial in The Daily Telegraph of 30 June 2009. I could not have put it better myself.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I congratulate the new Foreign Secretary. I agreed with much of what he said in opposition, and I have found myself in agreement with him more on this subject than I did when he was Secretary of State for Wales.
I am particularly anxious to talk about human rights, because the Foreign Secretary said that he deplored human rights abuses wherever they occurred. I hope that that criticism will be carried through into practice. I am pleased that the international development commitment has been ring-fenced. I first stood on this side of the House 25 years ago, and it was a long, hard battle to get the then Government to agree to put money into overseas development. Later, I became the shadow International Development Secretary, and we had to continue the battle to get the Government to agree to move towards a target, which we put in place when we came into government.
Fundamental human rights are important in and of themselves. People everywhere want to enjoy basic rights to liberty, freedom of speech, a fair trial and privacy. People all over the world have suffered in the efforts to secure what they believe is rightfully theirs. Governments throughout the world at least pay lip service to their commitment to rights by signing and ratifying treaties, but it makes sense for us to help those who are still working in their countries, often at great personal risk, to realise those rights.
Countries in which rights are a reality are more likely to be stable, less likely to experience internal and external conflict, less prone to crippling corruption and skewed growth, and more likely to be reliable trading partners. For those reasons, the UK Government should continue to support initiatives that promote wider political participation, the rule of law, the idea that no one in a country is above the law, and the availability to all citizens of redress for serious violations and crimes. The legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations is important, and the previous Government did a lot of work to uphold that legitimacy and respect for minorities. Those of us on the Opposition Benches with a particular interest in human rights will continue to scrutinise Government policy in that light, and I encourage Back Benchers of all parties to do so. I will continue to lobby the Foreign Office with my parliamentary colleagues of all parties through the all-party human rights group, of which I am pleased to be a member. I encourage those who are not already members to join.
I should like to take this opportunity to raise issues in relation to countries such as Iraq, Turkey, Burma and Colombia. Continued engagement with the relevant authorities in those countries is vital if there are to be positive developments. Changing the mentality and the environment so that that results in the realisation of rights takes time. Sometimes we are unrealistic about our timelines.
For the past seven years-under two Prime Ministers-I have been the special envoy on human rights in Iraq, and been involved in a wide range of human rights issues in that country. I am sorry that Iraq is being used as a political football for those running for the leadership of the Labour party. I continue to stand by my view, which I have articulated in the House on many occasions, that the action we took in Iraq was correct. I argued for such action for 25 years, and I have not moved from that point of view. Of course, like everybody else, I regret the loss of British and Iraqi life, and of the lives of many others who took part in that action.
Mr MacShane: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Kurds, who in other parts of that region have suffered terribly throughout almost all of our political and adult lives, now-at last-have in Iraq a degree of freedom, autonomy and control over their lives? That is very precious. Whatever else one says about that conflict, the Kurdish people of Iraq have emerged as the winners.
I quite agree with my right hon. Friend. Obviously, I have been involved with the Kurds for longer than I have been involved with the rest of Iraq, because it was possible to travel to Kurdistan in 2001, and as far back as 1998, when it was not possible to go
to the rest of the Iraq. The Kurds are now semi-autonomous within Iraq, and have elections and an active Kurdish regional government. Everybody who compares Kurdistan now with how it was will realise that the Kurds have made enormous economic, political and democratic progress.
Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (LD): I am interested in the right hon. Lady's comments on the Kurds. If everything is so good now in Kurdistan, why do so many of the Kurds who have settled in Britain totally refuse even to consider going back?
Ann Clwyd: Some of them believe that they are still open to persecution. Obviously, there is an ongoing dialogue between Departments and some of those who represent the Kurds in this country. Representatives of the Kurdish regional government and two of the Kurdish political parties recently had talks with the Foreign Office on that, but there is an ongoing dialogue. If the hon. Gentleman would like to meet some of the Kurds, I would be happy to arrange it. I think they will answer his question.
Not everything is perfect in Iraq; I should not like to pretend that for one moment. During my last visit to Baghdad, which was at the end of 2009, I continued to press the Iraqi Government on their human rights commitments and to provide support to the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights. I hope that the Foreign Office will continue to press those points, because after 35 years of persecution it takes a long time for people to realise aspects of human rights that we take for granted. Again, that is ongoing, and I hope that the new Government will continue to press on such matters.
I am concerned about the rights of those who are detained in Iraq, their treatment while in detention and the speed at which prisoners are either released or face trial. I raised that with the Minister for Human Rights, the Prime Minister of the Kurdish region and the chief judge of the Iraqi central criminal court. Those discussions took place when I was last there. I also discussed trade union rights, because those are important in pushing forward secular ideas in Iraq, and scrutinised the new trade union legislation. Of course, I have also spoken on several occasions with religious and political leaders about the rights of women.
A close eye needs to be kept on freedom of expression and the media, because unfortunately, some journalists are persecuted and find it difficult to do the kind of work that they want to do, both in Iraq as a whole and within the Kurdish region.
I will continue to work through parliamentary institutions such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I commend the IPU to new Members. It is important in promoting constructive inter-parliamentary relations, particularly through bilateral discussions with our parliamentary counterparts from all over the world. In such discussions, we can raise and explore a number of sensitive issues. An important part of the IPU's work is done in Geneva by its committee on the human rights of parliamentarians. On many occasions, the committee has been able to get fair trials for people through its pressure. In some cases, we have been able to get political leaders released.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|