This is a busy time in foreign affairs. I conclude by paying tribute to the Foreign Office. It is having to address action on two fronts, with the usual consular challenges all around. It has a trade policy that it is desperately trying to promote, and it is also dealing with more than its fair share of natural disasters. We have the middle east situation to deal with and, of

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course, the latest developments in Israel and Palestine. The Foreign Office faces a challenging situation, but in all this it has the full support of the Foreign Affairs Committee. We will of course engage in constructive criticism of the Foreign Office, but we want it and Britain to succeed. As a diplomatic organisation the Foreign Office is the envy of the world. Let us try to keep it that way.

7.6 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Three months ago it seemed that the Arab spring in north Africa and the middle east might bring democracy to widespread areas of the region. Tunisia made major changes with its jasmine revolution, and Egypt rid itself of the Mubarak regime, even though the aftermath rumbles on. Now, however, the situation seems far less promising. Syria, Bahrain and Yemen continue to suppress the movements for democracy, with continuing serious loss of life inflicted by brutal regimes.

In Libya, not only has the situation reached deadlock, but misgivings must be aroused by NATO’s lack of political direction. UN Security Council resolution 1973 was right and necessary. There is no doubt that the implementation of the no-fly zone has saved very many lives. However, NATO now appears to be stuck, turning to regime-change policies, which are in no way authorised by the resolution. Loathsome though Gaddafi may be, attacks on his compound, apparently targeting him personally, are unacceptable, and it is deplorable that members of his family have been killed. There is no way in which the Security Council has authorised political assassination. It is essential that there should be a clear line of political control, linked to discernible political objectives. The resolution would otherwise never have been nodded through by Russia and China. It is a matter of concern that over the weekend General Sir David Richards tried to state political objectives that are not within his remit. Our brave armed forces are there to carry out objectives decided politically. It is not their leaders’ role to make or urge political policies.

Political assassination appears to be becoming the flavour of the month. I shed no tears for Osama bin Laden, a monster who was responsible for this century’s most lurid atrocity, but for Barack Obama to violate another country’s sovereignty by sending in an assassination squad must arouse deep concern, especially as the White House has made so many conflicting statements that it is impossible to know what really happened in Abbottabad. Was bin Laden armed, and did he seek to resist with arms, thus provoking the Americans to kill him? Did he try to use women as human shields, or was he unarmed? Was any real attempt made to take him alive and put him on trial for his crimes? The White House's handling of the situation has turned a killing into reality TV. There is also a lethal aftermath: 80 innocent Pakistanis were killed by the Taliban at the weekend in what they say was a revenge attack, with a threat of more to come. Did the Americans think this through before they acted?

This latest episode confirms—to me, at any rate—that Obama is simply a sanctimonious version of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. An example is his breaking his pledge to shut down the Guantanamo Bay illegal torture camp. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former US national security adviser, has said of Obama: he does not strategise; he sermonises. Nowhere has Obama’s failure been more damaging than in his handling of—or

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inability to handle—the Israel-Palestine stand-off. On 4 June 2009, he made a ponderous speech in Cairo that was supposed to launch a successful peace initiative. Now, two years later, not only has there been no such initiative but his envoy has packed it in and the situation has become threateningly worse. We are told that the President is going to say something more, quite soon. He will be praised for his oratory, but will it have any practical, useful or helpful consequences?

This past weekend, Israeli soldiers slaughtered 14 more Palestinian protesters. Last week, they murdered a Palestinian teenager on the west bank. Their brutal treatment of peaceful protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas, the spraying of sewage and the manhandling of women and children would be the object of condemnation if inflicted by any other country. The way in which Israeli soldiers maltreat Palestinians is appalling. A Palestinian contact of mine e-mailed me at the weekend with this description of what happened on Friday:

“In Nabi Saleh where I was, the soldiers attacked the men and women with extreme cruelty, although our demonstration was extremely peaceful. We had at least 24 injuries, without counting injuries with pepper spray. They were shooting the gas canisters right at us, aiming at our bodies. One American citizen was shot with a canister on his head. I was standing right to him and I saw the soldier aiming at him. The man is fine now, but he lost part of his scalp.”

I cannot fault the way in which our Government have reacted to this situation, and I particularly commend the Secretary of State for International Development for the way in which his Department has done everything possible to assist those affected. In the end, however, only the United States can exert the necessary pressure to make Israel see sense. The Palestinians are an oppressed people, and the Israelis will never know peace and security until there is a two-state solution. How long, O Lord, how long?

7.13 pm

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): As befits my role as Chair of the International Development Select Committee, I will concentrate on the development aspects of this wide-ranging debate. In the context of Libya, I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) about the Department’s prompt response to the emerging crisis in north Africa, and especially to the evacuation of people fleeing the violence of the conflict. I also commend the non-governmental organisations that are operating in difficult conditions, often under fire, to provide medical relief, assistance and support to those beleaguered people.

We all recognise the capacity of the Department to respond to these situations, and the way in which it has done so is extremely welcome, although I think that the Secretary of State would agree that Libya is not a prime target for our aid programme and budget, and nor should it be. Clearly, reconstruction should be carried out within the country’s own resources, but in regard to the first and immediate response, it is good to know that we can respond as well as we have done. In passing I would point out that, as and when we get a resolution that enables Libya to start its reconstruction, the prime investment should come from within its own resources and those of its Arab League neighbours, although we will want to have a constructive engagement if, as we hope, a more benign regime emerges from the conflict.

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As far as the rest of the middle east is concerned, one area of interest is the role of the European Union’s external relations strategy. It has focused on the neighbourhood to the east of Europe, which does not have quite the same affinity but which has nevertheless been pursuing a Mediterranean policy. I hope that our Government will encourage the EU to shift the emphasis of its neighbourhood policy towards north Africa a little, rather than seeking to draw down more of the development budget from the UK. It is a matter of some embarrassment that the money we pay into the central budget of the EU goes into a neighbourhood policy that is classified as overseas development assistance, the prime beneficiary of which is Turkey. There is nothing wrong with encouraging Turkey to join the European Union, but it is a little disappointing that that overseas development assistance, which the UK would prefer to go to the poorest people in the poorest countries, is going to those who have the capacity to address their own problems. I hope that the UK has a degree of authority to assert in this instance. Given that we will be the first G20 country to achieve a 0.7% commitment on overseas development assistance by 2013, I think that we are entitled to say to other members of the European Union, which will not have achieved that, that they should not be diverting their aid away from where it could be most effectively targeted.

I intervened on the Foreign Secretary about the middle east peace process. We will be giving £343 million to the occupied Palestinian territories over the lifetime of this Parliament, which is a tragedy because we would not have to give anything if a proper peace process were in place. The area is not incapable of economic activity; it is prevented from being economically active by the frozen conflict. We should use whatever influence we have through the Quartet—I accept that the United States is the dominant influence—to point out to Israel that if it responds to the protests of the frustrated Palestinians in the way that Syria has responded to its protesters, the international community has a responsibility to put pressure on Israel to behave differently, even if we have no ability to intervene in Syria. We must point out that, if Israel does not unblock the peace process now, it could make matters much worse in the short to medium term and that it is really missing an opportunity.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are totally interlinked. The irony is that it looks as though we have more possibility of achieving stability in Afghanistan, difficult though that might be, than we do in Pakistan. It is instructive to take on board the fact that we are committing £2.1 billion of UK overseas development assistance over the course of this Parliament to Pakistan and Afghanistan combined. We must ensure that people understand why we are doing that. The military engagement in Afghanistan understandably gets all the attention, because our soldiers—male and female—are losing their lives in that operation. At the end of the day, however, it is our ability to deliver real improvements in the quality of life, education, health and livelihoods in Afghanistan that will have the most chance of giving people a sense that our engagement has validity and that we are on their side rather than against them.

The same applies, perhaps even more, in Pakistan. I know that the Secretary of State has placed particular emphasis on visiting that country and ensuring that our

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aid has precisely that effect. Pakistan has a huge, young and very suggestible population who are open to persuasion to take up extreme political positions. The best way to address that—although the outcome is not guaranteed—is to give people access to things that will give them a stake in the future and make them less inclined to join the terrorist activity to which they might otherwise be recruited.

I want to summarise the complicated developments taking place all over the world. Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union took place with unexpected suddenness, so did the onset of what is being called the Arab spring. Looking back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, we can see that we failed to hold Russia to a path of pluralism, democracy and human rights, but we were able to offer its satellites the opportunity to break away from the Soviet Union, achieve democracy and join NATO and the European Union. We cannot do quite the same for the Arab states, but we should hold out a hand of friendship and encouragement. To the extent that they can move towards pluralism, democracy and human rights, they will find willing partners to engage with in Europe.

We must not underestimate the fact that the Iraq war incensed middle eastern and Arab opinion. It also distracted us from the legitimate tasks in Afghanistan, took our eyes off Pakistan and, in many ways, damaged the legitimacy of the democratic world when engaging in these issues. We need to tread more softly if we are to build trust and respect that can open the way for economic development and poverty reduction, and expand the numbers and proportion of people in all those countries who have a stake in peace, transparency and the rule of law. We need to be a little more humble and a little less arrogant, and we need to use our soft power development funding in ways that build trust and confidence where our foreign policy has not always achieved the same result.

7.20 pm

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): As we approach the sixth anniversary of 7/7 and the 10th anniversary of 9/11, my thoughts turn to the lives so tragically lost. It is clear that the war on terror is the battle of our era—a struggle to rid perceptions and ethics, ideology and religion of extremism and its deadly inevitability.

I find it hard to rejoice at the death of any man, even that of Osama bin Laden. I hope that his death is the beginning of the end for al-Qaeda—I accept that it might not be—but we must not be naive of history: no individual is irreplaceable; the war, the fight and the danger are far from over. However, bin Laden’s death provides us with an opportunity which, if seized, could lead to real progress in the fight against extremist violence, especially on the two key fronts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. There could be no better tribute to bin Laden’s victims than to use his death for lasting good.

In this war, our relationship with Pakistan is perhaps the most crucial. One immediate impact of the raid on Abbottabad has been to put that country under pressure as never before. One well-informed observer in Pakistan told me over the weekend that the country feels like it is in anaphylactic shock, while some in my constituency called for us to review our co-operation and aid in the light of the perception that Pakistan was complicit in harbouring the world’s most wanted man.

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I doubt whether we will ever know the hard facts about what the Government of Pakistan knew or did not know about bin Laden’s whereabouts. It should be investigated, but what is most important is the bigger question of our overall longer-term relationship with Pakistan. There are clearly severe problems that need to be resolved and changes that can and must be made. We need urgently to find new ways to do that, but there is an overriding mutual interest in making the relationship work. I think that the basic outline of how to achieve that is clear.

Pakistan has legitimate concerns about sovereignty and its own security. Those concerns can be addressed, but in exchange, the Pakistanis cannot pursue those interests in a way that directly undermines stability in Afghanistan and harbours extremism at home or abroad. I believe that the crisis that has followed the killing of bin Laden provides a real opportunity for ourselves and the Pakistanis to reflect on how we refine our relationship to suit our shared interests. It is an opportunity we must take; indeed, we have to take it and we have to get it right. The consequences of failure—for ourselves and for the Pakistanis alike—are too dangerous to contemplate.

The UK's interest in a stable, democratic and peaceful Pakistan is clear. The country faces serious challenges and internal divisions. Those are very real: they include rising political tensions, unrest in the tribal areas, insecurity on its borders and more violent extremist groups than any other nation in the world. As with the wider middle east and north Africa as well as Afghanistan, the UK will feel the effects of state failure in Pakistan all too directly. The path used to import its product—whether it be drugs, the hateful rhetoric of extremism or the suicide bomber—is well trodden. We should also not forget how many of Pakistan’s people have died as a result of terrorism or in their fight to contain it. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Pakistan collapsing into internal strife or war with its neighbours is a nightmare. Now, more than ever, Pakistanis need us to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): It is great to say that we should stand shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan and that we should respect its security interests, but what exactly does the hon. Gentleman mean? Does he mean recognise the Durand line or the boundaries with Kashmir? What security interests is he talking about; what concessions is he proposing?

Dan Jarvis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It neatly brings me on to the points I am about to cover.

What I believe is that we and our allies must work closely with Pakistan and that we must address its fears about its relationships with Afghanistan, India, other neighbours—and, crucially, as already mentioned, with the United States. We must do that in a way that acknowledges the particular challenges that the country faces. We must work together to find ways to tackle extremist groups without overly infringing on Pakistani sovereignty. I accept that the hon. Gentleman has made a good point, but the time constraints mean that I will not be able to go into detail now on the questions he asked. I would say, however, that in order to refine UK-Pakistan relations, we must find the balance between respecting Pakistan’s sovereignty and the eradication of

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Islamist extremist networks operating from Pakistan. The threat to both of us from the unchecked rise of extremism is too great to ignore. Perhaps most immediately, Pakistan can play a decisive role in reaching a fair and lasting peace in Afghanistan.

We are at an important crossroads in our relationship with Pakistan. The death of the head of al-Qaeda is significant, but we must remain engaged: this is a fight for the long term and we must leave those who would attack us in no doubt that we have the stomach for it. We should not stick blindly, however, to the path we have followed up to now. There are real dangers in our current position, but there are also real opportunities. We must be ready to seize them if we are to achieve the peace we all desire.

7.27 pm

Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): In January this year, I had the privilege to visit Pakistan with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation. We all know that the danger with such visits is that we travel fast, meet a few people and come back as instant experts. I am aware that many Members know much more about the subject than me, but I feel completely confident in saying what I am about to say.

Sadly, it has recently become fashionable to criticise Pakistan—to criticise the amount of aid that we give it and to criticise it for being lukewarm in its reaction to the terror threat. The point has been made this evening on a number of occasions that Pakistan has invested more blood and treasure than any other country in the world in the fight against terrorism. We met the Pakistan Minister for Minorities, Dr Shahbaz Bhatti on 24 January; a fortnight later, Dr Bhatti was dead—murdered because of his Christianity and, more particularly, I think, because of his commitment to the cause of moderation. If such people are not to have died in vain, we have to ensure that we stand behind Pakistan and offer such assistance as we can.

The country has changed its constitution. There will be a shift of power from federal government to the regions. The point has also been made that it is a young country in respect of its population—it is one of the few countries in the world with more young people than old people. The young people we met were hugely enthusiastic for their future, but they were also hopelessly disorganised. In the regions, the democratic processes and the infrastructure are lamentable.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is hugely committed to the cause of education in Pakistan, but we need to go one step further and strengthen the democratic infrastructure, perhaps through institutions such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, so as to enable the transfer of power from the federal government to the regions without extremism taking over. We will report to the Minister next Monday, and we will make those points then, but I want to make them to my right hon. Friend here tonight and to put them on the record.

I have the honour to be the chairman of the all-party parliamentary Tunisia group. The Arab spring, as it is now called, actually began in midwinter with the jasmine revolution in Tunisia. Since then, the introduction of an interim Government has led to the creation of an election commission, which has set in train the processes for the democratic elections that we hope and believe—

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despite some misgivings—will still be held on 24 July. I say “despite some misgivings”, because the task is herculean. In the time available, the commission must try to create a register and an identification process, and it must try to work out the detail of the election itself. It must establish whether the election will be held in constituency terms or nationally on a proportional-representation basis. As things stand, some 60 parties will be entering the election, which will create huge problems in itself.

The choice, however, is between action now and delay. Delay will lead to further unrest and further confusion. The consensus seems to be that it is right to move ahead, accepting the fact that the election will probably be ragged around the edges. Those of us who have worked as international election observers know only too well that in developing countries there must be an acceptance of some degree of imperfection. If we judge on the basis of our own methods, perhaps we should not look too closely at the dust in other people’s eyes.

The important part of the process will be what follows the election. The Government who are elected will again be an interim Government, but they will have been elected. They will be charged with the duty of creating a constitution that will then be taken back to the people for a further election, and only then will the real process of reconstruction start. However, that should not gainsay the fact that Tunisia is, at this moment, open for business. What it needs more than anything else is economic development and investment. The tourism industry is on its knees, but the country is safe and able to receive visitors.

The other problem that Tunisia has with Europe is that Europe will not take its agricultural goods, which has implications for rural jobs. It is not good enough for France and Italy to complain about the number of migrants from north African countries, while closing their doors to the produce that those countries, especially Tunisia, need to sell in order to create the jobs that will keep migrant workers at home and enable them to grow their own economies.

The abandoning of the Schengen agreement by France and Italy should come as no surprise to any Member, but it would behove, in particular, the southern states of the European Union to try to create real opportunities, rather than investing cash in programmes that may or may not lead to jobs in the longer term. They should immediately consider the possibility of bringing Tunisia into a customs union, so that it can look to Europe legitimately and play a real part in the development of the Arab spring and of democracy.

7.34 pm

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate, and, in particular, to follow so many hon. Members with great expertise in the matters that we are discussing. I do not claim to have such expertise, but it is important to put on record some of my concerns and those conveyed to me by constituents, including women—I note in passing that I am now the only female Member in the Chamber.

It is important for us to debate a situation that continues to develop on a daily basis in Libya, as well as wider issues relating to the middle east and north Africa.

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There are far too many of those issues for me to be able to cover them in a short speech, so I shall focus on matters involving Libya.

Like many other Members, I thought long and hard before deciding to support the Government in their Libya mission. I am not naturally inclined towards armed interventions, and many of my constituents expressed concern about what such an intervention would lead to, but—albeit with a heavy heart—I felt it necessary for us to enforce UN security resolution 1973 in view of the rapid deterioration towards a one-sided armed conflict and the humanitarian crisis that was likely to follow, particularly given the number of non-military casualties.

I have no doubt that the British forces have performed their role in an exemplary and professional fashion, as they always do, and that they have contributed significantly to the protection of the civilian population. As we have already heard, however, the challenge now is to define our future role and establish at what stage we will feel able to withdraw. Regretfully, I have to say that there currently seems to be a lack of strategic direction. In recent weeks, the Government appear to have made tactical and operational decisions that begin to depart from the original mandate of protecting civilians. The Government’s decision to provide telecommunications, body armour and a number of military advisers seems to me, and to many of my constituents, to have more to do with a military situation developing on the ground in Libya than with simply enforcing the resolution. I also regret having to express the view that the Government have failed to communicate to the public, and indeed to Parliament, the exact role of those people in a developing situation. For how long will they be deployed, and how does their role relate to the wider remit of protecting civilians? Those questions remain unanswered.

It seems that none of the measures represents a breach of the mandate provided by the United Nations and approved by the House, but they suggest a move towards measures that are beyond what I expected in supporting the Government when we debated the issue. Perhaps, when he winds up the debate, the Secretary of State for International Development will identify some specific issues and make the case for the strategic role of the advisers in resolving the crisis. Specifically, the advisers are there as a result of the Foreign Secretary’s assertion to the House on 26 April that

“it is impossible to see a way of securing the full implementation of the UN Security Council resolution while Colonel Gaddafi remains.” —[Official Report, 26 April 2011; Vol. 527, c. 40.]

A number of Members have commented on that statement. Is the mission now to remove Gaddafi at all costs, rather than simply to ensure the protection of civilians? If the Foreign Secretary’s statement is informing strategic military decisions, the Government must be absolutely clear and up front. That is vital in the context of some of the comments made today about a possible move towards identifying different targets.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Does the hon. Lady appreciate the distinction between the wishes of the British Government, in terms of someone who is now wanted by the International Criminal Court, and what the UN resolution sanctions in terms of the military mission by the international community? Those are two different things.

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Cathy Jamieson: Of course they are two different things, but I have worries, which were identified at the outset of the process, about where we will end up and about the possibility of mission creep. It is important for the Government to continue to report back to those of us who, while supporting the Government, had and still have concerns.

There may also be a danger that as the conflict has continued, many of us—including the wider public—have become used to seeing images of it on our TV screens. Fewer column inches may have been devoted to reporting the details in the press, causing people to become immune to the process. That is why, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has implied, it is vital for the House to have an opportunity to hear from Ministers regularly, and to be allowed a further vote if measures beyond those outlined in resolution 1973 are considered at any stage. Understandably, the military situation and western involvement in Libya have become the focus of media attention and therefore of public debate, but in the wider region there is also a whole range of other, non-military options, which I hope the Government will support. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that.

It is important that wherever we are involved in trying to resolve conflict, we support universal suffrage and the democratic process, which is especially the case in countries that are on the brink of a bright new future. It is reassuring that the UK is at the forefront of pressing for European Union action, and that an agreement has been reached on an arms embargo and the revocation of the association agreement that had been put in place with Syria.

My final point is about the ability of the UK to offer continued commitment to the aims of resolution 1973. The Select Committee on Defence asked whether the UK will remain a full-spectrum force capable of deploying all aspects of military power across the world, and the chiefs of all three services—the British Army, Navy and Air Force—answered no. However, that view seemed to be contradicted by many senior UK officials, such as Britain’s ambassador to the US, who maintained that the UK has emerged from the recent strategic defence review and the ensuing round of spending cuts announced by the Prime Minister in October as a full-spectrum military power. It is important that we understand what effect the cuts are going to have, and what their implications will be for our work in all the areas where we are currently involved.

In conclusion, I make the following plea. While British troops remain deployed in Afghanistan and elsewhere, it is vital that our armed forces are not stretched to breaking point. It is also important that we continue to give humanitarian aid, and I hope that that becomes the focus of our work. I urge the Government to ensure that the focus is on bringing peace in all areas of conflict where we are involved, supporting humanitarian aid and, importantly, returning our armed forces safely to the UK as soon as possible.

7.42 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): In the House on 21 March, the Prime Minister said in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about the current violence in north Africa and the middle east:

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“I agree with the hon. Lady that there will be lessons to learn from the conflict for the future.”—[Official Report, 21 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 707.]

I want to focus on one area where I believe that there is a very important lesson to be learned—arms export policy. That question arises because in the two years prior to the Arab spring, under both the current and previous Governments, arms export licences for weapons that can be used for internal repression were granted on an extremely wide scale throughout north Africa and the middle east, and those export licence approvals have been shown to have been grievously mistaken.

The policy was clearly stated on 18 February by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt):

“The longstanding British position is clear. We will not issue licences where we judge there is a clear risk the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts or”—

this is the key policy statement—

“which might be used to facilitate internal repression.”

The recent Committees on Arms Export Controls report sets out quarter by quarter since the beginning of 2009 the details of the arms export licences that were approved in each period. That shows, for example, sub-machine-guns and sniper rifles to Bahrain, and components for semi-automatic pistols and sub-machine-guns, artillery computers, combat shotguns, intelligence equipment and small arms ammunition to Libya. Since the publication of that report, the latest quarterly report has been published, taking us up to the last quarter of 2010—in other words, to a matter of two or three weeks before the start of the Arab spring. It shows that even in that period we were exporting equipment for sniper rifles to Bahrain and components for combat aircraft, military equipment for initiating explosives and weapon night-sights to Libya.

If one Government statement reflects the over-optimism that has afflicted both the current and the previous Governments about the risks that are run in exporting certain types of weapons to authoritarian regimes, it is to be found in the 2008 annual report on strategic arms exports. There was a case study of a licence application for armoured personnel carriers for Libya, which concluded:

“There remain wider human rights risks in Libya, but it was judged very unlikely that these vehicles would be used to carry out abuses. As a result it was concluded, with reference to the Consolidated Criteria, that there was not a clear risk that these vehicles would be used for internal repression and the licence was approved.”

I think that conclusion was symptomatic of the policy followed by both Governments.

Martin Horwood: I strongly support many of the points that my right hon. Friend is making, and it is absolutely proper to raise this issue. However, we both welcome the fact that the current Government have revoked more than 150 such arms licences granted by the Labour Government, and we both welcome the fact that this Government are currently actively reviewing the whole policy of arms exports.

Sir John Stanley: That anticipates the point that I am about to make.

Britain was, of course, by no means the only country to engage in this degree of over-optimism and, as has been said, the Government have sought to retrieve the

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position. First, they have announced the revocation of a substantial number of arms export licences. Indeed, according to the latest figures, between 27 January and 9 March this year more than 150 previously granted arms export licences were revoked. That serves to highlight the scale of the previous misjudgment.

Why, however, are those revocations limited to just four countries—Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain? Why have there been no revocations of arms exports to Syria, for example? Why, too, have there been no revocations of arms exports to Saudi Arabia, whose British-made armoured personnel carriers have rolled into Bahrain and are therefore complicit, as it were, in the appalling abuses of human rights there? Of course, I understand that Saudi Arabia is big money, is big oil, and is useful intelligence, but can the Government really justify such a blatant degree of inconsistency in their revocations policy?

Secondly, I greatly welcome the review of arms export licences, but it has been initiated only in relation to north Africa and the middle east, while recent events also suggest that there are serious questions to be raised about arms export licence policy for weapons that can be used for internal repression in relation to authoritarian regimes worldwide. Sadly, authoritarian regimes extend from the boundaries of the European Union to the very furthest east. There are too many authoritarian regimes in Africa and some in central and south America. The current review should therefore be extended to cover authoritarian regimes worldwide. The Committees on Arms Export Controls has recommended that, and I earnestly hope that the Government will accept that recommendation and the other recommendations in our report.

7.49 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley). He and I have served together on the Committees on Arms Export Controls and on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs for many years, and he speaks a great deal of sense on arms exports issues.

Somebody once said, in the context of British politics, “You can be in office and not in power.” That situation clearly applies in a number of countries around the world, but I wish to focus my remarks, as others have done, on what is happening in Pakistan. The fact that Osama Bin Laden apparently lived in Abbottabad with food and access to information, although not to the internet, and was somehow protected, is a matter of deep concern, but I have no doubt that the Government of President Zardari had no knowledge that that was the case. The question for us, which is highlighted in a very good book that came out this week, “Pakistan: A Hard Country” by Anatol Lieven, is about the relationship between the civil society and the political society in Pakistan and the military and intelligence elite that has run that state.

Anatol Lieven says that:

“the Pakistani national security state…was born chiefly out of fear of, and hostility to, India. This is felt most strongly in the military and, in the ISI, it is a raging monomania.”

That sums up the problem. According to an opinion poll of about two years ago, 85% of the Pakistani population want better relations with India. We find the

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same thing when we speak to people in the British-Pakistani and British-Indian community—many of whom, including many of my constituents, have roots in the divided Punjab—and when we go, as I did with the Foreign Affairs Committee five years ago, by road from Amritsar to Lahore, through the Wagah crossing. If we leave aside the symbolism of the soldiers on both sides at the ceremony, we also find the interesting sight of the bearers, who, on the one side, carry sacks of onions on their heads for about a mile and half and, on the other side, carry boxes of dried fruit. This is an international border where people cannot trade by means of vehicles passing through; everything has to be unloaded and then loaded again.

Economic co-operation between India and Pakistan would be of great benefit to both countries, especially in dealing with Pakistan’s problems arising from its rapidly growing population: it has 180 million people, and that is on the way to becoming 300 million or 350 million. Massive difficulties are also caused by the fact that a disproportionate amount of money in Pakistan is taken up by the national security structure, and because the obsession with India means that it is a state that has in the past, through its Inter-Services Intelligence, sponsored terrorist organisations and insurgent groups in both Afghanistan and India. The democratic and secular forces—the people, including the late Shahbaz Bhatti, to whom reference has been made, who believe in women’s rights and in protecting minorities, and who stand up for ethical values and global values of human rights—are besieged now in Pakistan because of the international context.

The Pakistani Government and Pakistani politicians can rightly point out that many of the problems they face arise because of the misguided interventions of 25 and 30 years ago, which led to the situation in Afghanistan, where the groups that evolved into the Taliban were developed. However, there was also a Pakistani hand in some of that; they got the money from the United States—from the CIA—it was pushed through the ISI and it went through to people such as Mr Hekmatyar, to what is now the Haqqani network in Afghanistan, and to the Taliban.

That worm has turned, and the Pakistani state faces enormous threats from those organisations, but it also has its own resilience and ability to fight back. In my opinion, it is good news that Osama Bin Laden was killed and is dead, and however critical we might be of the fact that he was in Pakistan, we need to make an assessment and take a clear view. The Government of Pakistan were not shielding that man, nor were the Pakistani people. That was done by certain rogue elements within their society, and it would be completely wrong to do what some in the United States Congress are calling for and punish Pakistan by cutting off economic assistance and ending co-operation.

What Pakistan needs today is our solidarity against the terrorist threat it faces. Its secular politicians need our support and encouragement to rebuild the dialogue with India, to resolve the difficulties over Kashmir and to co-operate against the common threats of terrorism which both those countries are facing. That is not going to be easy—the history and the fact that the pain is so deep on both sides means that it will be very difficult—but the alternative is to play into the hands of the extremist groups that wish to foster a failed state, further conflict

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and terrorism. That will not only be destructive to all the values of Pakistan and India, but it will blow back into this country because people here have family roots in that part of the world. We owe it to them, as well as to ourselves, to work in co-operation with Pakistan at this time of great difficulty.

7.57 pm

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), the former Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I agreed with almost everything he said. I agreed with the main thrust of it, and with his point about the essential need for our continued involvement in Pakistan in terms of providing aid and support. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development for his concentration on the issue of education in Pakistan. A country that spends only 2% of its gross domestic product on education is one that must cause considerable concern to the rest of the world, as it is doing now.

I declare my interest as the chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel, and I wish to say two things, which may take me a little time. First, it has become increasingly clear over the past six months that the middle eastern problem is not Israel. When Osama bin Laden was killed a few weeks ago, an important article by Robert Fisk appeared in The Independent, in which he made the point that al-Qaeda’s irrelevance has been shown by the fact that the Arab spring was demanding not more Islamic fundamentalism, but freedoms. It is just as important to note that the Arab spring has not been demanding a change in Palestine, essential though that change is; the Arab spring has been demanding the sort of freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the rule of law—that are provided and embodied in Israel. My main initial point about Israel is that it is not the middle eastern problem; the autocratic regimes that have been surrounding Israel are the problem.

The second issue—it looks as though I shall have plenty of time to finish within my eight minutes—is the rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah. I would like to ask what it means. If it means that Hamas and Fatah will be united on the Fatah way of looking at things—the renunciation of violence, the recognition of Israel, the agreement to maintain and honour previous agreements—it will be a very good thing indeed. If, however, it means that they will be united on the Hamas view of things, that is entirely different. We know about Hamas. In the last month alone more than 120 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza, some with 40 km in range. There have been rockets and mortars, and a guided anti-tank missile hit a school bus in Israel and killed a 16-year-old schoolboy. Terrorism sponsored by, perpetrated by and supported by Hamas has killed more than 500 people in Israel since the beginning of 2003.

If the new Hamas-Fatah organisation follows the Fatah line I will be utterly delighted. That would mean that we could negotiate with Hamas again and that Israel would have a useful negotiating partner, because all these things must be achieved by negotiation and cannot be achieved by force or unilateralism. If, however, the new united organisation follows the Hamas line, the reconciliation will be either meaningless or significantly worse. This is not a various shades of grey issue, but a black and white one.

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Mike Gapes: Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that one of the important consequences of this agreement is that it allows a programme to go forward for democratic elections, hopefully at the end of this year or the beginning of next, that will then allow the Palestinian people as a whole to elect a new Parliament and a new President? That is vital if we are to get serious negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr Arbuthnot: I agree that that is very important. I asked the Prime Minister a month or so ago whether he was concerned that when the President of the Palestinian Authority called for elections, Hamas immediately rejected that—Hamas having been a democratically elected organisation that renounced democracy once its mandate had expired. I agree, however, that the notion of bringing democracy back to Hamas would be a welcome change.

Unfortunately, I think there is a risk that in the British Foreign Office the view is that this is a matter of shades of grey as opposed to black and white. For Israel it is not a matter of shades of grey. Israel has been struggling to secure itself and just to exist. When it comes to murdering schoolchildren, which Hamas went in for, that cannot be regarded as shades of grey.

Jeremy Corbyn: Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that things such as the killing of 13 people at Qalandiya crossing yesterday by Israeli forces, the continued expansion of settlements and the taking over of Silwan in East Jerusalem need to change in Israel if there is to be any hope of some longer-term peace agreement?

Mr Arbuthnot: I agree about the settlements, and I have said so in a speech in this Chamber. The hon. Gentleman heard me say that in the last speech I made about Israel. As for what happened at the crossing, I think the Government are right to call for restraint on all sides. There seems to me to be something very convenient about Israel moving in to the headlines as soon as there were clashes on the border of Syria and Lebanon. I am profoundly suspicious about what was behind those clashes.

At a time when the Arab spring is showing that the Arab people are desperate for freedoms, now is not the time for the United Kingdom or the international community to abandon the Quartet’s principles. They must demand that Hamas should renounce violence, recognise the state of Israel and honour the previous agreements.

8.5 pm

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I listened to the speech made by the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) with much interest, but there have been many civilian casualties on both sides and innocent people have been killed; indeed, that happened over the weekend, as many of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), have said. What is required is a genuine peace settlement.

I was not going to speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire provoked me. There are only two Members in the House who were here in 1967, when the war took place, and I am one of the two. I expressed my point of view on the situation at the time. With respect to the

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right hon. Gentleman, it is not a question of Israel now fighting for its very existence, but of the absolute refusal of Israel to come to any genuine agreement for a viable and independent Palestinian state. The Israeli settlements that have been built on the west bank surely demonstrate a lack of commitment on the part of Israel to what the international community—including, of course, the United Kingdom—would like to see: a two-state solution.

We can disagree about Hamas and the rest. Obviously, what Hamas stands for, being basically an Islamic fundamentalist concept, to say the least, is totally alien to everything I believe in. That goes without saying, but in negotiations one deals with one’s enemy. After all, if anyone is says that it is impossible to reach agreement with Hamas, we know that the IRA argued for years that there could be absolutely no solution in Northern Ireland until Britain decided to leave, yet a very different situation emerged. Those who, like the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire, take the Israeli point of view very strongly would do far more good if they could pressurise Israel to recognise that there needs to be a wide-ranging agreement.

If it was right, in the circumstances of the extermination of millions of people, for Israel to be created by the international community in 1947 and 1948, let us not forget for one moment the tremendous injustice that was done to the Palestinians as a result. The Palestinians were not responsible for what happened to the Jewish people during the second world war.

I now turn to the question of Libya. I made it clear in my speech on 21 March, in the previous debate on Libya, that I could not support the Government. I hesitated about voting against the motion, and in fact I abstained. I had hesitations during that debate, not because I did not want to see humanitarian action taken—obviously, I wanted help to be given to civilians in Libya who could be at the mercy of Gaddafi; that goes without saying—but I had the feeling that resolution 1973 would in practice result in an attempt at regime change. All that has occurred in more recent weeks, since that debate, has persuaded me that in spite all the denials we heard today from the Foreign Secretary and the rest, at the end of it all what is required is that Gaddafi should abdicate, that there should be regime change and that, if necessary, Gaddafi could be the subject of an assassination attempt.

I am no apologist for Gaddafi; heaven forbid. I have opposed the regime ever since he took power 32 years ago, as it was obviously based on tyranny and was much involved in international terrorism, as we know. Why on earth should I in any circumstances wish to defend or justify such a regime? But international law does not permit regime change or the assassination of a leader. The remarks of the Army chief, General Richards, over the weekend are bound to cause added worry. What will happen is an escalation of what has been occurring in the air strikes of the past fortnight or so. It is interesting that so many of the Members on both sides of the House who have spoken in this debate, most of whom voted with the Government on 21 March, have expressed the same reservations and concern about what is happening in Libya that I am expressing now.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) made a very good speech about the selling of arms to authoritarian states. There was hardly

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a word he said, even in his criticism of the previous Government, with which I could disagree. As he pointed out, it is interesting to note that however despicable the Gaddafi regime has been, Britain was selling arms to it right up to the moment before the demonstrations when opposition emerged in Libya. Why did we do that, and why do we sell arms to other states that are based on tyranny? Syria, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, is a good example of that. I certainly hope that there will be far greater concern about that in future, and that more attempts will be made to ensure that Britain is not involved in selling arms to countries such as Gaddafi’s Libya.

Turkey has put forward certain proposals regarding Libya that I should have thought it would be useful to try. It has urged an immediate ceasefire and has emphasised the need to start a political process leading to Gaddafi’s leaving office. The Government say that there is no wish on Gaddafi’s part to engage in a genuine ceasefire, but let us test that; let us see. Let us use Turkey’s proposals, which seem worth trying at least, and in so doing save lives.

Had there been time I would also have discussed Afghanistan and the wish to end as soon as possible the use of British military forces there. In the absence of time, I will simply say again to the Government that although they received support from the overwhelming majority on 21 March, that majority did not support regime change, and that resolution 1973 should not be used for that purpose.

8.13 pm

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), who can always be relied on to make a thoughtful contribution.

In 1961, a young man, Abdul-Ghani, left his poverty-stricken village in Punjab, Pakistan, for England. He had heard that the mother country, as England was still known at that time, had plenty of jobs, so he decided to try his luck. Like many young Pakistanis arriving in Britain at that time, Abdul-Ghani planned to stay in England for only a few years—just long enough to earn enough money to send back to his siblings so that they could have the education that he never had. He also intended to return home because he loved his homeland. He remembered how, at the age of nine, he had been part of the largest population exchange in history, in which more than 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs had tried to find safety in their newly born nation states. To this day, he will never forget the stench of death and the heart-wrenching human misery that he witnessed.

In the early 1960s, many young Pakistanis such as Abdul-Ghani still harboured huge hopes for their country. They believed in the vision of Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who wanted a democratic, secular, modern state. As the years passed, Abdul-Ghani, who was by then a very proud bus driver in Rochdale, sadly came to realise that he would not be going back to Pakistan because the country was moving backwards. He gave up on his dreams of returning home and decided that he and his future family would be wise to make their permanent home in England. It is because of that decision that I am able to stand before the House and contribute to this important debate.

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By the 1960s, it was already clear that the ruling bargain in Pakistan had changed. Gone was the dream of a tolerant, democratic and secular nation. In sharp contrast to the situation in neighbouring India, the rules of the game in Pakistan were being set by the Pakistani army. The army allowed the pretence of civilian rule, but everyone knew that it called all the shots. Each year, the army granted itself nearly 25% of the national budget and justified its rule on the grounds that Pakistan needed to confront its real enemy—India. Despite the very real challenges of widespread poverty and illiteracy, with enlightened leadership Pakistan could have taken the path to greater prosperity. That is not just a dream: many Muslim-majority countries have achieved that, including Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia. Virtually every leader of Pakistan has failed his people, choosing self-interest over the national interest. They have all too often obscured their own incompetence and deceit by blaming every failure on an external, exaggerated threat. In much the same way, many Arab rulers love to blame Israel for all their problems.

I was saddened but not surprised that bin Laden was found to be living in Pakistan. Let us be clear. He was not just living in Pakistan: he was a stone’s throw away from the national military academy and just a two-hour drive from Islamabad. I have no doubt that it was just and strategically right for the US to kill bin Laden, and although I do not think that the Pakistani Government were involved in any way or were complicit as a whole, I find it very hard to believe that there were not elements of the Pakistani military intelligence services and some Government officials providing him with safe harbour. To suggest otherwise is frankly laughable. That is why there is no way that Britain’s relationship with Pakistan can remain the same.

When the Prime Minister visited Pakistan last year, he was right to say that Pakistan looked “both ways” when it came to terrorism. He was also right when he told the House very recently that we cannot afford to turn our back on Pakistan. If we did, the threat to Britain from the emergence of a nuclear-armed failed state in one of the world’s most volatile regions would be far too great. It is in neither Britain’s interest nor Pakistan’s for relations to become more adversarial, but Pakistan’s strategy of being both a friend and an adversary is no longer tenable. That is why we need to take a harder line on Pakistan and demand a lot more in return for our assistance, aid and friendship. The UK and the US should formally present to Pakistan’s leaders any information they have about Pakistani complicity in shielding bin Laden and should demand tough and immediate action. We should demand that Pakistan uproots insurgent sanctuaries, shuts down factories that produce bombs that kill our soldiers, and hunts down leading terrorists who are still at large.

We also need to start reducing our dependence on Pakistan. First, the international security assistance force should find an alternative to the supply lines that run through Pakistan to Afghanistan, and we should expand alternative supply routes through Azerbaijan and other countries in central Asia. Secondly, NATO and Afghanistan should reach agreement on a longer-term settlement allowing for a small but lasting military presence in Afghanistan. That capability could be indispensible in preventing some of the worst-case scenarios involving Pakistan and its nuclear weapons.

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When it comes to helping Pakistan, our No. 1 focus should be on promoting commerce and education, as they are the only tools to help ordinary, long-suffering Pakistanis to climb out of poverty. Our message should not be that we are abandoning Pakistan, but that we will help Pakistan fight its true enemies—ignorance, illiteracy, corrupt elites and religious conflict. Although the killing of bin Laden was an important success, a greater achievement would be to transform UK-Pakistani relations into a true partnership that fights terrorism and helps ordinary Pakistanis.

8.20 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I welcome today’s debate and the commitment from the Foreign Secretary that there will be regular reports to the House on the situation in Afghanistan and Libya.

The uprisings across the whole Arab world are momentous in historical terms and in many ways are a continuation of the uprisings of the 1950s, which were eventually mired in corruption and autocracy in almost every country. What we see now on the streets of so many Arab countries is a thirst for accountable government, economic sustainability and, above all, political freedoms. These developments are to be wholly welcomed, but they are not without their problems. The forces of the state that have sustained dictators in power for a very long time are hitting back in a real and quick way.

I pointed out in an intervention what was happening in Tunisia, where protesters are being fairly brutally prevented from making their views known. In the same way, progress in Egypt is up and down. Elements of the old regime constantly pop up and try to prevent industrial action by legitimate trade unions and to control society, just as the Mubarak regime did for a very long time. There should be understanding and solidarity.

While visiting Tunisia earlier this year, I recall talking to a group of young people in the central square in Tunis. It was when the protests were beginning in Libya, and I asked them whether they wanted any outside help. They said no, they did not. Historically, they had had quite enough of French colonialism, and they felt that people in the neighbouring countries had had quite enough of Italian and British colonialism. They wanted to do it themselves.

Proposing the intervention in Libya and support for the UN resolution, the Foreign Secretary made it clear that that was humanitarian; that it would create a no-fly zone; that it was designed to protect lives; and that it would be within the terms of international law. Listen to his speech today, follow the mood music, follow the statements made by NATO and all the others, and it is clear that the whole intervention is about regime change and occupation. The rush to provide facilities and support for the transitional council, which has renamed itself after its members were called “rebels” for a long time, suggests to me that we are in fact involved in a civil war.

I am not here, any more than my Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) is, to defend the human rights abuses of the Gaddafi regime. I just feel that we have involved ourselves in a civil war, that there are ulterior motives relating to oil and future markets, and that a macabre demonstration is taking place to show the power of various defence systems and strike aircraft.

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Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): My hon. Friend had the wisdom to vote against this ill-fated intervention. Does he agree that it is concerning that we are sending so-called advisers to the region? In other interventions of this kind, where advisers go, troops cannot be far behind.

Jeremy Corbyn: The parallel is Vietnam 1963, when several thousand CIA advisers descended on that country. That eventually turned out to be 500,000 US troops, 100,000 of whom died there. A million Vietnamese also died in that conflict. We should be slightly more careful, more sanguine and less gung-ho about the process.

Turkey has tried to bring about a peace process, as has the African Union, but what hope is there for a peace process and a diplomatic settlement if the language coming from NATO and others is, “We are going to win this conflict”? That is the subtext.

Paul Flynn: It is an extremely rare event when I disagree with my hon. Friend on this subject, but does he understand the predicament of many of us in the House when that vote was taken on whether we should intervene? If we did not intervene, we were leaving the people of Benghazi defenceless against the bloodthirsty threats of Gaddafi.

Jeremy Corbyn: I have no doubt that the forces of the Gaddafi regime were being very brutal to people in Benghazi, just as the forces in Tunisia and Egypt were brutal to people in those countries. If the west was serious about bringing about a diplomatic solution in Libya, the Secretary-General of the UN and Heads of State would have gone there and there would have been a real effort, but the subtext the whole time, by Sarkozy particularly, was that they wanted military intervention and a no-fly zone. I voted against it because I do not believe that the intervention was as high-minded as my hon. Friend suggests it may have been, and many Members who voted for the motion on that day are having some doubts about what went on on that occasion.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) rose

Jeremy Corbyn: I will not give way any more as I have had my allotted injury time, if the House understands what I mean.

I want to mention two other topics. I believe that there are double standards at work. The west has intervened in Libya, where there are large amounts of oil and where, under Tony Blair, a deal was done with the Government and arms were sold. They were being sold right up to the point when NATO was preparing to go in there. Interestingly, the arms sales there and in every other country in the region are, yes, planes, missiles and radar systems, but in every case they include anti-personnel equipment for crowd control, to deal with civil disorder and control populations.

That is what is now happening in Bahrain, with the support of Saudi Arabia. Other Members have drawn attention to what is going on there. I was with the Bahraini opposition groups in London last week. I first met Bahraini opposition groups at a UN human rights conference in Copenhagen in 1986, when they were complaining about British support for the regime, the suspension of the constitution and the lack of democracy

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in Bahrain. That has not stopped this country doing a lot of business with Bahrain. It has not stopped arms exports and oil imports from Bahrain. I would like condemnation of the violence of the Bahrain and the Saudi regimes equal to the condemnation of the Libyan regime and, rightly, of the Syrian regime for what it is doing.

My last point concerns Palestine. Yesterday, on the anniversary of Nakba, the day on which the Palestinian people were driven out of what is now the state of Israel to become that vast diaspora, was the occasion for demonstrations outside the Kalandia crossing. Thirteen Palestinians were shot dead. Last year or the year before, Operation Cast Lead over Gaza brought about the deaths of nearly 1,500 people in that bombardment. Routine operations by Israeli forces over Gaza result in deaths. Rocket attacks and suicide attacks also result in deaths.

However, there seems almost to be an approval of Israel and its perceptions of its own security needs to the exclusion of all understanding of just how brutal the regime has been towards Palestinians. If someone tries to travel through the west bank and sees the settlements, the settler-only roads, the checkpoints and the abuse that Palestinians receive every day from Israeli border guards, they will understand why people feel so angry. They will see the walls being built, the wells being taken away and the opportunity for economic life being removed. The people in Gaza are living in an open prison and young people are growing up living their lives vicariously through TV and computer screens because they cannot work and they cannot travel—they cannot do anything. They get very angry. There must be a recognition of the rights and needs of Palestinian people.

Likewise, the huge Palestinian diaspora, largely living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, but also all over the world, feels very angry. On a visit to Lebanon earlier this year my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who led the delegation, and I met an old man living in Shatila refugee camp—hon. Members will remember the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982. A man in his mid-80s could remember with absolute precision every tree, house and well of his Palestinian village, which he was driven out of when the state of Israel was established. Is he determined to go back? Yes. Does he think he has a right to go back? Absolutely. Do the people in that camp think they have a right to return? They absolutely do. This anger among Palestinian people is a cause that will go on for a very long time.

The result of 1948 might have been seen as a reasonable diplomatic solution to the massive and awful experience that Jewish people experienced before and during the second world war, but the residue of the ill-treatment of the Palestinian people lives on. The state of Palestine needs to be supported and the Palestinian people need to be recognised. If we do not do so, the cause will go on for a very long time. We cannot just sell arms to Israel and pretend that what is happening to the Palestinians is nothing to do with us.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am concerned that everyone who wishes to speak in the debate should get in. The only way we can do that is by reducing the time limit on speeches to six minutes, in fairness to Members who have been waiting.

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8.31 pm

Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker—it is just my luck to have the axe fall as I rise.

Mr Winnick: It was nothing personal.

Nick Boles: I am not so sure about that. Nevertheless, it is fortuitous that I find myself following the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), whose speech I listened to with great interest, because I hope to shed some other light on the situation. I should start by declaring two interests. First, I do some work with the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. Secondly, and perhaps more important, I very recently tied the knot with my Israeli partner.

I am afraid that it is with sadness, but not surprise, that I find myself speaking a day after another depressing turn in the wheel of futility and violence that characterises the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. All Members of the House—from the hon. Member for Islington North, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) to all Government Members—want to help them break out of this morbid cycle, but we will do so, as the hon. Member for Islington North said, only if we understand the fears and motivations of all parties in the dispute and grasp the way they perceive their situation, not how we perceive it.

Other hon. Members are more qualified than I am to shed light on the Palestinian point of view—the hon. Gentleman has done so, as I hope and trust will other hon. Members. I want to try to contribute a little understanding of the Israeli point of view. I will start by asking the House a question. Why is it that young Israeli men and women, such as my partner, are willing to do three years’ military service at a time when young men and women in Britain are working, studying, travelling and having fun? They are not compelled to do so, as they can choose a civilian form of service. It is not possible to say that Israel is some latter-day militaristic Prussia. Anyone who has been to Israel will have to testify to the fact that Israelis are a remarkably individualistic, even hedonistic, bunch of people. It is not even possible to say that somehow they are all brainwashed into thinking that this is something they must do. Israeli politics is one of the most disputatious and argumentative politics one can find, and there are many groups in Israeli politics preaching peace and arguing for a change in the pattern.

So why are they doing it? The reason is simple. There is nothing more important for my partner and people of his age, and for his parents and grandparents, than the security of the state of Israel because it is the first place in 2,000 years that Jews have been able to call home. The key to understanding Israel’s actions is this: what will it mean for their perceptions of their long-term security? In this place, such an obsession with security may seem overblown, but we are an island, we have water all around us, we have been here for thousands of years, and I remember that about 70 years ago we seemed to take threats to that security pretty seriously indeed.

Mr Winnick: The hon. Gentleman, although I disagree with him, is making the most interesting speech. I now understand the personal factor involved, but there is no

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criticism in what I have just said. Is not the best security for Israel—I have already indicated my support for Israel as a state, pre-1967 borders—to find and be willing to reach an accommodation with the Palestinian people, who are not going to go away?

Nick Boles: I am very grateful for that intervention, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman and share his analysis. The vast majority of Israeli people also think that a two-state solution is the long-term source of their security, but they will grasp it only if there are guarantees that that state will not threaten the long-term security of Israel.

It is not unreasonable to ask for that when only five years ago Israel withdrew from Gaza and Gaza immediately fell into the hands of an organisation that is directly sponsored by Iran and wants to wipe Israel from the map. It is not unreasonable when Lebanon’s Government have been brought down and the new Prime Minister has been put in place by an organisation whose leader only yesterday said that we need to drive Israel into the sea, and that no treaties, no borders, no agreements will stop that happening. It is not unreasonable for the Israeli people to have that expectation. I wish that they might be willing to make more of a risk, but my wishes, and our wishes, carry no weight.

We must provide guarantees of security, which means, first, that the Palestinian state cannot have a military force, because if it does there will be no agreement, ever, not in our lifetime, our children’s or our grandchildren’s; secondly, that the neighbours of Israel will have to agree to recognise the existence and legitimacy of the state of Israel; and thirdly, that we in Europe and America will have to provide the kind of security guarantees that we have provided each other over the past 60 years.

That, in my honest judgment, is the only way in which we will bring the Israeli people to a table where we will be asking them to make an enormous compromise for their security. It is a compromise that, I agree, is necessary and vital to the interests of the Palestinian people and the interests of justice, but if we want to achieve a result we have to recognise what it will take, and deal with that.

8.37 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), and may I offer the congratulations of the House on his recent civil partnership? I am disappointed that he did not invite me to the event: after all, we share offices in Norman Shaw North and Leicester is not that far from Grantham—I would have made the journey.

I say to the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) that I am glad, as I think is the whole House, that Abdul Ghani decided to stay in Britain rather than go back to Pakistan. The hon. Gentleman made a forceful and important contribution, and throughout the entire year of his being a Member I am sure his constituents have been extraordinarily proud of his contribution.

I always use opportunities such as this to talk about Yemen, and I make no apology to the House for doing so. I was born in that country and chair the all-party group on Yemen. I always start my contributions to such debates by saying that Yemen is in crisis, but it really is in crisis. There is a deep humanitarian crisis affecting Yemen. Some 40% of the country live on

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under £1.25 a day, one third of its people are unemployed and 7 million literally cannot find anything to eat each day. The situation that led to the uprising has caused the displacement of 330,000 people in the north of the country. As a matter of urgency, therefore, we need to continue the work that was started under the previous Government, through the Friends of Yemen procedure, and to give Yemen the support that it needs.

I am delighted to see the Secretary of State for International Development here today. I have known him for 35 years, and he is responsible for giving me my first political speech when he presided over the debating society that we both belonged to; he probably regrets it now. In the work that he has done, he has been an outstanding International Development Secretary. I know that there are many countries and that the budget is limited, but it is very important to focus on Yemen, which is one of the poorest countries on earth. It does not have the political capacity to punch above its weight as other countries have done, and it does not have the focus of the international community. That is why it is important that we should give it as much help as we can.

On the political side, tomorrow there will be a mass demonstration in Sana’a, and the predictions are that even more people will die unless there is restraint on all sides. So far, 170 people have been killed in the uprising. When I spoke in an Adjournment debate on Yemen a few weeks ago, I believed that we were near a solution, and I think that that was the Foreign Secretary’s view as well. The Gulf Co-operation Council had negotiated an agreement with President Ali Abdullah Saleh that he would stand down in 30 days. That agreement was also adhered to by the opposition. Everyone agreed that there was a process for the resignation of the President, with all the dignity of a person who has occupied that post for 32 years, and that a new Government would take over. This did not happen. It is vital that we provide not only humanitarian relief but political support. I have urged on the Government and the Prime Minister the need to appoint an envoy who will be able to bring all sides together; it could be an EU envoy or someone from the United Nations. After all, we are proposing to do this in other countries. I believe that Yemen can be saved from civil war if we are able to provide that political support.

Why is it in our interests to support Yemen? Why do we want to keep the country as one? The reason is the power that al-Qaeda has in Yemen. A lot of reference has been made to the death of Osama bin Laden, but the head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Anwar al-Awlaki, is still in Yemen. Though born in the United States, he is of Yemeni descent. According to the Pentagon, he is more dangerous, as a person, than Osama bin Laden was. It is therefore in our interests to ensure that the country remains stable and united, that humanitarian support is given, and that the security situation in that whole area is not infected by the break-up of this impoverished country.

8.43 pm

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): It is a pleasure, as ever, to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). I am going to talk about

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Israel and the middle east and, more substantially, about the dangers posed to regional and international security by a nuclear-armed Iran.

I will not reiterate the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), but I am wary of the rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah given that the aim of many individuals in those organisations is to move towards unilateral and incremental recognition of Palestinian statehood rather than the alternative—a round-table debate and discussion among all parties, including the United Nations and the European Union, towards a negotiated settlement, which would mean a two-state solution that is viable and sustainable in terms of the creation of a Palestinian state.

It is very important that we support the courageous stand of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in his efforts, because Hamas has consistently repudiated the Quartet principles, including the recognition of Israel, the renunciation of violence, and the acceptance of all previous agreements. Indeed, it has called for the destruction of the Jewish state. Just last month, after the signing of the agreement, the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, said:

“The only battle of the Palestinians is against Israel.”

I see ominous developments in the mixing of the Hamas forces—with their terrorist activists—and the police service of the Palestinian Authority, which is controlled by Fatah. That is the political context in which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office must reiterate the Prime Minister’s undertaking to the Community Security Trust that we must continue the dialogue with all parties and that:

“The alternative to compromise is that moderates will always lose out.”

Iran is a state that espouses a jihadist, anti-Semitic, militant theology. It is a leading sponsor of state terrorism across the middle east. Furthermore, it wishes to challenge the United States and undermine the historic undertaking of the Baghdad pact of the 1950s, through which the United States sought to support moderate Arab states. There is no doubt that the Iranian regime not only sees itself as the pre-eminent regional power seeking hegemony in the middle east, but is developing a supra-conventional nuclear missile capacity to consolidate that hegemony and become a rival to the United States in global terms.

Iran is close to weaponised nuclear capability, and to being able to move, via a breakout position, from the conversion of low-enriched uranium to high-enriched uranium at the minimum 90% level. Once the regime has achieved that, weaponisation can be achieved relatively simply. Much of that has been achieved with the help of North Korea, which has provided enrichment technology and, for hard currency, highly sophisticated centrifuges from its large, modern uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon.

The Obama Administration are committed to this issue and have adopted a policy of sanctions, particularly through UN Security Council resolution 1929 of June 2010, and active diplomacy and engagement. The problem, as ever, is a lack of consensus in the United Nations—the P5 plus Germany—and the European Union. The next step must be the consideration of more draconian and targeted sanctions. I concede that diplomatic engagement will assist reformists in Iran such as Khatami, Rafsanjani and the fledgling green movement, but we cannot rule

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out the chance that military action may be necessary. Make no mistake, within two years it will be possible for Iran’s Sejil 2 multi-stage solid propellant missiles to travel a range of 3,000 km, which would reach most of continental Europe. Iran is well advanced in uranium enrichment, weaponisation and ballistic missile development.

A nuclear Iran would destroy the policy objective of global non-proliferation and semi-permanently destabilise the middle east, with countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and smaller Arab states seeking nuclear parity. That argument is enunciated in a report entitled “Global Trends 2025” by the National Intelligence Council. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran presents a clear and present danger to Israel and to regional stability, and it is too great a risk. The European Union, the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency must rise to the challenge of preventing that prospect from coming to fruition.

8.49 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): As the proud son of a soldier who was grievously injured on a battlefield and later cheated out of his pension by an ungrateful Government, giving him a sense of grievance and injustice that he took to his early grave at the age of 43, I do not need any instructions on the need for a military covenant from the Government. However, I believe that the military covenant should have as its first sentence the obligations of the Government, and it should read that they guarantee never to send our armed forces into conflict for causes that are avoidable or vainglorious. Earlier, I was accused of being a pacifist for suggesting that, but I point out that I have supported with my vote or voice all the conflicts and military interventions in which we have been involved over the past 24 years, except for two. Those were the ones that conflicted with what I hope will be the first line of the covenant: the second Iraq war and our intervention in Helmand province in 2006.

In the case of the Iraq war, Labour Members were bribed, bullied and bamboozled with a three-line Whip into voting for the war. To the great credit of 139 of us, we resisted that. In the case of Helmand, in March 2006 the total number of British soldiers who had died in Afghanistan, after five years there, was seven, only two of whom had died in conflict. It was said that to go into Helmand was to stir up a hornet’s nest, and it was compared with the futility of the charge of the Light Brigade. We have now lost not two but 365 of our brave soldiers, and I believe we have achieved very little for that. We are perhaps coming to consider why we went in there.

I wish to mention some points that give reason for optimism. On a point of order last Thursday I mentioned a story in The Daily Telegraph that gave us some hope, and I raised it again with the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. It stated that a decision was going to be taken within a matter of days that would bring 450 of our troops home from Afghanistan. As a result of that point of order, I had a stream of messages from wives, grandfathers and other relatives of soldiers out there saying, “For goodness’ sake, keep asking this question. Keep putting pressure on.” The character of the conflict in Afghanistan at the moment is such that they do not feel that the risk that their loved ones are taking is justified. There is good reason for that.

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Will the Government please learn the lesson? We have never asked the Taliban why they are killing our soldiers. It is always easier to go on repeating the old lies than to reveal the new truth. We need to know why they are killing our soldiers—is it because, when they have killed them all, they want to come over to London and Newport to blow up people on our streets? Or is it because we are there as the ferengi, the foreigners, and it is their sacred religious duty to kill our troops in the same way that their fathers did the Russians, and as their great-grandfathers and all the previous generations have done? The great lesson of the recent actions is that the number of deaths that we have suffered has gone down greatly, not because the Taliban are slightly less wicked than they were, but because we are not in the north of Helmand. The sooner we make our exit, the better.

Another serious point is that as the rate of deaths has gone down, an increasing proportion of them have been among the immensely brave people who dismantle improvised explosive devices. The justification for taking the great risk of dismantling them rather than blowing them up, which would of course be perfectly safe, is to capture the members of the Taliban who constructed the IEDs. Details can be found such as fingerprints and so on, so that the Taliban who made them can be captured and put in prison. We know what happened recently—500 prisoners escaped. Those who risked their lives to ensure that those Taliban bomb makers were put in prison will now question whether their sacrifice was necessary. I urge the Government to re-examine their tactic and, instead of risking more lives by dangerously dismantling IEDs to capture Taliban who are detained for a very short time, to consider blowing up the IEDs.

I am hoping that there is a truth in what the Foreign Secretary expressed today, and that President Obama and the Prime Minister make a statement on making a start on the only sensible thing that we can do: bringing our people home. The question by which the Government should be haunted is the one that troubled Senator Kerry in Vietnam in 1971: who will be the last soldier I will order to die for a mistake?

8.55 pm

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Members for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), who is not in the Chamber. I learned tonight that the hon. Member for Walsall North entered the House before I was born, but if the clarity and passion of his speech is anything to go by, he will almost certainly still be here long after I am dead. He spoke about Libya, which I shall speak about, but from a different point of view— I do not share his outlook.

Since the insurgents began their campaign against Gaddafi some three months ago, they have scored a remarkable victory, in as much as they have built around themselves a tremendous international coalition. Something like 17 countries are contributing to the Libya campaign, and many more provide overflight rights, yet that military capability, which has undoubtedly reduced the opportunity for Gaddafi to strike against civilians with his tanks and heavy weaponry and stopped his using air power against them, has not removed him. While he is still there, he presents a terrible threat to civilians, as he has rather chillingly said. Anybody who calls their people “rats” cannot

“live in the hearts of millions”

other than as a feared and loathed object.

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We have reduced Gaddafi’s military capability by something like a third, but that means that two thirds of it remains. His ability to strike at the insurgents is greater than their ability to defend themselves. As long as that position obtains, he will go on fighting. There was a striking piece the other day in The New York Times on the hidden workshops of Misrata, which describes the insurgents’ position. Men who a few months ago were welders or electricians now run makeshift military workshops, putting armour plating on pick-ups, cannibalising captured machine guns and building do-it-yourself rocket-propelled grenades. They do not have munitions know-how or the tools with which to do the job. They scrape explosives out of shell canisters to reuse, because they do not have supplies. They have nothing other than what they make themselves or that they capture from Gaddafi.

Is it therefore any wonder that the insurgents’ battle is desperate, bloody and very slow? That is why I am persuaded by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) that we need to move to bring the conflict to a conclusion. If we have a stalemate in Libya, and a failed state, torn in two, with factions fighting one another, we risk a Somalia-type situation. We also risk people in this country becoming tired and bored with a drawn-out campaign. We therefore need to take on board what General Richards, who is a thoughtful man, has said, and acknowledge what the Foreign Secretary has said on intensifying our military, diplomatic and economic campaign to remove Gaddafi from power. A few men in workshops—a few enterprising rebels—are not enough to do the job that needs to be done.

If we cannot, within the bounds of UN Security Council resolution 1973, put boots on the ground—I agree that we should not do that—or give military matériel directly to the insurgents, it seems to me that we can at least release frozen Libyan assets to the national transitional council. We have effectively recognised it; it has its own defence minister; and Baroness Ashton has set up her EU legation in Benghazi. Hundreds of millions of dinars are locked in this country and should be released to the NTC for it to spend as it wishes, whether on utilities in Benghazi to look after its people or, if it wishes, on the military campaign against Gaddafi.

The balance is already tipping in favour of the insurgents, but it is taking a long time and needs to be tipped more quickly. In Misrata, we have a refugee crisis. There are electricity cuts, and oil, food and medical supplies are running out. We have seen people migrating from Libya, causing friction on the country’s borders and friction between Italy and France. If we are to raise the siege of these cities, if we are to stem the migration from Libya and if we are to demonstrate to people at home that we can prosecute a compassionate and successful war to a quick conclusion, we need to move to remove Gaddafi, either through allied effort or by giving the Libyans the means to do so themselves. The status quo is not an option.

9.1 pm

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): When the tragedy of 11 September occurred, I was working for the United Nations mission in Kosovo. I was in the

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region of Mitrovica, which is divided by a bridge. Across the bridge, I could see Serbian Orthodox Christians burning American flags in jubilation at the events unfolding in America. On 2 May, I saw similar signs of jubilation in America after the death of Osama bin Laden. It is important not to confuse the desire for retribution with the desire to defeat an enemy. Because terrorism partakes of both crime and war, it is perfectly natural, and perhaps legitimate, to have both these attitudes towards Osama bin Laden—to think that we had to disable him, and to think that he deserved to die. However, Milosevic, who killed 100,000 Bosnians, was tried at The Hague.

His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams, has said:

“I think the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling, because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done in those circumstances”.

It is deeply troubling if we are moving to a global assassination policy for our enemies. Surely, the norm must be that terrorists be dealt with as criminals, through legal processes of arrest and trial. Such a trial would have had the benefit of laying out before the world the evil of terrorism. It would have peeled away the mystique of bin Laden and shown al-Qaeda to be banal and ridiculous.

In recent weeks, a blizzard of questions and fingers have been pointed at the legitimacy of Pakistan as an ally. I was disappointed by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), who seemed to suggest that more questions should be asked of Pakistan, although I was pleased that the Foreign Secretary mentioned Pakistan’s commitment to the international coalition against terrorism since 9/11. Pakistan has become the victim of an almost daily onslaught of suicide bombings in the very heart of its country. Just yesterday a suicide bomb killed 18 people. The US-led drone attacks continue to take civilian lives, resulting in a breeding ground for al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Pakistan’s efforts since 2002 have cost it 30,000 civilian casualties, 5,000 security personnel casualties, and the devastation of property and infrastructure. Over the past nine years, its economy has borne the loss of more than $35 billion. The war on terror and the rehabilitation of internally displaced people has consumed a huge amount of the Government’s financial resources and halted economic growth. Unemployment is high, which is triggering other social problems and putting pressures on successive Governments.

The obligation to focus on security has contributed to a continuing failure to invest in key areas of public provision, such as education and health, and assisted the military and intelligence sectors in retaining power and influence in Pakistan’s political system. There may be some rogue elements in Inter-Services Intelligence, but to tarnish the whole of the ISI, the army and the Government of Pakistan by suggesting that they are not trustworthy is an insult to the people of Pakistan, including the civilian population, who suffer on a daily basis from atrocities that those of us sitting in this country cannot even imagine.

Many have mentioned the aid given to Pakistan over the past 12 years, which amounts to about $10 billion. However, the USA has spent $146 billion on this war on terror. In terms of loss—and, indeed, the near-destruction of Pakistan—$10 billion is chickenfeed. It does not even start to compensate Pakistan for the breadth of destruction that it has suffered. Let us remember that until the Soviets invaded Afghanistan—then we had

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11 September—Pakistan had no quarrels or squabbles with Afghanistan. It got involved in the war in Afghanistan only because historically it was a US ally. Therefore, it is completely wrong for everyone to start pointing the finger at Pakistan, a country that is suffering the most.

Nick Boles: I am enjoying the hon. Lady’s speech so much that I want to give her a bit of injury time. Will she please continue?

Yasmin Qureshi: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that.

I was also a little disappointed that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove talked about Pakistan’s supposedly imagined problems with India. At the end of the day, each nation state is interested in its own interests. However, when two countries have gone to war on two occasions, as Pakistan and India have, when India supported the breakaway of East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh, and when every year it releases flood waters from dams, causing flooding in Pakistan, it is naive to say that Pakistan’s perceived security problem is an apparition. Rather, it is real. Indeed, Bishop Nazir-Ali, who is not normally pro-Pakistan, touched on Pakistan’s security in an article last week.

In all these wars that are taking place across the world, we lost the plot in the graveyard of empires, turning the hunt for the now largely irrelevant inventor of global jihad into a war against tens of thousands of Taliban insurgents who have little interest in al-Qaeda, but much enthusiasm for driving western armies out of their country. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who is no longer in the Chamber, referred to the ferengi, and that is exactly what is going on. The fact is that we are interfering in Afghanistan, while Pakistan, as an ally of the west, is having to pay the price for our war on terror.

9.8 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I want to take this opportunity to make some observations about the situation in Libya and Syria, and to address the wider issue of British foreign policy in that rapidly changing part of the world. Our foreign policy is perhaps seen as one of intervening when we can, but not always where we should. There is a perception that the moral component of our motivation or justification for intervention does not always seem to apply everywhere with the same degree of seriousness. When it comes to that part of the world, I do not see an appetite in either this House or the country at large to seek out theatres of war. However, I seek to discern some consistency, even if the consistent application of principles will not mean that the same action is taken in every country.

Back on 21 March, I supported the implementation of the no-fly zone, which seemed entirely appropriate, not simply from the perspective of seeking to prevent mass slaughter in Benghazi, but on the understanding that all diplomatic efforts and avenues had been exhausted. Walking away when an evil tyrant was about to murder his own people would have been an abdication of responsibility by the international community. At the same time, however, I listened to the many excellent speeches in the Chamber, and the many warnings, especially from some of those hon. Members who are present this evening, who feared that the solution would not be quick and easy. Sure enough, it has proved not to be.

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I am slightly concerned about the way in which the debate has unfolded over the past eight weeks. Nowhere in the UN Security Council resolution does it prescribe a time frame. There was a great expectation that the operation would all be over immediately and that everything would be fine, but that was never my expectation when I voted for the no-fly zone on 21 March. Across the House, however, there seems to be a great need to bring the operation to a close, as though the international community’s other weapons—diplomacy, economic sanctions and exerting our influence over what other countries in the region do—will have no effect. I was never tempted to assume that Gaddafi would quickly emigrate to Venezuela, or that his iron grip on his media would somehow dissipate overnight. It is true that he enjoys widespread support in Tripoli today, but there are horrendous things happening in Misrata. This is a moving situation, despite the notion that the world somehow stopped on 21 March.

Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman is making some important points. All wars have to end with some kind of political settlement and some kind of deal. Does he think that it might not be the west that brings about such a settlement, and that an effective diplomatic intervention from the African Union, the Arab League, the Turkish Government or someone else would be more likely to stop the bloodshed and bring about some form of peace?

John Glen: Quite possibly; that is my point. Given recent events, I believe that the notion that we can bring the situation in Libya to a neat, precise conclusion by the extension of targets will prove erroneous.

These operations have significant implications for our armed forces. Last week, the Defence Committee, of which I am a member, interviewed the heads of the three services. It was quite clear, when we read between the half-answers and the attempts not to address the issue directly, that all the services are under massive strain. It will be an abdication of responsibility if the Government do not address that point and allocate appropriate resources. I was very concerned to hear that there is to be a review of defence expenditure over the next three months, as we try to squeeze out more resources. Concern was expressed following the strategic defence and security review about putting off decisions on expenditure until future years.

We need to deal with the reality, and a number of scenarios could evolve. We could find ourselves in a perpetual stalemate. Alternatively, we could have a little more humility about the way in which this awful situation could be resolved, and realise that it will not happen very quickly. We must realise that a change in regime achieved by the rising up of internal forces against Gaddafi is hardly likely to happen in just a few weeks or months, given the grip that he has had on his country over so many years. It is necessary for us to maintain the current posture and continue to develop diplomatic pressure and the role of the regional players. Yes, it is messy and uncomfortable, but it is right to hold the line and to continue to strengthen and broaden the base of support. We must continue to show resolve and to provide as much support as possible. It is also clear that going down the route of putting boots on the ground is never going to be acceptable in the current environment.

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We acted on the basis of stopping an evil man murdering his people. We may find the process since then rather uncomfortable, but it is not one from which we can pull away.

Some parallels have been drawn with Syria. There, we have seen numerous efforts taken to impose travel bans, to freeze assets, to provide medical supplies and so forth. There, too, the answer is diplomacy and securing concessions one by one rather than necessarily threatening military action. The reality is that each country in the region is different, which means we cannot have a one-size-fits-all policy; we need the slow, sober, determined, persistent and measured policy that this Government are undertaking. We need to recognise that we do not have the right or the means to solve this problem overnight.

9.16 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I am very pleased indeed to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Before going any further, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) on what I thought was an important and brave speech. I am going to touch briefly on the Israel-Palestine question, on Afghanistan and then, of course, Libya.

On the Israel-Palestine question, I cannot add much to what many others have said, but let me say this. I have heard Conservative Members say that we do not understand the Israelis’ wish for security. I was a Member of this House at the end of the ’80s, when an IRA bombing campaign on the mainland was still happening and I remember Mrs Thatcher being blown up in the Grand hotel in Brighton. I also heard the Canary Wharf bomb going off from my kitchen in the east end of London, so do not tell those of us who lived through that era that we do not take security issues seriously.

The proposition was put forward that Israel wants all these triple locks, guarantees and so forth before it will move forward. What triple lock guarantees did John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour party have before he opened the first tentative negotiations with the IRA back in the ’80s? What triple lock guarantees did Nelson Mandela have when he was in prison and first opened overtures to the apartheid regime? The truth is that in the most bloody, difficult and seemingly intractable situations that we have seen in my lifetime, people have had to be prepared to go forward without the triple lock guarantees about which some Members have spoken, but with a will to bring about peace. As long as Israel believes that it has the unconditional support of the United States and Britain, it will continue to shelter behind the notion of triple lock guarantees.

Nick Boles: I accept what the hon. Lady says, but does she accept that there was no question in the Irish situation of the people of this country being driven out of this country by those in the IRA who were fighting us? They wanted us to get out of what they perceived as their country; they were not trying to deny our right to be here. The fundamental situation faced by Israel is that some, though not all, of its neighbours believe that Israel should not exist and that all its people should be driven into the sea. That poses a security risk of a quite different quality.

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Ms Abbott: The hon. Gentleman should speak to some of my friends in the Democratic Unionist party about how they perceived their security as part of Britain in the ’80s.

Let me move on and deal with Afghanistan. I have been fortunate enough to visit Afghanistan and to meet, talk and stay with our troops there. I was very struck by the bravery of our ordinary soldiers. Not many people realise that the level of mutilations—not just death—is far higher in Afghanistan than anywhere else our armed forces have been sent since the second world war. In talking to ordinary troops—which Ministers and shadow Defence Ministers do not necessarily do—I found that those who had been on two or three tours of duty said that they were regarded as liberators on their first tour, but were now regarded as an occupying force. Members who are familiar with our history will know that no British occupying force has won a war in Afghanistan since the 19th century. [Hon. Members: “We didn’t win that one, either.”] No, we did not. The idea that there is a military solution to what is going on in Afghanistan has a basis in history, but no basis in fact.

When my party was in government Ministers often presented, as Ministers do now, the notion that we were waiting for the Afghan police and armed forces to be ready to take over, but if we wait for that we will still be there in a hundred years. We must act decisively and stop making the mistake that we made with, for instance, the south Vietnamese: the mistake of propping up a regime that needs not to be propped up, but to face reality.

It seems to me that the best thing we could do for our brave soldiers who have lost their lives and limbs fighting this war is to use the occasion of the elimination of bin Laden—whatever we think of the circumstances—to do what we should have done before, and withdraw from Afghanistan. Let us by all means give that country support with development and nation-building, but let us stand back and withdraw from military intervention that history tells us is doomed.

I voted for the intervention in Libya, but I did so with a heavy heart. I was present for the debate—because I think that one should take part in debates on such important occasions—and I was persuaded that unless we intervened as the Government suggested, the civilians of Benghazi would meet a horrible fate. However, a number of developments in Libya since then have been extremely disappointing. For instance, where is the Arab League? I was in the Chamber when we were promised that we would have its support, and that we would be fighting alongside Arab troops. Where are they? We have sold those people billions of pounds-worth of arms. What has happened to the arms, the aeroplanes and the armaments? Where are they? This has the look and the feel of a straightforward western bombardment of a north African country, and I must tell the House that that is not sustainable politics. Where is the Arab League, and how can it be persuaded to shoulder its responsibility in relation to Libya?

I am also concerned about the sending in of advisers. Where advisers go, can troops be far behind? As one who sat through the entire debate on Libya, I am clear about the fact that there is no will in the House to become involved in a land war in north Africa, and as it happens, I do not believe that there is a will among the

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British public—Labour, Conservative and all points between—to become involved in such a war. I sincerely hope that we shall not see a further escalation of the Libyan intervention without returning to the House for a full debate.

Was it Walpole who said, “They are ringing the bells today, but tomorrow they will be wringing their hands”? I believe that unless we adopt a more decisive approach to what is happening in Afghanistan and do not simply allow ourselves to be sucked in, the British public—however much they appreciated the humanitarian impulse that led us into Libya—will be wringing their hands tomorrow.

9.23 pm

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). I agreed with some of her analysis, although by no means all of it.

As we meet here tonight, civilians in Libya continue to become victims of a brutal regime that is showing no humanity in its efforts to impose its will on the Libyan people. The contrast between the cowardice of Gaddafi and the courage of his people could not be greater. While he continues to hide behind mercenaries and soak himself in delusional rhetoric in his compound, the vast majority of the Libyan people are standing in hope, in the open, and poorly armed, against him. Like all tyrants, he has lost his grip on reality. He is alone, and lost in his own propaganda.

When I look at the faces of the men and women fighting Gaddafi, I see a yearning for freedom and a grasping for dignity, pride and self-determination. All those are the antithesis of what Gaddafi represents. The only person he is fooling with his insane rhetoric is himself. He is hated by his people, he has lost legitimacy, he is shortly to become a wanted war criminal, and it is now a question of when, not if, he must go.

Against that backdrop, I pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces who continue to execute the tasks set by the Government with the professionalism that we have come to expect from the best armed forces in the world. I remain in awe of their selfless determination and courage. In putting themselves in harm’s way to protect innocent people, they are standing up for the very best traditions of our nation, and they should rightly be proud of the work they are doing on behalf of their country.

Unlike the hon. Members for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) and for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), I remain convinced of the legitimacy of the steps the international community is taking. We could not have stood by and watched Benghazi entered by Gaddafi’s murderous thugs. We could not have watched from the sidelines and merely grimaced at the slaughter that would inevitably have followed.

I fear that we are witnessing Syria begin the slide into the same violence and bloodshed that we have seen so dramatically in Libya. The United Nations estimates that over the last two months about 700 innocent civilians have been killed and hundreds more detained by the Syrian security services. We have seen their cities shelled by tanks, and troops conduct house-to-house searches to arrest and intimidate protesters. In Syria, as in the early days in Libya, people are standing up unarmed,

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with only an idea to inspire them: the idea of freedom, which we in this country all too often take for granted. The reality is that the only long-term solution for the Syrian regime is one that regains the consent of the Syrian people. Failure to reach out to a political solution will only result in Syria descending into further turmoil and bloodshed. The international community must do all it can to impress that on the Syrian regime.

President Assad is at a crossroads. He can either respond to the demands of his people or he can continue his efforts to repress them, but only one course of action will leave his regime with security and legitimacy. If he chooses repression over reform, I believe he will ultimately be swept from power. I therefore welcome the steps the Government have taken to put pressure on the Syrian regime, but I ask the Secretary of State to say in his winding-up speech whether the discussions with the Syrian ambassador touched on rights of access to that country for the foreign media, and what the Syrian representative told him about the national dialogue proposed by that country’s President.

The events of the last few months in north Africa and across the middle east highlight the urgent need to review our arms export regime, as the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) made clear. People across the middle east and north Africa have displayed true courage in standing up against oppressive regimes that have used the most modern equipment and munitions to try to break their will. It is difficult for any of us in this House to stomach the idea that British-made equipment may have been used against these courageous people.

Of course it is right for the UK to play an active part in the international negotiations that have recently started at the United Nations aimed at securing a global arms trade treaty, but we must not lose sight of the choices that we ourselves can make to tighten our export regime. That is why I welcome both the Foreign Secretary’s review of British arms export controls announced last month and the fact that the Government have revoked more than 150 export licences in recent weeks—but we can, and we must, go further. We need to tighten controls on both exports and re-exports, and we need to make sure that we put human rights at the heart of our consideration of which countries we should export to. When will the Foreign Secretary’s arms export review be published, and will it be brought before the House for debate?

It should now be crystal clear that the long-term interests of this country will always be best found in standing next to the people who seek freedom, and against the regimes that would simply impose their will. This strategic reality needs to be reflected in all corners of our Government and in all parts of the United Kingdom’s global posture.

9.29 pm

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): Today’s debate is profoundly important and comes at a critical time. I thank the Secretary of State for providing Government time for it in order to consider the issues facing the people of the middle east, north Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as our military, political and humanitarian response to the multiple crises in those crucial parts of the world.

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Following the earlier debate on the military covenant, it is right that we pay tribute to the brave servicemen and women who are engaged in protecting civilians in Libya under UN resolution 1973, as well as to our troops in Afghanistan. In particular, I wish to join others in paying tribute to Nigel Dean Mead, from 42 Commando Royal Marines, who was killed in Helmand province yesterday. We remember the continued price paid by innocent people whose lives have been taken in terrorist attacks around the world, most recently in Morocco and, last week, in Pakistan. I also wish to reiterate Labour Members’ grave concern about the killing of protesters by Israeli soldiers on the Syrian-Israeli border and about the injuries of civilians in the Palestinian territories. We join the Foreign Secretary in reaffirming calls for restraint on both sides.

A common theme that has arisen from events in Tunisia and Egypt, and the current situations in Libya and Syria, has been the way in which citizens have responded to the abuse of power by, and the lack of legitimacy in, their Governments. People have taken to the streets in their millions to bring about badly needed change. Few could have imagined just how much a few short months would change the world, as the self-immolation of one man led to a chain of unstoppable events around the Arab world. Tunisia will hold its first elections to a new Assembly in July, Egypt will go to the polls in September, and we are seeing rapid change in a number of other countries.

However, it is also vital to pay closer attention to the need to tackle global inequality and economic inequality, given the situation in those middle-income countries. Many of the international financial institutions did not foresee what was about to happen in these countries, which did not have significant levels of poverty but did have great inequality. The historical failure of their Governments to deliver political and human rights opportunities, and economic growth, continues to fuel the protests, and this country has a crucial role to play in supporting the people of those countries.

For many, these events have been a cry for freedom, democracy and transparency after decades of repression and abuse of power by those in positions of authority and responsibility; they have been about the need to be treated with dignity and fairness, and the opportunity to have jobs and decent chances in life. The international community must do everything possible to help realise those aspirations and ensure that the brave people of those countries genuinely have the best chance for a better future.

Excellent speeches have been made by many distinguished right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, in which they have highlighted their great insight, expertise, conviction and passion for the subject. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) spoke with great passion and expertise about the need to support Yemen, about the threat from terrorism and about the many challenges facing that country, including the need to tackle poverty. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) spoke of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and concerns about Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) spoke of the importance of the EU providing support for the middle east in its pursuit of democracy and human rights. The right hon. Member for Tonbridge

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and Malling (Sir John Stanley) raised concerns about the UK Government’s export licences for arms to the middle east.

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) spoke with great passion about Britain’s relationship with Pakistan. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) highlighted the many challenges faced by Pakistan and the loss of thousands of civilian lives in terror attacks, including the one last week. It is vital that we continue to work closely with Pakistan despite the challenges and some of the criticisms. We must recognise, as many have in the House today, the importance of working with Pakistan, maintaining our alliances and ensuring that the terror threat is overcome.

Many Members have spoken with great expertise and passion about the situation in Libya and the middle east and, in particular, their concerns about the UN resolution, which we support, the dangers of scope creep and the parameters within which the resolution is implemented. Clearly, there are great concerns about stalemate, as highlighted by a number of Members, including the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway).

Let me turn to a recent tragedy involving migrants. The Government rightly supported the International Organisation for Migration, but I am sure that the Secretary of State for International Development will have been deeply concerned about reports last week that a boat full of migrants, including young children, died after their distress calls were not acted on. Only 11 survived. Will the Government clarify whether British forces intercepted any such distress messages, and say that they will co-operate with any international investigation?

As has been touched on by many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Croydon South and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), in the light of the recent comments made by the Chief of the Defence Staff about upping the ante, may we also have an assurance that the House will be consulted before any significant change is made to targeting policy in Libya? Given the concerns expressed by Baroness Amos, will the Secretary of State assure us that a thorough assessment will be made of the humanitarian impact if military action is stepped up? In particular, if power, water and fuel cuts are made, as reported in some of the press, there are grave concerns about a humanitarian catastrophe. That contradicts the very reason why we are there: our military action is designed to protect civilians. There are also concerns about access for medical personnel, and we would appreciate an update on whether we are providing additional support to get medical personnel into Libya.

At a meeting today with Michelle Bachelet, the head of UN Women, the shadow Secretary of State for International Development and I discussed the concerns about sexual violence faced by women. May we have an assurance from the Secretary of State that the British Government will ensure that every effort is made to provide security and safety for women in conflict, not just in Libya but in other parts of the world? As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), drawing on her experiences in Iraq, human rights, particularly those of women, are crucial and are often left out of major discussions and political negotiations on matters of conflict.

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Many of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members raised concerns about what is happening in Syria. We, like the Government, denounce the appalling violence that the Government of Syria are using against their own people. We recognise the complexity and difficulty of the situation and we call on the Government to do everything possible to ensure that every pressure is put on the Government of Syria to bring an end to the violence against their people, who are out protesting. Will the Secretary of State for International Development, in his summing up, update the House on his assessment of the situation on Syria’s borders, and tell us whether large numbers of civilians are starting to leave that country?

On the situation in the middle east, many right hon. and hon. Members spoke passionately about the situation in Israel and Palestine and the need for a lasting peaceful settlement, with many highlighting the deaths of Palestinians over the weekend and the security concerns of Israel. We heard speeches from both sides of the argument: my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) spoke with great expertise about the plight of the people of Palestine, and others spoke of concerns about the security issues facing the Israeli people. It is clear that we desperately need a lasting settlement in the middle east, and we urge the Government to do everything possible to keep the pressure on the US and on the Israeli and Palestinian Governments to resume negotiations as soon as possible.

I now want to address issues concerning Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly the political settlement in Afghanistan and the great concern about the exclusion of women from those negotiations. That concern has been raised a number of times in our discussions with politicians in Afghanistan, and we very much hope that the UK Government will do everything possible to make sure that women have a strong voice in the peace process, including in discussions about the role of the Taliban. There are particular fears about the violation of women’s human rights in Afghanistan, and we must do everything possible to ensure that those rights are not neglected—not just in Afghanistan but in Libya, Egypt and the many other countries in the middle east that currently face such challenges.

In conclusion, I reiterate how vital it is for the House to debate this important issue and I thank the Foreign Secretary for the opportunity to do so. I hope that in his summing up the Secretary of State for International Development will shed light on the many issues that have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that he will address some of the questions that have not yet been answered, particularly about the widening scope of the UN resolution and about the humanitarian situation in Libya and other countries. I also hope that he will ensure that Britain provides the support needed not only to bring an end to the violence in countries such as Libya, but to ensure that the aspirations and hopes of the people who have been out on the streets demonstrating over recent months are realised.

9.42 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): This has been an important, timely and wide-ranging debate—a huge mouthful of a debate with a number of very fine speeches, not least

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from the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), who speaks for the Opposition. I will address the issue of Libya at the end of my remarks and I will write to hon. Members if I do not cover the issues that they raised.

Let me start with a view of the discussion on the middle east. The transition sweeping the middle east is an historic opportunity for the region, as many hon. Members have pointed out. The Government are working to ensure that the international community rises to the challenge in its support for countries that embark on change. It is in our interests to ensure that those transitions succeed, but significant challenges must be addressed before lasting stability can be achieved. In particular, there must be the political and economic reforms that will support sustainable growth and facilitate the transition to a freer, fairer and more inclusive society. Britain is pushing the international institutions to play a leading role in galvanising support for that process, including by meeting the significant financial needs. As the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), said, the role of the European Union is critical. We are pressing for the restructuring of European neighbourhood funding for the region to ensure that it backs strong commitments to political and economic reform and to make it easier for countries in the region to trade with Europe. We also plan to fund a “know-how” facility to provide immediate access to expertise on economic reform. The right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) raised that issue. The facility will be closely linked to the efforts and expertise of the international financial institutions.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear, the European Union has a huge and critical role to play. The right hon. Member for Warley mentioned my right hon. Friend’s announcement of the expansion of the Foreign Office footprint, but said that it was not expanding in the middle east. I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that we are already represented in all the countries that we are discussing today, and more widely. The mission to Benghazi is an example of the expansion of the Foreign Office in a timely and sensible way.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr Gale) spoke with his usual expertise about Tunisia. He spoke wisely about elections and in particular about the importance of opening up markets. The difficult but important subject of the international arms trade was raised by the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley). I emphasise that there are high British standards for this trade, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) pointed out in an excellent intervention. In the end the answer is for the international community to accept the need for an international arms trade treaty.

On the occupied Palestinian territories, the wave of democratic movements that we are witnessing represents a unique opportunity to take forward the middle east peace process. The violence over the weekend at Israel’s borders underlines the urgency of making progress. With British support, the Palestinian Authority has developed its institutions to the point where the International Monetary Fund, the UN and the World Bank have recognised them as technically ready for

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statehood. To achieve a two-state solution it is important that this work continues. The recent announcement of a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is a step in the right direction if it leads to a Government who reject violence and pursue a negotiated peace—a point set out eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot).

We heard disparate but firmly held views across the Chamber this afternoon. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) was characteristically forthright, and I thank him for his kind comments about my Department. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), on whose civil partnership the whole House will wish to congratulate him, from the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who entered the House on the same day as I did and whose views have not changed one jot in the past 24 years, from my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) in a fine speech, and from the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who touched on Israel in a wide-ranging speech. Everyone was united in the absolute requirement to make progress and to take advantage of the changed circumstances, which were eloquently described.

Jeremy Corbyn rose

Mr Mitchell: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for a moment, I turn now to Yemen. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) warned of the continuing crisis. I will consider carefully some of his wider comments. With reference to Yemen, I am concerned that alongside the current political impasse, we are seeing an escalating economic crisis. In particular we are seeing increasing reports of fuel shortages and rises in food prices. Any further deterioration in the economy could prompt a much broader humanitarian crisis, not least because without fuel, much of Yemen cannot be provided with water.

The British Government are working with aid agencies to ensure that they can respond to humanitarian needs in Yemen, and I can announce today that we will be committing additional support to UNICEF and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs under the United Nations humanitarian response plan for Yemen. Through this support we will prevent 11,000 children under five from dying of malnutrition, vaccinate 54,000 children against measles, saving lives and preventing blindness, deafness and brain damage in over 2,000 children, and ensure that agencies have rapid access to funds if Yemen tips into a humanitarian crisis.

Keith Vaz: I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for that announcement and thank him very much for it. What he has said to the House tonight will save the lives of many Yemeni people, including children.

Mr Mitchell: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

I have even greater concerns about the situation in Syria. The current ongoing human rights abuses and lack of access for humanitarian organisations is particularly worrying. If organisations are to compile an accurate

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picture of need, sustained unhindered humanitarian access is essential. I call on the Syrian Government to allow United Nations humanitarian organisations unfettered access to undertake assessments of the situation across Syria without delay. As the Foreign Secretary made clear, the EU will insist that the violence must stop or additional measures will be taken, and I note that there was strong support across the House for that stance.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) mentioned the importance of international press and humanitarian access in Syria, but I can offer nothing for his or anyone else’s comfort on that point tonight. Finally, with regard to the sensible comments made by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, we are watching the humanitarian situation on the borders with great care. I discussed that matter a few days ago with Jakob Kellenberger, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Pakistan, which has been mentioned a great deal in the debate, remains a top priority for the Government. It can meet its enormous potential only if it works to stabilise its economy in the short term and to educate and develop opportunities for its rapidly expanding population in the longer term. A stable and prosperous Pakistan that can meet the needs of its people will benefit regional and global stability and security.

Britain will therefore support Pakistan in achieving this end. As the Prime Minister announced last month, our aim is to help Pakistan to get 4 million children into school, out of a population of 17 million who do not go to school. Pakistan could become Britain’s largest country development programme, but only if we see commitment and progress on reform from its Government, including a fairer approach to taxing its elite.

The people of Pakistan have suffered grievously from terrorism. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear, many thousands of civilians have been killed and many more maimed or injured. The right hon. Member for Warley made the same point. Osama bin Laden was no friend to the people of Pakistan; all he brought was a nihilistic message of death and destruction. His death, however, presents an opportunity for a brighter future in Pakistan and the region. Pakistan can make greater strides in its fight against extremism and the way is now clear for the Taliban to make a decisive break from al-Qaeda and join the Afghan political process. The choice is theirs. Peace and security can be improved for Afghan and Pakistan civilians on both sides of their border.

To grasp this opportunity, Pakistan needs to make a clean break with the past. There are serious questions to be answered on bin Laden’s support network in Pakistan, and we welcome Prime Minister Gilani’s announcement of an investigation into the matter. Nevertheless, it is right that we remain steadfast in our support for Pakistan as its democratically elected Government continue their fight against terrorism.

Pakistan matters to us. In an increasingly interconnected world, the UK cannot simply look on from the sidelines. More than 1 million people of Pakistani origin live in this country. We have a long, close and historic relationship with Pakistan. What happens there directly affects us. There is no serious alternative to our continued engagement with Pakistan. Neither the region, nor we, would be safer by leaving a nuclear power that is in danger of

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extremism and instability to its fate, a point my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) made in an interesting and thoughtful speech.

Our engagement with Pakistan must therefore be both long term and strategic. Increasing access to high-quality education and developing greater economic opportunities will improve the lives of the Pakistani people and help strengthen resilience to terrorism. A stable and prosperous Pakistan that can meet the needs of its people will not only benefit regional stability and security, but directly benefit our own security.

On Afghanistan, the Chair of the International Development Committee noted that we should not concentrate only on military aspects, important though they are, and I join the whole House in paying tribute to Marine Nigel Mead, who recently lost his life. Although the next four years will be critical, 2015 will not be the end of the story. This is why Britain has made a long-term commitment to Afghanistan. It is unrealistic to expect the Afghan Government to become perfect in such a relatively short time, but they must be strong enough to secure the support of their people and defend themselves. To achieve these objectives, the Department for International Development is focusing on three development aims: supporting stability in insecure areas, stimulating growth and building the capability of the Afghan Government to deliver basic services.

I was able to see for myself the very real impact that aid is having on stability when I recently visited Helmand. British assistance has helped to train more than 2,000 policemen and women, built 12 checkpoints, with 16 more in construction, and laid more than 80 km of roads, giving local farmers the access to markets that they badly need.

At the same time, we are helping people to develop the skills that they need to improve their lives. We are developing plans to provide vocational training for 45,000 people, and that will include funding Turquoise Mountain to equip almost 200 men and women with traditional skills and crafts.

Although there is evidence of progress, the scale of Afghanistan’s challenge remains considerable, as the recent disgraceful events relating to the Kabul Bank have illustrated. We are working closely with the International Monetary Fund and the Government of Afghanistan to address the very serious issues that have arisen. They are undoubtedly a setback, but I can reassure the House that we have wasted no time in taking steps to protect British taxpayers’ money.

On the wider economic front, Afghanistan is making good progress. With British support, it has achieved 20% growth in revenue each year since 2002, and economic growth averaged 9% between 2002 and 2010.

The mining sector will be absolutely critical to future growth. I met Minister Shahrani in March and was encouraged to hear about the reforms that he is making—reforms that Britain is supporting. He also told me of his success in letting a number of mining concessions, and the details of the 108 contracts on the departmental website are also welcome evidence of its commitment to transparency and accountability.