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Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Does my hon. Friend accept that although Israel has adhered to the United Nations resolution and withdrawn from Lebanon, Hezbollah has been permitted to be present on that border, using weapons from Iran, yet the United Nations refuses to take any action? Does he think that that is compatible with a genuine seeking of peace by Israel's neighbours?

Mr. Ross: I made the point that Israel still unfortunately holds in its jails Lebanese citizens, some of whom were seized in Lebanon and taken to Israel. That sore allows those forces inside Lebanon to take their actions. If Israel started to use international law and stayed within it, there would be a possibility of lasting peace in the area.

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It is clear that I shall not have as much time as I should like, but I recommend to my colleagues the report of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who visited the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel, Egypt and Jordan between 8 and 16 November. Mary Robinson's report is well worth reading because of the many issues that it raises. It contains a fairly balanced outline of how the problem might be resolved and points a finger at some of the difficulties that have arisen because Israel and the Palestinians have not used international law. Although appearing to make progress, they have held negotiations in which the imbalance that exists between Israel and the Palestinian negotiators has failed to be recognised.

Despite all the good words and brave stances of successive Israeli Prime Ministers--excluding Prime Minister Netanyahu--the fact is that Israeli Governments have never treated the Palestinians as equals in negotiations. Unless and until they do, the problem cannot possibly be resolved; nor can it be resolved if the Israelis still seek to deny the Palestinian refugees' right to return. They said that they would allow some refugees to return, but they accepted no moral or legal obligation to do so. That will not convince the Palestinian refugees--among whom the latest outbreak of violence started--that the Israeli Government are seriously determined to address the problems that they face. Equally, the use of lethal force against a mostly unarmed Palestinian civilian population is not only excessive, but cannot show good will on the part of a power that admits in the report that it is using only 2 per cent.--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his time.

6.26 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) has made a very powerful case in an effort to persuade those who may be listening of the urgent need to restore peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. When he takes a stand on the requirement for both parties to observe the principles of international law, he adopts an unexceptionable position. I agree substantially with much of his speech. In particular, I should like to deal with one point that he made--that relating to the proportionate use of force, to use my own phrase.

Some Palestinians are armed, but they do not have helicopter gunships or the sophisticated equipment that Israel has at its disposal. Israel probably has the most modern army in the middle east. Therefore, in legitimately dealing with the response that it is entitled to make under international law, it has a strong moral obligation to ensure that it does not abuse its superior position in terms of arms and equipment.

This debate is about foreign affairs and defence, but, so far, defence has featured only to the extent that it has formed part of our consideration of the events that took place at Nice over the weekend. I should like to raise two defence issues, the first of which is that of defence medical services, which now show that we are paying a heavy price for the ill-advised decisions of the Conservative Government under what came to be called

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"Front Line First". As a consequence, defence medical services, which are responsible for serving the Army, Navy and Air Force, have only 24 per cent. of the anaesthetists, 29 per cent. of the orthopaedic surgeons and 13 per cent. of the accident and emergency consultants that they require. Only 65 per cent. of the establishment of volunteer reservists is fully recruited. Therefore, circumstances could arise in which a choice by the depended United Kingdom whether to deploy forces not on availability, capability or the political considerations involved but on whether we could put in the field adequate medical support. The sooner that is put right the better, and the Government have responsibility for that. I have some sympathy for the position in which they find themselves, but urgent action is required to ensure that the sorts of things that have been discussed in the debate could be achieved with the necessary medical support that our forces are entitled to expect.

The second defence issue that I want to raise is that of the Chinook crash that took place on the Mull of Kintyre. I have already raised that topic on several occasions. I do not intend to rehearse all that I have said before, but there have been two significant developments recently, the first of which is the report of the Public Accounts Committee. I shall return to that in a moment. The second was a report in The Herald last Friday which appeared under the byline of Mr. Ian Bruce, who is known to be a responsible and well-informed journalist. He says that he has information, based on a communication from a former serving officer, that the destination of the helicopter may have been not Inverness but Machrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre, and that the pilots were instructed to fly low to avoid radar and to maintain security because of the nature of the passengers on board. If that were true, it would put quite a different complexion on the accident. If it were true, some of us would want the attitude publicly demonstrated by the Government to be revisited.

Like those of many others, my doubts remain unanswered because of the attitude taken by the Ministry of Defence to the crash. As we now know, the Public Accounts Committee has similar doubts. The terms of its report were robust and I hope that I will not cause too much offence to those on the Treasury Bench if I say that the initial Government response was hasty, ill considered and inadequate. I hope that they will do better when they make a formal response to the PAC report. The families of the pilots deserve better, and the issue will not go away. The anxiety felt on both sides of the House and in the other place is clearly not diminishing with the passage of time.

We are engaged in a debate on the Gracious Speech, and that inevitably raises questions about what is included and what is left out. I welcome unequivocally the commitment to the ratification of the statute of the International Criminal Court. Liberal Democrats will do everything in our power to assist the speedy passage of the relevant Bill. In response to the sensible programme of consultation on which the Government have embarked, we have already submitted suggested improvements. Although we have no guarantee that they will all be accepted, they have been received with a certain amount of sympathy and we have been asked to give further and better particulars in at least one instance. Such an approach to legislation is fundamental on a topic that should command the support of the whole House.

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One issue causes me concern, and it was referred to in passing by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude).

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): I thank the Liberal Democrats for their responses on the International Criminal Court Bill. We have taken close note of their contributions, and I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be encouraged by that. I contrast their approach with that of the Conservative party, which made absolutely no response to the Bill. Forty-five consultations were received, but the Conservatives had nothing to say about it.

Mr. Campbell: Those facts speak for themselves. However, before we get too carried away with our expressions of co-operation and good will, may I remind the Minister that, because the Bill will start in the House of Lords, our secret weapons are my noble Friends Lord Goodhart and Lord Lester? The Minister may find that they have quite a lot to say about the Bill in the other place, and mercenaries like myself in this House will unhesitatingly draw upon their contributions.

I was about to refer to my concern about the United States apparent unwillingness to ratify the treaty unless US service personnel are exempt from its jurisdiction. There have been reports that the United Kingdom Government have been reluctant to make common cause with other European Union members to bring pressure to bear on the US. I hope that this evening or at a later stage the Government will be able to reassure those in the House who wish to co-operate with them that they will do all in their power to persuade the United States that it is in its interests, as well as in the interests of the effectiveness of the court, that it should be a fully subscribing party to the treaty.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) suggested, there is some disappointment among Liberal Democrats that no definite place has been found for a Bill to implement the recommendations of the Scott report, which was published nearly five years ago. It is worth recalling--the Foreign Secretary will have little difficulty doing so--that Scott said that a comprehensive review of Government powers over arms exports was long overdue. In describing the current statutory provisions, he said that they were

When the Labour party was in opposition, it and the current Foreign Secretary justifiably profited politically from Conservative embarrassment on what I still describe as the scandal of the supply of arms-related equipment to Iraq. I hope that it is not too onerous an obligation, but the Government do have a moral obligation to put matters right at the first opportunity.

I understand that there will be a draft Bill, but we have some questions about it. Will it set out to regulate arms brokers to a sufficient extent? Will there be consideration of the extra-territorial jurisdiction which is part of the Chemical Weapons Act 1996? Will the Bill deal with the questions of licensed production of arms abroad and their supply between foreign countries? Such production could be used to escape the consequences of what would otherwise be an illegal transaction, and it might be argued that the United Kingdom has no jurisdiction over that.

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On arms exports, I have no hesitation in asserting that transparency, scrutiny and accountability are not the enemies of good government; they should be its allies. Even this Government have been embarrassed by arms exports. Good intentions do not bring immunity from embarrassment, as East Timor, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe have demonstrated. Sir Richard Scott said that the present arrangements were

Such arrangements are inconsistent with a foreign policy with an ethical dimension, and there should be no room for constructive engagement in arms exports to countries that breach human rights.

Another more explicit absence--if there can be such a thing--from the Gracious Speech is a reference to national missile defence and the Government's attitude towards that. I have previously argued in the House that the United States determination to proceed with NMD rests on a flawed assessment of threat. Rogue states and deeply unpleasant regimes exist, but we and the United States should ask ourselves whether those states are so lacking in comprehension that they would threaten to use or actually use weapons of mass of destruction against the overwhelming nuclear superiority of the United States.

Does the United States really expect the United Kingdom and its allies in Europe to believe that, once it has established a limited missile defence to protect it from what are now described as "states of concern", domestic pressure would not grow in the United States for that cover to be expanded to embrace the larger missile capabilities of other nuclear weapons powers?

We have already debated European defence and the apocalyptic consequences that some attribute to that, but it is perfectly reasonable to point out that NMD has the potential to damage relations within NATO, to weaken the cohesion of the alliance and to divide Europe from the United States. It will undermine the principle of deterrence on which a fragile strategic balance has been built, and it will change the basis on which nuclear strategy has been built for the past 30 years.

In its most recent report on weapons of mass destruction, the Foreign Affairs Committee rightly argued that

We look in vain in the Gracious Speech or elsewhere for any clear sign of the Government's attitude. I repeat a charge that I have made before to the Secretary of State for Defence: it is disingenuous to suggest that, because no request has been made, no attitude has to be struck. As I have asked at least once before, what is the nuclear planning policy division of the Ministry of Defence doing if it is not taking some account of the potential consequences of the deployment of NMD? If the United States Supreme Court reaches an acceptable decision today, a request may be made very soon, although neither of those matters can be guaranteed. However, a request could certainly be made long before next May, which is the period that most of us reckon the Gracious Speech has been designed to cover. We are entitled to know what the Government's attitude will be when such a request is made.

For 10 years, Liberal Democrats have consistently supported United Kingdom Governments on their policies on Iraq. Indeed, just the other day I was reading a book--

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I shall leave its title and author clothed in anonymity--that reminded me that the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) rang me on the night when British forces went into battle on the ground. If I did not thank him for his courtesy then, I should like to do so today. We have supported Conservative and Labour Governments and the United Nations sanctions regime, but we believe that, after 10 years, we owe it to ourselves and the people of Iraq to review that policy.

What have sanctions produced? Certainly not the results that we predicted. Ordinary Iraqi people have been driven into poverty, malnutrition and ignominy. Saddam Hussein has not been brought to heel. He exploits the sanctions and uses them as an excuse. They are his justification for the brutality and privations that he imposes on his people. One does not have to go far in the middle east to find much anxiety and the belief that the people of Iraq have suffered enough. That is evident in the Arab capitals. In this case, the Iraqi people are the oppressed, not the oppressors. The same people who suffer from the brutal dictatorship of Saddam's regime are those worst hit by sanctions, and the elite--perhaps, as ever--are left untouched.

Our policy towards Iraq is of necessity--of containment--supported by credible military threat. Let me make this clear: if there were a military threat to Kuwait or a surrounding country, I would have little hesitation in supporting the threat or, if it came to it, the use of military means to contain it. However, the sanctions regime is being steadily eroded, in some cases aided and abetted by members of the Security Council. Its authority, and that of the United Nations, will be irretrievably damaged if the sanctions regime simply withers away.

We can maintain the policy of containment by maintaining an embargo on military and dual-use goods, but is it not time for the United Kingdom to take the initiative at the United Nations to lift non-military sanctions? They contribute nothing to the policy of containment and make no difference to Saddam or his brutality, but they damage the lives of ordinary Iraqis and hand him a gratuitous propaganda advantage. It is time they went.

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